Clouds of smoke and rain

I board a bus at 2am in the middle of the night in Seattle. There were many people with backpacks at the greyhound station, but none of them are hikers. There is a woman screaming that she is calling the police on the ticket officer. It’s a vibe kill from the wilderness that has become my home and a harsh reintroduction to the real world I am still trying to avoid. The bus driver is British and this surprisingly is a small comfort. I doze in an out of uncomfortable sleep listening to conversations from ex cons who are also struggling to adjust with being back into society. I am leaving ultimate freedom and they are regaining it. I am on my way back down to California. It is always California

This border crossing was extra sweet

‘The Northern Terminus could burn soon’ a PCTA staff member had told me when answering my flurry of questions on the phone earlier this week. ‘That section of the trail will not be reopening this year’. The day before I had watched the first smoke plumes of the Bolt Creek Fire float into the sky, filling the horizon, the sky and my lungs with smoke. Whilst the trail leading North of Stevens Pass remained open, for the first time, I did not feel safe going out into the unknown. My eyes stung, my throat sore, it scared me. I had finally found my limit after almost 2000 miles. I had other miles that I could hike with better air quality so for the first time since starting the trail, I headed south.

I stay with a trail angel in Ashland, and another trail angel drives me south again, towards Etna. It is the first time I have reached out to ask trail angels for such help, and I am overwhelmed by how amazing the community is. Within the last 6 weeks I have become a flip flopper. Like a large majority of hikers on the PCT this year, I recognised that with the wild fires popping up all over the place and closing sections of trail all the way up from NorCal to Canada and beyond, I understood that my best chance of hiking as many miles as possible was to jump up and down the trail, trying to make the most of the weather windows and old closures reopening. I successfully managed 300 miles of Washington, a blue skied paradise before the latest fire broke out.


Now, the cold rains of the Pacific North West that many people have warned me of have started. I am hiding in my tent to stay warm. I try to define the difference between uncomfortable and really dangerously cold. I refuse to give up and be defeated. I hiked in heavy rain in New Zealand. I grew up with rain. I hate rain but the thought of achieving my goal remains too strong. I will not quit. I will adjust. I will push my limits. Flexibility is key my father told me. Be flexible.

I have an injury. I’m aware of it with every step. With every step I ignore the pain until it becomes unbearable and I swallow painkillers and pretend it doesn’t matter. Actually it doesn’t matter. I’ve had it since mile 70ish and only in the last 500 miles it has become worse. I carry little water and little food. It’s too cold to worry about hydrating like I used to. I try to lower my base weight any way I can whilst still carrying enough to eat to survive and keep me warm. I remember how in NorCal 6 weeks ago I would continuously wipe sweat from every body part. My calves, my wrists, the back of my neck. Now these are the places I wrap with layers of fabric. I swap out my cap for a beanie. I sleep with my socks and my filter in my sleeping bag. Getting out of my tent is harder. It’s too cold to take breaks so mostly I just walk; walk and remind myself why I’m walking.

Eating at night

Eating has become harder. I can barely stomach the idea of trail food. In towns I eat Thai food and visit the local breweries. I don’t have much left to go now. Around 400 miles across 2 different states. I never want this to end, but the approaching winter scares me. Mostly I feel lucky. Lucky enough that my body and my mind have been strong enough to get to where I am now. Lucky that I love the trail the same now, even in the clouds of smoke and rain, the same as I did back that first day.

I hope I’ll still make it to Canada, even if I’m the last hiker. I’m still out here. I’m still walking north!

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