I crossed the bridge over the river and headed directly to some picnic benches where several hikers were already waiting for the last shuttle of the day. I was relieved we had made it, I just really wanted to be in Stehekin that night, not that I couldn’t have made it one more night on the trail, not that I would have melted or something, but I had visions and I had made it my goal to make it there that day, it was the last day of September. I took my pack off and when some other hikers told us about all the Salmon down in the river I practically skipped over to the water’s edge to check them out. There was about 100 feet of cliff between me and the Salmon, but even from up there I could see their pinkish red bodies under the shallow water, wavering in place, doing the thing that they do, fighting the current. The water had a gorgeous turquoise tint to it, especially in the deeper places, and all around were solid walls of rock graced with mosses, the trees above were covered in sea foam green lichens that dangled pendulously and swayed in the breeze. It was intensely pretty there, and I felt so at peace sitting at the edge of the cliff, gazing down at the Salmon. It was lulling, as my body started to relax and settle down from that last ten mile push.We had hiked 23 miles to get there before 6:00, and we did it!
As my body relaxed, I started to feel chilled, so I retreated from the cliff’s edge and headed back to the picnic benches for my jacket. After a short wait of maybe 20 minutes the Stehekin shuttle pulled up. I was so excited to see it there, and watched in anticipation as passengers unloaded, hoping Mama Lion and Boone might be getting off. They weren’t on it though, so I hung on to the final hope that they may still be in town. Soon I was a happy passenger on the little bus, and was slumped down in a seat like when I was a schoolkid, knees propped up on the seat in front of me, heading home from a long hard day, looking lazily out the window. The rhythm and vibration of the bus made me even more relaxed, and I entered a sort of daze, I could almost have fallen asleep. The scenery was much too beautiful though, as the road followed along the river to my right, there were oohs and ahhs coming from other passengers, all hiker trash. I’m really gonna like it here, I’m so glad I get to take a day off here. It was about a 25 minute ride to Stehekin proper, we passed a place called The Ranch along the way, apparently you can stay there and you get a package deal, lodging and meals are included, and apparently they have really great food. However, it’s near the trail by only maybe a few miles or so, and everything else is at the other end of town, 11 miles away. The Post Office and camping are at the far end of town, in Stehekin, and the Bakery, let’s get our priorities straight, is two miles from Stehekin, and something like 7 from The Ranch. So obviously I didn’t stay at The Ranch. Besides, I did have a package to pick up at the post office, and I was planning to camp anyway. Bonus, the shuttle stops at the Bakery a few times a day en route back and forth from the High Bridge to Stehekin, and it is only $2 for a one way ride to the Bakery. So I had already plotted my plan of attack which was to take the first shuttle in the morning to the Bakery, and walk back to Stehekin.
Stehekin was adorable, and I could probably write an entire blog post just on this quaint little place, but I won’t. I need to tell you about the last week on the trail. I will, however summarize Stehekin in a few words or so. Stehekin proper is situated right on the river that pours out from Lake Chelan, surrounded by gorgeous rock walls that become towering mountains, and is very very simple yet quaint. There is one small cafe that serves pretty great food if you ask me, next to that is the lodge that has a little gift shop and a craft shop is in a separate little cozy building up the hill. There are two campgrounds and a Post Office, a laundry facility and not too many people visiting at once because most visitors get thre by boat. It was just peaceful and serene and beautiful, the perfect place to take a zero. Crush and I found a place to camp in the dark that first night and the next morning, I got up just in time to get to the bakery and fulfill my wildest dreams of strong coffee and a chocolate croissant. We boarded the shuttle at 8:15 and waited eagerly for the departure at 8:30. It felt like a long time to wait. Oh the anticipation was killing me!
Finally, 8:30 arrived and off we went. Hi ho Hi ho, it’s off to the bakery I go….it was just a brief ride, maybe 10 minutes or less, and we were dropped off like children clambering down the steps of the schoolbus and running to get to the ice cream truck.
The building looked like it was someone’s home- turned into a coffee shop- all wood and warmly decorated with colorful locally made crafts, and the smell of baked goods prevalent throughout. I walked up to the shrine-like pastry counter where everything good and gooey was out on display and hikers were congregating around it, their mouths drooling. I peeked in, and it was honestly overwhelming, with so much to choose from and it all looked so tasty. But where were my chocolate croissants? Surely they have those, how could they not? I tried looking aroound for a menu or another case with pastries on display, but I saw no evidence of my favorite thing. My heart sank a little, and as my turn came in line, I asked the lovely woman behind the counter if they had chocolate croissants. “Sometimes we do make them, but they are very labor intensive, so it’s not that often” she said somewhat apologetically. I tried my best to not look disappointed, and opted for one of the giant Cinnamon buns and a cup of coffee. The Cinnamon bun was bigger than my face, they heated it up for me and I sat there with my cup of joe, eating the entire sticky, finger-licking thing. It was a bit much for me, all that sugar, but I managed to do it somehow. I then topped off my coffee and headed back to town with a super buzzzz going on, and that was good because I was in a hurry- so I could make it in time to eat a “real” breakfast at the cafe before they stopped serving at 10:30. “Real breakfast” meant eggs. I may have mentioned this before, but scrambled eggs, or just about any eggs that are cooked and hot are probably the single most missed food I craved on trail. So, I had to have them.
