Saturday, February 14, 2015

Wenatchee, Chelan, and Stehekin

Along a quiet forest service road in early October, Karen and Jean offered us a ride. They had been exploring around Cooper Lake, looking at all the fall colors, and were just about to return to town. As we drove along through the mountains and the forests of brilliant yellows, Karen and Jean shared with us some stories of their travels. Over the years they had traveled to all 50 states together. They dropped us off east of Cle Elum along 97 N, out of their way. If it weren't for a doctor appointment that was scheduled that afternoon, they would've loved to have taken us all the way to Chelan.

We were planning on going to Chelan to complete an errand for my father. Then we would stay the night there and take a ferry to Stehekin the next day. From there, we could easily return to the PCT. Not only did we have to resupply on food, but most importantly I needed to sign some papers in front of a notary, who we knew for certain that we could find in Chelan.

So the next person to get us closer to Chelan was a man named Nick. He drove us to Highway 2. Immediately following him, Paul picked us up. He was holding in his hand an apple from his orchard, and spoke emphatically about the importance of growing your own food and eating locally. He was actually going to Wenatchee first, but would eventually go to Chelan in the evening. Remembering that there was a notary in Wenatchee as well, we asked him if he could drop us off there and then meet up with us again in a few hours. He agreed. We arranged to meet later in a certain park at 6 PM.

First we wandered into a shipping store to ask for directions to the library, and we left with some honey crisp apples. Next we printed off the papers at the library and looked up the closest notary in town, a realtor named Stephen Harden. We raced there as quickly as we could, passing through the police station parking lot on the way and receiving some suspicious glances! We arrived at Stephen's office in a sweat, just before closing. He didn't mind staying open to sign the paperwork with me. Then he personally drove us back to the shipping store, which we also arrived at just before closing! A woman named Daisy helped me to package the papers and choose the best shipping option. On the way out the door, she gave us two Fuji apples for free.

Driving out of Wenatchee with Paul.
We returned to the park about 10 minutes early and sat down on the bench, waiting for Paul. As promised, he arrived at 6 PM in his white truck and whisked us away to Chelan. Along the way we learned that Paul knows Caroline Burkhart, a close friend of Freebird's, who we would be visiting once we reached Mazama. She's a former thru-hiker, arguably the first woman to ever thru-hike the PCT back in the 70's. Years ago Caroline (Ravensong) and her daughter Tamara (Bear) hiked a huge portion of the PCT with Freebird. Now Caroline operates Ravensong's Roost as a trail angel, opening her home in Mazama to the thru-hikers. Each visitor adores watching her beloved slide shows and listening to stories of her first thru-hike.

Following the Columbia River.

After dark we all arrived in Chelan. Paul dropped us off a block away from Riverwalk Inn. We walked over there to check into a room. The office was closed, but an after-hours number was left for us to contact a worker. Freebird went next-door to Local Myth Pizza to ask Aaron if he could use their phone. Aaron personally knew the man who would check us in, so he called him for us.

Minutes later, Blaze ran over to meet us. Interestingly enough, there was only one room left, so we took it! We unlocked the "Lavender Room," set down our packs, and took quick showers before going out for dinner. Ultimately we didn't feel like dealing with a restaurant, so we chose to make one stop to Safeway to resupply for the trail and grab dinner, breakfast, and snacks for the ferry ride.

The next morning we checked out and ventured over to Lady of the Lake's office to buy ferry tickets. This passenger boat would take us on a 4-hour scenic ride up the glacial fjord of Lake Chelan to the small town of Stehekin. We walked along a bike path beside the lake, crossed a bridge, then picked up the pace outside of town to reach the ticket office.

We arrived just in time and purchased our tickets. Then we boarded Lady of the Lake.

Lady Express, a quicker option for navigating the lake.

We chose to sit here in the upper cabin.

Taking off from Chelan's port, heading for Stehekin!

The seaplane, another mode of transportation between Chelan and Stehekin.

Along the route, there are a few other stops. Each time we pull into the dock, luggage for the next destinations are piled up, waiting to be loaded onto the boat.

The ferry ride came to an end as we arrived in Stehekin, quite a precious little gem set amid the North Cascades. Stehekin is only accessible by hiking, horseback riding, ferry, private boat, and seaplane. There's a small network of roads there, but none of them connect Stehekin with the outside world. I had heard frequently from other PCT hikers about this stop on the trail, and I quickly began to see why it was so special to them. What a peaceful place.

