You know when you get lost and start to panic? You drive extra slow, turn down the radio as if it will help you see better, and start to think you’ve gone miles too far in the wrong direction? That’s kind of how we felt towards the end of our first day hiking the East Fork Quinault River Trail in Olympic National Park.
We were so stoked, this was the big one. Three nights in the backcountry with all our gear on our backs. We began at the Graves Creek trailhead near Lake Quinault. The well marked trail, that passes through old growth rain forest, leading to Enchanted Valley, is stunning. It winds through the forest, following the path cut by the rivers and creeks that are fed by glacial melt coming off the Olympic Mountains. The entire forest floor is covered in giant ferns that you’d expect to see in Jurassic Park, and moss grows on everything from the ground to the trees. Everything was so green! It almost looked enchanted (see what I did there?).
The most spectacular sights on this trail, in fact, are the trees. I really can’t say enough about them, you guys; enormous Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, mountain hemlock and western red cedar all around. I learned that Olympic National Park has the largest concentration of “giant” trees in a small area in the world. There are a few things in the natural world that have truly humbled me: the Grand Canyon, the night sky as seen from Madeline Island, the birth of my children. . . Add “the trees of Olympic National Park” to that list. These massive, towering giants stretch so high that I couldn’t even see the tops of them. Imagining how long they’d been there, how much of human history has passed by while they just grew and grew and grew, made me feel very small and insignificant. To witness their beauty and majesty first hand felt like an incredible privilege.
The smell, you guys. . . Oh my god, the smell. . . It was earthy, clean, crisp, woodsy; just divine. At one point we passed an extraordinarily large cedar tree that had fallen across the path. The National Park Service had cut through the middle of it, leaving the trail unencumbered, and the cedar’s shavings dusting the forest floor. The scent of that fresh cut tree was utterly intoxicating. I wanted to roll around in it, cover myself in cedar, be one with the forest. If we breathed it in any deeper we would’ve ended up with a case of cedar shaving asphyxiation.
I was overwhelmed by the desire to express my love for these trees—in a totally non sexual way, of course—and when I found myself particularly drawn to one specific behemoth of a tree, I had to hug it. I hugged a tree, and I liked it. I don’t even care if that makes me a hippie cliché. That tree and I shared a moment.
The ultimate goal on our first day’s hike was to make it to Pyrites Creek. Since neither of us had hiked such long distances before, we didn’t want to try trekking all the way to Enchanted Valley on the first day, but we didn’t want to stop too early either. We decided to shoot for Pyrites which was, according to the maps, 9.5 miles from the trailhead; the third and final campground before entering the Valley. If we couldn’t make it that far we planned to stop at O’Neil Creek Camp, located just under 7 miles from the trailhead.
When we arrived at O’Neil and took a snack/rest break, we were still feeling pretty energized, so we decided to keep going. About an hour later we started to question the wisdom of that decision. My Fitbit said we had already passed the 10 mile mark, and Pyrites Creek Camp was nowhere in sight. Had we gone past it somehow and not noticed? Were the maps wrong? Was my Fitbit wrong? We hadn’t seen another human being for hours. Mile after mile, and not a single soul passed by. We were tired, hangry, and our bodies were getting slower and clumsier with each step we took. As much as I love to escape the crowds of the city, not knowing if there are any other people nearby at all can feel a little disconcerting when you think you may be lost.
Just when I thought I might start to cry, he came walking out of the forest.
I wasn’t sure if he was real at first: He was a Park Ranger; tall, tan, and muscular, with a strong jaw, and beautiful blue eyes. His long, braided, blonde hair reached down his back, and his legs, in his little ranger shorts, appeared like the mighty trees surrounding us: solid.
It was as though the universe had sent this magnificent Viking god to give us the encouragement we needed to press on. I have no doubt that a socially unacceptable amount of time passed between his emergence from the woods and when we finally regained our ability to speak and, although it’s all a blur, I’m sure I sounded like a stuttering buffoon when we did (eventually) greet him. He probably walked away from the encounter assuming he’d have to rescue us at some point.
Ranger Blondie Buns (yes, that’s what we named him after realizing we were too distracted by his sexiness to ask his actual name) asked to see our wilderness pass and we chatted for a few minutes. We mostly talked about being a Park Ranger, which he described as equivalent to being a glorified janitor. It made me sad to know that we need people like him going through this beautiful forest picking up the trash other people leave behind. Sometimes I think maybe I like trees more than people, but then I realize how grateful I am for folks who are willing to go around the woods picking up other people’s garbage. I guess I’d like to think it all evens out in the end.
After he walked away, Lindsey and I looked at each other, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing: You saw him too, right? Part of me wondered if I’d hallucinated the entire thing, if my mind had conjured him up just to keep from fracturing due to my high levels of exhaustion and anxiety.
The best tidbit of knowledge our Sexy Ranger Savior gave us was that we were almost there. It was like a physical weight lifted when he said that, like my pack was suddenly ten pounds lighter. We were going to make it, we hadn’t made a mistake.
We reached our campsite not long after we left RBB and, after taking a break to smoke a celebratory “we actually freaking made it” joint and have a snack, we got to work setting up camp and gathering firewood. Thankfully, despite it being so late in the year, the campground had plenty of branches strewn about, so we didn’t have to walk too far to find enough to keep us warm for a couple of nights.
The campsite was perfect: a huge site, with towering, moss covered trees all around, right next to the river. After dinner we sat around our fire listening to the river, and taking a moment to really appreciate where we were. We couldn’t believe we did it. My Fitbit had clocked over 14 miles by the time I went to bed. Yet despite how far we’d come, between the fireside yoga we did at our campsite, and the CBD chocolates we ate for dessert, we felt amazing: strong, independent, empowered, and more in tune with nature and ourselves than we’d ever been.
There was one thing that didn’t feel amazing, and that was Lindsey’s feet. The blister’s she’d gotten at Shi Shi Beach had grown on our long-ass hike, and she was now developing new blisters between her toes. I swear, those boots were designed by a sadist. Thankfully, we’d replenished our first aid supplies, and Lindsey had her technique down to a science by this point. Treating Lindsey’s wounds had become part of our routine.
We talked about The Ranger quite a bit that night, wondering what he was doing at that moment. One of my only regrets from the entire trip was not asking to take a selfie with him. How could I, of all people, forget to take a picture?! We weren’t sure anyone would believe us when we told the story without photographic evidence—even we weren’t completely convinced he was real. For all we knew, we really had both come up with the same fantasy to cope with our fear of potentially dying in the woods alone.
We went to bed that night with visions of majestic, towering trees, and sexy Park Rangers swirling through our minds. Knowing the beauty that was surrounding us, and that such a fine specimen of man was out there in the rare event of an emergency, gave us peace of mind. I won’t lie though, a part of me wished one of us would somehow injure ourselves, just enough to need to be rescued by Ranger Blondie Buns, so we could get that damn selfie. Lucky for everyone, that wouldn’t be necessary. We’d live another night and hike to the Enchanted Valley in the morning!
Thanks for stopping by! Come back next Sunday to read the next chapter in Lindsey and I’s Bestieversarycation. Also be sure to check out my other posts, and follow my blog to stay up to date on the latest Ladycations!