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  • Jeff

Missing My Maybe Mermaid Madly (Part 2)

I once again woke early, but apparently not early enough for the fishermen who roared across the lake at 4 a.m. I finished my circuit of Baker Lake in the chilly air, glad to see some of the smoke gone for the time being, and crossed the dam at its outlet to begin the next stretch of the longer 'official' PNT. After several hours on dirt roads, I got to the crowded Mt Baker trailhead parking lot and once again on nice, tourist friendly tread as the path climbed into an alpine zone. With less pollution in the air the snow covered peak shone as it dominated the area, but as the long distance trails often do the PNT shied away from climbing to the top (which would require mountaineering gear). Instead it turned west and south after only a few glorious but short miles up high. As the path left the tourist area it got progressively worse, eventually petering out entirely on the banks of the Nooksack River despite the evidence of trail crews in the area. I elected to just walk in the river for awhile, once again relying on NZ experience to help guide the way, until I hit a bridge on a forest road where the crews were stationed. They pointed me in the right direction, but their new trail was almost as tiring as walking in the water; it twisted and turned, rolled up and down, seemingly determined to go over ever little hump and around ever tree. Despite staying at the same elevation, it felt as if it gained and lost 1,000 feet, all in a gambit to keep the tread away from the steadily eroding banks of the seasonally flooding river.

Regrettably, this only led to the old 'Mainline' Road, a name that has never been more misleading. It could easily have been labeled as a bushwack as it was so overgrown with alders and crossed by washed out ravines. The preponderance of now ripe blackberries was the only solace, but their thorny vines marred their deliciousness. After finally scrambling on to some more well-used roads, I was treated to a gorgeous sunset after a long day of walking, but some cryptic wording in the guidebook and incorrect GPS waypoints left me wonder just where the trail went. Exhausted, I gave up for the night and, as I often do, left the problem for my future self to figure out.

The next morning I set off, somewhat confident I had deciphered where the trail picked up. I was immediately disproven, and taking a gamble I bushwhacked upwards and stumbled upon the road I needed. From here, the path became increasingly mired in a labyrinth of forest service roads as it pushed in to logging territory. These are the bane of my existence; frequently unsigned, even more frequently incorrectly signed, often not on any maps, prone to dead ending, dusty, and rocky, they make reliable navigation practically impossible. Even worse they override the existence of decent trail, so anywhere logging is, tread isn't. This stretch was one long slog on forest roads through clear cuts (which, ironically, offered most of views worth having). I did stumble upon a black bear inexplicably wandering the hilltops, however, just before missing yet another turn where PNT departed the road for Mt Josephine. Apparently a trail maintainer decided that using painted blazes to mark the partially hidden trail head, in a heavily logged area where every other tree has some kind of spray painted mark on it, was a good idea. While some marking is better than none, it was unexpected given that it was literally the first painted blaze I had seen in almost 900 miles on this trail. Regardless, the tread was a welcome change of pace as it steeply climbed a knife-edged, forested ridge to the sharp peak. Unfortunately the smog had once again settled in, obscuring everything but the nearest clearcut hilltops, but hey, I took what I could get at that point.

More forest roads ensued, briefly interrupted by a foray to try and find the Red Cabin Creek trail that the PNT supposedly followed. Once again maps and GPS were of little help, though I did find remnants of a trail so old and overgrown it could or have been made by the Babylonians. Thus was another half hour wasted bushwacking through brambles before I gave up and took the easier if longer route on (sigh) more roads. This lead to... more roads and an active logging site, though thankfully work had stopped for lunch and I was able to pass unhindered. I climbed up and over Lyman Hill, where the views to the Skagit River Valley would doubtlessly have been breathtaking but for the ever present smog. After another all-too-brief stretch on trail tread, it was more forest roads down to the Samish River, a brackish flow that stymied my plans to get water for camp. Thankfully a local let me fill up at his house and I planted myself back in the woods, my feet having been murdered by endless hours of gravel roads. Honestly, there should be chalk outlines of my left boot every time is stepped on a chunk of rock and had it dig into my foot.

My next morning brought some promise as I planned on reaching the small town of Alger for some resupply. After (of course) some more road walking and (of course) some more clear cuts and (of course) more obscured views, I got to town for a much awaited burger, ice cream, and provisions for the short jump over to Anacortes. I left town and climbed into the coastal Chuckanut range not expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the preponderance of well kept trails and now familiar white blazes. While not breathtaking as the higher mountain passes, I loved the quiet woods and still ponds throughout the area, and finally had my first view of Puget Sound on the way down. I even managed a sweet campsite perched on a ridge above the water, even though it's proximity to a railroad was somewhat questionable, and got a scarlet sunset above the ocean for m troubles. Unfortunately my phone had just run out of juice, so no pictures for awhile.

The next day was an even bigger target; I planned to reach Anacortes and a real bed for the night. As such I awoke even earlier than usual in the knowledge that I had a lot to get done there, and started hiking with my headlamp on. Upon leaving the Chuckanuts, the terrain immediately changed into coastal wetland covered in a patchwork of farmland and quaint houses. I hiked through a golden sunrise over wheat fields before passing through the still sleeping, adorable town on Edison and on towards the coast. The skyline was dominated by a massive oil refinery which I eventually found myself skirting on roads pinched between industry and ocean. The PNT picked up the Tommy Thompson Trail that crossed a mile long train tressle over mudflats as it made its way to town. I pretty much took the first room I could find and set about getting myself and my gear clean before going on the hunt for food. From here it's down the coast and on to the Olympic Peninsula, but not before getting some more logistics done and enjoying some seaside walking. Talk to you over the next few days I suppose!

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