Update #12: Walking to Canada

Hello everyone! I hope you are well! This final update comes to you from Fairfax, CA, which means that I have, at long last, landed at home. My long hike is over.

My last days on the trail were truly wonderful. The weather held out for me from Stevens Pass right up to the border! (The rain started up again mere hours after I crossed it.) Those last 200 miles were some of the most beautiful of the whole trail, and with the single exception of a few hours of rain one morning near Glacier Peak they were bathed in the most perfect sunshine. So, so lovely.

From Stevens Pass I headed out with 5 days worth of food back into the mountains. This section of trail went through Glacier Peak Wilderness and was highly scenic as well as rigorous – probably the toughest section of trail in Washington, and maybe of the whole trail. One day my cumulative gain was over 9500 ft! It did feel like a final push of sorts, climbing up and over these passes and traversing around Glacier Peak, because I knew I was getting through the most difficult parts of the remainder of the trail. At this point, too, I knew exactly how many more days I had left. I knew I had 7 more nights of setting up my tent. Then 6. Then 5. I felt both excited and uncertain about it, as well as some amount of unrealness, as if I was watching the trip go by in a dream state and that the end of it would just be my moment of waking.

80 miles before the border I went to pick up my last resupply box in Stehekin, a small outpost town on one end of Lake Chelan. It was an incredibly peaceful and lovely little place, set on the lake, surrounded by mountains and autumnal trees; it was a favorite stop for many of us. I found myself just savoring being there, having conversations with other hikers, eating delicious pastries from their bakery (the best bakery on the trail probably), and celebrating the good weather and the approaching finish line. Of all the places I saw along the trail, I feel the strongest desire to return to Stehekin one day and to relive that feeling of peace and camaraderie.

I hiked out of Stehekin in the afternoon and camped 5 miles in at a nice developed campsite with a group of other hikers. My first thought upon waking was that I had three more days on the trail, 75 miles to go, and – what else was there to do? – I hiked. It was a long slow climb to get back up to elevation; this last section of trail took us over many successive passes at around 7000 ft. I crossed Hwy 20 at Rainy Pass (on a spectacularly sunny day) and met day-hikers going up to Cutthroat Pass. I went up and over the pass, where the day-hikers were lazing around and enjoying the views, and I kept following the trail along the side of a ridge. I met a guy going south named Napolean who had just finished his Northbound thru-hike and decided to yo-yo Washington (“yo-yo” hikers get to the border and then turn around and keep hiking… because why not?) I entertained the idea momentarily of doing that myself, just to have something to daydream about. I’d been so looking forward to being done with hiking, but wasn’t that shallow? Wasn’t I also grateful to be out here and in awe of the beauty of life, out here? What if I so fully accepted the discomforts of this kind of living that I could transcend them and just be joyful, so joyful that I didn’t want it to end?

But the end was coming, and it was something to embrace. Life in general is something to embrace. Something physical was going to come to a close when my hike ended but that didn’t mean the mindset needed to end, or that the learning needed to end, or that the journey, in a wider sense, was even close to ending. I spent my last few days coming back to these thoughts about the end of the trail, and a lot of the time I felt a quiet acceptance of it. It wasn’t that I was going to walk into a wall at the end of it, but rather that I’d be walking into something else, where my path might be less defined but stretched on ahead nonetheless.

That night I camped with a guy named Tindy, who I’d met much earlier on and hadn’t seen since Crater Lake. We had a long conversation about life on the trail, and our approaching lives off the trail. He was ready to be done. I guess a lot of us were ready to be done by now, including me, though I felt also that there was some sadness in it. The next morning I woke up knowing I had two more days, and 48 miles, and I hiked.

My second-to-last day the PCT gifted me with a final day of solitude: I didn’t see another northbounder until I got to camp 29 miles later. I wasn’t planning on walking that far, but then it was early evening and I wanted to keep going. I felt that might be what I missed most, the long days – not the long days that I felt pressured to do, but the long days that just happened because I didn’t want to stop hiking. It was so satisfying throughout my whole hike, just to be able to cover so much ground on foot, and that it felt so easy on my body to do it. Anyway, after being by myself all day it actually caught me by surprise to get to where I planned to camp and see maybe 8 other people camped there… but it ended up being nice, being a part of a group of random hikers, my second-to-last night. I went to sleep listening to them laughing and talking.

Then I woke up, the morning of Friday September 16th. Knowing it was my last day and that I had less than 20 miles left, I took a slow morning. I brewed some tea that was given to me by another hiker that I’d met and connected with just before Stevens Pass. I talked to the other people that were still at camp. Then there was nothing left to do but hike.

I tried to savor those last miles. They were quite beautiful. It was hard to believe these views were my last to take in, that I was climbing up and over something for the last time, that I was hiking out onto a ridge for the last time. Starting the final descent off that ridge was when I felt saddest, and I even cried a little bit. But still I walked. I suppose that if I’ve learned anything from this trip I’ve learned to keep walking.

A few miles from the end, a couple things happened. First, I was running into people out of nowhere, maybe 6 or 7 in the last few miles, all headed to the monument. Second, there was this budding excitement in me, which was growing as I got closer and closer, and especially as I ran into other people, who were also in high spirits. I even ran some of the way out of my eagerness – the last section of trail was perfect for running, sloped gently downhill and not too technical. And then, there was the monument, and I was there. The trail ended. It ended! After four and a half months of walking north, of trusting that as miles and miles of trail fell behind me, more would still lie ahead of me, suddenly there was none left. (Technically I still had 8 miles of connector trail to get into Manning Park, but this was the official end of the PCT.)

