SEPTEMBER 8:I wake up on a recliner in the dinsmores garage with my leftover pizza and cinnamon bread as breakfast in bed. It will be strange going back to sleeping in the same place every night, nowhere near as exciting at least. The sky is blue after having rained all night and shortly after everyone else has left on the morning shuttle Jewels and I go out to the road to hitch as we were still doing chores when they left. We quickly get a ride from two ranger type people who were bringing fish into the mountain lakes. We get dropped off in Skykomish where I head to the post office even though they won’t be open for another hour, there’s a long line of hikers who will be trying to get their packages. My plan works and I’m the first one in a line of about 25! I sit outside sorting through my food while playing Monopoly with Short Shorts, Jewels, and Tumbleweed. Someone gets dropped off at the post office and the driver steps out to offer a ride back up to Stevens Pass where the trail crossed the highway, which we graciously accept. The ski area is pretty much abandoned aside from hikers either getting ready to hit the trail or about to head to town. I start hiking by around 2 with plans of 14 miles to camp at the peak of a mountain. By the time in at Lake Janus, 10 miles in, the clouds have set in obscuring any view I had hoped to have. Still I press on with Red, Thirteen, Shaggy, Short Shorts, Tumbleweed, Jewels, and Scrapbook to the summit of Grizzly Peak. At the top we are in a cloud but Tumbleweed has packed out a six pack and Shaggy some wine which we all share during dinner. It’s so cold by the time I retreat to my tent and soon after it begins to rain which continues throughout the night.
I wake up to on and off showers so I wait in my tent for a break before jumping out to pack up along with Thirteen who is camped right next to me. We set off without rain but soon enough it picks up again. My morale is at an all time low. Being cold and wet is not fun, and to top it off we needed to hike a 30 in order to get to the post office in Stehekin before Sunday. The trail climbs many thousands of feet through scenery I’m sure would have been stunning but instead was grey with fog. It is beautiful in its own way, I know it is the essence of Washington, but I long to see the grand views I know surround me. For so long I have had these views, how spoiled have I become? Hiking in the rain was a normal thing on the AT but now it has made for quite possibly my toughest day on trail this year. It’s all about what you’re used to.
At Lake Sally Ann I eat lunch with everyone during a break in the rain. Red and Short Shorts basically ask for hypothermia by going swimming, Red of course swimming across as usual. After lunch we’re faced with a 3000 foot climb up to Red’s Pass. It begins to rain again making the whole thing quite miserable to be frank but the high altitude meadows stretching on in the mist are quite enticing. It looks like the highlands in Ireland and Scotland, and even though I’m having a terrible day I push on with ease up to the pass where quite a different scene lays ahead. Granite peaks just like the Sierra encase a field of boulders which the trail switchbacks down. Snowfields still cling to the rocks in places, I’m nearly at 7000 feet here. It continues to rain as I descend and going down doesn’t do much for building up body heat so I’m ecstatic to find a fire built by Cheese about halfway down. I stop to warm up for a while before pressing on. I’m running out of daylight especially as I descend deep into an old growth forest where the sun is now blocked by both clouds and mammoth trees that seem to have been growing since the beginning of time. I slip in the slick mud that is the trail until finally I can hear water and see the glow of other hikers already in their tents. I find a spot with a few unclaimed tentsites and begin to set up with the others shortly behind. It’s still raining, now dark and cold as well, so we all eat dinner in our tents before calling it a day. What a day it was.
The rain has stopped but it’s not sunny when I wake up. I’m beginning to realize “partly sunny” in Washington really just means it’s not going to rain. I don’t get hiking until around 7:45. We have plans for another 30 but I already know it’s not going to happen. I have a short downhill walk through more of the old growth forest before beginning my first climb of the day, about 3000 feet in five miles. It is unbelievably steep, there is no way a horse could walk here. Fog still weaves in and out of the trees, becoming thicker as I gain elevation but once I’m at the top the sun is beginning to shine bright, drying out the clouds. I bask in it for a while, spreading out all of my gear to dry as I’m not sure when this opportunity will come again. I wait here forever but nobody ever catches up, which is strange but I figure they’ve all sat down for a game of monopoly so I keep pressing on. The clouds come and go throughout the day but no rain so I’m pretty pumped. I eat lunch with Scabs at a stream before being passed by Poppy who tells me that Red has Hypothermia and can barely hike. Why did she jump in that lake?! I’m worried but figure that I’ve already hiked too far for them to catch me today so I decide to stay on track to arrive in Stehekin the day after tomorrow, then I’ll wait for everyone and hopefully Red will be ok. She is with a doctor after all so my presence would merely put my mind at ease and nothing more as I wouldn’t be of any real help. The miles are long as I head up my second 3000 foot climb for the day, then they become quite enjoyable as I walk through a meadow sitting high in elevation with views all around. I walk with a cigarette and rock out to some Courtney Barnett as the sun goes down. It begins to get dark but I still have three miles to go until Vista Creek, short of my goal but still about 25 miles for the day over difficult terrain. 13 is here as well as a few others but everyone is tucked in their tents, as am I now. I feel exhausted, but it’s just one more big day to town. One more.
