The Stehekin Fiasco & Miracle

My tent at Purple Point Campground, Stehekin, Northern Washington.

Of all of the places on the Pacific Crest Trail to miss a resupply package, Stehekin is just about the worst. On lists of ‘PCT resupply stops to mail food even if you hate mailing food’ Stehekin always makes it to the top three, including in the 2017 PCT thru-hiker survey. There is no grocery store in Stehekin, just a general store with very limited options, and a bakery with few foods which can be easily carried on the trail.

AND I’m vegan, which means ~even fewer~ options at the general store, and the only food at the bakery which was definitely vegan was the wild rice salad (it tasted good, but I could not easily take it with me on the trail).

My resupply package never reached Stehekin. Why not? Because I had ordered it from Sonora Resupply, and they literally forgot to send the package (but they did remember to charge my credit card, though they eventually refunded it). Beware: if you order food from Sonora Resupply, they might forget to send it. I had set things up so that my parents would never need to send me any resupply packages to save them the hassle, but in the future, I am going to ask my parents to handle my resupply packages, because they are more reliable than Sonora Resupply, and since they know about the Stehekin fiasco, they are very willing to take on this responsibility.

The post office in Stehekin, Washington. The postmaster had a letter from my parents (which contained the maps showing the trail between Stehekin and Canada) and he arranged to have a book I bought in Stehekin to be shipped home, but there was no resupply box for me here.

Due to the lack of communication options in Stehekin (no cell phone or landline service to Stehekin, and internet connections either did not exist or were so bad that it was almost the equivalent of no internet) it took me a day to confirm that Sonora Resupply had never even sent the resupply package. But really, as soon as I talked to the postmaster, and he told me that he had no package for me, I knew that the odds were bad.

This was my very worst time during my entire hike of the PCT in Washington. Contemplating crossing about 85

I remember talking to Pony Express, and I was crying a little as I was facing the possibility of no resupply. She immediately offered to give me all of her tortillas. This was in spite of the fact that she was having a worse day that I was – her toe was infected, and she was going south, not north, which meant she was about to enter one of the most physically sections of the entire Pacific Crest Trail (incidently, Pony Express is working on a documentary about her PCT hike – check it out).

At first, I thought I might have to stop in Mazama to resupply. I could get to Mazama after hiking about one day out of Stehekin, though it would involve hitchhiking on a highway, and though Mazama has more food options than Stehekin, it’s also not a particularly good resupply point. Then I figured that, if I were willing to pay the expensive prices (which were actually quite reasonable considered how remote Stehekin is), I could get enough food at the general store to make it to Canada. It would be repetitive and not particularly tasty or nutritionally balanced, but it would keep me alive, and in Canada I could get lots of tasty and nutritionally balanced food.

Then the miracle happened.

Just after the conversation (via satellite phone) which confirmed that there was going to be no resupply package for me in Stehekin, a couple was putting their entire resupply package in the hiker box. It turned out that they didn’t want ANY of the food that they had mailed themselves. I immediately picked out all of the vegan food (they had some oreos, some Bevita crackers, electrolyte powders which also had vitamin C and random minerals, and weird banana chips which I didn’t really like but it was food, and a Harmony House dehydrated vegetable meal). Also, there were more tortillas, though I don’t know if they had come from the couple. It wasn’t my first choice of food, but it was free, and it would get me to Canada.

This completely changed my mood. Whereas just twenty minutes earlier I had been on the verge of tears, I was now skipping with joy, and sharing with every hiker I saw the good news of the couple who had dumped their entire resupply in the hiker box. Since the other hikers were not vegan, they all descended on the hiker box like a wake of vultures to take the food I rejected.

Later on, I checked the hiker box again, and found that someone had left an entire bottle of olive oil. WIN. Olive oil is lightweight yet super-high in calories, and required no cooking. Calories were the one thing I needed from food to get to Canada.

The ferry docked at Stehekin Landing. Stehekin is a very quiet little town UNLESS the ferry has just arrived or is about to depart (warning: do not try to buy anything in the general store right after a ferry arrival or right before a ferry departure). All mail to/from Stehekin is transported by ferry, including the letter I received from my parents and the book I sent out.

I also bought some Clif bars and wasabi peas from the general store, mainly so that I would have a bit more protein. I didn’t really need the protein – I could get protein in Canada (and the only thing I needed to get to Canada was calories) – but it was nice to have more protein.

Many PCT thru-hikers eat tortillas as a staple because they are cheap and easy to find in trail towns, which means that by the time many thru-hikers get to Stehekin they hate tortillas (which is no doubt why I was able to get so many tortillas for free). Since I hadn’t eaten any tortillas before Stehekin, I thought they were alright. And tortillas went very well with olive oil.

Thus, for the last leg of the PCT, tortillas and olive oil were my staples (plus random snacks such as oreos and wasabi peas). I would eat a bite of tortilla, take a sip from the olive oil bottle, take another bite of tortilla, take another sip, etc. And yes, I drank the olive oil straight from the bottle, since that was the easiest way to get it into my body. POUR IN THOSE CALORIES!!! Though I was eating to live rather than living to eat, I think the tortilla + olive oil combo also tasted good.

I even managed to reach Canada with leftover food. Which was just as well, since that meant that I spent less money on food while I was stuck in Manning Park (though I also totally took advantage of the restaurant in Manning Park to eat food that was tasty and nutritionally balanced and was prepared fresh in a real kitchen).

The moral of the story is: things can fail to go according to plan in a bad way on the Pacific Crest Trail, yet the trail sometimes provides in surprising ways just when you need it.

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