We’re out on a thruhike of the ~1200 mile Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) westbound as part of a group of six lean, tan superheroes. Read our experience of “urban hiking” on the PNT in Section 8 around Puget Sound.
For my 32nd birthday, my friends agreed to hike 32 miles by my side. We awoke at Pioneer Camp and started the day with birthday blowdowns leaving us with some fresh birthday blood. Woohoo! After a handful of slow miles and a creek ford, we ended up on logging roads and began what would become our longest stretch of road walking yet as we began hiking towards and eventually across Puget Sound. The day was pretty uneventful. Not necessarily the most exciting miles I’ve ever hiked, but easy gravel road walking is a good second choice. Ashlyn being the sweetest thing that she is packed me out dehydrated refried beans for dinner, a true trail delicacy. As our day came to an end, we got our first glimpse of the Sound and those feels of “damn we’ve walked a long way” started to set in. A lovely sunset and camping in close quarters put a lovely cap on our 32 for 32.
We left camp knowing we’d be walking roads all day. The comments in the Guthook App indicated there was a lovely trail angel couple near the tiny town of Alger we would be walking through towards the end of the day. Nathaniel gave Mary a call, and she was quick to offer us camping in her yard on a lake. We made our plan to end our day at their house.
In the late morning, the logging roads ended, and our pavement walk began. Sean had mentioned the pain from his shin splints over the past few days, though he mostly suffered silently. It became quickly apparent that the pavement walk was only going to make this problem worse. Nevertheless, he pushed on in an impressive act of shear grit. Mid day, the route brought us to a small local bar where we enjoyed beers and fried food. From there, a few quick miles crossing the I-5 corridor brought us to Mary and Mark’s beautiful home on Lake Samish. Upon arrival, we were greeted with warmth and kindness and a tray of appetizers and cold beers. Mary had clearly gone out of her way to accommodate our vegan diet and spoiled us rotten. For dinner, she made us stir fried veggies with tofu and rice, then she made homemade cookies that were to die for. As we sat on their porch at sunset, we wondered what we had done to deserve such kindness. The treats were made even sweeter by the fact that Mary and Mark (and family!) were so genuine and down to earth. Our conversations were relaxed and easy – they felt like old friends. We went to bed with happy hearts and tummies.
We woke up early to Mary making us a bagels and avocado, vegan banana bread, lots of fresh fruit, and lattes (!!). So truly spoiled. We reluctantly started another day of road walking west and south. A few miles past her house, we did enjoy a short bit of single track through a beautiful forest. By lunch time, we were back to pounding pavement down a highway thankfully with a large shoulder. The Guthook guide again mentioned an epic trail angel named Marc who was more than happy to help out hikers. Marc seemed happy to hear from his first group of the season, and we arranged for him to pick us up down the route.
As we passed the tiny town of Edison, the local brewery was calling our name for a quick stop at the watering hole. Soon our walk continued, and I was grateful to have phone service to pass the time and a few miles chatting with friends. The route included a short stretch on a gravel nature path around an inlet which eventually led to Highway 20. Here, Marc had agreed to pick us up, and soon we were off.
Marc and his girlfriend Diane arrived at the meetup spot just on time and whisked us away a short drive to his house and “Marc’s Way Cool Barn.” The aptly named barn has been converted to a proper man cave with a full kitchen, couches, tv, and full bathroom. He showed us around and let us have the run of the place instructing us to help ourselves to anything we saw and get showered up before we got in the hot tub. Hot. Tub. He even got a call from a friend who dropped off some locally caught Dungeness crab which he eagerly shared with the 1 omnivore of the group (aka Beef Lips). Marc shared some fun stories with us about his motorcycle travel and legends of the Way Cool Barn. Our night ended with a dip in the hot tub at sunset once again in disbelief at our circumstances. As we were going to bed, we noticed yet another trail angel listed in our guide…
Marc dropped us off right where we had left the route on busy Highway 20. As we exited the car, Sean noticed his hip belt buckle had broken, and the buckle needed replacing. The broken gear was nearly too much to handle on top of the shin splints. I did my best to pull us along as our friends took off ahead of us. It wasn’t our best morning, and the busy road walking didn’t help. I cranked the tunes loud and sang my heart out as cars whizzed by. We followed any road that would take us off the busy highway, but at times the highway walk was inevitable. North of Deception Pass State Park, the realization of how dangerous this walk was set in. We approached the park on a windy single lane highway with virtually no shoulder jumping into the ditch when oversized vehicles rushed by. As we rounded blind spot corners, I truly wondered whether this was with it.