I’m up early, hoping to make it thirty miles so it won’t be so hard to catch the first bus into Stehekin tomorrow. I peer out of my tent and am ecstatic, the sky is not cloudy, it’s not partly cloudy, it is completely clear and I’m loving it! It’s still cold however as the trail descends deep into another old growth forest, the thickest so far. It’s so thick that really I can’t even notice that the sun is out, it’s still dark where I am. The walking is easy though and before I know it I’ve gone 7 miles to the Suiattle River. This marks the beginning of a long climb up to Cloudy Pass, but with good weather it’s not bad at all. I eat lunch up top in a small Meadow with a stream running through it, drying off my gear as usual. I’ve still not seen Red or the others but I figure they will just show up in town a day later, not good as it will be Sunday! Honestly I’m writing this post a few weeks late so I don’t quite remember the details of what happens next, but I did not make it thirty miles that day. I camp at Cedar Camp, about ten miles from the bus stop and wake up at five the next morning. I make it to the bus stop with time to spare an am not surprised to see 13 but very surprised to see everyone else who ended up hiking all night to get there. Poppy way over exaggerated Red’s ailment, she’s just fine! We get to Stehekin, but not without a stop at the famous Bakery on the way which we’ve all heard about since the Mexican Border (yeah, it’s THAT good) Stehekin is a small isolated town on the undeveloped side of Lake Chelan. The only way to get here is to hike in, fly in, or boat in. The day is spent in the company of great friends, the bubble who I will end up finishing the trek with, drinking and swimming and just generally being hiker trash on the porch of the store, pretty much the only structure in town.
I cowboy camp at the Stehekin Campground for the first time since the beginning of Washington, of course being woken up by a quick rain shower which blows right over. Everyone catches the 8 am bus back to the trail resulting in a load of about thirty hikers all headed to the same place: Canada! Less than a hundred to go. We procrastinate at the trailhead as usual before setting out on the final section of the trail. All of our bags are full of food and therefore heavy as we begin the 6500 foot climb out of Stehekin. It sounds bad, but the gain is spread out over about 25 miles so the climbing was barely noticeable. The trail winds through the valley along many pristine creeks. The sky is a bright blue with puffy eight clouds that mean no harm, it is quite a serene moment. Five miles in I sit down with Short Shorts, Red, and Scrapbook where we don’t end up moving for about two hours. Why not? It’s the end, there’s no reason to push now, and I’ll miss these people so much the more time I can spend with them the better. We have all been friends since the desert and although they aren’t who I’ve hiked with the most on the trail finishing with them feels right. It will be so strange not to see these people everyday anymore but I know we will all be friends long after we make it to Canada. We each head on shortly after one another and quickly lose each other, for the night at least. I ended up hiking another fifteen while Scrapbook went ahead with Shaggy, Jewels, and Thirteen and Red and Short Shorts are somewhere behind. It has become bone chillingly cold at Rainy Pass where I sit in my tent writing this while waiting on my Beef Stroganoff to cook. Only two more nights of this, and it finally seems real.
