It’s five-o-clock in the morning on Wednesday April 4th 2012. I wake up to the buzzing of the alarm clock on my cell phone. My room is dark and cold as I stumble out of bed, weary-eyed from a late night. I get up, hit the “alarm off” button, and power down my phone. I place my cell in a drawer where it will remain turned off for the next six months. While some people might feel naked or lost without their cell phone, I am perfectly content leaving it behind, at least in this situation. It is not like I’ll be able to use it anyway; where I’m going there will be no cell service for miles and miles. Lissa and I wander into the kitchen rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and grab the last remaining slices of homemade pumpkin pie my mother made last night. We wolf them down as we get ready for the day. I am excited and nervous for our upcoming adventure; six months living in a semi-remote, backcountry hot spring is going to be quite the experience!
While Lissa packs our perishable foods into coolers, I make the second part of our breakfast: smoothies! I’m sure going to miss them. I am addicted to smoothies and milkshakes, but there will be no blender in the cabin, let alone frozen anything. We say goodbye to my mom who’s trying not to be sad that she won’t get to hear her baby boy’s voice for awhile. As dawn breaks over a typical, dreary day in the Evergreen State, my dad drives us down to Puyallup where we meet up with Dick, a board member for Northwest Wilderness Programs. We delivered our gear to Dick’s house last night and intended to load it all into his truck so we could be ready to go first thing this morning. However, Dick’s truck had been acting up and was in the shop, so we piled our gear on his front porch instead. This morning the truck is back from the shop, but Dick admits that it isn’t fixed. We load our heavy plastic totes, coolers, backpacks and bicycle into the bed of the heavy duty truck anyway, and depart for the woods – hoping that there are no complications.
We say our goodbyes to my father and tell him not to worry, although I know he will. My dad will be the biggest worrier in my family. I’ve told my parents that it’s not like I’m being dropped into the middle of Alaska by bush plane. I may not have cell service but I will have internet (not that they know how to use email very well). And really, I’ll only be a few hours away from them; I just won’t have a way to get out.
The morning is chilly and gray and we are hoping it doesn’t start raining very hard. As we make our way down the freeway to meet up with our boss Don in North Bend, Lissa is left to do the talking while I begin to doze off. Lissa pokes me awake as we take the last exit off the freeway before Snoqualmie Pass. We pull into a truck stop to wait for Don who is stuck in morning rush hour traffic in Seattle. Meanwhile, Dick buys us a much needed second breakfast at the dinky truck stop diner. Not the best food in the world, but not bad either. Don arrives as we finish eating and orders some food for himself. He and Dick strike up a conversation about politics, making fun of the crazy republican candidates. It will be nice to get a break from hearing how corrupt our government is. Before departing, I make one last stop to the bathroom. It’s old smelly outhouses from here on out!
We head northeast from the truck stop along the middle fork road. After a few miles, the pavement ends and turns into rutted, gravel, Forest Service road, 18 miles below Goldmyer. “Road” is an overstatement though, as there are more pot holes than road. We spend almost two hours getting tossed and bounced around before we reach Dingford Gate. So far, no trouble with Dick’s truck, though after being shaken to death on this gravel road, it is starting to sound funny.
For the general public, Dingford Gate is the end of the line as far as driving goes. From here, people either have to bike or hike the remaining 4 ½ miles into Goldmyer Hot Springs. But since Goldmyer is privately owned by a non-profit we have a key! We have been lucky so far with the weather; still overcast with some light drizzle. We haven’t hit snow yet and with little elevation gain up to Goldmyer, I am optimistic that we will make it the four miles down to where the road meets up with the middle fork trail. But, about a mile past Dingford Gate, we are stopped in our tracks because of deep snow.
At this point, we unload a quad with snow tracks from Don’s truck, attach a large sled behind it and begin to load it up with our totes. We can only fit about six totes onto the back of the sled, so it is going to take awhile to haul in all 49 totes of our food and gear. Luckily, we separated out a one month supply of food in case everything doesn’t make it in on our initial move-in day. I am the lucky one to get to ride behind Don on the quad, while Lissa walks/snowshoes the last several miles (she doesn’t like the noise of the quad anyways). For the first half-mile or so, we have to stop and cut fallen trees out of the roadway so often that Lissa is actually beating us on foot. An hour after leaving the trucks, Don and I make it to the foot bridge crossing the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. From here we unload the totes onto a bright orange kid’s sled. However, only two totes can fit onto this smaller sled. I begin the final quarter mile trek up the trail to Goldmyer pulling upwards of 75 pounds of food on each load.
While pulling the sled through 2½ feet of snow, I start thinking of a book I recently finished reading: Polar Dream by Helen Thayer. In Polar Dream, Helen tells of her adventure to become the first woman to walk/ski to the Magnetic North Pole unassisted. As I pull my 75 pounds worth of food up the trail over compact snow, ice and bare rock and through a creek, I can only slightly begin to imagine what it would be like to pull a sled over hundreds of miles through much colder, winder and snowier conditions. At least there aren’t polar bears lurking behind any trees. After I make several trips to the cabin and back, Lissa catches up with me and begins helping me tow the heavy sled loads. Soon the sun starts to set over the mountains, slowly sinking behind the dense conifer forest. Don makes just one more run with supplies, and decides to call it quits for the day, a decision which we are quite thankful for as we are beginning to wear out from the day’s strenuous workout.
It will take another day or two before Lissa and I really settle into our new home and lives. Will, the winter caretaker, stays behind to go over cabin operations. There is sure a lot to learn! Will is glad to have somebody to talk to and is antsy to leave tomorrow. He has been here the last couple of weeks by himself as his partner has taken off early. Hopefully, Will’s impatience to get back to the real world isn’t a bad sign of things to come on our part. Will I get this antsy also and want to bail before October? Only time will tell.