The walk back, though a bit hurried, was fun. Crush joined me and another hiker whom we had just met the day before also walked with us and was good company. We passed a little farm along the way that sold fresh goat cheese, locally made honey and organic produce. I was so tempted to go in there and skip my breakfast at the cafe. But what was I going to do with a bunch of heavy produce, cheese and honey? It had no place in my world right then, sadly, and eggs truly did. So, we moved on and as time was getting short, we ended up hitching the last half mile or so in the back of a pick-up truck so we could make breakfast. There is a special feeling when you are a passenger in the back of someone’s pick up truck and I was feeling nostalgic, remembering the ride we took down from Kearsarge Pass, eh only about 1,700 miles ago. A bunch of us had piled in the back with all our gear and all our sweat and stink, and Prince was playing a song for us on Ingrid, his ukelele. You may laugh at this, but it was You Should go and Love Yourself” by Justin Beiber. Prince did a pretty awesome version of the song, I never even heard it before I heard him play it, so I will always have Prince’s version stuck in my mind. As I sat in the back of the truck heading back to Stehekin, I admired the purity of the place and thought this is probably the last hitch I take for a long time…..
I enjoyed all the things that town provides for one last time that day, yet the scenery made it magical and the fact of it being my last zero made it even more memorable. I had time to think, to write, to eat, and I even got to take a shower. I lucked out and was able to get a room at the little Stehekin lodge, which Crush and I shared, and it was so worth it. It was here that I washed my hair for the first time since Crater Lake. No kidding. I felt like it had been quite a long time, and when I checked back in my journal to see when I was in Crater Lake, I learned it had been August 16th, so only 45 days. Pretty funny. I wrang out 750 of miles of trail dirt from my dreads in the shower, and while it felt great to get clean, part of me felt sad that it was all washing down the drain. Everything was just becoming so symbolic of the end and saying goodbye to this way of life. I was embracing it, because I had no choice, but I did not want to let it go.
When we got back on the trail the next morning, it was October 2nd. I never did find Mana Lion and Boone, but I had inquired about them at the Lodge. The friendly woman at the desk remembered them fondly, but she told me I just missed them by a day or two. So, they were going to be at the Monument real soon, I was really really happy for them! Crush and I had made a plan to meet up with Wildfire at Rainy Pass about 20 miles from Stehekin, as she had been out there doing trail magic for two weekends. I was so excited to get to see her again, it had been since Northern California, just outside of Belden since we were last together, so in trail time-keeping, that was a mere 1,400 miles ago. So much had happened since then. We had both walked all that way, yet our experiences were completely different. That was before all my foot pain and ankle injury, and she had gone ahead of me and finished her hike on August 30th, over a month ago already. I was so curious to hear of her adventures, what she saw, who she met and how she felt at the finish.
We weren’t going to make it to Rainy Pass that same day though-because we stopped at the Bakery on the way back to the trail- to load up again. For anyone who might be reading this and has a plan to go there, please order the coffee cake. It was the BOMB! So, loaded up on pastries, we hiked on as far as we could that day, which ended up being about 14 miles- to a place called Hideaway Camp. It was one of several campsites that were a short distance off the trail and this one was just about six miles from Rainy Pass. We planned to get up early and make it to meet up with Wildfire by 9:00am.
Rain was threatening the entire time we were in Stehekin and it never really came to pass. But when we got back on the trail, we met it head on, once again. I was prepared though, I had found in one of the hiker boxes a clear plastic bonnet. It was like the kind you would wear to cover your hair while at the beauty parlor, in the 1950’s, you know over your curlers. It was hilarious and perfect, I couldn’t wait to try it, I thought it was genious and thanked who ever left it behind in the hiker box. So, as soon as the rain had become consistent enough, I pulled it out and secured it over my dreads. I asked Crush to take a picture of me with it on, for some reason this plastic bonnet made me feel like I was back in kindergarten getting my picture taken for the first day of school. Yeah, I’m almost forty!
