His worst hour on the trail | Editor's Note

By Sara Bruestle | Oct 05, 2016

I love to go hiking, but I’ve never done more than 6 miles in a trip. I’m probably what you’d call a beginner.

My favorite is Rattlesnake Ridge, a 4-mile hike in North Bend. It has an elevation gain of 1,160 feet and features views of Mount Si, Mount Washington, Rattlesnake Lake and Chester Morse Lake.

The name origin for the lake and hike dates back to the early pioneers of the Snoqualmie Valley. They thought the sound of dry grass rustling in the wind was the rattling of rattlesnakes.

I couldn’t help but think about my favorite hike – and rattlesnakes – when I interviewed Rich Steward for this week's story about his thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada along the crest of mountains in California, Oregon and Washington.

The trail is a whopping 2,650 miles. That’s definitely not for a beginner like me.

I met Steward four years ago when we both enrolled in the Citizens Police Academy.

The eight-week class introduces the community to law enforcement and the day-to-day operations of the Mukilteo Police Department.

Steward now volunteers with the police department. Go figure! He helps with vacation house checks, neighborhood speed watches, parking assistance for events and police officer trainings.

The 59-year-old from Mukilteo had a few close calls with rattlesnakes while hiking the long-distance trail for four months and 11 days – but that wasn’t too scary for him.

His trip was nothing like Cheryl Strayed’s, whose hike was the subject of the 2014 film “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon, but he’ll never forget his scariest hour on the trail.

Actually, Steward wasn’t technically on the trail.

After hiking 28 miles in temperatures up to 109 degrees, Steward hitchhiked into a town called Seiad Valley, just 15 miles south of the Oregon border. It has a population of 300 – with only a post office, store and a campground to its name.

“I went into the campground office to charge my phone, and the guy that’s running the office there is watching a football movie with a couple of foreign thru-hikers who don’t understand football.”

The man was explaining Division I football to the foreigners because he played for the University of Washington.

When he mentioned he was a Dawg, Steward joined in on the football talk.

The man told him he was from Edmonds, so Steward mentioned he’s from Mukilteo.

“Oh, did you hear about the shooting?” the man asked.

“What shooting?”

It was Aug. 1. Since Steward was hiking the PCT, he hadn’t yet learned that a gunman had shot to death three Kamiak High School grads and injured another at a Mukilteo house party the day before.

When Steward found out the victims were all recent Kamiak graduates, he was filled with terror: His daughter, Ally Steward, graduated from Kamiak in 2015. She sometimes goes to house parties.

“I get on my phone, I text my daughter, I text my son, I text my ex-wife,” he said. “I hear nothing. I text Sgt. Colt Davis asking, ‘Was my daughter involved?’ and I hear nothing.

“I’m in the back of this office, I’m just crying, I’m just bawling. I thought my daughter could have been killed in that. It was just awful. It was my worst hour on the trail.”

An hour later, his ex-wife told him what he needed to know: Ally was OK. She hadn’t been at the party.

“What an odd coincidence,” Steward said, “to have this guy in the middle of nowhere in California with all this detail about the Mukilteo shooting.”

After he shared that story, it was like Steward and I were back at the Citizens Police Academy. We liked to talk before and after each class.

I told him about what it was like for me to cover the shooting, how the community has been healing since its loss and my wonderment that so many of us were – and forever will be – linked to Anna Bui, Jake Long and Jordan Ebner.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Dance like no one is watching; email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.” – Olivia Nuzzi

EMAIL OF THE WEEK: Andrea Otanez, journalism lecturer at the University of Washington: “I'm working with local journalism and journalism educators to apply to host an APME News Train, which brings journalism training to journalists rather than making us go to some far-flung place. Maybe you've been to one of these in Seattle a few years back? I’m reaching out to see if you'd like to be on the planning committee.”

CALL OF THE WEEK: Kim Villines, the late Anthony Boro’s grandmother: “I talked to you just about a year ago when my grandson was murdered [‘2nd suspect convicted of teen’s murder,’ front page, Oct. 5]. We are doing a candlelight vigil on Mukilteo beach on the one-year anniversary. That’s Thursday, Oct. 6, at 5:30 p.m., if you are interested. Of course, the shooter was just convicted on Sept. 26.”

POLICE LOG OF THE WEEK: A caller reported a vehicle vs. pedestrian collision at the corner of Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue. A girl was taken to the hospital by her mother. The extent of the girl’s injuries were not immediately available. The case is under investigation.

FIRE LOG OF THE WEEK: Firefighters responded to a fire behind a residence in the 5900 block of 112th Place Southwest. A caller reported that several rags were on fire next to the house. The resident extinguished the fire before firefighters arrived. It was unknown how the fire started.

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