Friday, December 20, 2019

Day 24: The Day I Maced Myself. Twice.

August 8: I woke up early by trail-town standards. I wanted to get an early start to the day's hike since temperatures were expected to break 100 degrees this afternoon in Metaline Falls. The earlier I started, the cooler it would be! And most of the day would climb steadily upwards. Up and up and up and up.... Every thousand feet up would knock 4 degrees off the highs and I wanted to get as high as possible as quickly as possible.

The hallway in the Washington Hotel

But I did splurge and instead of my usual cereal for breakfast, I treated myself to a meal at the restaurant next door. Farm-something-something, I don't remember. They opened at 6:00am and I was the first customer to walk in the door.

I ordered a meal that consisted of a waffle, egg and sausage. It didn't fill me up, though, and it seemed a little expensive for how much I got. I wanted to leave town with a stomach that was solidly full! Oh, well....

After breakfast, I headed back to the hotel where I brushed my teeth and packed up my bag before hitting the trail at 7:00am.

The trail crosses over the Pend Oreille River on a bridge leaving Metaline Falls.

The first several miles out of town was the continuation of the paved road walk--not fun by any stretch, but at least it wasn't a busy highway! At least it wasn't one at this early in the morning.

At a curve in the road, the trail veered off onto a gravel forest service road but I saw Ryan hiking backward along the road. Where was he coming from?! That was the wrong direction! Although I didn't actually realize it at first having not recognized the turn onto the gravel road as the direction of the trail. When I saw Ryan, I thought he was just hiking the wrong direction on the trail!

"The trail is that way!" he said, pointing down the gravel road. I looked at my map. Indeed it was. "I walked about a mile in the wrong direction!"

I could hear the annoyance in his voice and I couldn't blame him. I'd have been annoyed too. But I was glad he caught me where he did because otherwise, I might have made the very same mistake.

I jokingly suggested that his trailname should be "Off-Trail" because all three times I had run into him now, he was off the trail! Although I didn't know it at the time, this was the last time our paths would cross. He hiked faster than me and I could see him pull ahead on the trail for a mile or two before I stopped to fill up with water and he rounded the turn never to be seen again. (Well, I'm sure other people saw him--just not me.)

My suggested trailname didn't stick, though, as I noticed that he continued to sign registers ahead of me as "Ryan" instead of Off-Trail.

That's Ryan ahead of me on the trail
I picked up a whopping 6 liters of water--the most I had ever carried on the trail to get through a long dry stretch. Normally I wouldn't have carried this much--not even for such a long dry stretch--but with temperatures forecasted to break 100 degrees in the area, I wanted all the water I could carry!

The paved road was mostly flat but the gravel road immediately charged into the mountains and the long uphill slog began. It would be a long 5,000-foot climb almost to the top of Abercombie Mountain--the highest point in Stevens County and the second-highest point in eastern Washington. There's also a class of mountain called an ultra-prominent peak, and Abercombie is one of only 57 mountains in the United States with a 5000-foot rise. In the entire world, there are only about 1,500 such peaks.

The trail followed the forest service road most of the distance to the top--a strong and steady up but never steep--but the trail barely misses the actual summit. I arrived near the summit at 3:00 in the afternoon and it was hot but--being about 5000 feet higher than Metaline Falls--I calculated that it was likely 20 degrees cooler way up here--perhaps topping out at 80 degrees. Still hot, but a heck of an improvement over the 100 degrees in town!

The gravel road finally became an actual trail near the summit of Abercombie.

I thought about taking the short side trail to the summit but decided I was too tired and it was too hot to bother. Anyhow, it was really quite hazy so the views weren't all that great comparatively speaking.

The high point of the trail provided no shade, so I continued down the trail until I reached a nice, wooded area that provided plenty of shade for a good, long break to beat the heat of the day.

I ate snacks, read my Kindle and lingered for over an hour. Then... then I pulled out my extra can of bear spray. Ryan was the only hiker I had seen on the trail all day and I knew for a fact he was ahead of me on. There were no vehicles at the trailhead. It seemed extremely unlikely that anyone was close behind me on the trail. If there was another thru-hiker behind me, they would have spent the night in Metaline Falls and if that were the case, I'd have likely bumped into them at some point. Nope, I was convinced that I was as alone as I could get. There might not have been a single living person within miles of my current location.

And I wanted to shoot off the whole can of bear spray. =)

I had a whole can of bear spray to shoot off. Sounds like fun! =)

I wanted to check two things: duration and distance. I would record the experience on video so I didn't have to time the duration. I could just check it on the video later. The distance... I didn't have any good way to measure distance, but I remembered reading that the average person's step is about 3 feet, so I figured the bear spray should shoot 10 or 11 steps or so. I paced off the distance so I could get a sense of how far the bear spray might go.

I packed up my backpack so I could leave in a hurry. Just in case something went horribly wrong or a gust of wind blew the bear spray back in my direction, I wanted to be able to grab the pack and run! I was prepared for a quick getaway!

I also smartly decided to shoot the bear spray up the trail from where I came. It would have been pretty stupid of me to shoot it down the trail where I still needed to hike!

The wind was absolutely calm. I couldn't detect even the slightest breeze, and the trees were quiet. I stood on my mark and fired a couple of quick shots. The videos I had watched about how to use the bear spray suggested two short one-second blasts and, if a bear was still attacking, to shoot the rest of the thing off. I wanted to simulate that so these first shots weren't a duration test--this was the distance test.

