Eugene Levy, A Prom Dress and The Unexpected End
THE HOME STRETCH
I’m thinking about all the comforts of home that are so close now. Drinking tea on the floor of my living room with my dog in my lap. Washing the salt out of my hair. Waltzing into the pharmacy to buy an antifungal cream. Listening to the radio. I look down as I cross a rocky stream and butterflies swarm around my ankles. They don’t flee, they swimply swim through the air around me until I eventually keep moving.
WTF HAS HAPPENED TO THE CATHOLES IN WASHINGTON?
We stop for a break at a well used campsite by a water source. I walk past the tent sites into the woods behind it looking for a place to dig a cathole and come across two piles of fresh human shit. This is not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon. A few weeks ago I was digging my own cathole when I realised I’d stepped in someone else’s poop walking into the woods. Processing this emotionally took me a MOMENT.
The ground in Washington has been hard, rooty, and difficult to dig, but there has been absolutely no attempt to even cover these piles up. There is toilet paper everywhere – there has been SO MUCH toilet paper on the trail in Washington. ‘It’s day hikers!’ people exclaim. It’s not day hikers. There’s fewer accessible trailheads in this section than anywhere else on the trail (except the high Sierra). It’s us, it’s thru hikers. Have people just given up? What is happening. What is happening to us?
THE END IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
A few days out from Stehekin, the smoke descends. There are no more mountain views, no more spectacular vistas to reward you for a steep climb. My eyes itch and my nose burns. We hear that the border closure has been extended south – this smoke is from the fires north of us, so it’s unlikely to get better.
We’re starting to realise that Stehekin is likely going to be the end of the trail for us.
Predictably, I’m hungry. The steepness of the trail is hollowing me from the inside out.
I drink hot tea, giving up on conserving gas to enjoy a short, warm reprieve. Tea is life. TEA IS LIFE. I sit on the ground, shivering and feverishly gripping my pot. I drink the hot, bitter elixir of life from a jetboil that has the crust of several weeks of dinners embedded in the rim.
No matter which book or podcast I listen to, they are talking about food. I endure 20 straight minutes of a discussion about cobbler and pie from MBMBAM salivating and sad.
This section is a mess of blowdowns. We’ve all complained about blowdowns before, but these are different. Each one requires climbing with concentrated effort. Some are extended obstacle courses; what was once a tall forest is now a field of matchsticks.
More than once I heave myself up to straddle a trunk, scraping my thighs on the bark. Then I’m unable to muster the strength to slide down the other side (removing more thigh skin). I lie down, arms circling the trunk, cheek pressed flat against the wood, unmoving.
The trail is also super overgrown. Itchy, hairy bushes reach across the narrow trail, scratching at my face and legs and catching in my trekking poles. In some places it’s so thick that I can’t see the trail at all. I have to slowly shuffle forward, trying not to slide off the crumbling edges of the trail.
On the last night I am so exhausted that I sulk like a small child. I slump along, dragging my trekking poles in the dirt, letting them bump over roots and rocks. l cry a bit. I wallow ferociously. We have 2 miles left and I drag my body through a swamp of pity the entire way. When we get to camp I wash my scratched legs in the river and I drink some tea and I’m alright.
AND THEN, THE END IS HERE
By the time we get to Stehekin, we’ve decided that we’ll be leaving the trail from there. The fires at the Canadian border are moving South towards us and the last 80 miles of trail are thick with smoke. This is the end.
I am relieved and I am devastated.
I am cold. My feet hurt. My knees hurt. My left thumb is a swollen mess. My ear chafe itches. My butt itches. No really, my butt itches and now I can deal it with much sooner, which is a relief. But still, I am so sad.
Having already missed so many miles, it is somehow worse that I will now miss more. Since I skipped part of the Sierra with injuries, and then had to skip basically all of Oregon with fires, I’d expected to finish having hiked around 1700 miles of the PCT. Now, it will be even fewer and it hurts.
But here we are, in Stehekin, at the unexpected end.
Stehekin is a weird place, but I like it.
The infamous bakery is – I will say it – mediocre you guys. I pay $12 for a few enormous peaches from a barefoot gardener with the largest dahlias I’ve ever seen. The climb to the Lakeview campsite is the steepest climb of the trail so far. There is no view of the lake.
I charged a friend with sending a prom dress and champagne to me in Stehekin. I’d intended to pack them out to the border for a monument celebration. My instructions to her were to find the lightest possible dress that was still fun at a thrift store.
The post office worker is like Eugene Levy in a dream you had about living inside a Unicorn made of clouds.
He cannot find my box and he is completely unphased. I am so charmed by him that I am also unphased. He recognises my name from my blog. I can’t tell if this means I am more or less likely to get my box.
I go back the next day and he has found it. The box is so light I wonder if my friend sent a dress at all, and when I open it I see a mess of white lace that looks like it will barely cover my junk.
We have no monument to take photos with, so Tiger Lily paints us one.
We watch the sunset on the pier. We add our resupplies to the overflowing hiker boxes full of food that will never see the last stretch of trail. Hikers are literally hawking their resupplies on the deck of the closed restaurant. Unsuccessfully trying to give away even the best snacks. So many hikers are getting off the trail in Stehekin that the ferries are booked out and we are stuck there for an end of trail zero.
I put on my prom dress and drink my can of sparkling wine at dusk. I try to say goodbye to the PCT but I feel numb. I have no identifiable emotions.
I am simply a meat sack full of broken bits and pieces. I was hefted into the air in Mexico, hoping to fly all the way across a country, but instead I rest in a lumpy heap somewhere that is nowhere, about two thirds of the way.
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