Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Running to Stehekin

I switchback up the towering head wall. A smattering of rain gives way to morning light. I break from trees into talus and move from hiking into a loping run. I traverse into the mellow gold and green grandeur of Cascade Pass. There I divest myself of my rain jacket and chat with the. Couple about to ascend Sahale. 

Downward into the Pelton Basin I plummet treading fast on narrow rocky trail. Brush overhangs in places and suddenly the tawny hide of an animal peeks through. I feel a little shot of adrenaline as I have ever since the time that tawny hide mere feet away belonged to a grizz and cubs. Instinctively I drop to one knee as I have done dozens of times following my father's lead as he tracked deer through the woods. Below the foliage I can see spindly legs, long twitching ears. I stand and forge forward.

The fawn is nearly as big as the doe. Its spots are almost completely faded. It bounds downward, but the mamma merely twitches her ears and moves up-slope a few steps to browse.

Rocky trail gives way to old road grade and my stride lengthens. The promise of a cinnamon roll the size of my head encourages me. I merge onto the PCT and soon encounter an acquaintance who is thru-hiking this year. We chat for a good ten minutes. As I continue on I revel in the excitement of her accomplishment.

At High Bridge there are a dozen people sprawled on tables and the ground. I stop and talk with a man named Scott about cinnamon rolls and the Glacier Peak through which he and they have just come. I realize I can run the road as fast as waiting for the bus, so I take my leave.

As I walk by I can see in their eyes the depletion of the last nine days through incredibly rugged terrain. I know the feeling well. It was little more than a year ago when I passed through here, that same hollow, hungry look in my own eyes. But instead of cinnamon rolls and respite along the lake I knew only one thought: "80 miles to go."

Once on the dirt road hugging the bounding Stehekin River I feel enlivened. The scent of the Stehekin Valley bowls me over with joyous emotion. The river's energy imbues my stride. I gaze at the towering cliffs rising precipitously above. My heart and soul are pulled upward, expanding into the vast blue, drenched in sunlight. There are few places on earth that feel like home to me, Stehekin is one.

As I take my last sip of water I offer a quick prayer for a ride. Within moments Jean, the postmaster's wife, appears. I crawl into the backseat with her boisterous puppy and we bounce the last two miles down the road to the bakery.

Full of cinnamon roll and coffee I sit outside beneath the trees and just be. It isn't a common occurrence for me and I almost cannot handle it.

The bus arrives and the folks I had talked to at High bridge pile off. We talk some more and then they realize that I am Anish. There are photos and well wishes and the bus pulls away. I am left to relaxation before the resumption of my journey, but this time only 20 miles to go.

I run upriver chasing the sun. I meet a flip-flop hiker, Waterbug and we talk for at least 10 minutes. It seems like no time at all before I am passing Bridge Creek.
Something catches my attention. I'm not sure if it was movement or instinct, but I look down to the river and see the familiar silhouette of a black bear bounding across rocks and splashing through the water. I call out, but my voice is lost in the rushing torrent.

I back down the road and cup my hands around my mouth and yell in my deepest voice, "Hey bear!"

I continue to make noise and wait. A few minutes later he scampers out of the bushes and bolts across the trail, disappearing like a shadow. I stand calling for a few minutes before walking slowly by. There is no evidence of his presence. I cross the bridge and once again I run.

I see the many switchbacks slashed into the hillside ascending to Pelton Basin. They are serpentine and daunting yet I feel my power rise within me and I can't help but yell, "Hell yeah switchbacks! Bring it on!"

I am soon charging over the lip into the basin and flying up to the pass.

I stand there exactly 12 hours after I arrived this morning. I am juxtaposed between dominant peaks: McGregor to the east and Torment to the west. I raise my hands to an ever-present God and am silently thankful. My body falls into alignment: Tadasana. After three slow breaths I turn to face the four mile descent to my car. My face is radiant in the light as it drains toward the Pacific. I feel free and strong. The old Anish is back, and with a whoop, I run.

1 comment:

  1. I feel the same way about Stehekin! It's definitely a place I could live.