Hideaway Camp wasn’t really much of a camp at all. It was one of those nights where we pushed into the dark and had to set up camp blindly in a less than ideal dirt patch that was about to become quite muddy from the rain. It was surrounded by trees that blocked out any possible moonlight, and not only upright living trees, but also lots of deadfall scattered about, so that also meant lots of rodents. The whole place just kinda gave me the willies, but I was grateful there was a creek nearby, and finally to be cozied up in my sleeping bag. It would probably be nicer in the morning- I reasoned. I felt cold that night, too, I even felt slightly run down and quite tired and figured I must be getting my period. Yes, that must be it. It’s not the fact that it’s only 35 degrees out and rainy and I have just walked almost 2,600 miles, because none of that would make me feel cold and tired, right? Was I perhaps in denial that this hike had taken a toll on me? The denial that blocks out all the misery has everything to do with all those moments of pure bliss. Those, after all, are the ones you remember as time passes. That night I wrote in my journal: “Tonight as I was climbing up along a ridge the sky was filling in with clouds way off in the distance next to giant towering craggy peaks with glaciers on them, and closer to the trail there was a giant ravine-like slope leading hundreds of feet down into a river, Fall colors are everywhere. Being in the lodge in Stehekin was so comforting, I think it was like a preview of the world I am going to soon be in again. It was great, but so is all of this and everything just feels so bittersweet”.
The next morning the temps hovered around freezing, and I set off at 6:00am, determined to meet Wildfire by 9:00am. It was foggy and misty, and the campsite really didn’t look much better in the growing daylight after a good night’s rest, so I was perfectly okay with getting out of there. As I walked along a smooth, meandering trail, I passed through thick groves of yellowed, dried ferns that were blanketed in frost. I wondered what this all might have looked like in August. There was no doubt about it, Fall was in full force. I quickened my step to keep warm and I made good time. By 9:15 I was at Rainy Pass and looking for Wildfire. I did not find her at first, I wasn’t even sure what kind of car she might be driving. But we did find a sign with a hand written note on a paper plate that read “trail magic” and pointed across the road. Yay!!!
As we walked up a paved driveway toward the trailhead on the other side of the road, we heard the sound of an engine, and turned to look behind us. It was Wilfire! Yay!! She went on ahead and parked her van and then came loping down the road to greet us. A massive hugging session ensued and it was such a wonderful feeling to be so far North with her, and she gives the best hugs. Since I didn’t get to hike the last 1,400 miles with her, at least I would have memories of good times shared up here. She had a whole breakfast display set up in the back of her van for all the hikers passing through. She had also been up there the previous weekend and fed a lot of grateful hikers in the rain. This was a really perfect place to have trail magic, especially in the current conditions. We sat in the dirt parking lot and made hot beverages and pancakes to which I added almond butter, bananas and maple syrup. Several other hikers gathered there, including Mayor and his awesome little dog Katana, and his hiking companion Blaze, among several others. It was a great feeling of comraderie, there’s nothing like a group of fellow thru-hikers bonding over simultaneous misery and bliss (and food). We collectively helped finish all the goodies Wildfire had brought, and soon Crush and I loaded into her van for a quick trip to Winthrop to get Crush’s resupply package that was at the hostel there in town.
It was such a nice offer of Wildfire to take us all the way to Winthrop, as even though it was a quick trip, it was still a ways away. It would have been a difficult hitch this time of year, probably much easier in August. It was a super cool town though, all decked out in a Western theme and the trail angels at the hostel there were great. For anyone considering going there for a zero day, I would do it. It would also be a great place to stay before beginning a Sobo thru-hike if you could get a ride from there to either Rainy Pass or Hart’s Pass.
We arrived back at the trailhead in the mid afternoon, and said our heartfelt thank you’s and see you soon’s to Wildfire, as she was going to meet us again at the Monument in just a few days time. Oh my gosh, it is so close, Canada is just right there, it’s really going to happen. It was hard to comprehend the end still, and I knew the best thing for me to do was just to keep hiking and being present in the moment until I got there. We had a bit of a climb that afternoon up to a pass that I don’t recall the name of now. First we were in the wet, green forest, and as we gained elevation the scenery got notably more dramatic as the vistas opened up beneath us. That afternoon, we encountered clouds, mist, fog, rain and snow, all of which only added to the beauty of this place. By the time we reached the pass that afternoon it was full-on snowing. I can’t emphasize enough how striking the scenery was up there.The best part about it, for me, was the fall colors in their prime, especially the Larch trees. I never really even knew what a Larch tree was until those final days on the PCT. They are a deciduous conifer whose needles turn a golden yellow in the Fall before dropping off for the Winter. Come to think of it, I would really love to see what they look like in the Spring when they leaf out again. I guess I will just have to come back….
