The End: And That’s How You Finish the Goddamn CDT

I’m holding back tears sitting in the airport writing this up as I wait for my flight. Thinking about how to finish. Thinking over the past few days draws me to the past few months and the past few years. So much has been experienced. Saying goodbye to family found while ready for so much rest. Here’s the process as it comes to the end.

Day 144

Woke up in East Glacier and packed up. Went to the East Glacier Lodge for the last breakfast buffet on trail. Did it justice, and it was really good food. The sun came out as I was walking back. Got things ready and then launched out. Crappy trail at first, but then I hit Glacier National Park. The sign was special to see, and the trail also got remarkably better going into the park.

GNP boundary

Started a big climb. Passed SeaLegs, Akuna, and Undecided. Climbing up a rocky valley, clouds started rolling in so I only got tastes of what views Glacier will behold. Caught Sweets at a viewpoint where clouds would part and we could see the majesty of the mountains and glacial valleys. Got to the other side of the climb as the clouds cleared and we got a clear view. Holy shit.

Twin Medicine Lake

We could see Two Medicine Lake with dense pine forest and literal towers of rock carved by glaciers. It was stunning. Bombed down to the ranger station to get permits and went to our site. It is a frontcountry site so they had flush toilets, potable water spigots, built-up tent sites, and fire pits. It was quite luxurious, even though this is where most people go to go camping and experience wilderness. Everyone showed up and we had an awesome evening of hanging out, listening to music, and laughing. I’m going to miss these people and moments like this. Five more nights.

Day 145

Woke up to condensation. Packed up and got moving after some coffee. A bit confusing leaving but got back to trail and pushed along. Dense forest walking along Two Medicine Lake. We had two passes to get over and the first started right after the lake. Passed some section hikers before reaching Sweets above treeline. The views were incredible.

Glacier valley

I couldn’t get my layers right as it was hard, sweaty work but also quite chilly and windy. So I started to lose a lot through sweating. Got to a saddle to see the other side of the pass. Cloudy but spectacular. Wind picked up as I climbed on. The trail turned to a narrow footpath along a steep slope of a mountain. Views the whole way. I was in my element. Gliding over rocks, I pushed to a nice overlook where Sweets and Wraps caught me. Took some photos and talked to some section hikers before descending to a lake where we had lunch and dried stuff out as the sun had come out.

Hiking views

My legs started cramping really badly from dehydration as I did my best to rehydrate and replenish the salt in my body. Hung with Sweets until the base of the next climb and I pushed up. Passed Wraps and another hiker, Picky, on the way up. It was a gorgeous climb, with views for the majority of the way. An idyllic lake surrounded by dense pine forests fed by an incredibly long waterfall coming from the top of one of the cathedrals of rock surrounding the valley.

Triple Divide Valley

I don’t know the words to describe the feeling I experience. After walking for almost five months and putting the energy into this climb and witnessing the true majesty of these mountains. What words can I use? To describe how majestic, how awesome, how incredible, how spectacular these mountains are. How to describe how humbling, how inspiring, how reaffirming it is to be here. As tiny and insignificant as I am to these mountains, I clamber all over them.

Triple Divide hiker

Reached the top of the pass known as Triple Divide Pass. Named for the three oceans water from here goes to; the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic. And yes, I peed on all sides so part of me will work its way down to all three oceans. Talk about marking territory. Descended down but once I hit treeline I lost all my energy. Dehydration was really kicking in as I couldn’t replenish my salt content as well until dinner so I pushed on.

Slowed down but kept pushing. Realizing the only thing that stands in between my experiential self and the permitted site is time. And time is all happening at once so I already exist in camp. I exist at the end and the beginning. The only reason I don’t experience it all at once is because I am energy, I am change, I am movement. Sweets caught me as I was slipping down into this delirium. She got me to stop and drink water. I felt a bit better as we continued on to camp. Set up and Wraps caught up. Cooked dinner and hung out. Refueled, replenished salt, and rehydrated as SeaLegs and Link showed up. Hung out a bit before retiring. It was our last 20+ mile day and it was a big one so sleep came as easily as it ever had.

