Forty years ago, the Naked Hiker and I spoke wedding vows to each other in the living room of a Victorian house in Evansville, IN.
We couldn’t have known then that fifteen years later we’d move with our thirteen-year-old twin daughter and son to the remote, North Cascades village of Stehekin, WA. Much of that journey is chronicled in my memoir, Hiking Naked (Homebound Publications, 2017, cover photo by Nancy Barnhart).
This month’s Afterthought is a reflection of our recent return to Stehekin to celebrate our milestone anniversary. It was a short visit—only three days—but we were warmly welcomed back by the valley’s cedars, firs, Ponderosa pines, Stehekin River, Harlequin Bridge, Rainbow Falls, Agnes Gorge, the Craft Cabin, the Visitors’ Center (and art gallery), Stehekin Pastry Company, Stehekin Valley Ranch, the post office, and numerous friends (who feel like family). The scents of ceanothus, pine, dried maple leaves, and the Bakery stirred the glowing embers of memories of decades of visits and two years as full-time residents in this mountain community, population eighty.
We haven’t tackled the Goode Ridge trail since that fateful hike I recount in the memoir’s first chapter (you can read it here). But on this return, we made it to another of our favorites, Agnes Gorge.
Our trusty guidebook by Fred T. Darvill, Jr. accurately describes this trail, so much less strenuous than the memorable Goode Ridge route. Still, it begins just beyond the glacial blue river at High Bridge (below left) and offers heart-dropping views of Agnes Creek (below right) at the bottom of Agnes Gorge.
People always ask if Stehekin has changed much. “Much” is a relative term, especially in comparison to the growth, ever-increasing traffic, and the break-neck pace of life in the downlake world. But the answer is, yes—and no. A few more houses have gone up and are under construction, while a few have come down. The boat company has new owners, but the Bakery continues to flourish after 30 years of ownership by Robbie Courtney (and yes, I DID consume some orange twists—their deliciousness is unchanged).
The Visitors’ Center still hosts art shows by local and visiting artists. Most folks now have satellite dishes for Wi-Fi service (including internet phones), but there’s still a satellite phone at the landing. Looks like it’s been updated, though, since the first time our daughter tested it about twenty-five years ago.
The post office is booming—and bursting with boxes for Pacific Crest Trail hikers. “Our” mailbox, #26, remains.
The peaks still rise majestically, although some of the glaciers have receded. The Stehekin River continues to remind everyone of its force as it floods, washes out roads, and whisks away fallen cedars. Although the Valley was spared fires this summer, that threat remains palpable with blackened tree trunks as evidence of past blazes.
And then there are the people. A number of Stehekin friends—young and old—have died since we moved away.
Others have left, some have returned, and new folks have arrived, a few by birth and a handful on the boat with their belongings following on the barge.
Thankfully, everyone still waves as they drive vintage and late-model vehicles down the single, paved road. As always in small, close-knit communities (and big ones, too) there are controversies, conflicts, and hearts able to set aside differences in times of need.
One unchanged truth is that this place shaped my relationship with the Naked Hiker and strengthened it in a multitude of ways. Stehekin was—and is—a good place to celebrate this gift of a loving partnership.
*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets.