O Canada!

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Day 146 September 29

We woke up while it was still dark, originally intending to get out early and onto Canada. Instead we sat huddled in our sleeping bags and watched the sun rise over the mountains and paint everything gold. We were quiet and somber, we didn’t talk much. We took our time packing up camp in the chilly pale glow. It was the last day, finally – the last day on the Pacific Crest Trail.

That weird feeling hung in the air all day, as we crested the final mountain passes, viewed our last alpine lakes and snowy peaks. Thankfully, around the corner came none other than Landfill- on his way back from the monument!  With jumbled hugs and shouts the tense mood was broken, and after talking with Landfill for a bit we continued on, grinning and excited. We yelled into the canyon below us, we screamed at the top of our lungs. We didn’t count down the miles, we soaked them in. We basked in the day’s light and chatted loosely. I walked with friends.

I ended up in the front of our group, and was sort of weirdly determined to finish alone. I nearly ran. I saw the line of the border – a really bizarre sight. From about a quarter mile away you could see it– a clearcut of trees, a strip of bald land between two forests, dividing two countries. The trail plunged back into the trees for the final stretch. My heart was pounding maddeningly and my breath was sharp. At every bend I expected to see the monument. One more. One more. Finally, I saw a clearing ahead. I almost couldn’t breathe. I broke out into a fullout run and burst into the clearing. The monument rose before me, a series of wooden posts mirroring the ones at the Southern Terminus that I had stood by what seemed like years ago. I remember the first mile feeling like it was a dream, that after months of planning I was actually putting one foot in front of the other, with fresh trail runners and a heavy pack on my back. I felt the same way now. I was dreaming. I was back in California. I was not actually here. I floated above myself.

I slid off my filthy pack, my home for 5 months, all of my belongings. I looked down at my trail runners, pieces of rubber and mesh that carried me so so many miles. I walked up to the monument and ran my fingertips over the rough wood, the tiny faded American flag perched on top. From Mexico to Canada. Northern Terminus. Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. The unnatural border stretched away on either side of the monument, like alien markings in a cornfield.

My time alone was brief, as Apache silently glided into the clearing, respecting the quiet that filled the trees. He sat crosslegged, staring at the monument. Shortly after, the quiet was broken. String Cheese, of course. She came sprinting through the trees yelling and whooping, breaking our somber mood. We stood up and yelled as the rest of our group came careening into the clearing, jumping up and down, hugging, screaming. We were actually here, all of us. String Cheese’s dad had provided us with several wildly entertaining inflatable costumes, which we had carried out from Hart’s Pass. We donned these, laughing hysterically, and posted up for our monument photos. K2 whipped out the bottle of champagne and sprayed bubbles everywhere, and the party began. We had managed to pack out bottles of whiskey and beer, and had a real celebration. Then other familiar faces began to fill the scene – Birdbath came next, followed by Two Feathers!!! It was incredible to see her at the finish after we had helped each other so many times along the entire trail. String Cheese and I may have had a bit of a sob session realizing that it was over. I signed the register with words of gratitude, Love Pippin.

We spent about 3 hours at the monument, and finally it was time to head on. We crossed into Canada – INTO CANADA!! – and finished the final 8 miles to Manning Park. I wish I could tell you about the last 8 miles, but I can’t really remember them. Except for lots of 90s songs.

Upon reaching Manning Park, we feasted on huge dinners at the lodge and met up with K2’s parents. I walked outside for a moment and was enveloped in a huge hug. Yogi had driven up from Portland to meet me in Canada, and we held each other for a good long while. YOU FINISHED! You’re here!

I was here in Canada. I had walked thousands of miles to get here. I felt incredibly grateful for every single moment along the way – the horrible shitty parts and the amazing breathtaking days. I was grateful for the sores and blisters, the starry desert skies, the soft pine needles under my feet, the deer that ate my shirt, the aching knees, the freezing Sierra lakes, the foggy mornings and rainy nights. I loved it all. It was terrifying and thrilling and incredibly monotonous. Most of all, I was grateful for the human beings. I learned so much about being alone, but even more about how to be with people. The friends I made along the trail and the community we built is unexplainable, some of the tightest and most immediate connections I have ever made. Because of them, I was standing here in Canada.