We had purchased some Lady of the Lake postcards on the ferry ride and had written notes to our family on them along the journey. We stopped at the post office to mail these out and then we dug through their hiker box for treasure. We didn't find anything, but we didn't need anymore food as it was. Everything that we needed was already purchased in Chelan. Just then Jukebox walked in to pick up a resupply box. Some locals had just given him a ride into town from the trail. His hiking companions, Giggles and Wonderer, were probably one or two days behind him. Jukebox was now putting in more miles, trying to reach Canada before his scheduled plane ride back to the UK. In Stehekin he treated himself to a room at the inn and invited us over anytime to take showers.

A topographic model of Lake Chelan and the North Cascades at the visitor center in Stehekin.
The next thing Freebird and I had to do was apply for a free permit for the Purple Point Campground. We arrived at the visitor center just before closing, and Ken signed us up.

Another horde of passengers boarded Lady of the Lake, heading for Chelan, and we watched them leave. A local man was seeing his friend off. He leaned over to me, and whispered, "Hey, do you see that man wearing the black T-shirt?" "Yeah." "Take a picture with your camera and see if you can read his shirt." I snapped off a shot and then zoomed in. Once I could make out the message, I laughed. The man exclaimed proudly to me, "That is our cook!" You gotta love Stehekin and their wacky residents! The funny thing is, this wasn't the first time today that a local approached us and said something completely random!

Setting out for Chelan.
Visitors were boarding a bus, paying for a tour to several different locations including Rainbow Falls. We wanted to see this waterfall, but didn't want to pay the money for the tour. A local advised that we could hitch there or ask the driver of the free PCT shuttle to stop there the next day. As we looked around at Lake Chelan, we realized that we would rather relax here on such an unusually warm and sunny day. Rainbow Falls would wait until tomorrow.

We went into the general store in search of ice cream. Yet again, we arrived just before it closed. Mary discounted some Klondike bars for us, since they would be closing their store for the season soon. She also gave us some laundry detergent to wash our clothes that evening.

While we sat lazily on the deck, overlooking the lake, I updated my journal.

In front of the store we saw a group of ten people that appeared to be thru-hikers (you can spot "hiker trash" from a mile away!). But who were these people? We didn't recognize them. There must be more people at the end of the train than we realized. A van pulled up and they all began to climb in. Freebird went over to meet them. The van they were in was a bit of trail magic for the hikers. Hannah, who works at Stehekin Pastry Company, left it at the trail for Kimchi, with the keys in the ignition and a pie from the bakery sitting on the front seat! Kimchi drove her friends into town and stayed overnight at Hannah's place.

While Freebird talked with the thru-hikers, I met a couple sitting nearby. They were from Seattle and had flown into Stehekin for a few days. Any minute now they were going to return to Chelan. Soon the pilot led them out to the seaplane and we watched them take off...

After a lethargic afternoon we did laundry, took showers, and used the satellite phone, the town's only shared, community phone, to call our parents. Then we walked down the street to reserve a plot of land at Purple Point Campground. Hungry for dinner, we headed back to North Cascades Lodge. On the way, we watched the sunset from the dock.

We walked into the restaurant and took a seat. Once we realized Jukebox was already there, we invited him over. He had already finished his dinner, but he stayed and chatted while sipping on some beer. After a delicious dinner we all ordered some homemade ice cream, made by the Phillip, the owner of the place. His coconut ice cream without a doubt is the best ice cream I've ever had!

Jukebox was one of those people that both of us immediately felt a deep connection with. We talked for hours about a wide range of topics... the trail, politics in both of our countries, philosophy, spirituality, life. It's amazing feeling when you only just meet someone on the trail and then you talk as if you've known each other for years... We had a wonderful time that night.

The next morning Freebird and I woke up early to catch the sunrise...

We returned to the campsite, packed up all of our belongings, and then went to the restaurant for breakfast, stopping once more to look at the lake as the moon set over the ridge.

We came across this man teeing off with pine cones along the shore. This brought back fond memories of Pocahontas, when she would play pine cone golf in Castle Crags with her hiking stick. We stopped to meet Dale, and told him how happy we were to see another pine cone golfer. He allowed me to take his picture, as he hit a pine cone into the lake.

As we were waiting for our meal to be prepared, the seaplane came in for another landing. Once our food arrived, Mary, who we had met at the general store the previous day, was going around to all of the customers and asking how they were doing. The shuttle pulled up shortly after we finished breakfast and we had to run. On the way out we met Phillip briefly and thanked him for the ice cream. He loved talking with us, but we had to stop the conversation before the shuttle left!

