Hello again, friends. It’s been another month since I’ve last posted, and it feels like my plans for the future have changed about every other day during the course of that month. I spent most of the time between my last post and now in Indianapolis, staying with Gummies and his family, which was lovely, but slightly tinged with sadness. When I stepped on the plane in Toronto, it was still with the hope that Gummies and I would be returning to Canada together, where he would be staying on a somewhat permanent basis. Well, within the first couple days of my visit, the universe decided to remind us of probably the most important lesson we learned on the trail: life doesn’t often go to plan.
It’s been exactly four weeks since the day I arrived at the Canadian border, officially completing my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and I think I’m finally ready to break my post-trail silence. I originally wanted to have come out with at least a couple post-trail blogs by this point, but it took me longer than I expected to really start processing my feelings after finishing the trail. But before I dive into all the feelings and shit, I guess I’ll give you guys a quick update on what I’ve been up to since I arrived in Vancouver after finishing the hike.
After our night in the swanky hotel room, we spent a couple more nights in Vancouver at the home of a friend I went to high school with. It turns out that even off the trail, people are still good and generous and kind. The city itself quickly became overwhelming. We spent an afternoon exploring the downtown waterfront area, which was really cool, but things quickly became stressful once real life entered into the picture. As I’m sure many of you deduced (although I never explicitly mentioned it in any blog posts), Gummies and I became a couple during our hike, and we would one day maybe like to relocate to British Columbia. So, with that in mind, we tried to spend a day scoping out potential jobs and places to live, but ended up returning to my friend’s house after a couple of hours where Gummies had a nap and I baked cookies (my own personal form of therapy). It was just too much, too quickly.
September 17, 2017
Castle Pass – Manning Park, BC (2646.42-2658.91)
The feeling in camp this morning was akin to that felt by small children on Christmas morning. We slept in, although due to the excitement we didn’t actually sleep much into the morning, and instead laid around for a bit reflecting on the trip. One by one, our campmates headed out to walk the last few miles to the monument, and eventually we did as well, the last ones to leave the campsite. Leading up to this moment, I had anticipated a rather quiet and contemplative mood in these last few miles, but instead Gummies and I listened to a playlist of songs that have influenced the hike in some way, which included such timeless classics as Baby Got Back, Get Low, and Space Jam. So yeah, not quite the sombre reflection I had been imagining, but much more fun.
As we approached the monument, my excitement grew. Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a helicopter landing nearby. We were only about a quarter mile from the monument at this point, and I was sure that must be where the helicopter was landing. As we rounded a switchback, we realized we could see the monument and the border through the trees, and the helicopter was there! I was a bit disappointed, thinking that they were there to do work on the Canada/US border monument (we had heard rumours of people having their finishing pictures ruined a few days before by a construction crew on site), but as we stood there we realized the helicopter was already taking off again!
We hurried down the last few steps to the monument, and were greeted with cheers and hugs by the hikers who were already there. The people we had camped with (Dave, Judith, Chewie, Red, and Nigel) were all there, along with all the people who had gotten to the monument the night before and camped there, so it was quite a party. It was a bit surreal seeingmonument, but with all the excitement going on I don’t think the full realization of the moment was able to hit me. We got our finishing photos, I drank my maple syrup to celebrate my return to the homeland, and Gummies had his bottle of milk which he drank/dumped on his head/sprayed all over everyone (because winners of the Indy 500 drink milk). We also shared a tiny little bottle of Maker’s Mark, before making breakfast to enjoy at the monument.
Slowly, the other hikers all headed on into Canada, and we eventually got a few moments alone at the monument to soak it all in. Still, I don’t think any of it really sunk in for me. Not the magnitude of what I had just done, and not the fact that it was all coming to an end now. Of course, we still had to hike 9 more miles into Canada to get to Manning Park, but our time on the Pacific Crest Trail proper was officially over. I think we spent around an hour and a half at the monument, but we did eventually hike on into Canada. The weather forecast had been calling for rain or even snow starting today, but we lucked out and the weather was beautiful. Sunny, and the perfect temperature for hiking. The Canadian trail into Manning Park was also really nice. Not too much in the way of elevation gain, and sometimes it was even wide enough for us to walk side by side. I was probably imagining it, but being back in Canada felt different and nice, like coming home.
Eventually, we arrived at the Manning Park Lodge, and obviously headed straight to the restaurant to get lunch. When we walked in, we noticed Cougar and Dr. McDirty were there, so we joined them at their table. They finished the day before us, but I’m really glad we at least got to meet up with them at the end and reflect on everything that had happened over the past five months. After lunch, we attempted to book tickets on the Greyhound bus to Vancouver, but the WiFi at the lodge was terrible and the desktop computer in the lobby also wouldn’t work. There was a brief panic, but I was eventually able to contact my dad who booked the tickets for us.