I am sitting in a hammock in my backyard in Portland, Oregon exactly one year later, sunlight streaming through the trees as the breeze rocks me, trying my best not to cry as I type this final entry. The PCT has, without a doubt, changed my life. I rolled my eyes when people first asked me if I thought it would change me. But how could it not? It was a lifetime condensed into five glorious, dirty, painful, passionate months.

Thank you so much for following me on my journey. Cheers to yours.

Stay stinky,

Pippin.

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Last Camp

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Day 145 sept 28
The last few days passed almost in a haze. The skies were clear and air was chilly. We soaked in our surroundings- hillsides dotted with yellow larches, rainbows of leaves and tall golden grasses, mountain ranges like broken teeth all around us. We had all been pushing for the finish – excited to be so close to the finish. But these last couple of days we dragged out the miles, taking long breaks, delaying the end and what would happen after. We couldn’t exactly fathom being done, not waking up and hiking endless miles every day. It was hard to wrap our heads around there being an actual conclusion of this walk we had all set out to do, nearly 5 months ago.

We had lunch at a little creek and chatted with a couple of hikers who had reached the monument and were heading back to Hart’s pass. After talking for a few minutes, Hot Pants (one of the hikers), mentioned his start date – the same as mine! We were confused how we had never met each other, and then I realized that we HAD met – it was Alex, the guy from my very first day who had camped out at the southern terminus! He had grown a huge beard, ditched the army combat boots, and gained a pair of very short running shorts. We were pretty excited to see someone from the very first day on essentially our last days.

We traversed a gorgeous ridge striped with lime green, hit perfectly with the last rays of the day’s light. I wanted to hike by myself for a bit, to have some quiet space alone to think. It is difficult to put into words the extreme range of emotion that I felt that day, thinking about this entire journey, and that it was about to end. Tomorrow, it would be all over. I thought about my intentions for this hike, and if I had achieved them. i thought about how much it had changed me, as corny as it sounds.

We eventually reached a campsite, perched on top of a crest, overlooking the mountains before us and valleys below. Our last campsite. It was perfect. We all stayed up late talking around the fire, feasting on our last trail dinners. We hugged a lot. We made a giant cuddle puddle of all of our sleeping bags and slept curled up next to each other, excited and sad and thrilled and terrified.

I Can See Canada From Here!

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Day 144 sept 27

Our tents were covered in frost when we awoke. Crunchy morning steps on frozen ground took us down the cold side of the mountain, shaded by its own hulking mass. We shivered and shook out our sleeping bags on a sun-covered bridge for lunch, trying to stay in the pockets of gold for as long as we could before diving back into shadow.

Luckily, a long uphill climb gave us enough blood pumping through our veins to warm and revive our chilled bodies. Apache and Sloe Gin and I kept pace and zigzagged up many switchbacks before reaching a stunning ridge with views of deep valleys and endless snowy mountains. We were breathless and a little bit in awe. Larches glowed bright yellow and jagged peaks lined the skyline. We looked out at what must be Canada – we were only a couple days away.

We reached Harts Pass where we met String Cheese’s dad who would be going the final 30 miles with us to Canada. We set up camp for the night, made a huge fire and cowboy camped under the bright clear stars.

No Food, Air Jordans, Just Do It.

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Day 143 September 26

90’s songs took us through 8 miles in the rain, jamming out in single file. We cruised through the morning in high spirits and reached Rainy Pass… in the rain of course. K2’s parents were waiting for us with an open-walled tent, under which they had set up a griddle and were serving up grilled cheeses and hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps. It was good to be out of the rain and although my fingertips were still frozen, the hot food and drinks warmed my body from the inside out. Many hot cocoas and toddys later, we were accidentally a little drunk as we packed up our things to get back on trail.

