Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass
7/26 to 7/30
I’m awake at 7 in the Dinsmores bunkhouse and I pull the earplugs from my ears and step outside barefoot in the morning dew. I sort my resupply- the boxes I sent myself are heavy on the lara bars and lara bars, suddenly, have become inedible to me. What a waste, I think, dumping them into the hiker box, but oh well, somebody will eat them.
My feet are feeling better today. Yay little tendons, I think. Get stronger! I eat breakfast at the Cascadia Inn in Skykomish with a bunch of other hikers, massive portions of hashbrowns and eggs for the bottomless pit my stomach has become, and then hitch back to Stevens Pass, which is a ski resort that really encourages loitering in the most amazing ways. Tables and chairs, a charging station for phones, restrooms, a cafe with gluten free cake! And then an employee comes out with a huge tub and four spoons and says would we like the dregs of this chocolate icecream barrel? Would we ever!
At 7pm after many hours of staring at my phone I am finally finished with my blog and ready to hike out. The cafe has closed, all the other hikers have trickled away down the trail. I feel great- my legs are rested and my batteries are charged, so to speak, and I climb up to the gondolas in the low evening light and then down, 4 miles to a lake that vibrates with mosquitoes. No mosquito hell, not yet, just the normal amount. It’s almost august, maybe there won’t be mosquito hell for me at all- we’ll see. I eat wavy lays for dinner in my bug net shelter and drift off in the absolute silence of the wilderness.
I wake up groggy and sit in my shelter, waiting for my tea water to get hot, and read my friend Vanessa’s article, which I’d saved to my phone- What It’s Like Being The Fat Girl On The Hiking Trail. In the article, Vanessa says so many things about the long-distance hiking community that I’ve wanted to say but haven’t been able to find the right words, and just reading it, I feel like a weight is lifted off my heart. I’m so grateful for all the people having hard discussions, right now, about who does and does not have access to the outdoors, and how those people are depicted in popular media and in outdoors culture. The long distance hiking community is mostly white, mostly thin, very heteronormative, and super apolitical- many hikers use their privilege to ignore current issues, as they are not personally affected by these issues, rather than working to make things better in these times of great injustice- and to be honest sometimes I’m ashamed to be a part of the long-distance hiking community. What makes it worse is that I don’t know how to change this current long-distance hiking culture- when a population is privileged enough that nothing is forcing them to fight against injustice, as their race/class/gender/sexual orientation means that their own small worlds are mostly unaffected, then it apparently means that many of them will simply choose not to. And as I once saw somewhere on Twitter, “I don’t know how to convince you that you should care about other people”. But Vanessa’s article helps. It buoys me.
Otherwise tho my brain feels switched off today and I zone out for hours, listening to my audiobook and huffing my way uphill in the heat- I’m up in the mountains but there’s a heatwave I guess, and I’m sweating a lot, and already I smell bad. Today’s 22 miles has 6,640 feet of elevation gain, and I feel it. My muscles are getting stronger, though, and I feel that too. Although my tendons are still like what the hell are you doing.
Around midday I feel irritated, maybe it’s the heat? and I can’t seem to shake it. I meet a young man from Denmark who’s out backpacking for two weeks. He starts peppering me with questions. Where am I from? What have I hiked? What do I do for work? What gear am I carrying?
“I see you have a lot of tattoos,” he says, walking behind me. “Do they mean anything?”
Are you fucking kidding me? I think. I hike uphill as fast as I can, and then he’s gone.
In the evening I reach a stream that comes rattling down a drainage, referred to as “cascading stream” on the maps, that I remember as being a bit of a puzzle to cross going northbound. Now, earlier in the season, it’s rushing even more furiously downhill, roiling and churning over the rocks. Its thunder is deafening and soothing all at once. The first branch is not too hard to find a way across, but the second branch is too strong- I take a few steps in and then retreat. I climb up and over some truck-size boulders to get farther downstream. It’s fun. At last I find a spot where the stream spreads out, and is calmer, and I make my way across. I sit on a boulder in the sun on the other side, soaking up the roar of the water and feeling grateful to be safely on the other side. Sketchy stream crossings scare me. I would’ve been way too much of a wimp for the Sierras this year!
I camp on an unnamed ridge, it’s cold with enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitoes down.
