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Back to the (Un)Real World

Wednesday, 12 July 2023, Puyallup WA

It always feels bittersweet to end a great adventure. Temps were still moderate when I arose, no mist in the trees, no cosmic fingers. The rest of the Breakfast Scramble tasted even better than yesterday for some reason. Then I set about decomposing camp, stuffing the sleeping bag and pad, disassembling the tent.

With the pack on my back, the legs started grousing as soon as I climbed out of the camp. I'll be taking it slow today, for sure.

Since the skies had cleared, I stopped at Eagle's Cliff again, seeing the view of Mt. Rainier that clouds had robbed me of yesterday.

That would be my last sighting of it: by the time I got back to the car, clouds had again obscured it.

I took a short break halfway back, trying to 'frost' cascades at the first stream I reached. No sense passing up the chance to fill my collapsible bottle with one more liter of fresh snow-melt water, too!

Several people passed me heading up to Spray Park, including one group of eight or nine day-hikers of my generation. (Even with only a mile under their belts, three of them already lagged the others.) A few minutes later, a woman heading back to the lake passed me. Though she had a few years on me, she easily overtook me, slowing her pace to chat for a moment. "Were you up at Spray Park this morning?" she asked. "Someone spotted a bear up there earlier." You just can't have a day in Rainier without at least one bear story!

When I remarked on her fitness, she smiled. "That's because I get out for a hike every day. I've slowed down recently, though. It's been a few years since I did the loop - backpacking the entire 93 miles of the Wonderland Trail."

I had predicted 90 minutes to get back; it ended up taking nearly two hours. Once I had the pack off, though, my legs told me they needed a victory lap. How convenient - the trail beside one shore of Mowich Lake was a segment of that Wonderland Trail.

Thus, I got to thumb my nose at the fates who took the trail from me by logging 1.5 miles out and back. Told you it was scenic!

On that victory lap, I met two backpackers coming back from Ipsut Creek - my initial planned destination. I asked, "I hear that's a killer hike from Ipsut." (Killer, as in gaining over a half-mile of elevation.)

"I'm here to tell you, it IS a killer."

After a snack of jerky and glacier water, I had to re-enter the 'real' world. It took me 2:33 to return my equipment to REI - three minutes in the store, and two-and-a-half hours sitting in Seattle traffic to get there. Luckily, I saw no sign of Mr. Not-A-Happy-Camper.

It took another 40 minutes in traffic to reach my hotel for the night. Lord only knows why I bothered turning on the TV news: Hit and run incident outside the White House! Heat advisories around the country! Flood alerts in Vermont! Escaped murderers on the loose!

Can I go back to the wilderness?

Thursday, 13 June 2023, airport.

I lament that I couldn't bottle up that wilderness essence - in my water-filter bottle, perhaps - and drink from it to regain a bit of Rainier rhapsody. Instead, I feel hard-pressed to quietly suffer the indignities of travel.

The freeway to the airport this morning crept even worse that the same stretch of highway yesterday. When I exited the freeway, of course I found no gas station to refill the rental car, forcing me to go searching.

Returning the car was easy; the wait for the shuttle bus, long. Traffic from the rental car center crawled. "I'd guess it's residual traffic from baseball's All-Star game here over the weekend," remarked one fellow passenger. That could also explain the throngs of people packing the terminal building.

I found the check-in kiosks, but none of them had paper to print out my baggage tag, so an agent directed me to a bank of state-of-the-art terminals around the corner. These were specially equipped with dinosaur-confusing technology, so I had to find an agent for a tutorial. Finally, Sea-Tac presented me with a multitude of TSA lines - but which one is for TSA PreCheck? "That would be line 4," a worker said, giving me an 'isn't it obvious?' look.

In all, it took 45 minutes to go from the rental car garage through TSA.

But as we took off, the impressive visage of Mt. Rainier peered out from above scattered clouds, reminding me of what I'm attempting... and how, in the end, it's all worth it.

Now I'm winging it off to Glacier NP!

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