I hiked out of Rainy Pass on Highway 20 at about 8:45 on August 31st knowing that within the span of three days my journey to Canada would be over. It was a strange feeling leaving the trailhead that morning, almost like it was my first day on the trail. The idea that only 61 miles separated me from Canada was almost unbelievable. I’d thought about that last bit of trail for so long and now, finally, it was there waiting for me to hike it.
At this point I could pretty much sneeze 60 miles without even thinking about it. My body might be sore and achy, but the moment it hits that trail it’s like everything wakes up and before I know it I’m making my way over loose rocks and picking trail apart in my brain looking for the best route. I guess that’s what happens when you hike a couple thousand miles in a single summer. Somewhere between Mexico and Canada, my body adapted to life on the trail like it was meant to be out there hiking a marathon each day. Now, with only three more days remaining, the summer of 2017 was coming to a close.
The 61 miles of trail between Rainy Pass and Canada might be some of the most beautiful portions of the trail. Mile for mile, it is simply astounding to travel through. I tried my best to keep my eyes on the trail so I didn’t trip, but kept finding myself looking around at the world around me. Within about 4 miles of leaving the trailhead, I was walking ridge after ridge with views that went on forever. All I could think to myself was how I couldn’t have asked for a better closing stretch of trail. The nights were cool, the stars bright, and the sky didn’t have a cloud in it - it was perfect.
It always surprises me how fast the days come and go out there. Miles pass in hours and I found myself hoping they would slow down so I could enjoy them more. I tried to walk slower, tried to soak in the moments, and tried to make sense of the last 2000 miles. Though I had audio books to listen to, I just couldn’t bring myself to break the silence. It seemed wrong to let those last 3 days pass by without taking advantage of the sound of my feet on the trail and the rhythm of my lungs stuffing air into my body as I made my way up those last handful of climbs. I’ll miss how efficient my body has become at hiking. I no longer stress over how long a climb is because I know my body can do it and do it well.
The first day on the trail was filled with animals. I was face to face with a Marmot for a few minutes, escorted some Forest Grouse down the trail, and watched a group of deer meander through my camp. While sipping coffee the following morning, I sat there there as about 6 deer fed on bushes right next to me. They didn’t seem to care one bit that I was in their spot and simply went about their business. A small buck appeared and chased a younger doe around until he was ran off by an older deer. After enjoying the show, I stowed my stove and headed down the trail again. It would be my last day of big miles. I’d be within a few miles of Canada the following morning and that much closer to Jess.
On my last full day of hiking, I enjoyed Trail Magic for the last time which included a beer and a turkey wrap at 9 AM. If you think my journey was long, you should have met the couple I spoke with while pounding that Hamm's beer. They were 30 miles from the end of a 14 year hike of the PCT. For 14 years they hiked whatever miles they could each summer and they were now just a short distance away from their goal. It was humbling to meet a couple who had dedicated that much time to the PCT. It made me reflect on the things I’ve spent 14 years trying to do…which isn’t a lot. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through their minds as they made their way to the terminus in that final mile. Were they sad their journey had come to a close or happy to finally put it to rest?
I camped that final night by myself in a large canyon where I could hear rocks falling from the steep walls all night long. It was perfect. Having arrived in camp early, I had the time to reflect on what had happened over the summer. In a matter of hours, I’d be standing on top of the monument preparing to make my way the final 8 miles to find Jess waiting for me so patiently at the trailhead. What did just happen? Did I really hike all those miles? Was it everything I hoped it would be or was it more?
The stars were beautiful that night. I know this because I could hardly sleep knowing I was going to see the Canada in a few hours. I stared at the stars through my tent intermittently and slept a few hours. I finally gave up on sleeping at 5 AM, packed up and had coffee in the dark. I sat there alone sipping my coffee and eating my last packaged cinnamon roll watching the wilderness wake up. If there’s one thing I’ll miss for certain, it’s being included in the morning routine of the forest. I loved hearing the birds begin to chirp, seeing ants crawl out of their holes once again, and catching animals wrapping up their feeding routines from the night. It’s a special time and it was always refreshing to see, hear, and be a part of.
I had 11 miles to go until the border and another 8 after that until I’d see Jess. Those 11 miles went by quickly and before I knew it I had just one mile remaining of the PCT. One mile. It was surreal and I desperately wanted to stop it from happening while at the same time I wanted to run to the terminus. When the trail began to zig zag down to where the monument was, I knew I was moments away from being done. I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like, who would be there, and what I would do when I got there. And then, there it was. It was suddenly before me and all I could do was stare at it. I had a friend snap a picture of me and sat down to enjoy the moment.
