Walking towards Steven’s Pass, WA, the rain was still falling throughout the day as sunshine snuck through the clouds from time to time. Team Gnar Gnar had resigned to accept the trail closure, due to wild fires, and the requisite detour and break in a continuous footpath.
Rumors trickled through the telephone game like news system of the trail, that people were walking through the closure and it might actually open. During one of the brief sunny moments, I passed a ranger who verified that the trail would open soon. We (Team Gnar Gnar) all knew that we couldn’t rightfully skip a section if it was open. We also knew that this would throw a wrench in the plan developed a week prior when the thought of an opened trail was out of the question. Some had hard deadlines to make. I descended into Steven’s Pass on an ankle that felt like walking with a brick for a foot. Rest in Skykomish sounded nice, pushing big miles to finish did not sound so nice.
Recently, each stop in a town felt more and more comfortable. I instantly fell in love with the towns, the food, the chairs, the warm showers, the beds, the clean clothes or maybe just the feeling of not walking and getting some rest. I think to myself, “If I was forced to stop hiking here, for some factor out of my control, I don’t think I’d be all that sad.” I’ve had the conversation several times about just wanting to stop walking for a little while. I don’t want to leave the trail, still love sleeping out and the community but just want to stop walking for a little while. These should be blatant signs that I am exhausted.
We spend a night at the Dinsmores and a night at the Cascadia Inn. The Dinsmores was packed with hikers, some that had been waiting out the closure and weather for many days. The log book revealed that several hikers had already cut their hike short due to the closure. The “8 pack” Team Gnar Gnar is reunited briefly before quickly disbanding to carry out each others personal schedule to the trail’s end.
The feet feel even more swollen and useless with inactivity. But with the news of an opened trail, we leave the comfortable town and are dropped off back at Steven’s Pass with the surrounding mountains covered in snow.
Two and a half more days of rain but beautiful big mountains and trail, I’m so glad to have not missed, lead to sunshine and “manic” blazed ideas from the other team members. With talk of pushing big days to the end, I thought I might still have enough for a big push but started to grasp the idea that I would finish alone.
As Desert Hang and I reached the Suiattle River, and start of the old fire closure section, we find ourselves shedding rain and warm layers as the sun beats down on us. We acknowledge the warm sensation in slight distrust but can tell it’s gonna stick around for a while. Over the next couple days we pass through some of the biggest and most lush forest of the trail, past peaks soaked in evening “God Light” and nights of clear skies with voices and lights of hikers in the dark, enjoyment and reflection of all that has been the Pacific Crest Trail.
Dry, crispy trail, forest and smoldering wild fire welcome us into Stehekin on a warm, Fall day. This little town is beyond what any description or assumption could provide. The only access to this little town is by boat, float plane or foot. I took the latter. I was excited to see some of the Gnar Gnars in town but they were packing up to hit the trail again, I had just missed the Euro Faction and Leopardsauce earlier in the morning. My friends tried hard to drag me back out on their manic blazing mission but the calm relaxation of this little haven and a stronger energy I didn’t quite comprehend kept me well seated on the porch, overlooking a beautiful view of Lake Chelan.
Sunset, sunrise, dinner, coffee, visiting with other hikers, good sleep and two stops to the delicious and aromatic Stehekin bakery left me with an energy I had not felt in a long time, if ever before. As I rode the big, red bus back to the trailhead, I thought maybe I would hike big miles and finish with my friends. Although the reason wasn’t necessarily to finish with others but because I felt a strong, calm presence within myself and an indescribable energy from an outside force pulling me down the trail. I couldn’t not walk and walk and walk, northward to the finish. This time wasn’t to catch others but because I felt like I had no choice but to follow this wave of energy for as long as I could. Everything about these last days felt exactly the way they should be.
I hiked in a very natural state of mind. Sometimes this was with others, still getting to know new faces and reminiscing about the last 2,600 miles. Then we would just as naturally part ways and others would come along. I stopped to visit and talk with others, giving the opportunity as much time as needed. The trail magic was still very strong with some “divine inspiration” and chocolate from SoBo Hobo, spaghetti and hilarity from Legend and a chance in encounter with Devilfish, an angel from way back in the desert. I was in no rush to do miles for mileage sake but still knowing the energy was gonna take me well down the trail and into the night, possibly all the way to Canada without stopping. I still had some thought of catching up with the others.
I walked the ridges at night under a dark, starry sky. The sun set again and I soaked it up knowing it was one of my last out here. The air was warm and clear and I felt so full of energy. On top of Methow Pass, I stared up at the Milky Way and stars, out into the dark expanse of the Cascades and no one was around. I felt like I had the whole world to myself! Late into the night I slept trailside to be rested for a possible big day.
I awoke to the same strong energy pulling me out of bed and down the trail with a rapid pace, smile and gratitude for all that is. More chats and longer waterless stretches. I thought for sure I would push on to Canada and have breakfast with my friends in the morning. The psyche was there until it wasn’t. The thought of my last night really set in and I felt tired, stumbling up the trail in the low light of dusk. This would be my last night on the trail and I wanted to spend it camped out not slogging my way through the dark. Startled by many sets of blue eyes from a herd of deer, I crept into the woods past another hiker and made my last camp. Ladies Man reemphasized the importance of being thoughtful about one’s experience in these last days, adding “sometimes we have to slow down for what we love.”
One last lazy morning and I moseyed down the trail. The end of todays hike would be the last. I had no desire to rush it or catch anyone or anything. “It’s okay to finish alone,” Sobo Hobo.
Fall colors, yellow, red and green paint the steep slopes and forest and set aglow as the sun crests the ridges and peaks through the canopy. Quiet, slow and contemplative I walk on. In reflection, it seems as if we all finished the trail in own way and the way it should be.
I had some cheap bourbon and a snickers to celebrate at the monument with Lucky and some day hikers. I dumped some oatmeal and dehydrated beans and rice into the monument as an offering of thanks to the trail. Then quickly moved over the last eight miles to the highway and Manning Park where the emotions and reality really set in. I almost cried when I reached the black top and walked towards the lodge. This really felt like the end. There was no Kennedy Meadows welcome (as I expected and hoped for) into Manning Park. All the other trail towns had treated us hikers like heroes but here no one really acknowledged us. I found two other hikers with a look on their face that reflected my emotions. We have a silent nod and smile as we took in our new situation. The rest of the evening was spent together with other hikers. We didn’t really party but celebrated by enjoying each others company late into the night.
I’m really glad that I was able and lucky enough to finish the Pacific Crest Trail in one continuous foot path, south to north. This was a big, physical goal of the trip. However, as the trail grew longer, continuity less certain and friendships stronger, I realized that the physical element is but a small part of this journey. The community, relationships, emotions and changes one experiences are so much greater. The exhaustion and pain in my feet and legs fade but the warmth and love of others is still so strong. If nothing else, this trail and journey will renew the faith in humanity.