Location: Ella’s Bellas Bakery, Beacon, NY
I completed the trail on September 18th, and as of then those are the final numbers. Since then I’ve showered everyday. I don’t love it, but I feel as though it’s something I should do.
Before I go into a concluding post about my experience on the PCT, you should know how it ended. Because it ended in style. A very bad and miserable style, but as I found out, not all style is shimmery and glamorous.
I last left off in Stehekin, remember the bakery I mentioned 19 times? I loved that place. Anyways, I was off to take on the last 89 miles: 4 days, 3 nights till Canada.
The forecast told us Thursday/Friday would be gorgeous, then the weather is turning ON and probably staying on until next June, good luck, hikers. Welcome to winter.
I had an incredible breakfast and hopped on the bus with Polaris to the trailhead. We hiked together that morning talking about it all. The end is near, how do we feel? How do we explain this? Will we do another thru-hike? Does he use tons of commas in his blog posts as well? Maybe I can get his thoughts on the proper use of a casual semi-colon.
It was a great morning, we’ve only met once but you’d think we’ve been friends for a lifetime. It happens often, hikers instantly clicking with each other and never looking back. Slinging jokes left and right, completely at ease with one another. They say those who endure a lot of suffering together form incredibly strong and unique bonds. This, I would have to say, is very true. (Too many commas? Polaris?)
It was a beautiful autumn day and the colors were out and about. It was a weird, dry, desert-like feel for several miles, so many little critters scurrying in the dry brush as you walked by — very reminiscint of Southern California. I thought back to those desert lizards running all over the place, and remembered the day I saw that dreaded “Mojave Brown Bear.” Remember that tale? I made it up.
Kidding! Boy that would have been good though. BUT there is a reason to this, not a good reason, but something I feel like sharing with everyone. I am also about to tell this story because when Maggie (Chuckles) gets around to reading this she’ll want to throw up again, and that makes me laugh.
WELL, back in May, after telling Chuckles and Spoon about my terrifying bear encounter, Chuckles thought to tell me her terrifying wildlife encounter of the day in efforts to make me feel better. She started to tell the story and then stopped, almost ralphing in her mouth. She couldn’t finish the story so Spoon excitedly finished it for her. As I was eye to eye with the “Mojave Brown Bear,” Chuckles’ eyes were 4 miles behind me, staring at the ground, at one medium sized lizard swallowing a smaller lizard. The lizard being eaten was still alive and healthy. It’s awful. It’s gross. It worked. I’m glad I went toe to toe with my “Mojave Brown Bear” instead of seeing an act of such malice. Point being, I was never fond of those lizards. I mean could you imagine walking down the street and seeing a human swallowing another live human? OH THE HUMANITY!
So where am I? The desert? Oh, no, the Northern Cascades. Close, jules. Hey I’m allowed to ramble, it’s my second to last blog post, this is going to come nowhere CLOSE to making sense.
About 20 miles into the day I reached Rainy Pass and saw two old hiker friends! Proton (he’s always positive) and Dream-Catcher! I met them in Trout Lake and we got lunch at the cafe. It was here when Laura told me she booked her flight to Vancouver, and here where I started to slow down my hike. Proton and DC got back to the trail after lunch and I never saw them again. UNTIL NOW!
They finished the trail just the morning before this! They found a way to Seattle, picked up Protons car, hit the grocery store, and drove to Rainy Pass for the day to provide trail magic for us. It was incredible. One day after their thru-hike and they began to give back. After receiving so much love and support from trail angels this summer, it was so cool to see hiker friends immediately dishing it back out. I’ve yet to meet one unappreciative hiker, I’m actually not sure if they exist.
A few more miles up the trail I set up camp at the aptly named, wait for it….”Trail Camp.” Looking at the map I thought hey, this sounds good! But before getting there I hiked over TWO post-it warnings from “The Germans” about aggressive hornets in the area. I couldn’t believe someone who undoubtably got attacked by these things had the courage to run back and place warning post-its for the rest of us. Heroes.
It was a lovely night at “Trail Camp.” It provided everything I needed, access to the trail AND a place to camp. It got chilly at night but I knew I was in for a sunny day, always helpful. I slept in, left trail camp around 8:45. Really chilly in the morning, couldn’t WAIT to get over the ridge and into the sun.
At the top of Cutthroat Pass, my jaw dropped with the beautiful vista that came before me. It was unbelievable. Then I heard some music, and the rustling of potato chip bags, lots of them. Then I saw a guy who could easily be mistaken for Forrest Gump. He had great energy, even though he had just woken up from a rough night on the rocks. He said his name was “Chips” and in order to really EARN his trail name, he hitched into town and bought 15 bags of Kettle Chips, and a bottle of Champagne. This was ALL he had for fuel for the last 70 miles of the trail. He literally just ate an entire bag of NY Cheddar for breakfast. He immediately became my hero, and gave me such a good boost of energy. I love these people.
