I am back on the trail! My return was delayed first by challenges sourcing repair parts for the cart, then again by car repairs. The cart remains broken. Parts are on order, but with the increasing difficulty of the trail as it traverses Eastern Washington, and the availability of a suport vehicle, it seemed silly to wait around to repair the cart. The car is fixed, so I decided to slackpack my way across the rest of the state. We’ll car camp, moving campsites every four or five days to keep up with my trail progress, and Rod will deliver me to the trail each morning and retrieve me at the end of each day.
We are now camped at the Vantage Riverstone Resort in Vantage, Washington on the edge of the Columbia River. It is, to all appearances, the windiest campground on the face of the planet. Yesterday, a pan blew off the campstove while I was cooking. Our tent lays down atop me as I sleep at night. Bins of food and sundry are toppled with each gust. Grit carried on the wind has infiltrated the deepest recesses of my belongings and my person. The Farmer’s Almanac says average wind speed here in July is 8 miles per hour; we’ve got sustained winds at 25 mph and gusts considerably stronger than that. I’m not calling the Almanac a liar, but it’s not accurate either. The campground owner is shocked we plan to stay here so long in a tent. I guess we’ll do anything for a good walk.
We returned to Eastern Washington with two days–32 miles– of walking left to the Columbia River, and two full days in I still have two days left to walk. We arrived Tuesday, made camp, hit the sack, and woke before dawn Wednesday to already sweltering temps and a forecast fit to melt glass. In light of this, I did what any sane person would do: I went to the beach. We took a scenic drive past Lake Cle Elum to Morris Creek, and lounged in the water, drinking beer and keeping cool. A day well spent, but no forward progress.
Thursday, I rose at 4 am and walked nearly 15 miles from Ellensburg to the edge of the Army Training Center east of Kittitas, only to discover a gate and private property signs across my intended farm-road route. This forced me to backtrack several miles and take a longer, more northerly route. That route is twenty miles, just a bit too long to cover in a day in this heat with no shade.
Today, up at 4 again, I walked three miles north from East Kittitas to connect with the Old Vantage Highway, then walked 11 miles on the Highway in buffeting winds. For the first 6 miles, the road is a constant gradual climb to a broad hilltop, home to several windfarms just a hadful of miles from the Columbia River Basin, so it should come as no surprise the the winds are fierce, however the lived experience is still startlingly abrasive. Sudden strong gusts made me sway in my path, my feet settling unexpectedly in deep gravel far from where I intended. My sunhat wouldn’t stay on and tied instead to my backpack acted as a sail, catching the wind, lifting my backpack up off my back, and dragging me inch by inch toward the roadside ditch. At the crest of the hill, I was forced to lean sideways into the wind and counterbrace myself with my walking pole. When the wind suddenly slacked, I’d pitch sideways for a brief, sickening moment before the wind returned. The sentinel windmills watched my halting passage impassively. It was exhausting, but I was frequently rewarded for my efforts with raptor sightings: gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, red tailed hawks, sharpshinned hawks, and countless dark outlines in the sky. The strong winds and open country along the Old Vantage Highway make for some of the best birdwatching in the state.
Somewhere out there in the wind on the old oiled gravel aggregate road, I realized I needed new shoes. I could feel each upturned gravel point through my soles. I could feel my right arch overstretch in absence of any remaining arch support. By the time Rod picked me up, my right ankle was tender and popping worryingly. I was glad for the day’s end, and even gladder to know I have new walking shoes back at camp. At least my worn out shoes are one problem easily solved.
I’m now hunkered down in our windswept tent in Vantage, the nylon slapping me insistently in the side of the head. A nighthawk clings to the branch of a whipping ash tree overhead, emitting an occassional short creech, as disenchanted with the wind as I am. It clings tenaciously nevertheless, waiting for calmer skies. Two more nights here and we move on. After 4 days back on the trail, tomorrow I’ll finally finish my two days of walking. Tomorrow, I’ll walk across the Columbia…sort of. But that’s a story for another day.