Out in the Open
Backpacker|January - February 2021
In one of America’s least visited national parks, I find my authentic self.
By Lance Garland

A late September chill tinges the air as I gather my gear and start down to the water taxi rendezvous point. I’ve been coming to Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park every year since I was in the Navy, more than 13 years ago, and over that time this landscape has become hallowed ground to me.

It was here that I started to figure out my role in the world, how to overcome the challenges I’ve faced, and, more importantly, how to live an authentic life as a gay man. This morning, the trees shy with the first blush of autumn, and leaves adorn the trail like flower petals at a wedding. It’s a painful reminder that my own wedding was cancelled earlier this summer by the pandemic. My fiancé intended to join me on this trip, but couldn’t get away at the last minute. And so, as I’ve done for years, I go alone.

After 1.5 miles, Ross Lake comes into view and my entire being releases the tension that builds up in daily life. I use the telephone mounted nearby to call Ross Lake Resort and request the water taxi I reserved. Minutes later the boat arrives and we fly across the lake’s calm surface at more than 20 knots. Soon, the North Cascades backcountry unfolds before me: mountains on all sides, their peaks sharpened to points above forested slopes.

As the boat captain drops me off at Desolation boat dock, we confirm my scheduled pickup time tomorrow. Then he’s offand I’m alone once again. Waves of worry wash over me, like they always do in moments like this. What if the people at the resort look me up on social media and find out I’m gay? What if tomorrow’s boat captain doesn’t like my kind?

It’s dangerous to be on your own in the world. It’s dangerous in the open. For centuries, gays were forced by society to perfect the art of camouflage, of invisibility.

Here, under the pines, I’m greeted only by mosquitoes and their unrelenting thirst. Soon, I come to a crossroads. To the left is Desolation Lookout, my destination. To the right is Lightning Creek, the first place I visited in this wilderness 13 years ago. A Navy buddy invited me on a trip here because of our shared love of Jack Kerouac’s books, The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels, which were set nearby.

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