Got up at 5 AM this morning when I heard Endless and QB rustling. We don’t have much mileage today, so I lounge in my tent for 30 minutes making some coffee and oatmeal. I get packed up at 6 and we all leave together.
Virtually all PCT hikers use the GutHook app to navigate the trail. One of the neat features in the app is the ability to put comments in at various waypoints like streams and tent sites. Useful things like “Nice flat spot to the left of trail” or “seasonal stream is flowing well”. Well in my boredom over the last 6 weeks I have been rating every tent site a score of 1 to 10 based on the quality of my stay. I call it the Salty Scale, a scientifically precise methodology encompassing all the important factors in rating your stay.
While we are walking, QB mentions that there was another of those Washington style pit toilets outside our camp. I explain the Salty scale to her and she agrees to be a guest rater. She feels that since the camp was next to a nice creek and the shitter had a nice private view of the water. After I probe with a few other questions, she assigns the site a Salty 7.
Couple hours of easy hiking and we hit the so called “High Bridge” over the Agnes.
Just over the bridge is the shuttle stop and ranger station. Stehekin is a weird place. Look it up on a map sometime. Stehekin is on the north end of lake Chelan, a 60 mile long natural lake that ends at a small town called Chelan on the southeastern tip. Stehekin is in the middle of a National Recreational area. The only way in is either a 4 hour ferry ride or walking in on a trail. There are a bunch of vacation homes here and the community has a small school.
There is a host at the Ranger station to answer our questions. Only problem is, he doesn’t have many answers. I ask about Stehekin Valley Ranch and their legendary cabins and 3 meals a day. He’s never eaten there. Someone else asks about the produce farm, he doesn’t know much about that either. Seems our host only knows about places that are government owned and operated.
Anyway, the shuttle shows up on time and drops a stream of fresh smelling day hikers. We are greeted by a grumpy bus driver and climb aboard with 5 or 6 other PCTers. We drive over a bumpy dirt road for 10 miles, then get on (the only) paved road and stop at the bakery. This place is privately run and serves a cornucopia of Danishes, pies, croissants, cinnamon rolls, and the like. Endless, QB, and I enter a feeding frenzy. I buy a ham and cheese, croissant, a Danish, OJ, and large latte. Endless and QB load up as well. Endless is laughing that he froze up at the counter and couldn’t order. Too many options.
We skip the bus ride to town and instead just walk the remaining 2 miles. Nice to stroll along the lake shore.
About a half-mile before town we see this cool little wooden boat. Endless is into sailing and bought a wooden one long ago to restore, but never got around to it. His brother is a sailor and lives on some island off the coast of Maine (I think). Anyway, Endless is interested and he stops to take a swim. Me, not interested. The water is cold. I carry on to walk into town.
After a few inquiries, I find the PCT camp site on top of the hill and head there. Along the way I bask in the glory of a brand new, government issued bathroom at the welcome center. It is, well, wonderful. When I finally get to the camp site, Endless and QB are there setting up. I put my tent up and head back to village to grab second breakfast/lunch. While I’m there a ferry pulls up and off-loads a 100 visitors. Seems there are 2 or 3 which are doing runs all day.
I talk to a few locals and get a flavor for the Stehekin story.
Living in the West, I know places like this have a colored history. Usually it starts with homesteaders taking up residence, killing a bunch of Native Americans, and scratching out a living. It usually ends with the government taking over all the unclaimed land then squeezing out the homesteaders one way or another.
Stehekin is in the middle of squeezing phase. When a home comes up for sale, the gov buys it and either turns it into a cabin rental or tears it down. Of course, being the government, the cabins retain their “historic nature” which means they slowly decay under coats of “Forest Service Brown” paint. The gov owned store sucks, the gov owned restaurant serves generic over-priced burgers, and some of the empty ex-commercial buildings are slowly decaying into “historic” structures.
Anyway, the place is beautiful, I hear the fishing is good, and I’d definitely put it on my list of places to return to some day.
More hikers come in and begin filling up the PCTer site. Couple of young gals I crossed on the trail show up and we get to know each other. Bugeye and Short Stop. They are doing Washington northbound, so almost done. Bugeye is a teacher in Seattle, Short Stop is an Alaskan nurse who grew up on fishing boats. Dog Bite shows up and reminds everyone his birthday is tomorrow.
In the evening we all sit around and talk about completing the hike. What does it mean? What is everyone doing next? How to rejoin mainstream society. Interesting stuff, but like hiking, the answers must come from within. The circle of folks is next to my tent and keeps expanding as darkness falls. I lay down and keep the doors opened listening to the steady trickle of funny stories, side conversations, jokes, etc. Today is Sunday. Tomorrow the Post Office will open, folks will resupply, and take off. This is the last time I’ll be in a thru-hiker circle like this. I just want to savor it. I slowly drift off to the sound of laughter.