We raced out the door and down the stairs and boarded the bus just before it took off. Jukebox was there already, patiently waiting. Bren, the driver, said that we would be making an extra stop at Stehekin Pastry Company. Yes! I had been hearing about this exceptional bakery for weeks from Freebird and other hikers, and I had been looking forward to trying their well-known sticky buns that are as big as a plate. We asked Bren about Rainbow Falls as well, and he agreed to take us there.

Stehekin Pastry Company. Here we purchased a sticky bun, cinnamon roll, and blueberry-cream cheese crumble.

Bren deep in thought as he reads a profound book.

Upon leaving the bakery, we brought more people with us. The 10 thru-hikers including Kimchi giddily hopped onto the bus. The rest of the ride was alive with chatter and laughter. I looked about and smiled to be around all of these hikers who were as happy as children.

Next stop, Rainbow Falls! We were thrilled! All of us raced out the open doors and up the trail to the sound of rushing water ahead. We looked up at the falls from the first overlook.

The bottom half of Rainbow Falls.

Freebird motioned to the stairs that led to the top viewpoint. He, Jukebox, and I excitedly raced up the stairs. I tripped and scraped my hand and knee, Jukebox stopping to check on me. I was feeling so joyful that the pain quickly vanished, and we continued to race to the top. On the upper platform, Jukebox and I were trying to catch our breath. Between gasps for air, he said, "You would think us hikers would be in shape for this!"

Spirit Fingers came up behind us and took our picture.

Spirit Fingers
We walked back down the steps and saw the rest of the hikers sitting at a massive picnic table, taking a group picture. One of the girls laughed and said to us, "We're more fascinated by this picnic table than the waterfall!" After they went back to the bus, I took a picture of Freebird and Jukebox with the table. I didn't effectively capture the size of it, but oh well.

We had already devoured the blueberry-cream cheese pastry, which we both agreed was the best of the three. During the remainder of the bus trip, we worked away at the sticky bun and cinnamon roll, trading off every now and then. We saved the rest of the sticky bun for later that evening.

Once the bus arrived at the trail head, some of the hikers groaned that their stay in Stehekin had passed so quickly and that it was already time to return to the trail. One girl whined, "Mommy, do we have to?" The majority of the thru-hikers raced outside and within seconds had spread their belongings out everywhere. Tarps and sleeping bags were drying and baking in the sunlight while many of them ate a quick lunch or snack. An ultimate display of "hiker trash!"

Kim Giannone, a.k.a. Kimchi.
While all the craziness was happening outside, we stayed on the bus with Kimchi and Bren. Kim Giannone, also known as Kimchi, was paid by Paradigm Magazine to write a 5-article series called "The Long Walk", with displays of her photography from the PCT. They developed the film for her and sold prints, which funded her entire journey.

Not until I returned to Indiana did I get a chance to read Kimchi's articles. Though each long-distance backpacker's journey is unique in its own way, there are many common parallels shared by everyone within the whole subculture. She vividly portrayed both the personal as well as the social aspect of the trail, from the start to the finish. In following her journey, you can see the inner transformation that she underwent.

"To live in the woods and the mountains for months on end is to be shown a world and a life we are not given in society, in cities, in towns. It is to be free. This freedom is so beautiful it is blinding. There are no constraints, no coffee shops, no need for dressing for a job interview, no need to be 'sexy', no bullshit expectations, no status, no hierarchy of beauty or race or class or gender. There is only survival. There is only acceptance."

--Kim Giannone

Hannah, the one who lent the van to Kimchi, is actually Bren's girlfriend. They both invited Kimchi to return to stay with them anytime. Bren talked with us for 45 minutes. I was impressed at his kindness - toward Kimchi, to take all of us to the waterfall, to want to talk with us. He and the other locals represented the nature of the whole small town of Stehekin. Nobody was in a rush. Everyone recognized that people come first and that to accept and love each other is the most important thing.

But as with all things, it was time for everyone to move on. Bren drove off for Stehekin, and the hikers waved goodbye. Stehekin was now in our past. Soon the entire trail would be in our past. In a few more days, all of these thru-hikers would reach Canada and then scatter once more about the world. I could feel everyone's mixed emotions about this. Everything has been such a transformative, beautiful experience for which we all are forever grateful. But most if not all of us wished it would never end...

Freebird and I were the first ones to take off on the trail. Occasionally someone would pass us. Somewhere on the way up, we took a break. It was there that Jukebox stopped to talk to us for an hour longer. Then he took off for Canada, and we saw him no more.

This would be the last stretch of trail that we would hike in Washington. I felt nostalgic with the realization that we would be leaving the PCT soon, but still full of anticipation for the Southwest, and ultimately, for the return to our friends in Moab. With all of these thoughts racing through my head, we set off into the North Cascades for just a few more days...

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