Wow, wow, wow. It’s cooler reflecting on this three days later than it actually was at the time. I’ve completed Oregon and Washington and am now on to California, starting with the Sierra. I’ve walked 1000 miles! Never, ever did I think I’d be writing those words.
The last couple sections of Washington were incredible. Thankfully I cleared the state before the heavy hitting fires started, though I did have some smoked out days. The best days on the trail traverse the crest above tree line, so you’re able to see for miles and miles ahead of you, watching the trail wind up, around and over passes. From Snoqualmie Pass north to the border, there were a ton of days like that, and they’re incredibly motivating.
Getting to Canada
I’d thought that reaching the northern terminus of the PCT would be really exciting, like reaching the Washington border. I thought I’d wake up like Christmas morning, burst out of my tent and crush the last 24 miles of the section. But it just wasn’t that exciting – and same goes for so many others this year – because it’s not the end. None of the hikers who reached the terminus on the same day as me were finished with their hike; they had to go back to do the Sierra. So it was grueling doing the 15 miles to the terminus, over passes where I’d have to keep reminding myself “Okay baby, this is the last one. Last one and then you’re done. You got this.”
You got this
You got this
You got this
Until I had to start saying the words out loud to myself. Part of the anticlimax too is that once you reach the northern terminus, it’s another 9 miles to the lodge. Woo! BUT, none of that was to say that it wasn’t exciting, because it definitely was cool to complete another state and write a mishmash of Derek Walcott’s Love After Love in the trail register.
There will come a time when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome. Sit. Feast on your life.
How my body has changed
In so many ways. I met my dad for a week in Whistler after completing the hike, and my mom had given him a set of clothes for me to have while I was there. None of my shoes fit anymore! My feet have grown a size and a half. The way that my feet make contact with the floor is also different, flatter (never thought possible) and I can feel the way that their padding has changed. I have calluses all over, most notably in a line across the inner arch of my foot in the shape of my insole. It’s hard to wear shoes other than my trail runners.
Not only do my jeans fall off me, I could probably take out the eye of a small child with my hip bone. I’ll be careful. It has taken days for my body to recover (it’s still recovering) and I can feel the physical process of it. My toenails and fingernails are stained a yellowish hue from the dirt that’s been under them for so long. I have an epic gaiter tan line and a few areas with dirt that just won’t wash off. My legs are definitely the strongest they’ve ever been – which is good because the Sierras are coming!
How my mind has changed
It just doesn’t matter anymore. None of those things that had mattered in that hollow, sad, empty way matter anymore. In other words, the things that hurt get cast aside and replaced with knowledge of opportunity. The guy who broke your heart, the friendship that didn’t work out. None of it matters.
I’d thought that my brain would be stuck in a hamster wheel of all the things I’d been trying to work out, but I’ve had none of that. I’ve had the occasional “oh yeah that guy” or “oh right that one thing she said,” but by and large those people and those situations are gone. And it is so, so nice.
What’s interesting about it is how much time I’ve been spending alone. You’d think that would make all these issues come up more, but in practice, somehow I have a million other better things to think about. My theory is that the people are so incredible here that they blow those other ones out of the water, and the confidences gained from the mental and physical demands paint the past in new light. Suddenly there’s an open realization that you don’t have to compromise or sacrifice that feeling of rightness – with anyone – ever. And NOT the rightness that we oft convince ourselves is right, but the rightness that we speak of in our tiny cubby hole personal safe space where we can be honest with ourselves about what actually fits. About what is actually right. About what needs to conclude.
Coming off the shuttle at the trailhead, I ran into my friend Pam. I knew she was hiking Washington this year, so I was waiting for the moment when I’d catch her. We’d done a backcountry trail maintenance trip for a few days in the Olympics back in the spring, and it was really nice to see a familiar face. In the seven weeks I’d been out there, I’ve only seen 5 familiar faces! Usually I’m not much of a hugger, but every time I saw one of them I’d hang on like my life depended on it. It just felt so good to see people I know. So if any of you guys were wondering why I was fighting to hug you longer, there you go.
Shoes Off Break
I ran into Valley Girl in Stehekin after not seeing him since Oregon, and it’s always so fun to run into people you haven’t seen in a while. Sometimes you just roll into town and spot a familiar face across the way and you both make a joy face at each other. Valley Girl! We took on the last section in parallel, but he didn’t have a permit to enter Canada and would have to turn back south after reaching the border.