It really was real. It existed. It was strange. Freaking Canada…
I reached the monument at about 9:45 AM, sat there for about 15 minutes and was more than ready to see my girl. I still had 8 miles to go and knowing her, she was likely there at 6 AM waiting for me and contemplating hiking to the monument herself to meet me (she actually did seriously consider it). We had agreed I wouldn’t pop out of the trailhead until 1PM so I was trying to time it perfectly so I wouldn’t be sitting in the forest like a idiot waiting for the time to pass. I packed up, hugged a fellow hiker who I’d come to know recently, and headed out.
The United States was no longer before me, it was behind me. I was done, but still had work to do. Jess was now the only thing on my mind and getting to her was my new mile marker. I have no idea how many times I checked my watch and my phone to see how much further I had to go, but trust me when I say it was numerous. As it turns out, three miles per hour is three miles per hour regardless of what country you’re in. It still takes one hour to hike three miles and even though I knew this, I secretly hoped the mileage was wrong on my GPS, but it wasn’t.
I was going crazy in those last three miles into the trailhead. Each person I passed going the opposite direction made me wonder if they had seen her and I was hoping badly that sooner or later she would appear in front of me earlier than expected. My damn legs wouldn’t go any faster and even if they could, I still wasn’t going to arrive until at least 1 PM so I was between a rock and a hard place. Lucky for me, I had been hiking since April and was pretty good at timing my arrivals to places so I knew I’d be right on time.
Then, with a half mile remaining, there she was.
I’ll never forget what it was like seeing her wandering up the trail looking for me. When we were finally within arms reach of one another, there was nothing to say, but so much to do. I opened my arms and held her for the first time since passing into Canada and with the knowledge that I was done and we could now go home. There would be no more goodbyes or drop offs at random places in the woods. No more wondering when we would see or speak to each other again. It was over. We had the entire forest to ourselves and it was perfect.
We stood there holding each other. It was quiet and all I could do was tell her thank you for everything she had done for me and remind her of how much I loved her. And yeah, I broke down. Between the idea of the trail being over and now having her in my arms, it was too much for me to take in and the waterworks began. It was an incredible way to end such an incredible journey.
We hugged each other tightly, kissed, and made sure what was happened was real. I was ready to go home so she held my filthy Thru Hiker hand as we walked back to the car. When we got there, I took my pack off for the last time on the PCT, tossed it in the car, and jumped in the front seat. It was over and we could officially go home.
One week ago I was hiking out of Rainy Pass and now I’m home. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was hiking 25 miles a day and living out of my backpack. Since returning home, I’ve asked myself if I can honestly say if I made every day worth it while on the trail. The answer is “no.” There were days when I didn’t take full advantage of my time on the trail, but is it realistic to expect that I’d be able to do that over an entire summer? There were days when I did soak it all in and there were days when I didn’t. I’ve also asked myself if skipping the Sierra range was worth it or if I regret not being able to hike certain sections of the trail. Many people have returned to the sections of the trail they weren’t able to do after reaching Canada, but I didn’t. I went home and concluded my hike. Am I missing out on something? Should I have returned and hiked more miles? No freaking way. I'm as happy as a clam being home and preparing for the next chapter of my life.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about my journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. Not one little bit of it. I’ve had hundreds of miles to think about the answer to these questions and with a smile on my face I can tell you that my trail was far more than I could have ever asked for. Sure, there are miles left to hike, but I’ve learned that for me it’s not about miles. I’ve learned as much about myself off the trail as I have on the trail. My trail began with the goal of hiking miles and has concluded with the goal of attaining lifelong lessons and a journey. That is exactly what I had.
The miles I wasn’t able to hike are still there. They’ll be there today, tomorrow, and next year. Maybe I’ll go back, but maybe I won’t. Maybe I like the idea of those miles calling out to me because they’re like eating a slice of humble pie each time they do. Maybe my pride is hidden somewhere in those miles I didn’t hike and if that’s true, then I have no interest in hiking them.
Thank you so much to all who have joined me on this journey. When my mind and body wanted to give up, I thought of you and used your support to find it inside me to hike just one more hour or one more day. There were many days when I was no longer hiking for myself - I was hiking for you. I hiked because the PCT is far too good to give up and so many of you have told me that you wish you could have been out there with me. Some of you physically can’t hike and it was for those reasons that I continued to push through whatever pain and mental battles I was having at the time. Thank you so very much for giving me that kind of motivation, thank you for being there for me, and thank you for your well timed comments, emails, and texts. You will never know how incredibly important they were to me in those times when I needed them the most. I hope that somehow I have returned the favor by telling my story.
So what now? Life, that’s what.
From Mexico to Canada By Land,