Location: Stehekin Valley Ranch, WA
*Note: Since I am editing this on a desktop I am going to format the pictures so they are right side up for all desktop readers. My apologies for anyone who reads this on their mobile device.
I’ve done it. It took 2,569 miles, but I’ve completed my goal. I’ve walked straight into a town that belongs in a Nicholas Sparks Novel. The town of Stehekin, Washington. Screw Canada, I’m hanging up my boots. I have found paradise.
Whoa whoa whoa, back it up Jules. What about that other town we can’t pronounce? Oh, Snoqualmie? No no the next one! Oh right, Skykomish! Yes, Skykomish, well that’s my favorite trail town TOO! Every trail town is my favorite trail town, just like every section is my favorite section. I guess you can say I’ve really learned how to live in the present.
Okay, back to Skykomish because I haven’t told you about how much I loved it yet. The section from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass (Skykomish) was 72 miles. It was another cold and wet few days with a relief day of minor sunshine. Fall is in the air on blast. The nights have gotten down to low thirties, definitely below freezing at times. One night I woke up and starting slapping all of my gear that was exploded around me. I was freaking out. Why? Because everything was SO cold that I thought it was soaking wet. I knew it wasn’t raining but I was next to a lake so I figured the condensation snuck through my barricade of ultra-light tent walls and wanted me miserable. Turns out, nothing was wet, everything was just about frozen. Feels the same, if you’re wondering. Bear Claw told me she woke up the other night to have a sip of water and it hurt her teeth. Wintry nights and summery days, the temperature difference between the shade and the sun is about 75 degrees, give or take 65 degrees. Fact.
LISTEN TO ME COMPLAIN MORE ABOUT HOW COLD IT IS!
Washington has been so challenging, which means it’s been incredibly rewarding. We are averaging 6,000′ elevation gain everyday, and usually the same amount of loss. What this means is that hikers are starting to bitch about their knees being sore. That’s all that means. Oh, and that the views are unbelievable and that the man calves I get to hike behind are even more carved out. Win win!
I got to Stevens Pass after an easy morning of 7 miles. I saw about 5 hikers on the highway trying to hitch into the nearest town, Skykomish. I decided not to burst their bubble (who’s gonna pick up 6 people???) and go in the lodge at Stevens Pass to check my email and get a coffee — surely they’ll be gone within the hour so I can start my own hitching process. There’s only one place to stay in Skykomish, so I decided to be responsible and give them a call to book a room. JACKPOT – LAST ROOM! Henry, the owner, was so nice he even told me he knows a guy who can come pick me up as long as I do ONE thing: DON’T MOVE. Ugh, okay Henry fineeeeeeeeeee I’ll stay right here in this seated position indoors sipping on this warm caffeinated beverage, but only for you Henry!
I felt really lucky, and extremely posh. Chris came to pick me up within 20 minutes and as we left the parking lot I saw the same hikers on the highway trying desperately for a ride. Sometimes hitching a ride is so demoralizing that the only way to deal with it positively is by viewing it as a lesson in rejection. Think about it, if you can become comfortable with rejection you can rule the world. Another: Fact.
I felt really guilty as we drove away and my fellow hikers threw their arms up in “what the f$&@” fashion. Well, we all make choices, and coffee is always the right one. After 2 hours I saw those guys in town only for them to be told there were no rooms left: ouch.
Skykomish is a super quiet and peaceful place. It has a laundromat, bar, hotel/restaurant, and a couple shops that are only open for 4 hours a week. Oh, and a huge loud train that goes by 20 times a day. BEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPPPPP.
I fell in love with it right away. Henry gave me an “orientation” to the inn and I went to the post office to pick up 4 PACKAGES! I was feeling really popular with my arms full leaving the PO. I knew they were all coming and was psyched they were all there.
At my last resupply stop, Snoqualmie Pass, my package to myself and my friends package to me both didn’t make it to the Chevron. I was skeptical of the Chevron, and it proved me right. All the packages were thrown into a warm beer cooler in the back and the guy says “good luck.” Turns out, if the ETA isn’t within a couple days they don’t deliver it. Yeah, I still don’t understand how they would know. It was a disorganized mess, and after an hour of hauling boxes around looking for my name, I gave up. LUCKILY I saw my friend Lukes package. Luke, sorry, Bivvy, is a friend I met a long ways back, a Cartoonist from Ireland and just before he left for the trail, a published author! We hiked a lot together with Mile 55 in the Sierra but then I lost the group and he was lucky enough to keep pace with them. All I know is that Luke had to skip parts of Oregon so he was way ahead, so I told him I found his box and he told me if I needed food to just take it. It felt invasive, but I went for it. I also found it extremely hilarious that the first thing on top was a huge bottle of SPF 50, gotta love that Irish skin! Pretty amazing how we all look out for each other out here. You may not have seen a close friend in a 1,000 miles, but they are never far (awwwwwwwww).