I sleep hard again, god I love sleeping in the cold dark nature. I struggle out of my tarp/netting combo once at 2 a.m. to pee and the sky is strung all over with stars. In the morning I feel sort of twitchy again while hiking, grumpy and irritated. I can’t stop fidgeting and thinking about things that upset me. I know anger is often a mask for something else. I’m probably not drinking enough water. Or maybe I’m lonely, as I’m not near anyone in this section so there’s not anyone to make smalltalk with. Or maybe it’s PMS. No-one to talk to about it with, anyway, just rocks and trees. Nothing to do but drink more water and see if it passes, I guess.
4,042 feet of elevation gain today. Forest, forest, forest, mountaintop. The last three hours of the day pain flashes around my body like balls in a pinball machine. A long pounding downhill at the end and all I can think about is jumping in the stream and washing the heat and sweat away. I’m gonna take off my clothes and dunk in the creek! I’m gonna dunk in the creeeeek! I’m thirsty but I’m gonna dunk in the creek and that’s like drinking water but for my whole body!
Lemah creek is the one with the bridge out, but not in a sketchy way. It’s thundering a bit but still chill enough to cross without danger. I plop my pack down in the dust (I’m camping here tonite) and carry my water bottles and steripen down to the piled boulders at the water’s edge. I make my way downstream, hopping and scooting from boulder to boulder, towards a hidden little nook where I can strip and dunk in the water without worrying about being seen. I’m tired, my legs are weak. I take another step and slip- my hands fly out to catch myself on the rock as I fall. Plop! One of my gatorade bottles and my steripen fly into the roiling water and are carried away. Noooooooooooo! I shout at the stream. Not my freakin steripen! My magic UV light! That thing has been with me for thousands of miles! Frickin heck! How will I treat my water now?
I dunk anyway, and it feels good, although the water is so cold it makes me ache. I put my clothes back on and clamber up the bank. I’m sitting in my campsite when Bandit and Ghost, two hikers I’ve been leapfrogging with, show up. Ghost isn’t treating his water but Bandit has bleach in a visine dropper bottle (this is the most popular water treatment method among long distance hikers who hike multiple trails) and he lets me use some- one drop per liter, let it sit 30 minutes. The bleach freaks me out, as it’s bad for gut flora, but just this once shouldn’t hurt. And then I have magically potable water. Which is cool. And tomorrow I’ll get to town.
I fall asleep to the sound of the water. 24 miles today.
The longest most brutal climb in the morning flings me onto the hot rocky sunbaked spine of the mountains by midday, where the sun is so bright I think the flowers will combust. The trail becomes talus tumbled every which way. There on the horizon is Ranier, like a god. Alpine lakes wilderness, what a dazzling explosion of light.
Today’s 21.5 miles have 6,295 feet of elevation gain, and even though they are miles towards town, they are not fast. I lose myself in the heat, the flowers, the irregular surface of the trail. I take lots of breaks. I find a stream that showers down directly from the mountaintop over huge stone slabs and fill my bottles- no need to treat this source. I cook my extra dinner for lunch. I re-tape my blisters. I consider napping. I listen to the podcast episodes of Democracy Now that I downloaded in town, and it makes me feel a little more connected to the larger world- the episode for Wednesday, 7/27/17, is particularly good- it’s largely about Steve Bannon, and talks about the way he created the alt-right from the online gaming community. Bannon owned a company that was selling expensive game shortcuts to help the more monied gamers cheat (aka gold farming), and the online gaming community organized on 4chan and reddit and successfully shut his company down. That’s when Bannon realized how much power the online gaming community, which is made up almost entirely of young white men who spend most of their time online, had, and he hired far-right internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos to write articles on Brietbart that would entice him. And now Steve Bannon is the president’s closest advisor and strategist and the scourge of alt-right “peaceful ethnic cleansing” neo-nazis is spreading across the land… (watch the full show here or download it on your podcast player of choice.) Bannon is such a purely evil character, like a villian from a comic book. He is capitalism distilled down to its purest and most sociopathic essence, and learning about his ways and motivations feels important, and helps so much to explain how things got the way they are and where we’re headed next.
It’s 6pm by the time I reach the highway, and Snoqualmie pass. Snoqualmie pass is a crowded chevron, essentially, with a motel and pancake house combo next door. And then there’s Aardvark Express, the log-sided food truck that sits in front of the chevron. I’ve been thinking about this food truck for days. It’s some of the best food on the PCT! I order the curry, which is a massive container of rice and meat and veggies with shredded cabbage on top and sit under the shaded little eating area, and time slows down.
