To find the universal elements enough;
to find the air and the water exhilarating;
to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter;
to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring—
these are some of the rewards of the single life.
Thanks to the hospitality of Dan and his daughter at the Devil’s Pass cabin, I was rested, refreshed with cold water, and cooled off. I no longer felt like dehydration was imminent. After all, I’d drunk half a liter of water at once, and then sipped on the rest before I left the cabin.
I shouldered my pack and set off in the hot afternoon sun towards Devil’s Creek trail. I’d walked the southern half of the Resurrection Pass trail, and would take a right turn at the Devil’s Creek intersection at mile 16.7 for a ten mile hike that would bring me to within three miles of my home.
|I'd walked from the point underneath the "i' in National and turned right at the intersection of Devil's Creek Trail.|
Finding a place to camp for the night was my primary objective, and it needed to be in this alpine area. I knew I’d find high vegetation farther down the trail, and little flat ground.
The Forest Service map showed a tent site and bear box about five miles away, but that was too far. Maybe I’d see a good site much closer, around more beaver ponds.
I wasn’t a hundred feet down the trail when I spotted tiny blue and gold flowers called Forget-Me-Nots. They are Alaska’s state flower, the blue and gold also the color of the state flag. It’s been many years since I’ve found them in the wild and they cheered me immensely.
|Wild geranium and Forget-Me-Nots.|
Bicyclers came in small groups and large. This was Saturday afternoon, a warm, spectacular weekend day and the cyclers were taking advantage. I hadn’t realized how popular this trail was with the bikers.
I came to the lovely beaver ponds and saw a likely flat tent site close enough to the lake for water, yet far enough away to avoid most of the bugs that were likely to be lurking there. I surveyed the surroundings, my feet urging me to take advantage of this flat spot.
|Likely looking spot to pitch a tent?|
Then, I saw this immense boulder just uphill of my site-to-be. I knew it hadn’t grown there. I looked farther uphill. Okay, maybe not such a good place to camp, not in this land of frequent earthquakes. I walked on, feeling rather silly. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to quit for the day.
|The boulder that didn't grow there.|
|More big boulders up there just waiting for me to lie down.|
On a large flat plain, I reached the actual Devil’s Pass at 2400 feet. I’d gained 2200 feet elevation from the trailhead in Cooper Landing. The next eight miles would be downhill with a 1400 foot loss.
I hate to keep mentioning this, but my feet hurt. Aleve wasn’t doing much to hide the discomfort either. Concentrating on the wildflowers and scenery helped. I tried communing with my muse, trying to think of stories to write, but the muse wasn’t cooperating. She said her feet hurt and writing stories in the sky wasn’t her gig when her feet hurt. I took frequent breaks.
I met three bikers, the teenaged son in the lead. I said hello. He was looking down at the path, trying to dodge the rocks in the trail. At the last moment, he glanced up quickly, smiled, and responded with a greeting. I thought about that for a while as I walked.
The bicyclers do in a day what it’s taking me four days to do. Maybe I should dust off the mountain bike and ride it somewhere other than on pavement. Then I looked at the budding gentian and wild geraniums and Forget-Me-Nots.
A few steps farther and a spruce grouse spooked at the approached. She flew off fifty feet, landed, and turned to watch me. A couple steps more and eight baby grouse took to the air after her. Another ran through the wildflowers. I got the camera out of the pouch strapped across my chest and took a few photos.
|See the grouse watching me?|
As I walked on, another baby ran through the grass in the direction of mama. I would miss all that on a bike, I thought. I’d be concentrating on rocks embedded in the trail rather than this awesome scenery. An incident later on would put an exclamation point on that decision, one in which I was lucky I escaped without injury.
I crossed Devil’s Creek. I would follow this creek down the valley. I passed a large excavation in the bank alongside the trail. It seemed too large to be a marmot hole, but I couldn’t imagine what else it could be.
|Devil's Creek high in the pass.|
I soon left the low alpine vegetation and headed downhill into grass, cow parsnip and brush over my head.
|Leaving the alpine country of Devil's Pass and heading downhill. I'm looking back at bicyclers.|
Now there weren’t any flat spots to pitch a tent. Now I was committed to reaching the tent site at mile 5.3. I had no way of knowing how far I’d walked. All I knew for sure was that it was too far. I did have a Forest Service map for this section, though, and when I stopped to tape my feet some more, I figured out I still had a ways to go. Downhill.
Downhill was starting to hurt.
Finally, finally, I rounded a corner and spotted the tell-tale post with tent icon.
“Hal-le-f------ lu-jah!” I blurted. Then I saw the tent off to the side.
Big mouth, I said to myself. I backtracked a few yards and found a nice flat spot on a point sticking out over the valley. I planted my hiking stick, ditched the pack and took off my boots. Whew! This was it. I wasn’t moving another step.
Except, I did. I walked down to the creek, spread out my folding bucket and dipped it in the creek. I filled all three of my water bottles and drank from one of them. Giardia be damned. I needed cold water and lots of it.
Then I went back uphill and pitched camp. I'd walked eight miles today and for the first time in this trip, I felt a tickle of hunger in my stomach. Freeze-dried chicken and rice was on the menu and to heck with sore feet.
|My camp site was where the bear paw icon is--the upper one in the narrow valley, not the lower one in green.|
The longest journey begins with a single step,
not with a turn of the ignition key.
That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself.
It doesn’t much matter whether you get there or not.
You’ll get there anyway.