Okay BACK to Skykomish. I got a TON of candy from my friends and family. Lots of notes of encouragement and lots of warm fuzzy feelings. It was a solid trip to the post office. I feel so lucky to have the support system that I do, it makes this trail so much more fun, and so much easier.
After drying out my gear in the backyard of the Inn, I went next door to the Whistling Post, the local dive bar to watch the NFL season opener. I sat at the bar and chatted with the locals and got the scoop on the family bar business as I watched the game. Then the best thing happened. Bear Claw and Lemonade (remember them from previous posts? The engaged couple from SF who took 2 weeks off in July to get married in Sierra City? The wedding I couldn’t go to because I was in the ER peeing blood? Good, because they’re BACK!) texted me saying they were next door eating dinner! I couldn’t believe it, I knew they were closing the gap quickly, but didn’t think I’d see them until here, in Stehekin, at the bakery they first told me about. BONUS, they caught me a town early! They met me at the bar and we drank lots and caught up. I haven’t seen them in 2 months, over a 1,000 miles at that point. We stayed in good contact and finally bridged the gap, we were very happy hikers in Skykomish.
We grabbed breakfast and since they got in so late the previous night, they still had post office and laundry things to do, so I left a couple hours before them. As the trail would have it, I didn’t see them again until the morning we took the bus into Stehekin. The final 8 miles of the 108 mile butt-whooping section. They were consistently 5 miles behind me it seemed, but it was okay, because the biggest thing in our life was getting to the Stehekin Bakery together. And that, we achieved.
I left Skykomish a bit weighted down by the length and difficulty of the next section. 108 miles: 5 days 4 nights, and the most elevation gain/loss aside from the Sierra. The only bad weather day was going to be Sunday, so that was really comforting. The sun will be out! Woop!
So after an ice cream at the lodge, I started hiking at 1pm. Beautiful day, at that point we haven’t seen a sunny day like this in a long time, so it felt extra special. I hiked 15 miles and then ran into Raiden, Chapstick, and Big Bear, and we hiked into the late evening together towards Pear Lake. The sun was setting on Mt. Baker and we cruised into camp. About 8 other tents were already set up (hot spot!) but after a bit of searching I found one far enough away that I didn’t have to listen to a chorus of snoring – – success. They had a fire going and I hung out for a while (I know, how SOCIAL of me!) to see who was there. I finally met ALTA, and apparently “re-met” Polaris. Polaris is a really cool guy. He looked at me and says “Toe Touch, yes, Toe Touch, we met at the side of 3-Fingered Jack in mid to late August right around lunchtime.” My mouth was agape. Was he right? Yes, yes he was. I didn’t recognize him, but he was part of a group I had lunch with that day on the side of the trail, which just so happened to have an epic view of 3-Fingered Jack (a mountain in Oregon, by the way). Astonishing. I will say, hiking IS very good for the memory.
I slept like a rock and woke up to a dry tent, Eureka! Left camp at 8 and never saw any of those people again until, you guessed it, the bus ride to the Stehekin Bakery (I’m gonna see how many times I can mention this bakery in one post). It was sunny all day and dare I say, hot out. The trail was fun and challenging, with ridges and views galore. The colors were of blue, green, red, orange, and yellow. So clear, so fun. I sat on a rock with an stellar backrest, tore apart my backpack, and enjoyed an apple with peanut butter. My friends Yodeler and Trigger (awesome French couple) hiked by and that was the start to seeing them very often throughout the section. This was all in Glacier Peak Wilderness, quite possibly the most awe inspiring section of the trail.
After my lunch I hiked on, feeling sicker and sicker as the hours passed. First I got hit with nausea, then a headache, then overall weakness. I put on a podcast about Health for Female Endurance Athletes to try and distract me from my sickness but that only made it worse. A huge part of the podcast was about Amenorrhea or, not getting your period for over 90 days. This may be too much information for some, but I’ve already taken you through my whole journey since April, so why leave anything out now: I haven’t had my cycle since April, 2 weeks into the hike. Not surprising, my body is under constant physical stress with very little time to recover. It’s not healthy to go this long without a period, my hormones are as balanced as I’ve been able to keep them, but are clearly not functioning at an optimal level. This podcast had great information, but I couldn’t listen anymore, I tore out my earbuds. I felt so unhealthy. Fit but unhealthy. Gah. What is going ON in there!
