Saturday, September 14, 2013

Part 198 - Government Shutdown

Nurse Betty was wise in the decisions she made regarding her position on the trail in relationship to the lateness of the season.  By flipping north, and then walking south, she was able to complete the Pacific Crest Trail hike, something many other hikers were unable to do. Many, only thirty miles from the border, were forced to abandon their quest during this 2013 hiking season because of cold, ice, and snow.

Nurse Betty warned me about a massive trail washout some forty-five miles north of Stehekin.
“The washout,” she said, “occurred during a larger than normal rainstorm on August 23.  She said the rain gouged four colossal gullies across the trail, some twenty feet deep and fifty feet wide, exposing many loose rocks and boulders that made hiking down into the craters and back up the other side extremely dangerous.  She said it took her forty-five minutes to travel just a tenth of a mile, and she had to do this twice – both hiking to the border and returning.  I thanked her for the information, wished her well on the rest of her journey, and then we parted.

High Bridge over the Stehekin River Gorge, the town of Stehekin, and the upper end of Lake Chelan has been incorporated into the National Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service.  Several times a day, twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, an NPS bus makes a round-trip journey from the boat docks in Stehekin, twelve miles up the road to High Bridge, picking up and dropping off tourists and weary hikers at scenic attractions along the way.

Knowing I couldn’t make the last bus pickup at High Bridge by 4:00 p.m., I camped for the evening a few miles upriver from the High Bridge river crossing.  At several places in the Agnes Creek Gorge, the trail passed close to the edge of the gorge.  It was at one such place that I found a flat spot to put my tent up for the night.  It was not the ideal place, but it was the only one I could find, and after erecting the tent, I surveyed the area to see how much latitude I had to roam before walking off the cliff.  I do this because I’ve been known to sleepwalk; also, I needed to know how far I can wander when I get up in the night, "to see a man about a horse."

After another fitful night of cold sleeping, constantly rubbing my arms and legs to get some warmth back into them, I was on the move by 5:00 a.m.  The days are short, so it was still dark for another hour.  I didn’t have to get up this early, but it’s habitual now.  It was not raining, but I still wore my full rain suit just for added warmth.

At 7:30 a.m., I crossed High Bridge spanning the Stehekin River, walk up a small hill to the one-time Forest Service Ranger Station, now a private residence and the turnout for the National Park Service (NPS) shuttle bus.  On one side of the road, there was an NPS bulletin board, with a number of information notices stapled to it, and on the other side, was a log bench where one could wait for the shuttle bus.  I had an hour and a half to wait for the bus, so I used the time to make breakfast and dry out my tent, sleeping bag, and assorted clothing items.

Adjacent to the guard station were several outbuildings and a corral with information signs placed in front of them, explaining to visitors the historic use of these buildings and the fact that they had recently been restored.  After reading these signs, I wandered back to the NPS bulletin board, and out of boredom read all the regulations for camping and hiking in the Stehekin National Recreation Area.

Of particular interest to me was a sheaf of papers stuffed inside a plastic cover to protect it from the rain and attached to the bulletin board by a string nailed to the wood.  I picked it up, read it, and looked at the pictures and message.  It wasn’t good reading, for it described the massive washout that Nurse Betty had told me about yesterday during our meeting on the trail. The pictures were exactly as she had described the washout, but now I could see them in more graphic detail, and the crossing looked to be even more intimidating.

These pictures got my attention and caused me some anxiety; but they were two weeks old and my hope was that hikers before me had found a way through, and I would be able to follow in their footsteps.

I crossed the High Bridge and road leading into Stehekin on Friday, September 20, 2013. Here on the trail, in the wilderness, I was almost totally isolated from the outside world; I had no access to news outlets, and I was totally in the dark as to what was happening in the nation and in the world.  However, the one thing I did know was that the two factions of the national government – the Democrats and the Republicans, could not agree on a spending budget for the year 2014. 

The Republicans were furious with the passage of President Obama’s signature health care legislation – The Affordable Health Care Act, termed Obamacare, and were seeking to overturn the law, or at best delay its implementation by not appropriating funds for it; in addition, they didn’t want to raise the national debt ceiling, which was now over $17 trillion and rising.  Thus the impasse in congress, which resulted in a government shutdown beginning October 1, 2013, ten days after I left Stehekin, and lasted until October 16.

What did this have to do with hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail in Stehekin and beyond – everything.
All nonessential federal installations were shut down, including, but not limited to: tours of the White House, the Statue of Liberty, the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Art, WWII and Vietnam War memorials, and most important - the National Parks and Monuments; likewise, eight hundred thousand federal employees were furloughed indefinitely, while another 1.3 million federal workers were required to report to work without known payment dates.

Right on schedule, the brightly colored red NPS shuttle bus with black front fenders drove up the road and pulled into its assigned parking spot on the other side of the NPS bulletin board.  As a tour operator in Southern Utah, I had seen a lot of modern midsize tour buses, but nothing compared to the bus that had just stopped in front of me.  It was a modern version of the tour buses used in Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite Parks in the 1930s, its most notable feature being the rounded back used on buses of that era.  I was curious as to who manufactured the bus and discovered that it was a specialty bus assembled by the Arboc Specialty Vehicles in Middlebury, Indiana.

The ranger station, that is now a private residence, just over the High Bridge that spans the Stehekin River. The ranger station is the end of the line for the NPS shuttle bus that comes up from the settlement of Stehekin located on the water front of Lake Chelan, 12 miles distance.

The National Park Service (NPS) shuttle bus picking up tourist who have just arrived on the ferry boat from the town of Chelan, 50 miles down the lake.

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