I was about to stuff my food bag back into my pack when I realized it was a LOT lighter than in should be. I looked inside and found a pair of jeans and some high top sneakers…. Landfill and I were using identical bags, he to hold his finishing clothes and I to hold my food. In our happy jumbled haste saying goodbye to each other, he had grabbed my food bag instead of his shoes and set off down the trail, aiming to finish a day before us so he could get back to meet his family. Now for the last 4 days of trail I had no food and a pair of Air Jordans…

The rest of our group pooled together their random extra food and resources to concoct a food bag to get me to Canada, tossing in pasta and candy and energy chews. I had full faith that my friends wouldn’t let me starve somehow.

We got back on trail, slightly tipsy still, and laughing about our mishap, dancing down the trail and bobbing our umbrellas. We made good time, and were feeling great despite the drizzle. A few miles down the trail, we saw something darting towards us – Landfill! He had realized his mistake 6 miles in, and ran back down the trail to reunite me with my food.  He decided to continue on with us, at least for the rest of the day. We floated in clouds until reaching Methow Pass, where we set up camp for the night. The sun sank, and we were rewarded with fantastic views of jagged peaks dancing in and out of the clouds all around us from the high vantage of the pass.

Lasts and Longings

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Day 141 + 142 September 24 + 25

Rain when we woke up. Soggy tents to pack and soggy clothes to pull on (have you ever pulled on a filthy sopping wet sock before? It’s nearly impossible). We slipped and grunted 9 miles through the downpour until we reached the shuttle stop that would take us into the teeny little town of Stehekin. Exhausted, and with our feet aching, we were extremely relieved to get there. On the shuttle, Angles proceeded to tell stories and sing to us as the shaky bus rattled over bridges and careened down winding park roads.

We stopped at a bakery – THE BAKERY – the legendary Stehekin bakery, which has been raved about by many travel companies, and gorged ourselves on pastries and pies. Stehekin is really a middle of nowhere town – there are no roads that go into Stehekin from other towns, you can either take the ferry or charter a floatplane to fly in and land on Lake Chelan (this was very entertaining to watch). The town has no phone service, no cell service, one satellite phone, and its electricity is powered by the Stehekin River. The town is nestled in a valley next to Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in the US. While we were there the valley was filled with mysterious looking clouds, and the drizzly gently rain splattered the lake all day.

K2’s parents came to the rescue once again, getting us a room at the lodge to share, where we gratefully showered and dried out our chilly bones. It was surreal getting to Stehekin – the very last trail town. We were feeling a mix of sobriety and excitement, and the dark deepness of the clouds and lake reflected that. I thought about how few miles were left as I leafed through the post office PCT log book – filled with familiar friends who had passed ahead of me. Their entries were sheer joy, wistful thinking, longing for more and for less. I savored every name and ran my fingers over their doodles, knowing that they had probably reached the monument by the time I read their notes.

I picked up my last resupply box, my last love letter, and shuffled through my last food necessary to get me to Canada. After a meatloaf dinner and a couple glasses of wine, we headed off to bed. String Cheese and Angles and I shared a pullout couch and snuggled up to each other, talking about our last few days before reaching the end. I felt like my heart was being torn in so many different directions. Melancholy. Bittersweet.

We slept in the next day until Angles woke us up with eggs (!!!) and coffee. We planned, we packed, we got back on trail. But not before stopping at the bakery again. A pastry for every day until the finish.

We knocked out 11 miles, our group in high spirits as we hiked through the drizzle and mist. String Cheese and I hiked together for most of the way, talking about life after the trail and what we hoped for. We reached a crazy rickety high bridge and sprinted across it, laughing wildly the whole way. Our group hiked close together that day, I think we all felt it. 3 days away from Canada! I slept better that night than I had in months.

