It didn’t hit me until part way through the hike that this was the first extended trip my brothers and I had ever been on, all together, without our parents. When they had both agreed to go I had been over the moon. Neither of them had done any long backpacking trips and I couldn’t wait to introduce them to a world that I felt was integral to who I was and who I am becoming, not to mention the world in which Kyle and I forged many of the best parts of our relationship. I didn’t know what exactly would come out of the trip, but I knew that all of our relationships were strong and comfortable, a good basis for many long, tired, hungry days on trail. I could not have imagined how fun, positive, upbeat, adventurous, and determined everyone would turn out to be. I didn’t know I was about to go hiking with the dream team, a team that just happens to be my family.
Cameron immediately proved, day one of the hike, that he would fit right in with AT or PCT thru-hikers when he came around the car wearing the shortest shorts any of us had ever seen. Kyle was immediately jealous. If Cameron looked like a thru-hiker Nelson thought and acted like one. His food consisted entirely of ramen and GORP burritos because he had scavenged them from the cupboards at home, spending almost nothing on the hike. Now that is true hiker trash mentality.
“Up, up, up, up the stairs we go!” Cameron quoted happily as we climbed up towards Burroughs Mountain. I suddenly realized that Kyle, having only seen the Lord of the Rings movies once when he was very sick in Flagstaff may not have caught on to the fact that at least 75% of what Cameron and Nelson had said so far that day were LOTR quotes. I informed him of this. Cameron bet us that he could probably come up with a LOTR quote for every circumstance we encounter on trail. We didn’t doubt him. Whenever I am around my brothers we find ourselves quoting the movies of our childhood: LOTR, Austin Powers, Monty Python, the Best of Dana Carvey and other SNL favorites. One day we sang Jesus Christ Superstar for an hour before switching tracks and reciting all of our favorite parts of Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail. Every time we crossed a bridge someone would shout, “WHAT, is your favorite color?” And this was all punctuated by Cameron shouting, “Incoming!” and Kyle, who had valiantly taken up the rear, choking and gagging on Cameron’s farts. The tables had finally turned for Kyle and he discovered what it was like to eat farts all day, a truly vicious twist of fate. While Cameron got to spend all day crop dusting Kyle he too received pay back at night when he was trapped in a tent with Nelson. At Maple Creek I turned around after tidying up the packs to find Cameron with his head zipped out of the tent to escape the stench within. While all the boys took their turns ripping farts it was Nelson that took the cake when it came to pooping. He pooped at least three times a day and managed to visit almost every privy we came across. His worst poop? Sitting on the privy at Pyramid Creek, in the pouring rain, toilet paper wet and himself soaked. We await his review of all the privies with anticipation.
When we weren’t quoting movies we debated crazy facts that arose out of mysterious winding conversation. Day one there was the conversation about how fast crocodiles can run, with Cameron swearing they could sprint upwards of 35 miles an hour and Nelson (and the rest of us) saying that was ridiculous. Then there was the debate over how many eggs a woman has and whether or not using them all is what leads to menopause. Despite being a woman with eggs and using logic to try to convince Nelson that it is hormones, not egg depletion that leads to menopause he was stubborn on the subject. Cameron on the other hand swore women only had around 400 eggs, something we all tried to convince him was a gross underestimation. Who knew young boys knew so much about a woman’s reproductive system. It wasn’t until we were at Mowich and we could confirm the truth with Dr. Joe and a number of menopausal women that both boys would admit that they were wrong.
Then there were the conversations that weren’t debates but explorations, about big game hunting and conservation, bees and bats and paying people to pollinate apple trees. Radiolab after radiolab was relived for everyone’s listening pleasure.
The first night in camp Kyle showed the boys how to clean your pot without soap, just using your finger and then, for great LNT, he demonstrated that you should drink your dish water afterwards. This is one of Kyle’s camp tasks and one that I still cannot believe he does because I find the idea and act of it repulsive. But, despite finding the practice off-putting, the boys took up the gauntlet unphased and proceeded to drink their dishwater for the next seven days. I was impressed.