Cougar and Dr. McDirty had booked a room for the night, and they let us use their shower so that we didn’t have to shower in the pool shower that the lodge lets hikers use. Once we were all cleaned up and our laundry was in the machine, we headed over to the pub for one last meal together before parting ways. It’s so strange saying goodbye to people after this hike. You forge such strong bonds with the people you meet out in the wilderness, but there’s also a kind of detachment behind it, since you never know when someone might hike off never to be seen again. Still, it was definitely sad saying goodbye to Cougar and Dr. McDirty after all that we’d been through together.
Gummies and I headed down to the basement of the lodge, where they let hikers crash on the floor while waiting for the bus to show up (for some reason, the only time the bus stops at Manning Park is 2am). All the hikers in the room slowly drifted off, but I couldn’t fall asleep for a long while. My mind was racing with the feelings of being finished and the excitement of heading to Vancouver. I scrolled through every single photo I’ve taken on the hike. The desert feels like a lifetime ago, and almost like it was an entirely different person who experienced it. It’s crazy to look back on the past five months and everything that’s happened since that fateful day I left home and flew alone to San Diego. I’ve grown so much in the past five months, and learned things that I never know about myself. I knew exactly where the trail went when I set out, but it still managed to bring me to places I never expected.
Everyone began packing up to catch the bus shortly after 1am, so I think I only got an hour or two of sleep. The bus already had some people on it when it arrived, and the rest of the seats were totally filled by hikers. It was about 3 and a half hours to Vancouver, and I might have drifted off a few times but I definitely didn’t get any good sleep. We were dropped off at the bus station at 5:30am in the pitch blackness, and so of course immediately descended upon the nearest Tim Hortons for breakfast. Walking into a Timmies made the feeling of home so much more real. We sat there for a couple of hours waiting for the sun to rise, and then walked across town to the hotel we had booked for the night.
Now I’m really home.
We decided to treat ourselves for our first real night off trail, and got a room at a pretty nice place in downtown Vancouver. The concierge definitely gave us a hard look when we walked in with our backpacks and dirty hiking clothes, but quickly turned friendly when we asked where we could check in for our reservation. The lady at the check-in desk was pretty impressed when we told her we’d walked there from Mexico, and she had our room ready right away, even though it was only 8am and nowhere near official check-in time.
The room is soooo nice. I feel a bit guilty about spending so much, but I think we definitely deserve this. After relaxing for a bit, we headed out into the city with a plan to buy some non-hiking clothes. We ran into Acorn and Bin Chicken inside the nearby H&M store trying to do the same thing, which was kind of funny. We were able to pick up a few items of street clothes, as well as some toiletries and even a bubble bath bar from Lush (yep, I really decided to treat myself). After we had finished shopping, as we were sitting on the street side eating lunch from a hot dog cart, we saw Adam and Baton walking on the opposite side of the street! They came over and talked to us for a bit, and it felt so strange seeing other hikers in the setting of the downtown of a major city. So crazy that we’re still randomly running into each other, even here.
We had a totally luxurious evening of ordering room service and lying in bed, and of course having my bubble bath which felt incredible. I had the best sleep I’ve had in a while. I don’t think I woke up once in the night. I really wanted this blog post to include some kind of deep reflection on my post-hike feelings, but honestly I don’t think the true feelings of being done have hit me yet. We still have a week of playing tourist in Vancouver and Seattle, and then Gummies and I will spend a couple weeks visiting at each of our hometowns, so the adventure doesn’t really feel over yet. I’m definitely going to be posting a few post-trail updates as life unfolds and the reality of being done the hike truly sets in.
In the end, the trail was everything I thought it would be, but also so much more. You really can’t comprehend the things that happen to you on a trip of this magnitude until you go out and do it. I knew it was going to be hard, but it was so much harder than I thought it would be. The trail humbled me. It brought me to my knees, but also lifted me up. It showed me that I can’t do everything, but I can do some pretty badass stuff. I can hike over 2000 miles. I can live in the wilderness for 5 months. I can climb mountains and trek through the snow and forge bonds with total strangers. I am so much stronger than I ever knew, but I also learned that it’s okay to be weak sometimes. I am not invincible, and that’s okay. I’m leaving the trail, but I’m taking a part of it with me that will stay with me forever. In the things that it has taught me, the ways that it has changed me, the love that it has given me. I hiked the PCT in the year of fire and ice, and life will never be the same.