As I reached the top of the climb, I met three women hiking together, and they had decided to stop and set up camp nearby since it was getting late and snowing. Funny, who were they? Why had I not seen them before? Were they thru-hikers? I was curious about them, but I did not want to stop to chat, as I had just put on all my rain gear, complete with rain skirt, rain pants, jacket, mittens and umbrella, so I was set on hiking a bit further.I said a quick hello as I passed them by and hoped I would see them again. I was loving it all, wvwn the snow, I would rather have snow than rain anytime.The views were so expansive, and the craggy peaks all around made me smile from ear to ear. This landscape was singing to my soul, what a fantastic place to finish. I spent most of my time that afternoon hiking alone, in silence, the way I love to hike, taking in all the beauty around me and cementing it into my memory. From time to time Crush and I would catch one another and share a blissful moment. We ended up making it about 8 miles that afternoon, to Granite Pass, PCT mile 2,597. I was excited for the 2,600 mile marker the next day, the final one of the trek, how was that going to feel? That night I wrote this in my journal: “The views kept getting better and better as we climbed today, and better still as we crossed saddles and then traversed ridges on the other slope, and better still as we descended some switchbacks only to jut back out onto another ridge. These dramatic peaks, valleys offer so much depth, the slopes and the rock structures they are made of definitely give the Sierras a run for their money. Their composition and shape is different, but the scale, grandeur and sense of infinity are similar. The feeling of being very very small and very very big all at once is the feeling I love the most about being out here. I was in my happy place for sure today and I’m just so excited and grateful that the last days of this epic journey are being spent in a place like this. It is so appropriate and so stunningly beautiful, it touches my heart and soul in exactly the way I need it to right now, this is the way I want to finish my hike, with a sweet taste in my mouth. From here, it is only 53 miles to the border, to the Monument where so many have come before me. It is so close now, I can almost touch it and I wonder what it is actually going to feel like when I do place my hands on it and kneel down and give thanks to the trail, this vessel that holds the space and provides so many with a life changing experience. What emotions have poured out on that spot before me? I can’t believe I’m going to be there in just two days”.
October 4th, 2016 was a solid day. We hiked 23 miles with 4,600 feet of climbing and 4,500 feet of descent relatively easily. I had slept in that morning though, and didn’t start walking until 8:30am. It was a memorable day though, beginning with mile 3 hitting the 2,600 mark. I was alone, and it was just another understated collection of little stones in the shape of the numbers 2…6…0….0 but it was special because it was mine. I made it there on my own two miserable feet. Plus, the stones were dusted with snow, giving them a ceartain glow. I felt special because proably not too many people got to take a photo of this mile marker surrounded by snow.
From there, I was filled with a burst of positive energy and cruised along on terrain that was flowing and somewhat easy and smooth. The next several miles included lots of walking along ridges, with steep drop offs on either side, so the views all day were just gorgeous. I stopped a lot to take pictures and the Larch trees were everywhere. They had collected a fresh dusting of snow on their yellow needles, which made them even more beautiful. There were more clouds and more mist, and light snow flurries all the way up to Glacier Pass. I finally got to meet those other three hikers, the three women, and found out that they were thru-hikers, and had started at Campo on May 15th. Damn, they hauled ass to get here! Their names were Legs, Chubbs and Siesta. I looked forward to talking with them more and wished I had met them all sooner and hiked with them, they were awesome. It still amazed me how many “new” people you can meet even after 2,600 miles and over 6 months of waking the same exact path. Incredible.
We made it to Harts Pass in the dark, and in very wet conditions. There were a few other hikers there before us and they had built a campfire, which was super tempting to go warm up next to, but we still had to make our camp and eat, so we went off into the dark and did our best to scout out a flat spot to pitch that would not become a mud puddle by morning. Harts Pass was another one of those places I had known about for over a year, primarily because it was the last bail out point with a road before the Northern Terminus. That being said, it was also the place where Southbounders usually start their hike, because you cannot enter the US via the PCT, so you have to hike from Harts Pass up to the border, tag the monument, then start your hike South. I was originally planning to do a Southboud hike, and in the initial planning stages this was what I thought about doing. So I had my own idea of what Harts pass was like. It was nothing like I imagined. But then, what ever is?
I woke up at 5:55 the next morning, breathing very heavily from my deep slumber, the kind that you feel a vortex inside you that could easily suck you right back to sleep. I wanted so badly to go back there, but I had miles to make today, it was my second to last day on the PCT. Everything was sopping wet and icy cold that morning, and Harts Pass was like a ghost town. I took a walk around the campground when I went to use the toilet and saw just a couple of cars and a couple of tents, a closed up building and a big sign next to the trail register I had signed the night before. Packing up my gear was wet and muddy, and so part of me felt relief that I only had one more day of this. The entire morning as I was walking I felt so incredibly tired. My eyes ached, my body ached and I just felt so out of sorts. I was thankful that day was not the last day, because I would have hated to make it to Canada feeling like such shit. I dressed in many layers that morning and couldn’t seem to keep warm. After 11 miles, I stopped for lunch and fortunately Crush and the other three women all joined. That lifted my spirits talking with them. It also helped that I ate like mad and drank a super duper coffee with hot cocoa and hazelnut coffeemate in it, my new favorite trail beverage. I made hot quesadillas too, which I never did, and having hot food helped get my metabolism going again. It actually all did wonders. Before taking off after lunch I did some good stretching too, something I had been slacking off on of late, so I knew I needed it. The miles following were lovely, graded, downhill miles, and I relaxed into the second part of the day, feeling more like myself and less like a zombie hiker. I began, once again, to savor every moment out there, especially when I realized that it was going to be my last night sleeping out under the sky and on the Earth-my one hundred and ninety fifth night.What other reality was there really besides this? How was it possible that I was not going to be doing this anymore? I could not even imagine that there was a whole other world out there with so many people and things and noise and lights, it hurt my head to try and grasp that concept, and it made my throat tighten. Don’t go there yet, you are still here, now. “Honor the space between no longer and not yet”.