The rest of the day was sunny and gorgeous. Ridges, forests, climbs, more ridges. It was on this day, Friday, that we had our last major climb. Of course I had no idea, but at the top of the switchbacks Polaris stopped and looked at me. He was pretty emotional telling me that was the last climb of the trail. He said something I’ll never forgot…”How are we ever going to make sense of all of this? How do we explain this? Month, after month, after month. We’ve been doing this for MONTHS.” True. These climbs have been going on for months. They’ve become part of our daily lives, they’ve become routine. Climbs we’d lose sleep over in SoCal we were now conquering, at altitude, without breaking a sweat. How do we explain this? How have we done this?
After another really enriching conversation with Polaris, he hiked on to let me have a moment up top to soak it all in. I thought mostly of the Sierra. Mountain Pass after Mountain Pass after Mountain Pass. So much snow, so much technicality. So much experience. Could I do it again? Would I WANT to? I don’t have an answer for that yet. But what I do know is how I felt in THAT moment. I felt lighter, I felt freer, I felt like a complete badass. My legs have powered me up and down so many insane mountains, through so many intense river fords, and across so many flat and windy forests. I’ve seen so much this summer, all on my own two feet. All powered by a positive mindset. The hard part was over, it was time to coast into Canada. Or so I naively thought.
I hiked along a ridge before I descended into where I decided to camp. The clouds were moving in, and as the sun set behind the mountains I could of swore it was saying goodbye to me. So, being 5 months into this life, I said goodbye back, shedding a tear. I had 1.5 days left, and I knew that was the last time I’d see the sun. Damnit.
I camped by a dirt road that night, surrounded by hunters (it’s okay guys, my jacket is ORANGE). I got my tent up, my dinner cooked, and the moment I laid down to read it began to rain. Sounds peaceful doesn’t it? Well, it was. I slept great. At sunrise a van full of hunters (none of which spoke English) caused a ruckus and then finally dispersed into the woods. I should of just asked them to shoot me, pleading to kill me now! Hah!
No, no, I did not wake up with a bad attitude. It was my last FULL DAY in the woods, and it was a Saturday! This means nothing, but sometimes I get excited about it. My goal was the usual marathon, there was a lake about 27 miles away with camping. All I had to do was keep my head down, and keep one foot in front of the other. I would get there eventually, just going for a walk in the woods, shouldn’t be too bad! Right?! Right?!
Worst day of my existence. Terrible horrible no good very bad day. Where’d those hunters go?
Also in my positive mindset corner, a rain jacket! It has a rip in it and I’ve had it for over 5 years and it doesn’t work well. But it’s labeled a rain jacket so it’s GOT to be better than nothing, right? I bundled up. I lost a glove 200 miles ago so I didn’t even bother wearing my other one. Rain pants would have been a good investment. Next time.
I took down my sopping tent, stuffed it in a garbage bag and stuffed that in the outside pocket of my pack. Time to get moving or I am going to freeze. 2 miles until Harts Pass, where they’re are drop toilets and maybe car campers offering up hot coffee? Hey, a girl can dream. I got to Harts Pass, used the toilet, threw away some garbage (the BEST feeling) and tried to look as miserable as possible. No one felt bad for me. No one offered coffee. Bitches.
Hiking on! After Harts Pass it stopped raining for 25 minutes and it filled me with SO much hope. Turns out the clouds were just filling up so it could dump on us for the next 24 hours straight. Head down, one foot in front of the other. I put my poles in my backpack for the first time all summer. My hands needed to be free so I could stuff them in my pants and shirt to warm up. It sucked not being able to hike with my poles, my ankles were turning all over the place and there were some steep climbs towards the end of the day. My joints saw 100% pressure on the very last day of the trail, kind of funny.
I stopped once around 3:00 because there was a spot the size of my body that a tree was sheltering from the rain. I had 2 scoops of PB left so I hoped to be able to open my pack and devour it. It took a minute, but I was able to figure out a way to unclick my pack buckle. It was a moment. Me, pouring rain, peanut butter, misery. It was a moment.
The rest of the day was spent battling the inner turmoil. Hands clenched tightly around my umbrella, held captive to my own mind. A prisoner. Just me, the weather, inaccessible food, and a whole buncha rocks. I saw only 2 others. I spent the afternoon hiking on the edge of my breaking point, going back and forth. I’d go over the edge and yell at the PCT, asking why it was so relentless. Then I’d somehow find a way to bring myself back and apologize for being so crazy. Then I’d yell at it again. Then maybe cry a little bit. Then laugh a little bit. Then clench my fists and tell myself “one last test, one last test.” This whole summer I self-motivated myself to get up, get out, and get it done. I had to dig down deep to see if any of that toughness was left, and I found some, thank god.
The last few miles I was above 7,000′ so it wasn’t raining, it was just ridiculously windy and cold. This worked out well, because there’s nothing like a good wind-storm when you’re soaking wet! I had a heated debate in my head whether I’d rather be hiking in the wind or the rain. I dismissed my own rules to the debate and chose the sun.
