Mile 2565 to mile 2580
The storm doesn’t come. I sleep hard for a while and when I wake up at first light my stuff is dry- sleeping bag, tent, everything dried in the night. Hallelujah. Everyone is packing up and we’re on the trail by 6:30, working our way through the fog. 15 downhill miles to Stehekin, the promised land. So close, so close.
We’re hiking fast fast and it starts to rain. Warm rain though. Everything is soaked, wet plants slapping against our legs, water running under our rain jackets and into our faces. We catch up to Guthrie- he didn’t take the alternate, camped 1.5 miles before us, got up early. We take a break next to a stream, eat the last of our food. Then rushing, rushing through the wet forest in the downpour. We’ve got to make the 12:15 shuttle from the trailhead. There are no roads into Stehekin, if you didn’t already know about this magical place. Little village that sits on lake Chelan and you can get in by boat, float plane, or by walking in on the PCT. Shuttle picks you up at the trailhead.
We reach the bridge at 11:30, the rain is still falling, we huddle on the porch of the ranger’s house under the awning, sitting on the woodpile. Waiting for the shuttle. Krispies shows up! She camped four miles back, did 19 miles by 11:45. She’s wearing a blue plastic rain poncho.
“I ran most of the way,” she says.
13 of us, huddled out of the rain, smelling like a pile of damp laundry that’s been in the bottom of a hamper. The shuttle rumbles up, a long red bus from the past/future and we pile on, stack our wet packs in the front. There was a landslide yesterday, the road was closed. We ease our way through the part that’s been bulldozed out- it looks like a lava flow of mud and rocks that came through the trees, buried everything three feet deep. Then Lake Chelan, flat and green, held in by the steep rain-grey mountains. Third deepest lake in the country, after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. The PCT goes by all three.
I feel glum. I rest my head against the window and stare out at the wet green forest. I’m tired- I haven’t had a full night’s sleep on the trail in a while. And I need a day off. Tomorrow will be my first zero since Sisters, 600 miles ago. And other than that, I just feel sad. I hiked again, why did I do that? What was I looking for? What even is out there, to find? I close my eyes. This is what it feels like to be alive, I think. This is what it feels like to be alive.
Then we’re at the bakery. All summer I’ve been telling people that I’m on my second annual pilgrimage to the Stehekin bakery. Now I’m afraid that I’ve talked it up too much, that I’ll be dissapointed.
I am not dissapointed.
Big warm room, everything made of yellow wood. Beautiful people, rosy-cheeked and dusted with flour, pulling pizzas, cinnamon rolls, loaves of bread from the steaming ovens. In back several rows of pies cool on a wooden chopping block.
This year I promised myself an entire blackberry pie. Last year Raho and I split one, finishing it in five minutes, and this year I think I could eat a whole one. I ask for blackberry and the woman looks over the pies- peach, strawberry rhubard, walnut, and then she finds one- crust broken, running all over with purple juice. It’s $16 and still warm from the oven. She puts the pie in a box on a paper doily and I am elated holding it, feeling its warmth. This is my pie. Mine. Happy thru-hike to me. Others get chicken croissants, pizza, giant sticky buns. I dig into the pie as the bus jolts down the rutted dirt road to the village. It tastes like heaven, and I manage to eat half of it before I feel ill. No worries, though. I’ll finish the rest by the morning.
There are four rooms left in the lodge and we rent all of them for our group. I end up in a small room with Brainstorm and Tiny and I commandeer the space between the bed and the wall for my sleeping quarters, take one of the best showers of my life. Eat more pie. Sit on the big couch at the end of the hall that faces the windows that look out at the lake- stare and stare at the lake, the mist moving over the water, the vertical mountains.
Laundry and then dinner is at the restaurant- they’ve done away with the massive nachos of last year, unfortunately, but they let us order burgers off the lunch menu. The postmaster with long silver hair and an eye patch fetches our packages and then we make our way to the community center, a cluster of rooms for locals and lodge guests where there are more couches, board games, a pool table. There is no wifi in Stehekin, no computers, no cell phone reception. We have only each other, these fantastical baked goods, whatever beer we can buy. I decide to drink for once and it’s fun, the sense of comraderie, no sitting by myself feeling like an outsider, the bare bulb of sobriety making everything too bright. I introduce the group to Bag of Nouns, which is kind of like celebrity, and almost every word is PCT related- poop, horse, cascadia, back chafe. We talk about all the good times we’ve had. How did this happen, I think. I feel like I was never really here.
I head back to the hotel just before midnight, walking alone along the dark shores of the lake, hearing the water lapping, no light pollution anywhere. The air smells like mist, like pacific northwest winter. Back at the room I brush my teeth and crawl into my good hard bed on the floor, with a nice feather pillow for tonight. I arrange my things around me- crusty gatorade bottle of water, chapstick, hanky. The window’s wide open and the damp air comes in. I sleep.
Photos on instagram.