I continued at my own pace for a few miles, Crush was up ahead of me and the other women had all passed me too. I was happy with this because I knew where we had all agreed to camp, and I just felt like lingering and taking my time. As I traversed an uphill slope of quite a few switchbacks, I came into a big patch of wild Yarrow flowers. They were tall and proud and beautiful. The sun had come out from behind the clouds for a spell, and offered some lovely light on that hillside. I decided I wanted to pick some flowers to give to Wildfire at the Monument, and with the permission of the flowers themselves, I started to scout around for the prettiest specimens, and then harvested them. As I was busy picking the flowers, little drops of rain began to fall from the sky, illuminated by the rays of sunlight that crept through the openings in the clouds. It was a magical time that I will always remember, and I felt that I was gifted this beauty because I was thinking of giving something to someone else. I am receiving this gift of sun and rain from the sky as I am giving this gift of flowers from the Earth.
Not long after that, I had to stop for water at a little trickle that came down from the side of a steep slope. It was like I was moving in slow motion. I knew this was the last time I would be getting water from a place like this. It was such a gentle trickle that I had to place a yellow leaf on the rock to create a funnel for the water to flow down. I had to take my pack off and wedge myself into the rock there, feeling tired and cold again, but also feeling so happy for the gift of that water. I watched the liquid slowly fill up my water bladder and thought about where it had come from, where it originated, and how pure and essential it was to me out there. Soon enough I would be taking water for granted (or maybe not) but I would have such easy access to it all the time. This was just so precious, this place, overlooking a deep valley as the sun was setting, and the night clouds making their way lower and lower, sinking their weight into these great steep masses of Earth. I love this so much, I never want it to end. What could be more important than this moment right here and now?
I always feel this way when I am about to leave the wilderness, though. It’s always so hard for me. I can recall so many times in my life that I ached deep in my heart at having to say goodbye to being in such a beautiful place. I always imagine that place, after I leave, just being there, doing what it does, the days and nights come and go, the wind, rain, snow and sun have their time there and no matter what, every day, those trees, those rocks, that waterfall, and that view, will still be there, even when I am not. It is all there right now, every bit of it. Every bit of the Pacific Crest Trail is there right now, too. Granted, much of it is covered in snow now, and I would definitely not wish to be freezing cold in my tent at this moment, but it’s all there. The reality is, is that not really any human nowadays can live in the wilderness all year round, and for their entire life. The truth is, that I do enjoy and appreciate civilization and it’s comforts. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t. However, nothing touches my soul and lifts my spirit like a beautiful wilderness. The reason I take my time and slow down and pause to say goodbye, is to create memories of those feelings and those moments so I can go back there in my mind anytime I wish. I am fortunate enough, out of all the humans that live on this Planet right now, I am one of the very minute few who get to spend 6 months in the wilderness, carefree and fully living in the trees and on the dirt, bonding with the very place that our life comes from and will end with. That I can even spend this time and have these moments and create these memories is the greatest gift. So, when I say I don’t want it to end, it’s not because I am selfish, not because I feel like it wasn’t enough, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s because I feel so incredibly blessed and lucky to have been there and to have done what I did, that I just want to savor every last bit of it.
As I left that little trickle of water, I clasped my hands and bowed to the source, to everything out there and everything within. The light on the rocks was causing them to glow, and I stood in awe watching the colors change. As the light faded I knew I had to keep moving a couple more miles, to get to Woody Pass, so I hurried on after taking one last photo. Woody Pass involved more climbing, too, so I was to finish my day on the up. Just before the Pass proper, I saw Crush’s trekking pole with one of her bright pink stuff sacks dangling from it like a flag, signaling me that she was camped nearby. Excellent, I was happy to be done for the day and not have to search for camp in the dark. I grabbed her pole and meandered along a short path that led up to one of the most epic campsites I had on the whole trail. She was there along with Legs, Chubbs and Siesta, and everyone was busy getting their camps set up. I had not made it there too late afterall. All around us were giant walls of rock and a view off to the East of layers of mountains with a deep valley below, Larch and other coniferous trees surrounded us in little groves, just enough to protect us a bit from the weather and make for nice scenery -but also open enough to have spectacular views. We were able to catch a glimpse of the last bit of pink in the clouds as night settled in.