The orange mist shot forward, expanding as the distance increased. It didn't appear to reach the mark I had expected it to, but it came close. I was about to turn around when I noticed a large quantity of moths fly out from a tree and flutter around in a growing cloud. It was kind of hypnotic--and clearly an effect of the bear spray. Those moths were probably sound asleep, minding their own business and waiting for it to get dark to come out then woke up to me testing bear spray and totally freaked out. I felt a little bad for them. I hadn't been planning to shoot a bunch of moths with my bear spray, and it certainly wasn't a direct hit because the moths weren't even out when I shot it down the trail, but the gas must have drifted to their nest or wherever moths hang out.

I watched the fluttering mass grow as the moths spread out looking for clean air. Then... I felt it. A punch to my eyes and nostrils. It wasn't windy, but the bear spray was dissipating in all directions--including where I stood! I fell back, coughing and crying. I grabbed my camera which I had set on a stump to capture the action and dashed out on an intersecting trail to get away from the cloud of gas.

My eyes teared up and my nostrils burned. I was fascinated by the experience, despite how uncomfortable it was. And I wasn't even directly hit by the gas--I only got a partial hit of the expanding cloud as it was dissipating.

I caught my breath after a short while, but I still had most of a can of bear spray--basically pepper spray or mace--and I still wanted to do the duration test.

This looks like a nice, empty section of trail to shoot the bear spray!

I decided to shoot the rest of the can off on the side trail where I was now located. It would leave the trail where I needed to hike out clear of bear spray! That was still my exit!

This time, I held the camera in one hand as I shot off the bear spray in the other hand and counted off the seconds. One... two... three... A large, orange cloud filled the air, growing in size with each passing second. It was hypnotic to watch. Six... seven...

The can started sputtering, coming to a complete stop a second later.

And in the excitement, I totally forgot about the lesson I learned from my first shot: the dissipating cloud of bear spray would expand. I should have started running away the second I finished off the can, but I didn't--and the very thick expanding cloud of gas hit my face almost immediately. It was far worse than the first hit I got!

I fell back, wounded. OMG! I coughed, I cried. The horror!

I rushed back to my pack at the trail intersection which, for the time being, seemed safe. I drank some water and wiped the tears from my eyes, and rubbed my eyes. This stuff was horrible!

I noticed a line of orange that had dribbled down from the nozzle of the bear spray and knew I didn't want to touch it. I tried to rinse it off with water but it seemed stuck on the label. I finally put the can in not one, but two ziplock bags. The can was empty, but I still needed to pack it out and I didn't want that can touching anything inside of my pack! It was a biohazard now! So I doubled bagged it with ziplocks then added it to a third ziplock containing my trash.

All the while my eyes teared up and I coughed and had trouble speaking for the camera, trying to find words to describe the horrible feeling.

I couldn't believe I maced myself... TWICE! The first time, okay--lesson learned. Or should have been learned. But the second time.... just plain stupidity. I got hypnotized by the orange cloud of gas.

Of course there has to be a video!

Finally done cleaning up my mess, I put on my pack and started hiking. No reason to hang around here anymore!

It was near 5:00 when I got moving again--temperatures were miserably hot but at this point, they should be cooling down. Except they really didn't because the trail descended thousands and thousands of feet. It seemed like the cooling afternoon temperatures were compensated by my falling elevation so the temperature felt like it stayed constant for the next few hours.

I finally arrived at Silver Creek--my goal for the day since it was the first water source of a long, dry stretch. I was surprised to find two women at the creek washing their hair in it. What the hell?! That was my drinking water! Where the hell had they come from anyhow? I was pissed at them and didn't even greet them with a hi. I set down my pack and positioned myself upstream of them to collect water. I certainly didn't want to drink the water downstream of them that was filled with soap and whatever else they had in their hair.

Filled up with water, I continued down the trail looking for a place to camp when I walked into a... campground. An actual campground with a pit-toilet and vehicles parked in various campsites. My map didn't say anything about a campground here! I was lonely on the trail and would have loved to camp with a couple of other hikers, but hanging out in a crowded campground wasn't what I had in mind. That certainly explained where the two girls came from. Couldn't go one night without washing their hair.

But it was starting to get dark and I was tired and I needed a place to stop so I walked around the campground looking for an empty site. I found it, threw out my groundsheet and called it a day. At least I had a comfortable picnic table to cook dinner at and sit.

I thought I'd be camping in the wild, but I wound up at this campground!

I assumed there was some sort of fee to camp here but I hadn't driven in and never saw a board about how to pay or where to pay so I didn't worry it. If someone came up and asked me to pay, I would, but otherwise, I wasn't going to run around figuring out how it worked. I hadn't expected there to be a campground when I arrived!

I was surprised to see Seattle City Light out here. It's a long way to Seattle! But it's nice to see the area where our electricity comes from. =)
I was a little disappointed that the trail didn't go past Gardner Caves. So close and yet so far! I'd have loved to have checked out the caves.
There was a horrible murder-suicide on the trail here. A tree fell and took out another tree! The crime tape seemed a little unnecessary, though....

The last section of trail downhill to the campground had a lot of trail work recently done. It was amazing!


Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

That has got to be an instant classic video to share with your hiking audience! I can just imagine doing the exact same thing with a can a bear spray after I carried it for hundreds of miles and not needing it anymore. I am certainly glad to have watched your experience before ever trying it myself. Happy Trails!

Unknown said...

Did it occur to you that you should also be moving away from the bear?

Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

You really are a total goober!

Ryan said...

I just knew this post would get a lot of comments! ;o)

Eidolon said...

As someone who lives in bear country and hikes all the time, I found this interesting and amusing. Thanks for sharing.

KuKu said...

I have to admit that I was laughing my head off for the first test, especially when you said, "Well, that was exciting."

Now you know if you ever do spray that a bear, that you want to make sure you don't get any blow back!