PNT Days 3 & 4: Recuperating

Today’s miles: 3

Total miles: 27.9

It’s hot all night, and I sleep restlessly. A few times I stretch and give myself leg cramps — I obviously have some electrolyte deficiency. Only just before dawn does the air feel remotely cool, and then an hour later, as I start packing up, it’s already warm again. Too warm for food to seem appetizing, which is not great. At the high bridge over Rainbow Creek, it takes me a few different attempts to find a viable way down to the water, which is taxing and frustrating. Then I’m off downhill through a Ponderosa pine forest, grateful for the shade. I try to strike a balance between getting to the road in time to catch the morning bus (it only runs four times a day) and not killing my weak, overheated, dehydrated body.

I manage a good clip on the downhill, pausing once to let a young rattlesnake cross the trail in front of me and disappear into the brush above. I check my GPS and see that I’m close to the road, and speed up, then roadwalk another five minutes to Harlequin Bridge. There is no sign for the bus, but I wave the driver down and then slump tiredly in my seat, listening to two PCT hiker dudes trade trail info. I find these kinds of hiking conversations useful when I’m having them with friends, but very very tedious when I’m overhearing others.

The bus drops me in the driveway of Stehekin Valley Ranch. I wander around until a kind man leads me to the front desk, then says there are no rooms tonight. I’m crushed, but try to not show it. He gives me a ride back to town in the ranch bus, stopping at the bakery on the way (for his paying guests), where I buy a chocolate chip cookie and a veggie quiche to go. There are two people ahead of me who had a mix up with their order, and they drag it out at the sole cash register while the line backs up behind them. I can tell how bad I’m feeling because I want to scream at them “Move on!! Sometimes someone else gets the last ham and bacon croissant, just let it go!!” which is highly unlike me. But instead I just pointedly look at my watch a few times and try not to pass out (hot, indoors, wearing my mask).

In town, I’m unsurprised that the fancy lodge has no rooms, but relieved that there are walk-up campsites. I sit in the shade and slowly eat my delicious quiche. I find an NPS ranger booth and inquire about altering my permit. Just in the time it takes to wait in line and then follow the ranger up to the office, I feel worse. I tell her I think I had some heat exhaustion and she’s not surprised: “It was a high of 102 yesterday!” No wonder I felt so incredibly depleted! The forecast is for 107 today and tomorrow (!!!) but the heat should begin to break on Sunday with some rain showers to boot. We look at the map together and work out an itinerary that will still get me to Ross Lake on schedule. I message Cyn (there is no cell reception here) and ask her to try to book me a room tomorrow at the ranch, and she does, and I’m very grateful.

Back at Lake Chelan

All day after that, I rest. I claim a campsite and then lie flat on the picnic table bench in the shade. When the sun encroaches, I buy a Gatorade at the store and sit under an umbrella overlooking Lake Chelan, occasionally dodging bees. I learn that there is a free public phone that works via satellite, and I call Cyn. I get her voicemail twice. The second time, I leave a rambling message in a wavery voice, starting to feel all the intensity of the past two days and yearning for a moment of stability. I walk to the lake and put my feet in the blissfully cold water. I wish I felt brave enough to strip down to my underwear and get fully in the lake, but I am trans and alone here, and it feels too risky. I walk back to the phone and connect with Cyn, a rush of joy and relief to hear her voice, even tinny and faraway through this satellite phone.

At my campsite I’m finally actively hungry and eat a delicious salty freeze-dried dinner (can’t even call it “cold”-soaking in this heat), some peanut m&ms, and my chocolate chip cookie. Some campers in neighboring sites offer me some of their extra food (it’s real food, they brought a fancy two-burner camp stove and everything) but I politely decline. I’m trying to ease my body back into eating and I’m not up for conversation with strangers right now. They find another hiker who instantly says yes, so all is well.

It’s so hot all night. I sleep in just my underwear and am still sticky with sweat. I have to listen to an audiobook to help me drop off to sleep. In the morning, I drink another Gatorade and wait for the ranch bus. There’s an adorable set of tween girls here who have all been on a big backpacking trip and look very confident and proud of themselves, legs scratched and dirty. So cool. Suddenly, a flurry of activity: a kid has fainted on the boardwalk upstairs, and NPS employees rush over. I’m surprised this isn’t happening more frequently.

The famed Red Bus in Stehekin. $4 to the bakery, $8 to anywhere else.

At the ranch, I’m in an overflow cabin that’s a single small room and just has a little light, no electrical outlets. I use the shower and toilet in the main building next door (the shower is quite private, to my relief), and do laundry. There is no dryer so I lay my clothes out on my front porch and in this heat they dry in minutes. Meals are included — I eat a perfect lunch of a deli sandwich with extra pickles, Cheetos, an apple, and lemonade. There’s no a/c but they have hammocks and lounge chairs under some misters in the back, and I sit there most of the afternoon. My feet have a heat rash on them but it fades as I hang out barefoot here. I sort my food, leaving some behind for the hiker box, glad to get rid of the weight. And I drain a gnarly blood blister on my toe. I eat an enormous dinner of prime rib, onion pie (kind of French onion soup but baked?), salad, roasted veggies, honey oat bread, and apple pie from the bakery. This is some pretty fine town food, and Stehekin is barely even a town. A tiny hamlet, maybe.

Recovering (lavender field in the distance).

I’m glad I can eat again, and I’m fairly rested, but I feel some trepidation about tomorrow. It reminds me of a hike a few years ago, when I shuttled up to Washington after having such a rough time in the Yosemite smoke — how uncertain I was that first morning of hiking again, not really trusting my body. But the rest of that trip was beautiful and healing; it brought me back into my hiking body. I hope this next section will do that for me again.

The bare-bones “trapper cabin,” where I was grateful to rest.

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