It was definitely cold that night, and I wanted to socialize but was not interested in cooking and eating out in the open, facing the elements, so I did my usual and cooked in my vestibule and ate inside the comfort of my tent, all tucked into my sleeping bag. All of us women chatted through the walls of our tents and as we did, we all took a moment to share our highlights and lowlights from the day and from the entire trail. This was a memorable night for all of us, this was all of our last night’s on the trail, and of course it meant so much to each of us as individuals and it was special to share the evening together. My last trail meal was instant refried beans with fritos and crunchy Indial Dahl mix. I went to bed with a full belly and a full heart. I snuggled deep into my bag and sinched the hood over my head, as it was already getting drafty. I could hear the wind howling high up in the trees, and I heard and owl hooting, too. I love owls, they are so amazing with their big eyes and calm, wise spirits. Its rare that you see one, but I had heard them on occasion along my trek, and I took this to be a good omen for my last day on the trail.
October 6th, 2016. Day 196, last day on the PCT. Mile 2,639, Woody Pass. I woke to freezing temperatures and a white world. Snow had graced us in the middle of the night and covered everything in white. It was much like my third day on the trail, all the way back in Mount Laguna. Today felt like having a white Christmas though, with all the anticipation of making it to Canada. I envisioned making it to the Monument in the snow and how beautiful and unique that would be. I woke before dawn and got out of my tent to pee. Everyone else was still in their tents, not much in the way of any stirring. I was super excited about the snow and could tell it was going to be an amazing sunrise because the way the clouds were sitting, not covering the sky, just being puffy and bulky and hanging out. Gradually, the others woke up and started packing up. By then I had been out to dig my last cathole under the base of some tree cover and had to walk through about 4″ of fresh snow to get to it. I savored the fresh powder and wondered what the trail would be like, how long would it take me to make the 11 miles to the Monument? On my way back to my tent, Crush was up and we exchanged cameras and took photos of each other in our tents with the magestic cliffs and snow all around us. It was truly magical. I made coffee and ate cookies for breakfast, and as the sky got lighter and lighter I walked out to the edge of some rocks below our campsite and witnesses the clouds turn to gold and light poured slowly into the valley below. It was the perfect beginning of the last day.
As the other women were packing up, Siesta started laughing really hard suddenly. What could it be? She was cracking up and eventually spat out her news. Apparently she had a pot brownie of some sort hidden in the pocket of her backpack and forgot it was there. She said she was saving it for today. Having left her backpack outside of her tent overnight, she woke up to find her pocket chewed through and the cookie was non-existent. Oops. We all laughed hysterically at the prospect of some poor mouse having eaten en edible fit for a human. We concluded it was either dead or having a reeeeeaaaallly good day. We all couldn’t believe she’d saved it for the last day, now that’s discipline!
After a slow and somewhat lingering morning, I decided I might as well do the inevitable and start walking. I left camp by about 9:00am, with my goal to reach the monument by 1:00 because Wildfire and Arrow were going to be there then, so that gave me four hours to make the 11 miles, which was just perfect as long as I didn’t stop too much. So, I set off, and within about 10 minutes I crossed paths with Twinkle Toes and Poodle Dog and was really excited to see them. I didn’t realize at first that they had already made it to the Monument and were heading back to Harts Pass to get home before the next storm came in. It was due to snow even more within the next 12-24 hours so it was a push especially for all the folks heading back that way. I found out that lots of hikers camped just about 5 miles before the Monument, hiked there the same day I did and then turned around and hiked 25 to 30 miles back to or just near Harts Pass. The reason for doing this was so they did not have to enter Canada and make arrangements to get home from there. I always planned to go to Canada, I wanted to be on that soil and I planned right from the start to take some time to see Vancouver or the surrounding area. Little did I know then that I would make friends with so many Canadians: Wildfire, Camelback and even Crush, who grew up in Eastern Canada. So, I had my Dad meeting me in Manning Park, Wildfire and Arrow meeting me at the Monument, I planned to hang with Wildfire in Vancouver and I had accepted Camelback’s invitation to host Crush and I at her home in Victoria. I had a lot to look forward to, and I also had absolutely no plans yet as to how I was getting home. All I knew is I was not going to fly. I couldn’t fathom getting on an airplane and being instantly transposed into a completely different landscape, after having walked through it all. I needed time to digest it all and I wanted to move slowly over the land on my return home.
I congratulated Twinkle Toes and Poodle Dog and hiked on, following the trail that was lightly dusted with snow, on up to a ridge just above Woddy Pass, and as I crossed over and saw the views on the other side, the expanse of valleys also covered in white, it hit me that I was done. I wanted to stay there in that spot forever, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I made a short little video to commemorate the moment, and then suddenly felt pressed for time and had to push on. Yes, even on the last day of a thru-hike, you always have to get going. It will never change until the hike you do has no end and no destination save the journey itself. And as much as the cliche goes “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”, the destination does- at a point- become the reason for the journey. At least today it was.