I’d pictured this moment as one of solitary introspection, but there were people there clapping for me and the others as we got to the finish line, so it was a more social experience. Some people had packed in champagne, whiskey, or other libations. It was nice to have that feeling of celebration with other people at the end, and to sit there for a while looking at the monument and clapping for people as they came in. I was so grateful that it wasn’t rainy.
That night I camped just past the monument, and I took a leisurely 8-mile walk the next day to get into Manning Park. It was raining slightly overnight and in the morning, and the rain steadily increased as I hiked. I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe my good timing, weather-wise. By the time I was inside I wanted nothing to do with being out in the cold rain for a good while, and outside the rain pounded and pounded and pounded. Oh, all those poor hikers that are still out there, I thought, while I laid on the couch of our cabin and listened to it.

Manning Park was great because my grandpa met me there! He flew to Vancouver, rented a car, and drove the couple hours to get there. We both got in around noon, giving us a nice afternoon and evening to spend eating and hanging around. Emily got into Manning Park that night too! It was a day earlier than she planned so she caught me by surprise. (She and her hiking companion Doug picked up the pace the last few days, no doubt urged on by the approaching rain.) We had a nice time catching up that evening and in Vancouver.

Started together, finished within a day of each other… ain’t life grand?

I spent a week making my way home, seeing friends and places along the way. I spent a night in Vancouver with my grandpa, followed by a few days in the Seattle area with good friends. My friend Alex and I drove down to the Bay Area together over the course of a couple days, making stops in Portland and Ashland to drink, eat, and explore.

So, now I’m home! I’ve been back at my dad’s house since last Friday night. I was caught up in a torrent of family activity through the weekend, and now I am settling in, moving things out of boxes, cleaning and sorting my gear, visiting people, etc. I’m trying to consciously keep some momentum going, stay active, and stay connected with myself. I don’t know what else you can do to ease the transition coming back from a trip like this, except to try to bring back elements of it into your life.

Some of you might be wondering what’s next for me. Aaaaand… so am I! Haha. Well, most honestly, I’ll be working on figuring that out for a little while. I’m staying with my dad and Anna for the time being, exploring the beautiful trails of Marin County by running (and probably hiking and cycling), becoming learned in the art of vegan baking/cooking, and making strides towards finding my first real-person job. (I’m not counting the restaurant jobs and that one 3-week stint in sales…. ugh!) I graduated with a degree in Computer Science last year (I wasn’t exactly intending to look for work in that field, but I also don’t really know what else to do / don’t knock it til you try it) so my current idea is to spend some time coding and building a stronger skill set, then start applying for programming / tech jobs… the real dream would be to have a job and still have time to take massage therapy classes on the side. Or maybe it will be totally unrelated to everything I’m thinking about right now. We’ll see! If any of you have ideas for what I could be doing right now, or know of people/companies in the Bay Area that I should check out, I am all ears!

And with that, I guess it’s time to wrap up! It really is sort of weird to be done with this long trip, though I’m happy to be home, and I feel healthy and optimistic about the future. I feel so, so grateful. I know that I’ve changed and that my perspective on life has shifted, in good ways. I know that I ever get in a place where life seems terribly bleak, I can just go hike a long hike and find myself again! I almost had to tell myself that, the last day on the trail when I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving, that I didn’t have to be leaving for good. That I could come back to the PCT. That maybe one day I could hike the whole thing all over again.

Thank you wholeheartedly, to everyone reading these updates and following along. Writing about my struggles and joys has been a rewarding experience for me, and having a reader base was what kept me at it. I do lament one thing about these updates: that for every moment or memory or person I wrote about, there were countless others equally deserving of being set in writing that weren’t. It was never going to be possible to have a full written record of everything that happened on my PCT journey, but I just want to acknowledge that the glimpse of the PCT I’ve tried to provide through my writing is an incomplete one, and that to get the full picture you might just have to go hike it yourself 🙂

Speaking of things I didn’t write enough about: HUGE thanks go out to all the trail angels of my hike, all the people that went out of their way to be a part of it somehow and to support me along the way. The biggest support for the trip came from my mom, who sent me all my resupply boxes with added homemade goodies AND drove to meet me on the trail four separate times including a drive all the way up to Stevens Pass from California; and my grandpa, who gifted me with some great gear before and during the trip and travelled to meet me on the trail in Tahoe, Bend, and Manning Park. Big thanks also to Alex, who met me at Snoqualmie Pass with fresh fruit, drove to get me in Vancouver after it was over, and helped me find my way back to California. I have been continually in awe of the amount of love and support that’s been offered to me by friends, family, and strangers throughout this experience, and can’t express my gratitude enough!

I don’t have any particular words of wisdom to impart to you all, just an encouragement: that this world is full of beauty, that people are kind and good, and that we all are capable of so much more than we think we are.

Signing off,

Emma

2 thoughts on “Update #12: Walking to Canada

  1. Iris Pattillo

    I felt very teary reading your last post! What an amazing experience for an amazing person. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, challenges, photos… I will forever stand in awe of what you did this summer.

    Love you much,

    Iris

    Like

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