08 Sep Ending with a Bang
I rested for 3 full days in Stehekin. I was so relieved to be thawing out after the rainy trail. Stehekin had a beautiful lake and sun drove me to dive in the water all day. I’d walk in the morings to their bakery and get breakfast of sticky buns and artichoke quiche. I’d eat until lunch then get pizza and calzones togo. Walking back I’d get fresh goat cheese and cherry tomatos at an organic garden. The rest of the day Id lay next to the lake. When i got too hot I’d swim out to a floaying log and take in the beautiful valley around me.
I wanted to wait for Birdman. With the end so close, nothing seemed finer than trudging into Canada with our American flags, exchanging handshakes, and sipping whiskey. Alas, the days went by and the hikers coming in hadn’t seen him or gave me different reports. He was just one day back or he was 3 days back. Finally, on Tuesday I heard from a hiker that he had hopped off to visit his brother in Seattle and get out of the rain. There hadn’t been cell service or internet for a week so communicating had been near impossible. With the news that my friend may still be a few days out, I decided to push on with some new friends.
My new pals were Green Mile and Lucky Winner. Green Mile is a Truckee guy full of positive energy and a hilarious sense of humor. He was hiking 700 miles to finish off the PCT after his trip was cut short in 2010. Lucky Winner is a nurse from Seattle who was hiking 1100 miles of the trail this summer. And so these strangers were my new friends and companions.
We got to know each other chatting for hours on the trail. We laughed lots and the miles flew by. I counted down every single mile as went. The bittersweet combination of excitement and sadness weighing on me more and more with each day. I tried to savor every moment and every thought. I struggled to piece together epiphanies I could bring back with me. What was it going to be like to finish? What was I going to feel? What had I learned on this trip? The more I struggled go answer these questions the further away the answers seemed. So I just walked.
My last day hiking the PCT on US soil, I woke to threatening clouds overhead. I was at Harts Pass just 33 trail miles from Canada. A weekend camper near by greeted us by telling us that we’d have terrible weather: thunder, hail, lightening, and rain, he told us. I wanted to tell him to f#ck off. The weather will do what it’ll do, old man. And no matter what it does, I’ll have a great time and I’ll be pissing in Canada before the sun sets. I held my tongue, thanked him for his useless weather report and walked to Canada.
I hiked hard, wanting some time alone to think. I got a few hours to myself and just enjoyed the sights and the trail. I yeehawed at ridge tops and yelled “I’m coming for you, Canada!”. Greenmile caught me after noon, the strong climber he is, and we hiked the rest of the day together.
At 1730, we descended into the last valley on US soil. I savored every single step and took it so very carefully. I wouldn’t go down in the fourth quarter, there’d be no fumbling on the goal line.
And then, there we were. Just like that. The same way every hike ends. A day hike, a weekend trip, or 2660 miles…it just ends. A monument stood in the clear cut boundary that runs the entire US border. Greenmile and I took pictures then sat silently. I sipped at my whiskey and looked to the sky. I fucking did it.
The trail gods had been kind. Weather on my last day had been perfect for hiking. It rained for maybe 30 seconds. Otherwise, the clouds and sun played hide and seek. As I sat next to the monument, the clouds built and began to rumble with thunder. Bring it. Rain on my all night long. Rain on me for a week. Strike me down with lightening. Nothing could stop me now. I’d done did it already. With a cherry on top.
And how did I feel? Cocktail of emotions that I have yet to sort out. It may be a long time yet before I sort that all out. Until then it’s a dream I walk through now.
Lucky Winner arrived at the monument an hour and a half later. We celebrated some more and ate dinner at a camp down the trail. That’s when the sky opened up.
The most spectacular lightening, thunder, hail, and rain. A river flowed around and under my tent threatening to drench me. Only luck kept it at bay. I didn’t even care. The louder the crack of thunder and rumble, the brighter the lightening, the bigger the smile on my face. My own personal fireworks to end this epic journey.
Greenmile’s tent would flood that night leading to a hilarious string of explitives. A hiker named Hebrew Hammer would frantically tromp into our camp well after dark having broken his finger in fall just a mile before the monument. Chaos was my company that evening and I loved every second of it. The storm raged all night and as well as I could sleep I did.
Nothing in the world mattered that night though. Nothing. I was full of a joy and wonder, an insatiable hunger for life I’ve fostered through this trip feasted on every drop of rain and breath that night.
This adventure was on its swan song and tomorrow would bring the beginning of a new one.
I can’t wait.