Voices in the Wilderness – Justine Murray

Elope, Explore, Endure: The Selkirks on the Pacific Northwest Trail

In the summer of 2023, my partner Matt and I embarked on a remarkable 1,200-mile journey along the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), exploring the diverse landscapes of the Pacific Northwest region. Stretching from the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park to Cape Alava on the Olympic Coast, the PNT promised an adventure through mountains, forests, and remote wilderness areas. Opting for a “flip-flop” strategy, we chose not to hike the trail continuously from end to end. Instead, our journey began in Orville, Washington, planning to walk 600 miles to Glacier National Park before returning to Orville to complete the remaining 600+ miles to Cape Alava. This decision was influenced by reasons such as the challenges posed by snow, the possibility of encountering fires, navigating river crossings, and the intense summer heat in that section.

A significant part of our adventure unfolded in the rugged Selkirk Mountains of Northern Idaho, about two weeks into our trip. This section brought us to Priest Lake, Idaho, specifically Caribou Creek, where we decided to celebrate our love with an elopement. The location held profound significance as we had crossed the same creek in 2021 while hiking the Idaho Centennial Trail. Returning to this spot on the PNT felt like a full-circle moment. Surrounded by the untamed beauty of the Selkirk Mountains, we craved an intimate ceremony that would capture the essence of our love and the adventures we’ve shared.

Our families, always supportive of our unconventional choices, surprised us with flower bouquets sourced from our favorite local grower, infusing a touch of familiarity into the wilderness setting. With family by our side, surrounded by towering trees and the melody of a nearby creek, we exchanged vows in a ceremony that felt like a dance with nature.

Following our elopement, we spent two days with friends and family, indulging in laughter, good food, and preparations for the upcoming section – the “LIONS HEAD bushwhack,” known as one of the toughest sections of the PNT in our home territory.

As we bid our goodbyes and embarked on the challenging trail ahead, a few friends joined us for the day, offering both company and an additional layer of farewell. The weather was hot with overcast clouds, and the presence of friends added a special touch to our departure. One such friend, Fish, a legend in these parts, opted to stay overnight, sending us off in the morning with full bellies and hearty laughs. If Fish can’t make you laugh, then no one can – he is a true character and a cherished part of our PNT journey.

Our post-ceremony celebration turned into a demanding bushwhack through the rugged beauty of the Selkirks. We vanished into the thick underbrush, momentarily disoriented in the heart of the wilderness. We pressed on, pushing through overgrown weeds, downed trees, and dense vegetation. I inadvertently stepped on a yellow jacket nest while crossing over a log Matt had just walked over moments before. The sudden onslaught of stings on my ankle was immediate and intense, a fiery sensation that pulsed through my leg. I dropped my backpack, and the forest echoed with my cries. After applying a soothing salve and taking a moment to recover from the initial shock of the bee stings, I was ready to resume our journey. Eventually, we emerged from the tangled vegetation onto rocky terrain, the uneven ground beneath our feet.

Pausing for a moment on a high vantage point, we marveled at the breathtaking views that opened before us. Taking advantage of the awe-inspiring scenery, we decided to take a break and savor the moment. Discovering a cozy spot among the rocky terrain, we decided to drop our packs and indulge in a well-deserved snack break. We exchanged glances, silently acknowledging the challenges we had just overcome together.

We had only a couple more miles to go before reaching the alpine lake where we would set up our camp. Bouldering and hopping from one rock to another, we managed to make it to the lake just at dusk. This day marked a 12+hour journey of challenges and triumphs. At the lake, we encountered a man from Switzerland hiking the PNT. When asked about his choice of this trail, he explained that the vast wilderness here in the USA is truly amazing, and he found immense joy in exploring it. He added that the lack of people on the trails was a stark contrast to his home country, where hiking trails are often crowded with people, making the solitude of the PNT a unique and treasured experience for him. We wished him luck, exchanged goodbyes, and made our way to set up camp, thoroughly exhausted from the challenges of the day.

Our elopement and lion’s head honeymoon bushwhack on the PNT were more than just a celebration of love; they were a testament to our shared love for adventure and the unpredictable beauty of nature. The challenges we faced, from the symbolic creek crossing to the unexpected encounter with yellow jackets, navigating the bushwhack, only deepened our connection. In the heart of the Selkirk Mountains, our love story unfolded like the rugged trails beneath our feet – unpredictable, challenging, and undeniably beautiful.

Justine Murray lives in Sandpoint, Idaho where she shares her life with her husband, Matt Connery, and their adventurous dog, Red. She thrives on dirt trails and being in the mountains. Justine owns La Chic Boutique in downtown Sandpoint and in 2021, she founded The Ethan Murray Fund, a non-profit organization established in memory of her son, Ethan. This initiative is committed to addressing mental health needs within the community and recognizing the importance of supporting individuals facing these challenges.

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About The Author:

Rose wears many hats within FSPW as well as the greater Sandpoint community. You can find her working behind the scenes for the Friends, coaching kids mountain biking and nordic skiing, or out on the trail enjoying nature.

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  1. Congratulations 💖🍾🥂😘what a great trip you two are Amazing! Bummer about the bee stings you sure are a trooper! Thank you for sharing your adventure loved it ❤️

  2. You two. So amazing. You are a beautiful Bride girlfriend ( and Matt , your perfect match.) Love looks so good on you🥰 xo

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