It is so so cold when I wake up persuading me to stay in my tent until nearly eight. Luckily the day starts with a climb up to Cutthroat Pass which warms me right up as well as provides absolutely breathtaking views of the Northern Cascades which envelop me completely just like the Sierra. I eat breakfast in the warmth of the sun now that I’m out of the forested valley and back on top of a ridge where I’ll walk for the next five miles, crossing a series of passes named Granite and Methow. The peaks of the surrounding mountains look like the towers of castles rising high above me. At Methow Pass I catch Shaggy and Cheese who tell me that we’re ahead of everyone contrary to what I had thought, which makes me happy as I’m now in no rush to catch anyone! We eventually head on to a lower elevation hoping for more warmth which we find on a bridge over the Methow River. Everyone catches us as we eat lunch which turns into many games of Monopoly and before we know it its par five. So much for ten more miles! We decide on a campsite in five miles and I head on with Red behind me. We get to talking about Harry Potter and then other books in general, finally landing on The Series of Unfortunate Events. We hike down the trail trying to name each one in order as well as naming who Count Olaf was in each and how he tried to steal their fortune. We find Short Shorts at a creek three miles later who has all of the books on his phone and begin a reading train for the last two miles which grows as Shaggy, Jewels, Cheese, and Scrapbook join us. Our pace is slowed to about a mile an hour but it was the best decision and after a few chapters we made it to camp where we made a fire and read some more before hiker midnight at which point it was pitch black and just as cold, if not colder, than the night before. This last stretch has been absolutely perfect.
We each crawl out of our tents one by one the next day, shivering and complaining about what terrible nights we’ve all had. As for myself I spent most of it laying awake curled up in a ball. In the forested valley area we camped in there is no chance of the sun hitting us anytime soon so it’s not much of a decision to get hiking. We head off in a line up many switchbacks until crossing over the top of the ridge into the glaring sunlight. Everyone is behind but I head on as we have another reading scheduled for ten miles in, Harts Pass. As I walk along the ridge something feels different, the trees. Instead of grand firs/pines I instead walk through stands of smaller scragglier flora. Their needles, unlike all the other trees, have begun to turn yellow and fall from their branches. It gives an incredible sense of the season changing. I stop to admire them about six miles in and shed a few tears, it is my last full day of hiking after all. Short Shorts and Tweed catch up soon and inform me that they are Larch Trees, a species which exists only in this small pocket of the country. At first I describe them as giving the feeling of death but that’s not right, they are merely symbols for the cycle of change that every being in this world is twisted up in. And just as the Larch Trees symbol the end of the hot and dry Indian summer in Washington, they also symbolize the end of a long journey, and the beginning stages of a new one. It is a beautiful moment to say the least.
I walk along now with Shorts, Tweed, and Red. We pass the time by thinking up ridiculous things for each of us to say to the next day hikers we would see. Tumbleweed must state his name and spell it out twice, Shorts must introduce himself as Spagnus, and I must pretend to be a ranger and ask to see their permits. We pull this off without any problem and are in return informed about the trail magic waiting for us down at Harts Pass. Sounds like a vortex.. And a vortex it was as we were greeted by 2013 thru hiker “Meander” as well as beer, brats, and corn on the cob cooked over the fire. We have our reading, we play monopoly, we stuff our faces and enjoy the company of this amazing final bubble we have going. Amongst the conversation, somewhere it’s suggested that we hike another 30 miles for the day in order to reach Canada by morning. This sounds like a terrible idea to me, I think back to the AT and how rushed the end felt. It is such a regret that I would be a fool to do the same thing again expecting different results. It’s at this point my glorious high of a day sinks into a deep low. Is this the last time I’ll see my friends? Is this the last time I’ll see Red? If they follow through with this plan then it likely will be. I walk on in a sulk, grimacing at every passerby who all spout the same message from 13 and Cheese: “NO SLEEP TILL CANADA!”
After another ten miles we reconvene and thankfully no one is still down to go to Canada, except for the two who had already blazed far ahead, but agree on ten more miles which will leave us hiking into the night. I eat dinner with Shaggy, Red, Scrapbook, and Jewels while we play Monopoly, the second to last game there would ever be. Then we hike on into the retreating sun, not long before catching up to Shorts and Tweed who had been a bit ahead. It’s dark as we break treeline heading up to Rock and Woody Pass. We pass the time by each sharing an embarrassing story which brings about many laughs and good vibes. The nearly full moon illuminates the trail before us and it’s not long until we are at Rock Pass where we walk along a ridge surrounded by the black silhouettes of the mountain walls still towering above me. I hike with Red as we make the final steep ascent to Woody Pass where unfortunately a tent takes up much of the campsite we had planned to sleep at. For thirty minutes we search around in the dark for a suitable spot to lay down, ending up making camp atop shrubs which made for a great cushion. We eat and stargaze, talk about our experience on the trail both while together and not, and finally we all lay without speaking to enjoy the silence that will be long gone by tomorrow night. There are a million things going through our heads, but not a word is needed to be spoken. We all feel the same thing. We’ve all endured for over five months. We’ve all walked from Mexico to Canada.
