No really, all of it. I take an airplane for the first time since before the pandemic hit, and it feels simultaneously strangely normal and stressfully not-normal. At my layover in Chicago I remember how very tedious air travel is, but that feeling is augmented by the anxiety of being among crowds of strangers, some of whom are wearing masks below their noses or chins, some of whom have to briefly remove their masks to eat and drink, while I read news articles on the rapid transmission of the delta variant. This heavy extra layer of stress means that I feel totally wiped by the time I arrived in Spokane. I make a quick stop at REI to purchase a North Cascades NP map (needed for my last-minute reroute) and the post office to ship some town clothes ahead, then crash in a hotel room.
At 12:45am I’m packed up and waiting in the lobby for a cab to the Amtrak station. Trains come through Spokane at these bleary-eyed hours because the schedules are made with bigger cities’ convenience in mind. I’m relieved to have a seat to myself, but find it impossible to do more than lightly doze for a few minutes at a time. Dawn breaks and I can see the dim outline of rolling terrain — these would for sure be mountains in Illinois, but I know they’re small potatoes compared to what’s coming tomorrow.
In Wenatchee, I hang out by the public market, watching the Columbia River drift by and bristling at the market employee who harasses a person sleeping on a bench on the other side of this long patio. “You can’t sleep here.” There’s literally no one else around and the market doesn’t open for two hours still. Public space only for some. I think about this encounter later in the morning as I lie on a picnic table bench and doze in the shade.
A little after 6am I buy a green smoothie and a veggie breakfast burrito from an outdoor cafe run out of an Airstream, and then sit by the river again, waiting for the ranger station to call me back. When they do, it’s a small miracle to get the exact permit itinerary I’d asked for (the ranger: “I don’t want to say I’m shocked but…I’m a little shocked!”) and then my excitement really kicks in.
I get on a local bus (third mode of transportation in two days) to Chelan, observing how desert-like the plants and landscape are here, even with the river cutting through. Bighorn sheep graze on the shoulder of the highway. It’s hot in Chelan, and I can see how hazy the surrounding mountains are. The white dusting grows as the afternoon passes, and I feel some nervousness, remembering how much the wildfire smoke messed me up north of Yosemite a few years ago. But I’ve been tracking smoke outlooks and air quality reports obsessively, and know I’ll be hiking away from all of this as I move steadily north and west.
After a shower and a nap, I get breakfast-for-dinner takeout (eggs and pancakes), plus a bagel with cream cheese to save for the morning, and grab a bottle of apple juice at the gas station next door. All that remains is to sleep as many hours as possible before finally arriving at the trailhead tomorrow.