The morning hike up high on the ridges was so much fun, everything was draped in snow, the trees, the slopes, the trail. That familiar squeaky sound of snow under my shoes made me smile, and I caught a glimpse of what this place must look like for Southbounders who start here in the left over snow from Winter. I wonder what that is like? Maybe I need to find out… Eventually, the trail had to descend a few thousand feet and it was then that I realized I would not have snow at the Monument, as the snow level didn’t get that low the night before. Part of me was relieved for that, but I also knew that it might mean a rainy finish and so I prayed for some sun, or at least a break in precipitation for my arrival at the Monument. So, down and down and down I went, the trail went pretty fast and I passed several Northbounders who had tagged the Monument and turned around. I offered them my sincere congratulations and big smiles but all of them seemed really somber. I couldn’t figure out why that would be, weren’t they ecstatic about making it to Canada? Were they not in a celebratory mood? I pondered this as I walked, wondering if I, too, would feel somber when I’m done. Yes, I can definitely see how that could be, none of us wants this to be over. And for the ones heading back to Harts Pass, well, when I think of that I definitely get it. It was a bit anticlimactic going back there, another 30 miles in the cold, rain and possibly snow, a gray and muddy campground at the end of a dirt road that may not have any cars to take you back to civilization. I, on the other hand, was being greeted by loved ones and taken in to a soft warm bed and treated to hot food cooked by other people that very night. Ok, I get it now.
As I meandered down in elevation the foliage became greener and wetter again, lots of mosses and grasses fading to yellow, those stupid whipping plants and lots of deadfall across the trail to climb over. I stopped at a waterfall to have an energy bar and collect some water, and as I squatted trailside with my pack on and my umbrella over me, two women I had never met came upon me. They were Shitlips and Ravensong. Shitlips was an Aussie-Asian young woman with a super cute accent and a mischevious but loving spirit. I liked her instantly and once again wondered how did we both hike all this way and just meet today, on the last 5 miles of the trail? It still stumped me. Ravensong was a local trail angel doing a section hike in Washington near her home. I had heard about her place, called Ravensongs Roost, near Mazama, WA. I never needed to go there, but I had heard wonderful things about the place and knew it was a potential safe haven if I had to bail out in case of an emergency. Come to find out, not only is Ravensong an amazing trail angel, she is the first female to solo thru-hike the entire PCT, and she was out there celebrating her 40th anniversary of that first hike. She subsequently went and had five children, and she also hiked sections of the trail with each of them. This woman was a living legend, and she was out there, heading to Canada, on the same day as me. What an incredible honor!
It was raining steadily for the next couple of miles and Shitlips and Ravensong and I leap-frogged here and there. Eventually I was ahead of them with only about a mile left to go. I was so happy when the rain let up and I could take down my umbrella and just walk with my head up, I didn’t want to miss the scenery on this last section, I wanted to remember it for the plants and sky and mountains, not staring down at the dirt. I clearly had this idea that the Monument was going to be along a flat straightaway of trail and that it would be on my right hand side as I walked up. I had played this scenario around in my head a million times, anticipating what it was going to be like. I had even dreamt about it. As I came out of an opening in the trees to a slope covered in long dying grasses, I looked out in the distance to the hills on the other side of the lowest spot. I saw the line. The ephemeral clear cut about 30 feet wide that demarcated the boundary between two nations. It was the border! I could see it’s path going up the slope across from where I stood, and looking down slope at where the trail went, I could tell where the Monument was going to be. It was below me, almost in a straight line from where I was standing. My heart began to race intensely. I wanted to run, but I forced myself to just stand there for a moment. I listened, and heard shouting and cheering and laughter below. There were people there, proably Team Red, I assumed. They were a group of hikers that Crush and I had been leap frogging with for about two weeks, ever since Snoqualmie. They were all quite young, and quite boisterous. They had a lot of fun out there on the trail, so much so, that they often didn’t realize that they might be disturbing the peace of others. Well, it was either that, or they didn’t care. There was a lot of room out there in the woods though, so I had learned that if it was silence I craved, I would have to pick and choose how to get it based on where this group was not. Nevertheless, they were a lot of fun and I grew to like them. Knowing they were down at the Monument was a bit of a pill to swallow though, for a brief moment anyway. I had envisioned walking up to it, quietly, almost like a tiptoe, and making my way over to the wooden posts, kneeling down and clasping my hands in prayer, in thanks, in reverence and with gratidude. This was my plan anyway, and well, you know how that goes by now. I quickly had to adjust my thinking, not only was the Monument going to be on my left side, not my right, but Team Red was going to be there all hooting and hollering and whooping it up. Well, what the hell, it would be a blast. I could let it bother me or I could embrace it. No matter, I was just excited to be there, nothing could spoil my arrival and elation as I reached the Monument, not rain, not snow, not even Team Red. My friends were there waiting for me, Ravensong and Shitlips would be there soon, Crush too, so it was all good.
