Final Adventures in Washington – Part 3/3
“So let me get this straight. You want to get to Canada…by paddling all the way across Ross Lake?” Judging by the tone of their voice, I didn’t think the employee at the front desk of Ross Lake Resort had gotten this question before. In fact, later they went on to say they hadn’t.
If you’re confused right now, that’s because I fast forwarded from when me and Caesar said our goodbyes to Wall-E at Rainy Pass. At that point in time, we hadn’t been sure what the rest of the journey would look like, but knew we were going to make it to Canada somehow. If that doesn’t ring a bell, you might want to catch up by reading Part 2 of this story.
After hiking north from Rainy Pass, me and Caesar had shared a beautiful last sunset on the PCT. The next morning, we lucked out and got a ride back back to civilization from some nice folks. This was great for us because we’d originally anticipated having to road walk for a very long time—Harts Pass is remote to begin with and on top of that, it had been recently closed because of rockslides. Apparently, this hadn’t stopped the people who gave us a hitch, but unfortunately, it did cause one of their tires to go flat on the rocky drive out.
Once the tire was changed, we made it into the little town of Mazama, and this is where our story picks back up. We now had to decide which route we wanted to take to finish out the remainder of the journey. It kind of felt like something out of a “choose your own adventure” book.
We could hitch to the west and road walk to the Canadian border…maybe that could be fun? You know, take some selfies with the border station or perhaps even with a willing border patrol agent. If we walked north from Bellingham to the border, it would come out to be around 22 miles, which was close to the number of miles we were missing from Harts Pass to the northern terminus.
We could make our way over to a beautiful wilderness lake, which was still part of the North Cascades, and paddle the rest of the way to Canada. It nearly perfectly paralleled the PCT and like the road walk, was also 22 miles long.
I mean, come on—road walking vs. probably one of the most epic opportunities ever to aqua blaze? It really wasn’t a difficult decision at all. We just had to figure out the logistics first…
After several unsuccessful attempts at calling NPS and Ross Lake Resort, we decided to pay a visit in person to see if we could figure something out. We figured the worst that could happen is that we’d be told “no” and have to switch to the road walk plan instead. We’d been standing on the side of the road outside Mazama with our thumbs up when the resort returned our call. They’d received my voice message and apparently, didn’t think our plan was logically sound. In the middle of trying to explain our situation, someone stopped to give us a ride and with that, I told the resort employee we were on our way to talk to them in person and hung up the phone.
Thanks to our hitch, we made it to the resort and met with the person I’d spoken with on the phone. We re-explained the situation and to our surprise, it seemed they’d had a change in heart—they wanted to help us! They went from saying “people just don’t do that” to “here, let me personally call the backcountry permit office at NPS and see what we can do.”
Mind you, this was like 10 minutes before the NPS office closed for the day—it was nearly five p.m. at this point. Not only did we secure the permits, but we were able to rent a kayak as well—and the resort employee helped us map out our itinerary. We got ourselves organized and packed the kayak, and maybe an hour later, pushed off from the dock. Earlier that same day, we’d had no idea if this plan was remotely feasible—now, every single detail had seemed to magically fall into place.
Neither me or Caesar had a ton of prior kayaking experience and I think the resort employee had somehow become personally invested in the success of our journey, so they’d suggested we take a couple of days to do the trip. Our campsite for the first night was six miles in, which seemed to have taken hardly any time at all. It had been a beautiful and calm evening out on the water and with smiles on our faces, we docked and set up camp.
The following morning, we woke up to the sounds of a squirrel pelting the ground around our tents with pine cones. This continued for the entire time it took us to eat a leisurely breakfast and pack up camp. We set out to start our first full day on the water and wondered how long it would take to paddle our eight miles for the day. As it turns out, it took much less time than we thought. We had time to take mini excursions down some side creeks and to stop for lunch and a nap in the sun on a pretty island in the middle of the lake. I have to admit—this was all a really nice reprieve from the typical thru-hiking schedule I’d kept for the past five months.
