I sleep well on my second night in Stehekin, on my tiny plot of perfectly flat land near the picnic table. I wake up smiling, eat snacks in my sleeping bag. I slowly pack my bag, cramming everything as hard as possible to accommodate the six day food carry for our next section. My pack is going to be heavy, but I’m going to be well fed.
Bogwitch and I board the shuttle to our trailhead and as it pulls away, I say goodbye to my last shreds of internet for the next almost-week. The internet is a dumb energy suck that leaves me sad and lonely much of the time, but it’s also how I connect to my community, my lover, my bank account, my dog sitter. It’s been sort of wonderful to have no access to the internet and also sort of terrible- kind of like a lot of things with thru hiking.
The shuttle stops at the bakery, I get my last muffin and my last iced coffee and then we head to the High Bridge ranger station. Clean hikers file out of the shuttle and dirty hikers file in, excited for their own showers and laundry and overpriced Stehekin chips and beer. Just before the bus takes off I meet Trooper, another queer southbounder who woke at 2AM to hike a 17 mile day to catch this shuttle into town. She tells me her whole trail family is queer. She talks about her experiences and it’s like she’s hiking a different trail. I feel jealous.
The climb from the Ranger Station is twenty miles long and has many thousands of feet of elevation gain. I thought I’d get some Sudafed in Stehekin for my sinuses, but they only had DayQuil, which I’ve taken and makes me feel fuzzy as I climb. I stumble up the hill, do my best to zone out to an audiobook called Normal People, which it turns out I hate. Bogwitch is ahead of me and just as I reach the halfway point of my climb I find them, looking alarmed. It turns out they left their rain jacket in Stehekin, and it’s not really safe to hike without one. They’ll have to turn back, Carrot is meeting me in Skykomish on the 11th so I cannot. We’ll both have to hike this section by ourselves.
Bogwitch turns back and powers downhill. I continue my trudge and can’t tell how I feel. Determined? Exhausted? Excited? I’ve never hiked alone before, and this seems like a very safe testing ground, a challenge where I can be both solo and surrounded by a lot of people if it gets too hard.
I think of the queers taking their rest in Stehekin. I think of Bogwitch with them. I think of Carrot meeting me in Skykomish. I’ll just be alone for a few days really. I’ll be ok. I wanted to hike the PCT right? This is a part of the experience, the aloneness. I’m with the nature!!!! Still sucks though. I just can’t help it.
I roll my ankle hard and fall down. I pick myself up and brush away the dirt and want to cry. Theres nothing to do but keep walking.
The air briefly turns gauzy, threatening rain— but it passes. The mosquitos briefly grow thick, sliding in between my eyes and the lenses of my glasses. That, too, passes.
I climb. The climb goes from gentle to steep to brutal. I trip on rocks. I miss so many comforts it’s hard to even keep the list straight. I go up 5000 feet in elevation. The air is so much colder up here.
At last, I find my campsite. There’s a lot of people I don’t know and they all make jokes. It was a hard day, our bodies hurt, we all moan in pain. I feel like I don’t belong in a way, but in another way, I feel like belonging is a myth, maybe no one feels like they really belong. What is belonging anyway? That’s another question for another time, and for now- I sleep.
📍 This section of the Pacific Crest Trail is on unceded Yakama and Columbia-Wenatchi land.