I got to the creek and decided to camp there. I was so weak at this point that it would be stupid to walk anymore. Besides, 2 ladies section hiking said they were going to camp at this creek, and it would be nice to have their company while I’m not feeling well. They are a bit older, and I took great comfort in that. I got to camp and with no one else there, went far into the brush and barfed. Didn’t take much, came right out. And since I’ve decided to tell you everything, you should know that it looked like chunky black tar. It was as if I threw up a dead organ. I was so disturbed. I’m surprised I didn’t shed a tear from the fear I felt in my gut. Because clearly, I’m on the brink of death. Good thing I have nice older ladies to give me comfort in the night. If my mom can’t be here with ginger ale and wonder bread toast, two strangers will do. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled with their new designated task for the evening.
I poked around at my vomit because I wanted to know what I had just lost. It HAD to be the peanut butter, I MUST have overdone it! But why then, is it BLACK. So perplexed. It just made me feel worse about myself. My body is dying from the inside out and telling me to give it a REST. And I understand, recovery is so important. Rest is so important. But so is Canada. And I’ve been pushing my limits all summer in so many different ways, it can wait another week.
Fortunately, I went through my chores that night trying to forget what just came out of my body. I was actively erasing it from my memory. I cautiously ate dinner and thankfully slept really well. I never needed to bother the sweet old ladies. I left the next morning at 8 and it was foggy, wet, and frigid. It was a really challenging morning to get moving. I still felt weak, but capable of hiking. Not that it mattered, this section is so remote there was no way out even if I did leave my dead liver on the forest floor last night. We were deep in the wilderness all week, and you know I wasn’t about to turn around.
The morning was rough. It was raining and the trail was gutted and terrible. I slipped and fell 3 times, with one of them in slow motion watching my knee twist in a very bad way. I yelled a bad word and forced myself back up. I put pressure on my knee and it responded like a champ, I’m good, I got this. I was going up and over and under downed trees and just trying to survive the morning, doing everything I could to control my thoughts. Only let the good ones in, and dismiss the bad ones right away. By noon, the rain stopped and the sun fought to come out. A guy passed me saying “Congratulations! Nothing can stop you now!” I stopped and looked at him. Big smile. I returned it. He’s right, after being punched in the gut all morning, it still wasn’t going to stop me from getting to Canada. At this point, the PCT can have its way with me, it’s just simply not going to matter. I will continue to battle it out and laugh at it as much as possible. Even when my barf and poop looked really similar back to back. Ahhhh goddddd nooooo CMON julez! Sorry, I’m a thru-hiker, and all we talk about is food and poop. Why should my blog be any different?
So this day, Sunday, September 11th (perspective played a big role in getting me out of the gutter as well) was starting to look up. The sun came out and I climbed 6,000 feet before 12:30. A nice lady took my photo at the top and we hiked together for a little bit of the descent, then I raced on. I had 3,000 more feet to climb and then 3,000 more to descend before camp. I was feeling SO much better, and getting really excited for another long climb. By the end of the day I was camped next to a creek, having gone up (and down) 9,000 feet in 27 miles, and had my appetite back. Phew. What a day. Not sure I’ve ever had to overcome so much in one tiny little 12 hour period. Bring on the deadlines, the stress, the poor team dynamics, the scheduling issues, time management, chronic conflict — bring it all on society, or “real world.” I’d be shocked to see how rattled you can make me. Thru-hikers have to be the most desired employees in the world.
The next day I did 29 miles and the average 6,000 gain. Standard. The Northern Cascades have been breathtaking. One of my favorite sections of the trail! (Hah!) I was camped 8 miles from the ranger station where the bus would pick us up to go to the BAKERY and then to the “town” of Stehekin. I slept until 8:45 because frankly, I didn’t need to leave camp before 9:30. Well, in comes Bear Claw and Lemonade already 10 miles into their day (they woke up at 5 to frost on their tent, I slept for another 4 hours it seems, lazy.) All I hear is “Is that Toe Touch?” I yelped “Yeah!” And stuck my head out really happy to see them. They both looked at their watches at the same time and asked me, politely, what the hell I was doing. “There are CINNAMON ROLLS to be eaten and we mustn’t miss the 12:30 bus!” I said dontttt worryyyyy I got this! Save me a seat! They scampered off and I was on trail within 30 minutes. It reminded me of an ABC Family sitcom where the parents are always trying to get their kid out of bed in time for the bus, and the kid is just like gahhhhhhhhh. But instead of catching the bus to school, I was catching the bus to the bakery, where I’ve heard tales for 1500 miles of cinnamon rolls and sticky buns larger than my head. And I got a big head.
Appropriately enough, I got to the bus stop with 40 MINUTES to spare (thank you, thank you) and all the hikers were sitting on the picnic table clipping their nails. Classic.