One of the best things about long distance hiking is that ordinary things transform themselves into narcotics. Food. Chairs. Shade. Sitting. Also beds. Sleep. Any form of rest. Water, if you’re thirsty. Bless!
The motel is full. There’s no place to camp here, how am I gonna shower and charge my battery pack now? Then Dan, the owner of the food truck and basically the most hiker-friendly person in all of Snoqualmie, tells me about a large cabin on the edge of town where a group of ultra runners are staying for a race tonight and maybe I can camp there too? En route we pick up Ghost and Bandit, who are wandering along the shoulder of the road looking also for a place to stay, and at the cabin the event coordinator says yeah, we can stay there, and I wash my roadkill-smelling clothes in the shower and then we all pitch our shelters in a little clearing outside and everything is wonderful.
Condensation comes in the night and soaks my sleeping bag and I dream I’m at a party at my friend Seamus’ house and everyone has babies now? And it’s really fun. I wake up missing Portland. When am I gonna be around queer people again? Feels like never… In the morning I’m walking back to the Aardvark thinking about my other conundrum, “how am I going to get to Seattle to get a new steripen,” when a car pulls up next to me and a very kind woman named Ashley says
“Hey, I’m a trail angel from Seattle. Do you need a ride?”
This is incredible, saving me a hitch which might take a while, and it’s fun to ride with Ashley and talk about everything after being pretty solitary on the trail for a few days. Ashley drops me right at the REI in Issaquah, which feels incredible and I still can’t believe my good luck. Thank you Ashley!! And THEN, my friend Butters from PCT 2014, who lives in Seattle, had just happened to message me, and he offers to give me a ride BACK to Snoqualmie, which would have been an almost impossible hitch- out of a strip mall in the suburbs and to the mountains. Thank you Butters!!
I haven’t seen Butters in years and it’s fun to catch up on the drive. He’s been going on these climbing trips in the North Cascades that are so insane I can’t even conceptualize them. (He puts photos on instagram here, the photos are beautiful and totally bonkers, give him a follow!) In Snoqualmie all the bros in this little bubble I’m in are hangin at the Aardvark and Butters pulls up a chair and joins them seamlessly as though they’ve all been hiking together for weeks. I feel a bit awkward- I mean they’re all nice bros, very humble and kind and I haven’t heard them say anything misogynist, but they’re just not my people, and although it’s nice to have folks to camp near some nights and to make small talk with when we pass each other, in many ways it feels as though I’m out here alone. One thing I didn’t take into account with SOBOing is that there seem to be far fewer women on trail than when going NOBO. These 20-something straight dudes are out here rollin deep having the adventure of their lives and I am happy for them, I mean I sincerely am! but man, I miss hiking around women. (And I miss queer community too, but that’s so rare on trail that it’s not worth mentioning. What is anything, eh?)
I guess I should be hiking out today but I’ve only just started writing my blog, hunched over a metal picnic table in the sun and tbh my feet would like some more rest and I’m section hiking anyway, what’s the hurry? (Oh the glory of being a section hiker!) I’m definitely leaning towards staying, but where? Then a new hiker shows up- Mary Poppins! She’s wearing a visor and a highlighter-pink shirt that’s gone grey in spots from dirt. Her pack is small and tidy. She northbounded last year and this year she’s southbounding. She tells me over her vegetarian tacos at the Aardvark that she’s an acupuncturist who can’t seem to stop hiking long enough to settle down. She’s getting a room at the Inn tonite and is down to split it. Yes!!!
I talk Mary Poppins’ ear off over our dinners at the pancake house attached to the inn- blackened salmon cesar salads and huge plates of fries, which I realize is the ideal hiker town meal- a big plate of veggies and quality protien, and then another big plate of- calories. Mostly in the form of carbs. I must be PMSing, and my PMS on top of hiker hunger is making Super Hiker Hunger- Extreme! And I am literally getting high off these fries. Mary Poppins is a good sport about all the talking and I am so freakin grateful.
I fall asleep well past hiker midnight after attempting, and failing, to finish my blog in bed in the dark and the window is open and the heat has made way for Mountain Nighttime Cool and the sheets are like heaven underneath me and this stupid lumpy pillow is like heaven too and I have cold leftover fries wrapped in a napkin for breakfast and I’ve made new friend and everything is gonna be alright.