Sean and I left the state park with our only goal being to make it to Oak Harbor to hopefully find a replacement buckle. Thankfully, the shoulder widened, and the walk felt considerably less risky as we watched and heard big fighter jets in training at the nearby Navy base. We got a call from the group indicating that trail angels Rebecca and John would be happy to host us for the night, and John would pick us up and return us to the spot we left off in the morning. I know we’d just been spoiled rotten by trail magic the last two nights, but this day – we needed it. We arrived in Oak Harbor with just a few minutes for me to thankfully find a replacement belt buckle kit, and for Sean to grab a couple MOD pizzas. Our group reunited in John’s truck as we headed to our third trail angel’s house in three days.
Rebecca and John, owners of the Happy House, are proud trail angels and were so happy to help us. They welcomed us into their home eagerly with dinner, drinks, and insight on the permits needed through Olympic National Park. We were stunned when Rebecca offered her sewing machine and our group pack guru Gusha (founder of Nashville Pack) quickly and expertly repaired Sean’s pack. Hallelujah. Our night ended for the second night in a row in a hot tub.
After endless coffee, John bought us back to the places we had left the route, and we resumed road walking. We set ourselves up for an easy day aiming for the 6:15 ferry from Fort Casey to Port Townsend. After hours of road walking, we eventually arrived at the beach for a brief walk on the Sound as we headed towards the ferry. Our easiest westbound miles were upon us as we boarded the ferry and relaxed as we headed to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. The horizon line of the Olympics had been teasing us for days as we dreamed of our return to single track and hard pushes up big mountains.
Arriving in Port Townsend, Sean and I broke from the group to meet up with the bike-iest people we know, Sophie and Dan, for a quick catch up over dinner. We were sad our meeting was so brief as we walked away towards Lys and Dan’s house. Yep, our fourth night with a trail angel. This time, a couple of legends and bikepacking pioneers. They regularly host bike travelers via Warmshowers.org and occasional hikers like ourselves. They gave us run of the place upstairs while a few cyclists made themselves comfortable downstairs.
Coffee and conversation with Dan made for a delightful morning as we were enthralled by his stories of bike touring Alaska to Argentina in the 70s over the course of three years. Eventually, we reluctantly resumed hiking knowing we had just one big day of road walking left.
The first part of our day was on a series of gravel recreational trails, but eventually we were forced back into Highway 20. Once again, we walked towards oncoming traffic on little to no shoulder while cars streamed by. Occasionally, we moved into the ditch as semis rushed passed. At one point, a very kind and concerned woman pulled over and insisted we hop in the back of her truck. We refused, foolishly, and walked on. After six anxious miles, we reached the intersection of highways 20 and 101 safely, grabbed some soda from a local restaurant, and ambled on down a side road which soon turned to gravel. We rejoiced knowing the huge “urban hiking” section of the PNT was behind us with the Olympics in all their glory ahead. Of course, in true PNT fashion, the series of dirt roads ahead of us required a bit of bush whacking through stinging nettles. Despite the struggle, it felt right sleeping on the side of a forest service road.
Wow, well let’s start with the walking. It just wasn’t that awesome. This section was almost all road walking as we made our way west and south heading to Fort Casey to catch the ferry across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula. Road walking on pavement is especially hard on the feet and joints, not to mention dangerous and dull. It took a lot of will to not hitch through this section as we were informed that many (probably most) do. Suffering through an injury during this section was especially rough for Sean, and I admire his grit and commitment to the grind. We are pretty stoked to have this section behind us and head into the mountains where we belong.
The obvious silver lining of the urban hike was our great fortune with complete strangers who hosted us 4 nights in a row. We remain astounded by their generosity and kindness which included meals, showers, laundry, multiple hot tubs, help repairing gear, rides, and great conversation. Without their blessings, I truly don’t know if we would have walked this entire section. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your kindness!!