When we set off again, the wind was blowing hard at our backs. Thanks to this, we were cruising, in awe of how quickly the island behind us was fading from view. On the other hand, the wind had also turned the smooth surface of the water into what resembled a small ocean. I hadn’t felt nervous on the trip until now, and I remembered hearing how strong wind gusts and whitecaps could occur suddenly and without warning on the lake, especially in the afternoons.
Thankfully, we were able to keep our heads (and our kayak) above water, and we made it to camp in record time. In fact, we made such good timing that we accidentally passed the island we were supposed to camp at. Our backcountry permit was specifically for that location, so we worked together to turn the kayak around and paddled hard against the wind that had helped us so much before.
When we docked, it was still early in the afternoon and we had time to take a dip and meet our neighbors on the island. I almost lost my glasses to the bottom of the lake—which Caesar heroically rescued—but aside from that minor mishap, everything was perfect. Our camp neighbors gave us encouraging words and snacks to help us the following day on our final push to the border, and at this point, it seemed that nothing could stop us. As the sun went down that evening though, I felt a bit anxious as I watched and inhaled the smoke from the wildfires that thickened the air. I didn’t sleep much that night.
To our delight, the conditions on our last morning could not have been more favorable—the winds had shifted overnight and cleared out most of the smoke. Soon after we set out, we met a family of loons and glided slowly past, watching the expert divers disappear underwater and resurface in another location. We smiled at how beautifully the morning had turned out and took a final snack break before paddling the last few miles.
Before long, the northern shore came into view and we joked that the Canadian geese standing there were welcoming us into Canada. We started checking the FarOut app every minute, and then every few seconds as we crept closer and closer to the boundary line.
My pulse quickened as we glided ever closer to the invisible line in the water that marked our entry into Canada. It felt almost as if time had stopped—nothing else seemed to matter except for us and the sun and the water. “We did it,” Caesar said and I turned to look at him.
The happiness I felt in that moment was indescribable—I don’t think I have ever felt more content or more complete.
It had really happened—we had finally made it to Canada.
After the quietness of that moment passed, we erupted into cheers and paddled over to shore, noting the cut in the trees that marked the border between the two countries. We took pictures with a plaque that read that we had entered Skagit Valley Provincial Park, which didn’t seem to have been used in a while. We walked a short ways inland, but soon turned around and fled to the safety of our kayak when hordes of mosquitoes began to attack.
We paddled a short distance to the location where we’d arranged to meet the resort’s water shuttle, and soon after, they came to pick us up. Naturally, covering the 22 miles by boat took hardly any time at all and as we sped across the water, we sat back, smiling at how perfect the ending to our journey had been. The fires may have prevented us from getting our pictures taken with the monument, but in its place, we’d had the opportunity to share this incredibly special experience.
It’s taken me a lot of time to write this and truthfully, I think it’s because I felt that by writing this final blog post, I was admitting that it was really, truly over. The truth is, as incredibly grateful I am to have lived this dream of an adventure, it hurts to say that it’s over—sometimes, it hurts a lot. I have my ups and downs and I’m thankful to have the support network that I do and my post-trail goals to work towards. If there’s one thing the trail taught me, it’s that I can always take another step forward.
The lessons I learned on this journey were many. I witnessed the kindness of strangers on numerous occasions, and formed incredible friendships along the way. I received words of encouragement and support that made it possible to hike the trail low-waste and to remove litter through my efforts as a Grounds Keeper. I was reminded just how beautiful our world is and how much goodness still remains.
These lessons and experiences didn’t end when I reached the Canadian border, nor were they left behind when I returned home. Every thru-hiker has the incredible opportunity to carry these things forward and as long as we continue to share the magic of the trail with others, this magic will live on.
I wish you all the happiest of trails and thank every single one of you for following along.
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