We rode in front of the bus, per Bear Claws demand since mile 1,325 (we’ve talked about this bakery a lot in our short friendship). The bus stops at the bakery and gives you 10 minutes to get in and get out! Next bus doesn’t come for another 3 hours so if you want to stay, go for it, but there’s no cell service or wifi, so you better either be REALLY hungry or have a good book. Or borrow one of theirs and plan your next adventure…
I struggled. Bear Claw and Lemonade led the pack and were first in line. Feeling the heat, they made excellent and efficient choices. One of everything. And a slice of pizza. Bear Claw even had time to circle back and coach me through my decision, Cinnamon Roll or Sticky Bun? Gah! But what about a kale salad? Can I have that to go? Will he be able to pack it before the bus leaves? Bear Claw both heard and saw my indecisiveness, told me I was on the struggle bus big time and deserted me. Thanks for your support, pal.
Sticky Bun. And Kale Salad. To-go. Oh and Coffee. Please. Thank You. Swipe. Exhale. Smile. Cheer. High-Five.
So happy with my decision. I had a couple bites of my bun on the bus and it was delectable. So buttery and gooey and moist and buttery and caramelly and buttery. It was heaven. I ate my Kale salad first and then we got to Stehekin. Lemonade bought a bottle of Reisling (it was either wine or hard Apple ciders, the last batch of hikers drank ALL the beer, hah! Imagine that!) and Bear Claw gathered Adirondack Chairs. We sat on the deck of the lodge. Big bear, Chapsick, Raiden, Lemonade, Bear Claw and myself. Transfixed by the accomplishment of the insanely physical last 108 miles, the sparkling waters of Lake Chelan, passing around a bottle of wine, drinking coffee on the side, devouring our monster pastries. I can only speak for myself, but it was quite clear the feeling was mutual, it was one of the best moments of the summer.
We dedicated that time to just relax. After the wine was gone we got a group campsite and then hit up the post office and ran other “errands.” Basically we went to the post office and then jumped in the lake. It was cold for sure, but the clear green/blue waters were so inviting. The sun was sparkling off the lake and we all stripped down to our skivvy’s and dove in. We laid out on the boat launch dock for awhile, allowing the sun to hit our stomachs and backs and dare I say it, thighs, for the first time all summer. We passed around a bag of Juanitas, everyone had a 4-pack of ciders, and we continued to be obsessed with the day.
We got dinner at the lodge. Lots of hikers around so we ended up with a table of 10. It was so much fun, the overall energy of the hikers is bittersweet. I would say most are very much ready to be done hiking for awhile. I for one am ready to wake up and NOT have to hike all day everyday. That will be a great little feeling. I am excited to start running again, doing more recreational sports, pursuing other passions. But how can one NOT miss this life? It’s unlike any other. And you only get to experience it if you’re one of the few who have made it this far, who have overcome all the tough times, who have kept a positive mindset, who have committed to it long ago, and never, ever, given up on it. I’m grateful for it everyday. I love it so much. But I’m ready for at least an intermission. A long, intermission.
My friends left the next morning, and I stayed put. They will finish a day before me, but there’s a great chance of seeing them in Vancouver to celebrate. I think Laura would be kind of pissed if she booked a flight and rented a car just to see me walk out of Manning Park Lodge showered, drunk, and in real clothes. No, no, I am trying to time it so I am stinky, drunk, and in the same clothes she sent me in Northern California. She deserves that much, right?
I took the following day off and rented a bike to ride to the bakery. I spent 3 hours at the bakery writing letters and postcards. I stopped at a tiny organic farm on my way back and bought a peach and a pear. I returned my bike after taking in the lovely feeling of being on 2 wheels. Stehekin is a community only accessible by foot, boat, or bus. There is no cell service anywhere. There is only wifi if you pay to stay at either the Lodge or the Ranch.
Here I am, at the Ranch. I am in a “tent cabin” with no electricity. I have a canvas roof and a kerosene lamp. The bathroom is in another building. I have a bed, a night table, and a hammock. The floor is concrete, the walls are wood paneling, and the windows are more canvas that button to the walls. There is no lock on the door. There IS a fire extinguisher. I love this place. I got a big ole Ranch Roast for dinner and apple crispy for dessert. All made on site, I actually smelled the beets cooking while in the shower. Talk about a top moment. I ate dinner at a large table and made friends with a huge group of retirees here for a 2-day hike. The food was probably the best quality I’ve had on trail. It was so fresh. The Internet connection is terrible so I won’t be able to publish this blog post until Canada. Canada is 89 miles away. Well, the Monument (where I’ll be having a huge photo shoot) is only 80 miles away. Manning Park is 89 miles away. Either way, that is 3 nights. 3 back-country nights left. 2 nice days, 2 very bad weather days. America is literally going to kick my ass out of my own country.
Jesus take the wheel.