September 16, 2017
Mile 2625.28 – Castle Pass (2625.28-2646.42)
There was ice in our water bottles this morning. I actually managed to stay pretty toasty in my quilt, but getting out in the morning was not super enjoyable. I probably looked ridiculous hiking out of camp bundled up like I was going on an Arctic expedition, but at least I was warm. We had a small climb in the morning and then a lot of down hill, so I was able to keep most of my warm layers on for quite a while. We sat in a sunny spot on a ridge to have breakfast, which felt amazing, before continuing down into the shade.
View from our final PCT lunch break
Near the end of the morning, we began the climb up to Rock Pass, which is when things really started getting beautiful. We ate lunch in a wide open grassy area with an amazing view of the mountains, just below the pass itself. When we came over the crest, we could see the trail winding for miles along the ridge side splashed with beautiful autumn colours. We climbed up and over Woody Pass, wound along the ridge for a while, and then began the last climb of the PCT. Seriously. The last 8 or so miles of the trail to the border are all downhill. There were a ton of people at the top, including Stephanie, Acorn, Jackie, Bin Chicken, and a lot of others whose names I don’t know. We all sat at the top taking in the view for a few minutes. Someone started playing O Canada on their phone. It was a pretty strange feeling.
Heading down Rock Pass
We began the downhill to camp. Everyone else in the big group was heading for the border tonight, but we decided to camp a few miles before and hit it first thing in the morning tomorrow. We’re camped with a bunch of other people who are doing the same thing, most of whom we’ve been hiking around for the past several days. We all sat together to make and eat dinner, and reflected on our time on the trail. It was a really enjoyable evening to close out the hike.
I can’t believe this is the last night. Today was a day of doing things for the last time. We set up the tent for the last time. I blew up my sleeping pad for the last time. I made dinner on my little stove for the last time. I maybe/hopefully dug my last cat hole. And now I’ll go to sleep in my warm quilt for the last time, and tomorrow we’ll break camp for the last time and walk 3 and a half miles to Canada. It still hasn’t sunk in that it’s all coming to an end so soon. I’m still full of excitement about getting to the monument and getting celebratory photos and walking to Manning Park to eat a warm meal and drink a beer and shower. But in the end I do think it’ll feel somewhat bittersweet saying goodbye to the simple life of the trail. I’ll reflect more on it tomorrow. From Canada…
September 15, 2017
Golden Creek – Mile 2625.28 (2603.37-2625.28)
The days (and nights) are getting colder. As we left camp this morning and hiked through some open, grassy areas, each blade of grass glistened with a layer of frost. Winter really is coming, and it seems we’ll be wrapping up our hike just in time to avoid the worst of it. We had breakfast this morning on top of Glacier Pass, where I enjoyed some hot coffee again in an attempt to warm up. After climbing up to the pass, we had to continue climbing for a few miles up to the top of the ridge, and I struggled a bit. For the past several days, I’ve felt like my body might be fighting off some kind of cold bug, and today I could really feel it. My head just felt heavy and I was a bit tired all day.
The views going up were gorgeous though. We spent most of the day wrapping around ridges on well-graded trail, so that was really nice. There were also awesome views pretty much all day. Other than that, the day was fairly uneventful, so I might just let the photos speak for themselves here.
Everyone seems to have aimed for the same camp spot again tonight, but we managed to find a spot to squeeze ourselves in at a little site that’s just above the big party site that’s packed with people. It’s gotten really cold this evening, and I think it’s only going to get colder. I really hope I can keep warm and get a good night’s sleep to help my body fight off this bug. We’re less than 25 miles away from the Canadian border now, and it doesn’t seem real. This is the second last night on trail. We only have one more full day of hiking. I don’t know what to feel. Throughout the day the realization of how close we are to being done would periodically hit me, and though I’m still really excited to finish, it’s still a strange feeling. I’ve devoted myself wholly to this trail for over 5 months now, and the day after tomorrow, it’ll be over. Just like that. I’m so looking forward to returning to the comforts of home (ex. sleeping in a climate-controlled room, shitting in a toilet whenever I want, eating food that doesn’t have to be rehydrated, doing something other than walking, etc.), but I know that soon enough I’ll long for the simplicity of the trail.
September 14, 2017
Six Mile Camp – Golden Creek (2580.61-2603.37)
Today was a great day. I don’t know how many times I said the word “wow”, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot. We got up and out of camp at a pretty decent time, and we spent most of the morning in the forest. The PCT seems to have a habit of always travelling through the least scenic part of the national parks it goes through, which is kind of weird for a national scenic trail. We left the North Cascades National Park section of the trail early in the morning, and it ended up being fairly unexciting.
