I respect private property, but does it respect me?

Of course, these are only signs. But miles of them weigh you down.

I try to be respectful as a hiker – aware of the places I pass through, the resources I use, the impact of my litter, my words, my poo, my walk.

My hikes are facilitated by the work of hundreds – those who plan these trails and maintain both the trail and relationships with landowners and local communities. Those who negotiate agreements and create goodwill and assemble these partnerships of public and private lands. On the CDT as a newer trail you can clearly see those sewn seams and even more so on the Pacific Northwest Trail – some of the gaps haven’t been sewn tight yet and you have some bushwhacks and long road walks to fill the gaps. Because of this hard work done by others and because of hikers coming after me, I am respectful of private property in practice, though I have my disagreements philosophically.

Backpackers, once started, will sometimes talk about ideas like “the commons” and various “right of way” laws and customs in places like Britain and Scandinavia.

And, although they are often idealistic, I think these conversations are an important part piece of reimagining reality, especially if the goal is meaningful cultural shifts, rather than abrupt, total change. I certainly don’t think private property should be abolished, but I do think we can revisit the middle ground. Take, for example, the idea that pedestrians should be prohibited from leaving the road to take shelter in the shade or to fill a bottle from a stream. Revisit the idea that the best way to ban them is with miles of barbed wire and threats of legal action or immediate death under the law.

Is there a difference between the land surrounding a house and hundreds of acres of private property away from any structure? Is there a difference between getting a liter of water and a safe place to sit off the road and bask on someone’s porch? Should prosecution or violence be an accepted first reaction to a stranger in someone’s land?

What a contrast to Greek myths, to other times and places where hospitality to strangers is deeply valued.

Can we think of land use in a more nuanced way than “it’s all mine or anything could be gained?” What could this nuance do for us landowners and non-landowners?

One moment – walk to where all our maps point to National Forest and instead find an unexpected 6 extra miles of no trespassing signs before finally reaching public lands.

One moment – guys passing in their truck through a long stretch of private property and, unasked, offering their land down the road if we wanted to rest or camp for the night.

A moment – a mile-long walk on the CDT finally ending in the National Forest and the great flooding feeling of relief to reach somewhere like home – a place where we could take off our smelly shoes and shirts and lay them down in the sun, where we could take out our tents to dry, wash our socks, fill our water bottles, cook a meal, pee, lie down in the shade to take a nap.

All of those basic human behaviors – washing, drying off, moving between sun and shade, drinking and eating and urinating and sleeping – but things that are often prohibited by law or social code, or reserved for those who can pay the privilege or those who look a certain way.

Of course, as a white woman, I have the right to be in many places without hassle, places that are explicitly or less explicitly denied to others. And as a woman, I was often told that certain places weren’t for me because of perceived, ever-simmering danger.

For me, one of the main joys of long trails is this – the ability to simply do and be, for long periods of time, through beautiful and changing scenery, without constantly asking or paying for permission.

This particular hiker could talk about such things, but suffice it to say that this hike sometimes feels like there are as many no trespassing signs as there are trees.

Northport to Priest Lake

We left Jennifer and Ty’s place filled with that special warm glow that only comes from time with the trail angels.

The road changes to the trail and we climb Abercrombie Mountain. It’s buzzing with bees and flies at the top, but it has amazing views and a well-maintained trail – both a treat. Then it’s down the mountain to camp on a logging road setback and your classic scenic dinner in a ditch.

When your options are road, ditch and incline, the ditch is the obvious choice since this is clearly a backcountry lazy boy recliner.

Metaline Falls is small, warm and friendly. We hang out with Mary, a wonderful trail angel based in town. We end up restocking a little too little because our hiking brains are too hot to think properly.

The resource game

The short resupply means our stretch from Metaline Falls to Bonners Ferry is a bit of a dance. We’re a little low on calories, nothing dangerous but something I’m aware of all the time. We’re also a bit low on energy – we’re leaving town that evening with our backup batteries not quite charged. And there was no fuel for sale in Metaline, so we’re rationing that – no coffee for Skunkbear this leg. On our hike the next day, Sashay’s back seems a bit crooked, so we slow down a bit despite our light food bags.

Day in Priest Lake has an ancient cedar forest with a quiet spacious grandeur. Old needle drifts dampen all sound and this hallowed space, like the best, can be enjoyed with shoes and socks discarded, toes digging into the dirt, quietly creaking over Doritos and lazily watching an unheard-of breeze ripple the greens.

In contrast to this calm, by the time we reach Priest Lake I’m mad – the clouds of mosquitoes chasing us obliterate all rational thought and I’m reduced to an eaten animal, even if it’s an animal with a tent fantasy in which to climb and dive frantically. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all sure if it’s really Skunkbear writing this and not a horde of a million mosquitoes who, after draining all of Skunkbear’s blood, are now wearing his skin around, animating his body just to get closer to their next victim. Really makes you think.

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