I stood there looking down, looking up, listening, feeling, thinking, and then I just went for it. I got my phone out and just before I reached the monument I started a video. I walked for what seemed like an eternity before I hit the final stretch of about 50 yards leading up to the Monument. Nobody saw me coming at first, so I gave a little whoot call and suddenly they all turned around and starting screaming and hollering and running towards me. Peter Pan from Team Red got to me first and he practically tackled me, it was pretty funny. I saw Arrow and Wildfire and a whole slough of other hikers were there, too. It was a very celebratory and happy arrival, and even though it was nothing like I imagined, I would not change a thing about it. Just like my whole entire hike.
I was actually starving by the time I got there, I think it was about 1:15 or maybe 1:30 and so before going and taking photos at the Monument and signing the trail register, I went and found a spot to plop down my pack and have lunch. Wildfire, bless her, she had made me and Crush sandwiches and oh my they were ah-mazing! They were made on a big squishy bun and had hummous and fresh veggies stacked inside. I devoured that thing! Crush rolled in a short while later and so did Shitlips and Ravensong. It was definitely a merry crowd. Wildfire and Arrow had brought Champagne and Beer, and other snacks, too. It was becoming a feast and a party, and I was all for it. Crush and I both got to open the Champagne in front of the Monument and she sprayed everyone in the audience.
We took a ton of photos and videos, including one if me in my full Mary Poppins get-up.
We lingered for over an hour and I was hoping that most everyone was going to get going and I could have my moment with the Momnument to myself. I sort-of got that, and I even got to take a photo of me kneeling down and thanking the trail, just like I did at the half-way point. I needed this, and I was a little shy at first about doing this in front of everyone, but then I figured, what the hell, this is how I feel, this is what I want. I will only have this experience once in my life, I don’t want to walk away wishing I had treated it any differently. So, I got everything I had hoped for out of it, and the crowds gradually dispersed. By the time the four of us gathered our gear to get back on the trail, we had been there for over two hours. It was 4:00 and we still had another 9 miles to get to the road at Manning Park where my Dad would be waiting.
Crush, Arrow and Wildfire were busy chatting and still buzzing with excitement, but I felt more somber. Not somber like those hikers that were headed back to Harts Pass, but somber like quiet, still, deep in thought or no-thought actually. I just didn’t feel like talking. So I lingered behind as the others left the border and headed into Canada. I stood there and took one last look at the Monument, and I crossed over. It felt good, there was a certain relief. Wow, I did it. I made it all the way to Canada, I don’t have to get up and walk twenty miles every day anymore…….but what am I going to do now? I decided to let that thought go and trust that it would all unfold in time. After about ten minutes Arrow sweetly looked back at me and asked if I was okay since I was not partaking in the conversation. I let him know I just felt like being quiet, he smiled warmly at me and walked on ahead. I dawdled along, I was no longer on a mission and as a matter of fact I felt a little like I was being ripped out of the woods. I kept tracing the outlines of tree roots and rocks, taking in deep breaths so I could remember what that air felt like, and periodically just stopping to listen. At one point it really hit me that this life was over, and I just started to cry. I needed that and it probably would have come out at the Monument if I had had more solitude. Here was my chance to be alone in the woods and cry it out. It felt good and it felt painful. Later, our group stopped by a waterfall for a snack and water, and I decided to share what I was feeling with them. As the words came out of my mouth, I began to cry again. They all responded by gathering around me in a hug huddle and I felt so loved and comforted. I hope they did, too, as we all felt the sentiment of not wanting to say goodbye.
After that I felt a bit lighter and as darkness was closing in soon and it was also beginning to rain again, I picked up the pace and kept up with Wildfire. She and I chatted the rest of the way to the trailhead. My heart began to beat faster as we got closer, and I could not really focus on the conversation anymore because I could feel my Dad there. I knew how excited he was for me, how he had been waiting there for two days for me to arrive (and six and a half months to have me finish) and I anticipated his warm embrace. I half-thought he might try to walk out on the trail to meet up with me somewhere in the woods, but given the rain and incoming darkness, he had thought better of it, and I was glad because it wasn’t exactly a well markred trail. But I knew he had contemplated it. So, when we got close to the road, I saw one car sitting there with it’s parking lights on. That must be him! I started waving and figured he would see me and get out of the car, but the window was a bit fogged up so it took him a minute. Finally, the door sprung open and my Dad popped out and took off his hat and threw it on the ground, exclaiming “heeeeey, I got my daughter back!” and we gravitated right towards each other into a big embrace. He was full of joy and so was I. It was a good, heartfelt, long awaited hug. “Welcome to Canada!”