Kyle started having chaffing day one which led to a bout of descriptive language about his undercarriage, gooch, taint, or my least favorite, thrown out by Nelson, his fleshy fun bridge. Out of all the hurting body parts we sported between the four of us his was by far the most discussed. But there were certainly other body parts that were taking a beating, specifically all of our feet. Nelson was the only one wearing boots, but apparently choice of foot wear didn’t matter, we all ended up with a couple of blisters, probably thanks to our wet day and then the drying out that took place the next day. In camp we would all hobble around on our little blistered feet. My body, however, felt better than it ever had on the AT because we had started practicing a couple of new tricks during the day that I had read about in Backpacker Magazine. We would stretch every break we had, in the morning before we left camp, and first thing when we got to camp at night. Also, upon getting to camp we would mix up a protein shake for everyone to share and split a couple of protein bars. And on for the last mile of our hike every day we would slow down our hiking pace to act as a cool down on the way into camp. This seemed to help immensely, for me at least, helping me to feel less sore and achy. I only had to take pain killers one time on the entire trip, as where on the AT we took ibuprofen so frequently we referred to it as Vitamin I.
My mom and the Wonder Women had started a day ahead of us and physically ahead of us up at Sunrise. But because they were heading the same way as we were they were able to pass messages back to us through other hikers who were headed the opposite direction. We got our first message at Mystic Lake Campground from a mom and daughter who had met them. They recognized us immediately, making us wonder what clues my mom had given them for finding us… one girl with three large bearded boys? I guess you don’t see a ton of groups like that out on trail. The next day we were stopped by not one but many people saying, “Oh, we met your mom up ahead! She said to say hi and hurry up!” Cameron was stopped by a trail runner who said, “This is gonna sound creepy but, is that Lindsey?” pointing to me. Mom and the ladies clearly had no shame in asking every single person they met to say hi to us, something that was pretty endearing. We tried to return the favor later after we had passed them, telling people we met that they would probably meet our mother with a group of ladies a little ways back, describing them as a four 50-year-old badass women who were loud and sure to talk their ears off. What a treat it was to meet up with all of them for a night and watch the bats swoop low over Mowich Lake together.
The Wonderland Trail is a roller coaster of a trail. It climbs up and down over the ridges that flow away from Mt Rainier, built by ancient lava flows streaming down the mountain. As you climb the trees shrink in size until they are sparse and you find yourself in one of the many parks that surround the mountain. The parks are open and grassy, dotted with tarns and often blanketed in wild flowers, but this summer has been so hot that they saw wild flowers in July that they usually don’t see until September. By the time we got there the only flowers left were Purple Gentians and a rare Indian Paintbrush. But on the plus side there were also no bugs. We saw a total of five wayward mosquitos, who flitted feebly and were squashed with ease. Thus we spent most of our days either going up or down, from valley floor to rocky ridge top.
My personal tactic when it comes to going up is to power uphill and to not stop unless there is a spectacular view or someone has to pee. I didn’t really know what to expect from everyone in terms of fitness. I didn’t even really know what to expect from myself. So I was pleasantly surprised when no one ever complained about our uphill climbs. I appreciated everyone for this on the last day and they confessed that the pace had been good most of the time and in the moments when it got hard only their fear of my verbal retribution kept them from speaking up. We laughed about this and I am glad they didn’t say anything because even if it felt hard sometimes they made it, meaning that they were stronger than they thought. As a trail worker in the Grand Canyon once told us, it’s 10% physical and 90% mental.
