Camping: PCT Mile 2660 – CANADA
Miles to go: 0
I woke up in my tent to the sound of Dayglo and Steeltoe heading out of camp. Waffles and I said our farewells to them and the whole thing felt bittersweet. I couldn’t get my head around the whole concept of the trail ending, that people I have hiked with this summer have finished in the previous days; that friends right behind me are going to finish too. We are all going to finish, and this is going to be over, and then what? It became the “then what?” that haunted the rest of my day.
Waffles and I looked at maps and settled on Hopkins Lake. 24 miles today then 6 to finish off our hike tomorrow morning. That was what we agreed upon as we set out of camp, myself ahead of the faster Waffles. It took me a while to get my bearings to find the trail out of camp. It veered off to the left, when the whole time I had visualized it going right. I walked in circles until my GPS told me which way would get me to Canada. As I took those first few steps my feet began to ache. “Poetic,” I thought. I didn’t care about that anymore. It didn’t matter with only a handful of miles to go the pain was such a part of my trip, I was almost ‘happy’ to revisit with my old hiking companion. It reminded me of what I have endured so far. It reminded me how strong I am, that I’m capable of things I never dreamed possible.
The weather was cold and a storm stood waiting to the south, constantly threatening us with dark clouds. I stopped by a fallen tree to have lunch, surprised that there hadn’t been a Waffles sighting yet. It was wet and cold there and I was ever so sick of foil packed tuna. I ate it knowing that soon enough, town food would once again be the norm – it made the tuna a little better knowing it would be the last for a while. Waffles passed me by trying to get to the next stream crossing before he settled for lunch. This whole day felt like a hazy dream, one where you are never quite sure where you are. I packed up my lunch and soon passed Waffles who was sitting by a stream eating his own packed lunch. Was it Ramen? I don’t even remember. I was in a daze.
The trail climbed up a steep and exposed grade and I found a pace that had me passing miles faster than normal. I kept climbing then looking back at the dark clouds that were spitting at me; half rain, half snow. It was cold. I hiked fast to keep my body heat up, never stopping, never wanting to stop. Rounding a bend I came face to face with the storm. I put on my poncho and the wind whipped it around my body, making it cling to my damp skin. It was uncomfortable, unpleasant, and I was about 10 miles from the border. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Only 10 miles from Manning Park. 10 miles from the end of the PCT. I cried, and as the tears streaked my face, Man on a Buffalo came bounding towards me – Southbound. He was one of the hikers who had decided to get to Manning Park and then hike back to WA in order to avoid dealing with the border crossing back to the USA. He was so full of life and a special kind of light. He had finished the PCT. He was merely walking back to Hart’s Pass in order to get a ride to Seattle. We chatted; he lifted my spirits. I pushed forward eager to feel what he was feeling.
As there became more spring to my step the storm seemed to be veering course. I stopped to remove my poncho and breathe in the dank NW air. It was cold hitting my lungs. I looked ahead and another figure was moving towards me: Landfill. Old pal Landfill, who I had met at mile 200 back in the desert. Back when we were still just a bunch of kids trying to figure the whole trail out. We’d been together off and on since then, and now here he stood, having finished the trail. I looked at his eyes and he seemed wiser, and sad. I congratulated him and he said, “it wasn’t the trail, it was the people.” We hugged then and he wished me luck – said he’d see me in Seattle and my heart grew heavy and light all at the same time.
Two miles later I stood on top of a mountain and looked around. This was the last summit of the trail. To the south lay more of those dark, ominous clouds; north was Hopkins Lake. I looked at the time, the miles to go and the elevation profile. I toyed with finishing, but with Waffles behind me, I couldn’t leave him alone. It wouldn’t be right.
It was at this time that Waffles appeared. He took one look at me and said, “We can make it, no?” I looked deep in his eyes, questioning. “Really?” I asked him.
He nodded, and his face was so sure – so I said, “Let’s do it!” And we were off.
I hiked those last 8 miles at record speed. I flew through the wet, cold forest – through mud and overgrown sections of trail that washed me -carwash style- with their wet branches. The day grew darker and I became more motivated. I turned in what seemed like circles through pointless switchbacks, but it was getting darker so maybe they had a point. The mud was deep, and I slugged on through listening for the people I knew were ahead, already celebrating. I hoped with every fiber of my being that my friends would still be there when I arrived. I hiked so fast, so determined.
Then, there it stood. The monument. Silently welcoming me, congratulating me in the cold, wet, dusk. My friends weren’t there, but I could hear people ahead and I knew they were setting up camp 1/2 mile farther up trail. I stood there alone, staring at this symbol that had only been an illusion until now. It had only existed in photos, in stories and in my imagination for the last 5 months. I walked over and touched it. I could feel the excitement, the hopes and dreams realized, the sadness, the power. It was all there in that piece of wood, standing strong and powerful on the US/Canada border. I took out the trail register and read through the posts of the people before me; all the while waiting on Waffles. It had grown dark, and the rain had only gotten more steady, so I decided to hike the 1/2 mile to camp and come back for pictures in the morning.
As I rolled into camp, I could hear people’s voices, but it was so dark by then I had no idea who was there. I stood in the middle of the trail and said, “We did it!” And suddenly, Blisster, Steeltoe, Dayglo, Wisdom, Shutter and HappyFeet were all there congratulating me. We congratulated each other and they were proud of me for pushing myself to finish today. I hiked 31 miles today. It was my longest day of the entire trail – and definitely not the easiest. I set up my tent and crawled in to dry out a bit and then Waffles came bounding in with ‘Merica and Apache. We built a fire and sat around reminiscing in the rain until I couldn’t keep my head up any longer. There are 9 miles to go tomorrow in order to make it to Manning Park, but for now, we are camped here, in Canada – our journey complete, and yet it will set us all on journeys through life that will never be the same.