A Soggy Slog

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Day 140 September 23

It rained again. All day long. Any time it was drizzling and not pouring, we were thankful. The dark wet dripping woods became monotonous after miles of slogging uphill then plummeting down. We plodded uphill for 10 miles straight, gaining over 3500 feet of elevation. After reaching a clearing at the top of the ridge, we  wound around ridges with views of deep valleys and an explosion of colors covering the mountainsides. The clouds hung low and heavy, filling the valley below us. We passed over endless gushing streams and glanced up at the towering Cascades around us, coated in fresh snow.

We hopped and belly-rolled and crawled under and over (literally) hundreds of trees that had fallen across the trail, significantly slowing our progress. I counted over 75 trees in just a few miles before giving up. The last 4 miles of the day, we were all pretty beat and were incredibly ready to rest for the day at Cedar Camp. I hadn’t felt that tired and sore in a long time and my hips ached nonstop the entire night. We hurriedly set up our tents in the drizzle, but managed to find a somewhat dry spot under some trees around a fire pit. We made dinner as Angles recited some poems to lift the mood, and we talked about how weird it was that this would be one of our last nights on the trail.

Grateful for:
– That it wasn’t raining even harder on us
– That the uphill was as gentle as it was… despite being so long
– That we had our solid crew of friends to lighten the mood. We had all gotten very close over the course of the past few weeks, and I don’t know how I would have stuck it out in the rain and mud without them.

Pacific Crest Slip n’ Slide

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Day 139 September 22

GGGRRRRMMMRMMM. Thunder. 5 am. We hurriedly packed up camp, realizing that the ominous thunder and heavy clouds were no good if we were hanging out in what was most likely an active flood zone. We tried to re-cross the river as quickly as we could, but the sky opened up and soaked all of our crossing logs immediately. We were forced to do an awkward sit-and-scoot across the crossings (I think we had to cross at about 5 points total), holding our breath as we slid across the awkward slippery logs.  We trudged back uphill on our broken trail, heavy trees and bushes slapping our bodies as we pushed through the unmaintained trail. Finally – FINALLY- we met back up with the PCT – HOME! We breathed a sigh of relief, and made a courteous little note in sharpie on the Kennedy Hot Springs Trail sign that the trail was probably not a good idea. Christopher Columbus made mistakes too.

As soon as we rejoined the PCT, we had a hard slog uphill, through muddy steep terrain, while it poured down on us. Ninja wiped out early on, nearly falling off the trail, and we all had a good laugh at his muddy legs. Thru-hikers are assholes sometimes…

Almost immediately after, K2 took a hard fall as well. I almost fell four times, attempting to kick my trail runners into the heavy mud as we trudged uphill. The rain was miserable, neverending, and worse- made all of our gear incredibly heavy. Everything was wet. I felt like crap. We all just felt like total crap and the trail was kicking our asses.

Luckily, through the clouds, we had glimpses of gorgeous glaciated mountains all day, surrounding us on all sides. And just as we decided to break for lunch at Mica Lake, the sun came out! Mica was one of the more phenomenal lakes of the PCT – a basin tucked away high among the mountains, a perfect blue among the dark peaks. We laid out all of our things in hopes that we could lighten our loads a bit and dry out.

The afternoon proved to be a bit drier than the morning, and we plunged down into the valley shortly after lunch. We had seen a zig zag of switchbacks across the valley from where we sat at Mica Lake and hoped that what we saw wasn’t the PCT. It was. The trail rose out of the valley in a series of hundreds (literally… I think…) of switchbacks, back and forth and back and forth for miles up the mountain. At the top we grinned and took in our 360 degree views of mountains all around us. Then came the downhill.

We slopped through the downhill and over endless downed trees. Ninja kept leaping over them, but (inevitably) one took him out and he slid onto the trail belly first. More laughs. More muddy clothes. After this long and soggy day, we camped at Vista Creek, trying our best to keep our precious sleep clothes dry, and talking to each other from inside of our tents.

That night we all were restless, as little mice attempted to sneak in and steal our food. K2 had a mouse actually chew up through the floor of her tent and into her food bag! I scraped by with a tiny chew hole in the mesh by my feet. Needless to say, no one really slept that night…