Day 146

Woke up to an orange sky. Took some time to catch up on writing before packing up, doing some yoga, and pushing out. Overcast morning made for some cool, moody photos. Caught SeaLegs and Wraps at a ford and we hung out a bit before pushing on. Hopped over a little climb to Saint Mary Lake, which we walked along most of the day. Rain came and went and I hid under a nice tree for the worst of it. It was actually quite pleasant.

Virginia boy looking at Virginia Falls

Leapfrogged with Wraps and SeaLegs before getting to a gorgeous waterfall. Hung out a bit before pushing on. A lot of tourists here as we were pretty close to a trailhead along the main road through the park. Gorgeous hiking, really well-maintained trail. Zoomed by everyone, saying hi along the way. Took a junction away from the road and was immediately alone in the woods again. Made it to our permitted site early in the afternoon. We had a shorter mile day so we had a lot of downtime in camp. Had a fire and made a meal for lunch as everyone sidled in. Rain pushed us to our tents for a bit. And while everyone else got back out, I fell into my exhaustion and slept.

Day 147

Woke up and had a morning. Another shorter-mile day so not rushed for miles. Which is immensely enjoyable. Hung out with everyone in camp a bit before we meandered out one by one. Started on a massive, five-mile climb. Passed some day hikers going up, also SeaLegs. Really nice forest but then it got above treeline. These mountains are unbelievable.

Glacier carved valley

Wind really picked up as I walked along the slope of an eroded wall of rock. Feeling the wind buffet my body and pack almost to the point of danger was exhilarating. Got to the top of the pass and sat for a minute before the wind got too intense and I needed to drop down. It was an impressive bowl descent to a crystal clear stream where I took a break before busting on.

Gorgeous forest walking along the valley floor. The trail devolved into a muddy, horse-stomped mess before dropping to a more pedestrian footpath around a lake. I zoomed by an almost overwhelming amount of tourists to Many Glacier. It’s a little village in the park with a store, restaurant, and campground we were permitted for. Went to the restaurant immediately and caught Sweets and Wraps while waiting for SeaLegs and Link to show up. Got some good, hot food and then went to the campground to hang out for the rest of the evening. I’ve never laughed so much as we joked and reminisced over the past five months. And the fact that we were getting to the border the day after tomorrow. Went to bed after a time and found good sleep.

Day 148

Woke up and went for breakfast. Sat around drinking coffee, catching up on writing before heading out. Bigger-mile day with some big climbs, which I’m looking forward to. Also the last full day of hiking. Today was the last day of the season for the restaurant. Which made me remark on our luck as the sky also turned clear and blue.

Pushing out along the valley floor, I noticed the aspens were starting to change color. It’s mostly pine forest here but down in the valleys there can be spatterings of different trees. Went to some nice viewpoints of some falls before climbing. Climbing up in this incredible basin surrounded by walls of granite carved by glaciers, eroded by weather. Getting above treeline, I could witness the valley I just walked through. Passed SeaLegs at a viewpoint as we climbed higher along some steep slope. Fantastic hiking.

SeaLegs at viewpoint

Caught Sweets, Wraps, and Link at the top of the pass and we had some lunch. Good hanging before we all headed out. The view on the other side was one of the most epic I’ve ever seen. These mountains are so dramatic and there were so many of them. Passed Link through some forest walking and then caught Sweets at some water near the top of an incline. We hiked a bit together along the Ahern Drift, which was a narrow, steep bit of trail. I pushed on at some water we stopped at. Passed Wraps and pushed along the slope of one of these great mountains.

Sue Lake

Took a break at some water where Sweets passed me. Kept pushing up the last major climb of the trail, which coincidentally had spectacular views. Caught Sweets at the top and we went up a side trail to an observation point. It was a view of a glacial lake that was unbelievable. Then descended to our last campsite where we set up our tents for the last time, cooked trail dinner for the last time, hung out in camp for the last time, and fell asleep on my pad for the last time.

