Well we haven't hiked in about ten whole days and upon taking the first few steps out of bed each morning, the tops of my feet still throb tenderly. But I shrug it off as I wander into the bathroom to use the toilet, my feet dangling just above the cool tiled floor, relaxed. I recall how once upon a time not long ago, I'd otherwise be squatting next to a tree and grimacing in the agony that the hunched over pose presented to my toes and joints. I brush my teeth in the sink, using water recklessly, and rinse my toothbrush when I'm through. On the trail I would dry brush, modestly conserving toothpaste from the tiny travel sized tube, spitting in the dirt and slurping my toothbrush clean of any excess before jamming it back into its home in the hip belt of my backpack. Instead of pulling my filthy, and probably still damp with sweat from the previous day, clothes back onto my aching body (I often complained to Andy that I felt like a rag doll in the mornings), I skip getting dressed entirely and hop back into bed. Grabbing my phone, I scroll indulgently through the Internet, scanning headlines of the Atlantic, the Economist, Vice, Huffington Post. Once I'm bored with (or depressed by) the day's news, I'm ready to seek out coffee and breakfast. Ah, leisure.
The daunting obligation to hike twenty-five miles each day is officially a thing of the past. I've rejoined society. I'm an indoor cat again.
It's sort of amazing how easy it is to slip back into normalcy. Staying up late to watch Colbert on the Late Show leads to sleeping (way) in, ignoring our old alarm that crooned Leonard Cohen at 6:15am each day. Passing out in an exhausted heap in our tent by 9pm is but a bittersweet memory now, as we stretch out on pillow top mattresses surrounded by fluffy down pillows playing WordFeud until 1am.
At first, arriving in Portland was overwhelming. The dining and shopping options were limitless. Everything became instantly easy again. We didn't have to hitchhike, Uber was just a click away. We didn't have to worry about the weather, we could just go inside. We acquired comfortable cotton clothes and some deodorant. And there were people everywhere. And we couldn't just pee anywhere we wanted to, as soon as we had to go. Our hands were clean, washed with soap multiple times a day. We didn't have to spend a significant portion of each shower sitting on the floor and vigorously scrubbing at our ankles and toenails. The abundance of places to sit comfortably was delightful. Ah, to eat at a table! There was art and music. There were man made curiosities around each corner of the city. Food trucks with exotic treats such as fried peanut butter and jellies and ethnic cuisine from around the world. No more forced lunches of Mission tortillas and Nutella. Thai restaurants and coffee shops on each block. No more Starbucks instant iced coffee packets shaken up in plastic Gatorade bottles. And the irony was that we weren't even nonstop famished anymore.
I purchased a large umbrella and a 500 page Harpers Bazaar. Very impractical for the trail.
Getting "off trail" was the right decision. We recently took our rental car and met our hiker friends who are still going strong at Snoqualmie Pass for dinner and to wish them well on their last couple hundred miles to Canada. Everyone seemed a little burnt out, but in good spirits. The recent cold, rain and snow that had moved into Washington was good for the wildfires, but bad for the hiking. Views from the famous Goat Rocks Wilderness were few and far between for our friends, which was both discouraging and frustrating. We gave them a bit of a pep talk ("almost done!") and they congratulated us on knowing when enough was enough.
They complimented us on looking clean and fresh in our new clothes and we complimented them on having the strength and tenacity to finish the damn thing. It sounded like the Washington portion of the PCT, while having the best views since the High Sierras, was physically hard as hell.
So while we are still dillydallying, we have been in full on chill mode. We've easily been the youngest folks on the scene since we took off from Portland, stopping at a few casinos on our way up the coast to Cannon Beach then Ballard then to San Juan Island. We've made lots of white haired friends around shared Bed & Breakfast tables, in line for the ferry from Anacortes, and waiting to board our sleeper train car in Seattle. Now we're en route to San Francisco to reunite with our camper and drive home to Denver.
We've been looking forward to this train ride on Amtrak's Coastal Starlight since before we began hiking, when we took the southern portion of the same train from San Francisco to LA. Barefooted in our roomette sipping hot coffee and staring mindlessly out the window as the train hurtles southbound, we have time to reflect on our crazy summer of being woodland critters.
An elderly gentleman who works for the National Forest Service just popped in to tell us some history about the area that the train passes through, pointing out bridges and such. We tell him we've been hiking for five months on the PCT and he inquires if we will ever do it again. We lock eyes, smile knowingly and confidently shake our heads no.