Border day. We wake up around 5 all with mixed emotions I’m sure. Red can’t contain her excitement and bolts off ahead with myself shortly behind. We’ve joked for the past week that its “all downhill to Canada from here” which jewels has gullibly believed pretty much each time, so it’s fair of her to not have any of it this morning when I genuinely believed it was all downhill to Canada. Nope! The PCT will make you work until the end. The sky is blue with not a single cloud, much like the majority of my time spent out west. I hike ok past Woody Pass but the trail just keeps leading up to a random high point where the mountains stretch on in all directions. My plan was to just keep hiking until I reached the Monument, but this spot was special. It was the final view, my final moments above treeline, my final moments attempting to force the memory of the landscape into my mind. I study the geography of my final landscape, different from all the others that came before it. I eat my last honey bun and smoke my last morning spliff, I think about how my daily routine will be completely different by the end of the day. There will be no campsite tonight, no fire, no dehydrated noodles to eat. The world is silent around me and in that moment I lived, forcing the future out of my thoughts and focusing on what was happening now. A sense of tranquility washes over me, and tears slowly build up in the corner of my eyes. Sour Rip shows up and we smoke another spliff, both feeling the same way. Every journey has to come to an end, but how can I possibly walk away from this one? I am in a fantasyland out here, surrounded by people I could only dream of knowing in my everyday life. But just as the Larch Trees symbolizing death was wrong, this notion is too. I am in this fantasyland because of no one but myself. I willed it to be and so it was. Life off the trail has become my NON-ordinary life, whereas the trail is my home. It is where I’m meant to spend my days, it is what I’m good at, it is what I love. Thru Hiking is the only thing in this world that makes me truly happy. Unsupported speed record holder/fellow long distance hiker Heather “Anish” Anderson has a quote that goes something like this; I don’t know why I like to hike thousands of miles at one time, I don’t know why being in the mountains is the only thing that makes me happy, I don’t know what I will gain from being a thru hiker, but that’s just what I am. I’m a Thru Hiker and I will be for the rest of my life”.
I’ve never met Anish personally but these words have inspired me since I first heard them on a podcast somewhere in Oregon, and I know that inside me and her are very similar people. Am I stupid to know want a job? A home? A family? Am I stupid to continue walking this road to nowhere so to speak? Is it ever stupid to do what makes you happy? The answer is no. People who haven’t experienced it will never understand, but I am free and free is a great thing to be.
The trail soon enters the forest once again. I get ahead of the others when they stop for water at a lake, I don’t want to walk in a group for the last miles, just as I haven’t for many of the miles before. I will reach Canada just as I reached Maine, alone and on my own terms. However I’ve learned an important lesson this year, and that is that nothing is possible on your own. I could never have made it this far without the many friends I made along the way. How strange, an introvert like me to be so smitten with some of these beautiful souls. I really don’t know what I will do without them. I walk on and on without checking my gps but once I reach the last mile I know I’m close to Canada. I can feel it. Then there is light streaming through the thick forest around me, a clear cut. I can hear excited chatter below me, and although I know I’m not ready a surge of excitement pulses through my body. My smile goes from ear to ear as I walk at a near run, rounding the final switchback and walking down the final corridor of trees with none other than Red Riding Hood, sweet Ella, standing at the end cheering me on. I have gone through so much with her, and it’s in this moment that I realize how much she really means to me. We didn’t hike every mile together, but when you’re as good of friends as we are you don’t need to spend every day together because she lived in my heart with every step. I constantly tried to speed up to catch her or slow down so she could catch me. Every time we met it was the happiest of reunions and her accent kept me entertained to the very end. She was one of my first friends this season. She is so much more than just a trail friend though, she is one of my best friends, and I know she will be for years to come. I love you Ella!
Then the forest is gone. It is nothing but a clear cut through the woods, and there before me is a four tiered wooden monument. It is the first time I’ve seen this monument since the Mexican border, 2650 miles ago. “Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail Northern Terminus”. I turn to Ella and hug her as hard as I can, trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears as every emotion I’ve felt in the past five months comes back stronger than ever. This time around was much different than when I finished the AT. There ARE emotions, there ARE revelations, there are the lessons I’ve learned from each of the people who have shoved their way into my heart as well as a little piece of their spirits all there embracing us as well.
I look at Ella, even more beautiful after five months in the woods than she was when I first met her. “We did it”, I say.
The trail is over.
-Young Blood (known in the real world as Pj Coleman)
AT2015 | PCT2016 | CDT2017