The hardest part about the tenacity of the weather is the fear that comes with it. People ask me all the time…”aren’t you scared out there alone?” On the fair weather days, not so much, I’ve adapted to the change and have gotten used to the elements. But when the weather is as frightening and dangerous as it was on that Saturday, and as it was in the High Sierra, the answer is yes. I’m terrified of everything when the weather is bad. But I’d also still be on the couch if I let fear decide.
Fear. Stress. Imagine them intertwined into a huge ball resting in your gut. It’s just sitting there. You can feel it. You try and try to unravel it, figure out how to make it disappear. But eventually, you must accept that it’s there and that it is going to be part of you until you make it out. It’s this ball of fear that exhausts me the most. It weighs so heavily on my mind. What if nothing is dry? Will I make it through the night? Will I have to keep hiking to stay warm? What if my tent collapses in the storm? So many unknowns. I was so tired from 5+ months of unknowns. My mind needed a vacation from this vacation. Like a Kardashian type vacation. Maybe I’ll book with Sandals.
I made it to the lake, somewhere between 6-7:00. 10 hours of nonstop hiking. 27 miles. The wind was whipping my tent around, and the rain came in heavy bursts. I was sort of dry. My tent door zippers broke again 100 miles ago, so I tried to configure a garbage bag/burger bandana makeshift door to keep the draftiness at bay. It sort of worked. Actually, for the first time ever, I slept with my head away from the door, where my feet should be. It was weird and I didn’t like it, but I felt warmer down there.
I read for awhile, afraid to surrender to the efforts of falling asleep. Luckily, I fell asleep, but only for a little bit. I woke up a couple hours later to boil water, my lower half was insanely uncomfortable. I filled up a water bottle of hot water and threw it in my sleeping bag. Also for the first time, I peed in my tent. I didn’t want to disturb my garbage bag/burger bandana door set-up. You know Talenti Gelato? Delicious, delicious gelato. I had a pint jar for a few weeks now, using it as a jar for certain drinks or for protecting fragile fruits. Tonight, I used it as my toilet. I peed in it 3 times, emptying it outside my tent each time just in case it spilled. I wish I did that all summer!
Anyways, I couldn’t sleep, so I read and I read, oddly at peace. The worst part was over, my tent seemed to be holding up and sure I could see my breath and was a bit damp, but things could certaintly be worse. Besides, tomorrow night I’d be inside! I’d have to take my time, but I’d be out of here and in a car around 4:00 tomorrow. I was going to be okay. This is a blessing, now I won’t miss the PCT too badly. This is a blessing. A traumatic blessing. Maybe one day I can laugh at this, but probably not.
I left camp at 10:00, this was the plan. I had 6 miles to the border and then another 9 miles to the parking lot at Manning Park. I figured I’d spend 1-2 hours at the border taking photos and hanging out. When I left my tent that Sunday morning and saw fresh snow on the mountain tops, I knew it was my time to end this hike. This is it, the time is right. Let’s go to Canada, Toe Touch, let’s get the F out of here!
I got to the Monument and there were at least 10 people there already. Pretty loud group. I thought a lot about what it would feel like to see the monument. I envisioned it often on my boring days in Northern California and Oregon. When I did, I would tear up. Surely the same would happen on the actual day. Nope.
The rain had stopped, and it wasn’t a bad morning at all once I got moving. I got to the Monument and really didn’t feel much of anything. The crowd of people and fair weather definitely dimmed any deep emotion I thought I’d have, but I didn’t even feel heavy joy. It felt like another goal achieved, like I had made it to my next resupply point. “Time for pizza and a stop at the market, then back to the trail!” I sat staring at the monument, smiling and boiling water for a celebratory vodka hot chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I was HAPPY. Very much so. But I’ve had more joyful moments on the trail. This realization made me even happier…
What I’ve come up with is this: the reason I didn’t feel such an overwhelming amount of accomplishment in reaching the border is because I celebrated everyday as such. Every night before bed I’d reflect on the day and give myself a huge high-five, almost not believing where I started that morning. Each morning felt like a lifetime ago. Each day I stayed present and enjoyed all of the little things, and by the time I was ready to camp, I was so fulfilled and felt so accomplished. Each morning I woke up with purpose, with excitement, with gratitude.
Its cliche, but it’s worth noting, the joy is in the journey. If my only motivation to do the PCT was to reach Canada, I would have quit long ago. Most did. You need more than an extrinsic motivator. I reached Canada having fun the whole way because my primary goals were in the process and learning experiences of the trail. Canada was secondary. I enjoyed the little things along the way, I enjoyed the physical abuse, I enjoyed the self-development, I enjoyed mastering my own mind, I enjoyed the connections, I enjoyed the scenery, I enjoyed the simple life. And damnit, I enjoyed the weather. And if I didn’t enjoy it, I learned from it. I spent the summer investing in myself, and I came out of it a much better version of myself. The joy is in the journey.
Emotionally charged post coming soon.