Day 149

Woke up really early, as early as I’ve ever gotten up. Packed up and pushed out around the same time as SeaLegs but I outpaced her quickly. This is it. Today is the day. Fifteen miles stood between me and the border I had been walking to for the past five months. Enjoyed the views above treeline as the sun began to light up the sky and the moon stuck around to accentuate the mountains. Glacier has been just six days of absolute majesty. Not one mile has been boring or disappointing. Dropped down to the valley floor and walked through the forest. Classic forest walking.

Sang some songs from a summer camp I went to as my mind wandered along my journey over the past five months, the past four years, and the rest of the story of my life. I reached the base of Waterton Lake and took a break as the significance took hold. I could see into Canada from where I was. This was it, this is the lake. Four and a half miles to the border.

Waterton Lake

I shot along it. It flew by like miles never have. I could only think about all the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get here. All the stubbed toes, scraped knees, rolled ankles; all the sacrifice, pain, suffering, joy, bliss, euphoria; all the rain, sleet, snow, hail, thunder, heat. All of it for this moment in spacetime. This moment in spacetime that I had been hiking toward for five months, but really for four years, or maybe even my entire life for this monument. And it was going to appear out of the woods in any moment.

Northern Terminus Monument

I caught my breath when I first saw it. It felt impossible but real at the same time. Had I actually walked all this way? Had I actually done it? Touching it brought me to my knees, tears to my eyes. I released everything I had been carrying my entire life in that moment. Every storyline, every moment and choice from fear I let go in a feeling of triumphant peace, serenity, clarity, beauty. Everything and nothing at the same time. It seemed to last forever but I knew I had to land, to ground.

I sat on a dock and tried to capture the experience through writing. I hope I portrayed at least a taste of it. Everyone else caught up in time. We took photos, smoked some victory cigars we had been carrying, and basked in the accomplishment. Four miles to town that we zipped by to Waterton Township. A pretty idyllic lakeside town. Checked in to room, got a nice, hot meal, took nice showers, had a chill evening, and slept in the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in in my life.

Days 150 and 151

Woke up and drove back to the states. SeaLegs had a friend who met us with a car to make things easier. Drove to Kalispell, MT, where we all had flights from. Got a room, food, cotton T-shirts, and had a merry evening celebrating our family we had found out here for the last time.

Woke up and got some food. Tears were shed as Sweets and I drove to the airport while the others had flights tomorrow. Saw Sweets off and sat down to write this blog up. It doesn’t feel real, but I’m not sure what. Either going back or the fact that I had left on some crazy adventure in the first place. I knew the immensity would hit me more in the few weeks after landing.

Now was time to land, to ground, to eat food cooked in a full kitchen, to take hot showers every day, to sleep in a stationary bed every night. To integrate and grow. I saw a Smartwater bottle in one of the stores. It looked so clean and clear, not beat up at all. I picked it up with a smile. Getting to my seat I was overcome with a sense of readiness. For what I’m not sure. But whatever it’ll be will be powerful and important. The work never ends. And while the best stories do come to an end, The Story never does. And I’m left knowing that whatever happens, the Way will Open. As it always does.

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Comments 6

  • Jonathan : Sep 19th

    Congratulations. And thanks for bringing us along with you.

    Reply
  • Michelle : Sep 20th

    What a journey! So glad you had this amazing experience. Your grit and determination will take you far.
    Michelle, aka Minor Trail Angel

    Reply
  • Ami Shank : Sep 20th

    Bryan,

    Thank you for sharing this profound adventure with us. You are such a good soul and I see a happy and peaceful future ahead of you.

    Hope to see you soon.

    Reply
  • Tasha : Sep 20th

    Awe inspiring finish. Thank you for opening your self and sharing this experience!!!!

    Reply
  • David Odell : Sep 20th

    Congratulations on finishing your CDT hike. Enjoyed your excellent journal. David Odell. AT71 PCT72 CDT77

    Reply
  • Julie : Sep 20th

    Congratulations! What a huge accomplishment! Thank you for sharing your adventures!

    Reply

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