We came across a trail crew from the PCTA during our breakfast break, who were out fixing a collapsed bridge. It was really awesome to see them at work, and they were super friendly towards us hikers. I made hot coffee at breakfast this morning, which was a great treat. Not long afterwards, we crossed Highway 20 (the last major road crossing of the trail, I think), and made our way to the Rainy Pass Trailhead parking area.
As we walked up, we saw that practically everyone that was on the bus from town with us yesterday was gathered in the parking lot. We weren’t sure what was going on at first, but then we realized it was trail magic! There was a couple parked there with cokes, mini chocolate bars, and chips. It was so exciting, and with the 20 or so hikers that had congregated there, it was a real party. We eventually moved on, and this was when we started to get a taste of the views we would be having for most of the afternoon.
We kept catching glimpses of gorgeous peaks through the trees as we climbed, and eventually we broke out of the thick forest and got some awesome views of the ridges and peaks around us. The climb out of Stehekin is the longest climb of the trail (I believe about 8000 feet of elevation gain over 25 miles), but actually ended up being one of the easiest climbs we’ve ever done. It was so well-graded that you could barely tell you were climbing most of the time. We were soon at the top of Cutthroat Pass, and when we crested the hill we saw the most amazing view of rugged mountains spanning as far as the eye could see. And the views continued for most of the rest of the day, as the trail meandered around the peaks and ridges. It was incredible. The larches are starting to turn their autumn yellow, the shrubs are going a deep red, and the jagged peaks are still dotted with the odd patch of snow.
We stopped for a quick snack break on the top of our last pass of the day, Methow Pass (we went over 4 today: Rainy, Cutthroat, Granite, and Methow), and then began to descend into the wooded valley below. We had originally intended to go a little bit further today, to an established campsite by a river, but word got around that about 20 people were all headed for the same place, so we decided to stop a bit early when we found a flat spot by a little creek. There are 4 other tents that were here before us, so we ended up pitching our tent practically on the trail, but at least there’s room. Gummies and I made a shared dinner tonight, which was fun and super delicious. I made refried beans and he made rice and then we made burritos! Soooo good.
It’s our third last night on trail and it’s gotten pretty cold. They’re calling for a chance of rain on the day we plan to finish, and then snow the next day, so I guess we are finishing at exactly the right time. I can’t believe there are only two more full days on trail. The days seem to be going by faster and faster now that we’re really nearing the end. I’m so excited to finish off this epic journey with another couple of days of wandering through these beautiful mountains.
September 13, 2017
Stehekin – Six Mile Camp (2569.42-2580.61)
Slept in this morning, and then headed over to the lodge to grab breakfast in the restaurant, upon realizing we hadn’t actually had a hot meal since we arrived in town (which is what we had been craving after this fuel-less section). I think the breakfast was pretty good, but I can’t be sure because it just felt so great to be putting something warm and real in my body. When the post office finally opened at 10, we went over to pick up our packages. I got one last care package from my parents, which was the most Canadian thing ever and super cute. I asked them to send me a tiny bottle of Canadian maple syrup for me to chug at the border in celebration of my return to the homeland, and they also sent all dressed chips (one of the greatest chip flavours of all time that for some reason doesn’t exist in the States) and a nice card. I also got my resupply package from Zero Day Resupply.
We went across the street to quickly pack up all of our new food before catching the shuttle back to the trail. For some reason they weren’t able to use the bus, so we all had to cram with our packs into a couple of those large white vans. We stopped at the bakery again on the way back to the trail, and I got another slice of pizza and chocolate milk for lunch, and three cookies and a brownie to pack out for this section.
Lakefront views in Stehekin
Back at the trail, I tried to let it sink in that this is the last town, the last section, the last 4 days to Canada. But I don’t think it’s really, truly hit me yet. I wonder when that will happen… At the monument? On the bus ride to Vancouver? The plane ride home? Only after real life truly has me back in its clutches? We’ll see. The hike this afternoon was fairly uneventful. There were some ups and downs, but nothing too crazy. We were in the woods for most of the time, although we did catch some glimpses of some nice mountain scenes.
We only did 11 miles to the designated campsite we got a permit for. There are a lot of people here, I think 8 or so tents in total. We cooked dinner in the designated cooking area and actually hung our food for the first time ever on trail (on the provided ‘bear wire’). Apparently this is a pretty active bear area, so hopefully we won’t have any nighttime visitors. Starting tomorrow, we’ll have only three full days left on trail, which is absolutely insane.