On our downhills we practiced a term that Nelson coined early on in the trip: RTD or Rapid Trail Descent. Sometimes we would shock ourselves with how quickly we could get downhill. We had two different tactics to figure out how far we had gone and how fast. Cameron was in charge of time and Kyle was in charge of elevation. Cameron would keep an eye on when we started a descent or a climb and Kyle would be in charge of remembering our destination’s elevation and when Nelson thought we were getting close he would inquire as to how long we had been hiking. Then he would guess our elevation (which he got surprisingly good at) and Kyle would tell him where we were at. I carried the map, which we consulted at every break, calculating mileage and elevation gain and loss. In this way we tracked our progress throughout the day, taking consistent breaks every four miles.
None of us felt that the days we were doing were that big. Our first day was our smallest at twelve miles and then after that they fluctuated between fourteen and sixteen miles. This seemed like a completely doable feat but almost every other group we saw, upon hearing where we were headed to, would nod knowingly and say, “Oh, wow, big day.” I’m sure after they left us on the trail they would whisper behind their hands, “Those people are crazy, all the way to Devil’s Dream? They’ll never make it.” Of course I said the same thing about “cotton family”, a family dressed entirely in cotton that we ran into on our rainy day. You meet all kinds out there. We would get a good idea of another groups style and capabilities because the boys would glean information from their t-shirts as I was checking out their gear. This would result in the following conversation: Boys: “They were from Toronto!” Me: “What! how do you know that!?!” Boys: “It said Toronto Marathon on that guys shirt.” Me: “Oh, I was too busy looking at that guys crazy shoes, they were those Hokas we were talking about early, remember, the opposite of the barefoot craze. Also they had super nice backpacks.” Boys: “Oh really? What kind?” Me: “Hyperlight Mountain Gear!” Boys: “Cool, no idea what that means…”
On day three Nelson proudly showed all of us that he now had calf muscles. We all squinted our eyes at his legs and asked him, “Are you sure that isn’t just a line of dirt? Cause I am pretty sure it’s impossible to grow calves in three days…” But he just caressed his muscle-less legs with pride and believed what he wanted to believe.
Everyone quickly established what they said when other people passed us on trail. We had to work out set tag lines after an awkward passing in which Kyle said, “Have a good one!” which threw Nelson off because until then he had been saying “have a good one.” After a brief conversation it was decided that Nelson would say, “happy trails” instead and Kyle could go on saying, “have a good one.” I was in charge of saying, “have a good hike” and Cameron just grunted.
We only managed to go swimming twice on the trip, at Mowich lake when we camped there and at Golden Lakes as we passed through. The Golden Lakes swim was a much-needed cool dip and I managed to capture the bellow photographs. Much laughing ensued.
It was amazing to see the boys come to the same realizations we had on the AT. How having to hike .2 miles to a privy sucks, or if a view-point wasn’t on the trail it wasn’t worth seeing. We all quickly developed voracious hiker hunger, especially Cameron, who was constantly staring into his snack bag sadly, wishing there was more food within. He also proved handy one night when Kyle and I had WAY too much broccoli and cheddar soup left over and the next morning when we made way too much oatmeal. Amongst many realizations the most amazing to witness was how fun backpacking was. Cameron said on day one, “This is awesome, I can see doing this for a long time.” Even though that was early on in the hike I don’t think either of them had a change of heart.
In our family we have a tradition of doing appreciations occasionally at family dinner. One simply goes around the table, appreciating each family member in turn for something they have done that day, or month, or life time. I have to appreciate my three hiking partners. I have a hard time thinking of other people who would have melded together with such ease. There were never high tensions or petty arguments, hurt feelings or awkward moments. Everyone ate together, peed together and farted on each other. Everyone was invested in each other and the experience and I trusted that each person fully wanted to be there. I guess that really is the heart of it, no part of me ever felt self conscious or worried that someone else might not be having fun, because I was confident in our relationships with each other, that they were strong enough to be open and honest relationships. Ultimately this trip impressed on me how lucky I am to have brothers that are also two of my best friends and who have welcomed Kyle into the family with the most open of arms and adventurous of spirits. So with that I’d just like to remind all of you, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”