I do this thing sometimes where I just get tired of walking and find the closest thing I can lean on to take a break. A lot of the time I don’t even bother taking my pack off, I’ll just find a log and arrange my body in a semi-supine position that I’m sure looks horribly uncomfortable but is actually amazing. On this particular day, I was leaning up against a giant rock when Valley passed by and gave me flack for having my pack on, laughed and asked if I always take breaks like that. I do not. I also take actual breaks. So we planned to meet up in a mile at the next water source for a Shoes Off break.
I got to the creek and there were a few other hikers there. I call these watering hole gatherings and they are awesome. I filtered my water and was rifling through my food bag for snacks when Valley said, “Hey Vaya, I know you’re doing your maintenance things but just a friendly reminder that this is a Shoes Off break.” Shoes. Off. Break. The best breaks. The real breaks. I laughed and peeled my shoes and socks off.
The other type of break is the end of day break. This is the quintessential break, and I’ve dubbed it Croc O’clock because this is the time I get to take off my trail runners and put my crocs on. If you haven’t joined the croc train yet, you need to ask yourself two important questions: 1) Are your feet as comfortable as they could be? and 2) Do you take yourself too seriously?
Given the right answers to those questions, hopefully you’re on your way to a new pair of crocs. I recommend sunshine yellow, because truly I’ve been asked out more times in my yellow crocs than ever in my life. That’s a fact. Crocs are the business.
I met a man near Stevens Pass who asked me about thru hiker trail names. He said they seemed both inclusive and exclusive, and had a vibe that he was open minded and curious to know more about thru hiker culture. We got into a cool conversation about it, because honestly I’m not a fan of trail names. When we’re on trail, we take on these pseudonyms that have some wisp of foundation in who we are or something we’ve done. Some people are desperate for a name so they just choose something. My trail name is Vaya, which means ‘go’ in Spanish, and I got it because I write ‘vaya bien’ in trail registers, or ‘go well.’ The word definitely resonates with me, my Spanish-speaking trail friends dig it, and a lot of people have asked if it’s my real name. But some people think I’m saying Via and so they call me that and then I have to correct them and I feel like I’m in elementary school all over again, correcting Kathleen to Kate. They also remind me of a camp I went to every summer as a kid where the counselors had fake names, and heck man, this is not summer camp.
So I don’t like trail names. And not just because people get them wrong or because I don’t really know how it all started. I dislike them because I feel like people take them on as a way to separate their trail experience from the regular world. Like a “when I’m out here, I’m this other person having this compartmentalized experience.” No thanks. I want to be Kate, and I don’t want this experience to be a separate little boxed up period of my life. This IS my life. This is who I am. This is an experience that will inform so much about who I am and where I want to go – as Kate, not as Vaya. But hey, that’s just my two cents.
I’ve met a few people on trail who said deer had come up at night and chewed on their hiking pole straps for the salt from the sweat. I’d been wondering if this would ever happen to me and on my last night, I hooked one! I heard some rustling above my head where my poles were, so I shined my light and there he was! Munching on my poles. Then I made the mistake of yelling hey! and it spooked him, so he took my pole and ran! Off into the woods! I clambered out of my tent in my socks and ran after him by the light of my headlamp, thankfully he dropped it pretty quickly.
Okay, 180 topic rotation. I met a couple during my last section who insisted that I go to this famous Finnish spa in Whistler. Sold. I went yesterday with my dad and his lady friend and had an afternoon of decadence. We all got massages and explored the various outdoor pools we were assigned to rotate through as part of some “hydrotherapy” process. Whatever, it felt amazing. 10/10 if you’re ever in Whistler and are up for some community relaxation.
But one thing I will say caught my eye were the signs hanging around that requested our silence and that you Enjoy Your Relaxation. Which was odd to me. I don’t want to actively enjoy anything. I want to Relax My Relaxation. I want to melt.
Then naturally, because I’m a ruminator, I got to thinking about these predictable things we do with our sad two to four weeks of vacation ever year. We have ourselves convinced that this is it. We go to the Hawaiis, the Costa Ricas, the ski resorts, for some mandated amount of time, recreating like it’s our job, surrounded by signs imploring us to ENJOY YOUR RELAXATION. What is that? Is it healthy? Why is the box so small?
I guess I’m just thankful to be chasing something bigger.
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