There was stargazing above Rattlesnake Lake. There were campfire sing-a-longs and an uncanny rendition of “Rhinestone Cowboy.” There were blisters and cramps and cringe-worthy sunburns. And there was such extraordinary beauty that- unless you knew of the Greenway already- you would never believe it exists right in our own backyards.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway 20thAnniversary Trek represented everything summer is supposed to be. Some of us arrived with friends or family and some of us came alone, but no one stayed a stranger for long. On July 2nd, we all gathered in Ellensburg, WA to build community with one another, bike and hike the 130 miles back to Seattle, and celebrate the historic 1990 trek that started it all.
Twenty years ago, a group of people marched from Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle to raise awareness of the at-risk natural areas that existed along the I-90 corridor. The goal was never to reverse the development that had already taken place to the West, or to keep people away from these areas. Rather, they aimed to show that human growth and nature conservation are each vital to our health as a people and can coexist.
And so, with that in mind, more than 60 trekkers- ranging in age from eight to eighty- gathered at Wild Horse Wind Farm outside of Ellensburg on July 2nd to kick off the nine-day event. Our reasons for coming were as wide and far as the collection of life experiences on that afternoon. There were individuals who had spearheaded the original 1990 trek and kids who had only ever camped in their own backyards. People who sang everything from Peter, Paul, and Mary to “Bohemian Rhapsody” around the campfire. We came to escape the city, to test ourselves without cell phones and computers, to challenge our bodies, and to meet new people. We came to learn about the land we live in and to continue the fight to protect it. And we came ready to push ourselves across this spectacular landscape, blisters and all.
When the ride began the next morning, enthusiasm carried us through the first several miles. But as 35 mph headwinds continued to rail against us without fail, the twenty-six mile ride started to seem like it might never end. The group was a tough one, though, and eventually we made our way to camp at the retired Cle Elum train depot. Some- like myself- fell asleep that night before the sun went down. Others found the energy to stay up for hours dancing together to live music from local bands. If anything can be said about the 20th Anniversary trekkers, it’s that they always found the energy to dance.
The next two days of biking, through Crystal Springs and on to Rattlesnake Lake, proved to be an easier journey. Those of us on bicycles or horse-drawn wagons were the first to pass through the 2.3-mile Snoqualmie Tunnel at its grand re-opening, after being closed since 2009. The ride was dark and cold, eerie at times, and sprinkled with drops of water from the black ceiling. But each rider who passed out the other end was greeted with encouraging cheers and awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains.
Those first few nights- home-made dutch oven apple crisp with the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington State, and old-time campfire with songs and s’mores, and guided star walks with a Boeing astronomer- solidified this transformation of a group of strangers into a gathering of friends.
Day 5 was our first day of hiking and our first time on the trail with other day hikers who had come out to support the Greenway. The morning brought us up steep switchbacks around Rattlesnake Ridge to Snoqualmie Point, where we were joined by more community members for dinner, music, dancing (of course), and celebration. By now we had gotten into the routine of trek life and prepared light-heartedly for the days of hiking that lay ahead.
Those next few days brought us up and over the Issaquah Alps- Tiger, Squak, and Cougar mountains- and nearer to the Seattle Waterfront. Each step of the way was designed to better educate us on the area and how to become a greater steward of the land we love. Guides met us on the trail to teach the history of the native forests we walked through; trek leaders explained complex land ownership and sustainable foresting practices. Trekkers young and old talked about the things they’d seen, the people they’ve known, and brainstormed the Greenway’s next steps into the future.
The final march to the Seattle waterfront, from Bellevue’s Newcastle Beach Park, was a triumphant conclusion to the nine-day trek and the past twenty years. But it is not the end. This trek represented a passing of the torch from those who initially saved these natural areas to those who will grow with them into the future. Twenty years ago, a group of people marched because they loved this land, and because they cared about the generations to come who would learn and grow from it. We all have the chance now to get involved, to educate ourselves, and to spread the word. Because the fight to keep nature for nature’s sake is often not an easy one, but the choice is.