The Final Miles and Saying Goodbye
If you were to ask me what my favorite section of the PCT was, I would say Washington—in decent weather. My least favorite section? Washington–when it’s cold, raining, and/or snowing. My final weeks on trail didn’t work out the way I thought they would. However, I ended up getting to hike some of my favorite parts of the whole trail with people I became great friends with—an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
To say that Washington was a roller coaster for me would be an understatement. Things took a challenging turn when I got sick at Snoqualmie Pass, because I had to take a double zero while my trail family hiked on. The section from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass wasn’t very fun because I hiked the majority of the miles by myself. One day in particular was brutal because I got sick on trail and could barely eat anything. Luckily the weather was great for this section, one of the only positives. I’ve never felt badly enough that I needed to keep telling myself “you can do it,” “this is temporary,” and “just keep walking” out loud. I wrote in my journal that day that I have never worked through so much physical and mental discomfort before.
Thankfully this rough stretch came to an end when I was reunited with my friends Tommy Pickles and Fern at The Mountaineers Lodge in Stevens Pass. Meeting up with them was the best thing that could have happened. We hiked out of Stevens Pass and stayed together for the rest of the trail.
We had a couple days of rain in a row, including one day when it poured and we got totally soaked. I have never been truly soaked like that before; those days were absolutely hellish. We were so cold and wet that it was a bad idea to stop for breaks longer than five or ten minutes and we had to set up wet tents multiple times. Thankfully I was with two people who can stay positive and have fun despite things being totally miserable. I don’t mean to sound overly negative about how much it sucked, but this was weather that I would probably never experience in “normal life.” If the forecast called for a 90 percent chance of rain when I planned to go hiking or backpacking, I would decide to stay home! In hindsight, I’m glad we got through it and it made us so thankful for the sun when it finally came out.
One memorable experience from this time was the morning when the three of us stayed in our tents until 11 a.m. because of how gnarly the weather, and our situation, was. Our hiking clothes were all soaked, along with our tents, packs, and almost everything else—plus it was snowing and windy outside. We decided to stay as warm as possible and hope the weather improved, but it didn’t. The amount of time in my tent allowed me to partially dry most of my soaked clothes with my body heat, one piece at a time, from inside my quilt.
When we finally got up the motivation to start hiking, Pickles put on music and we ran around dancing and yelling while we packed up, wearing our wet clothes and being unable to feel our hands. Despite the very high level of suck and suffering, Pickles and Fern proved that they both have the superpower of being able to stay positive in challenging situations. They are exactly the type of friends you want to have in times like these. Now I can look back and laugh about how miserable these days were from the comfort of my home. I’ll always be thankful for my friends and how we got through it together.
Once the sun came out we dried everything in a beautiful meadow near Glacier Peak. Later on, we ran into Squirt, who I had gotten to know earlier in the trail and who I hung out with in Snoqualmie Pass. She had taken a zero day in her tent instead of hiking in the downpour, so now we were on a similar schedule on the trail. We ended up getting to hike together for the last section of trail, which was great, and we had a stretch of nice weather that lasted until our final two days. During this time we hiked through some absolutely spectacular stretches of trail with views that I hope to never forget.
While I had planned (and hoped) to finish the trail with Flamingo and Tuna, I found an awesome crew to spend the final weeks with. The sense of community that I felt during the final few days on trail was unlike anything I’ve experienced. Everyone seemed to be reflecting on their hikes and trying to make the most out of each day that was left.
An example of this community was our last morning on trail. We spent our last night about 3.5 miles from the monument at the border, which was at low enough elevation that it mostly rained and only snowed on us a little. In the morning we woke up in our tents for the last time and a few of us shouted good morning to each other. Soon everyone started yelling “good morning _______” to every other person in our tenish person group from inside of our tents. This went on for quite a while until everyone had said good morning to everyone else—it was such a nice way to start our last day together. It was hard to imagine that by that afternoon, most of us would already be on our way home.
Getting to the monument took me by surprise because I reached it sooner than I expected. What started off as a few of us taking our photos quickly turned into a large group. Once I took my photos, talked to everyone, and wrote in the register, I headed out to tackle the eight miles of trail from the border to the Manning Park Lodge. I knew my parents were going to hike toward me to meet up, but I was several hours ahead of schedule. Thankfully I ended up seeing them about 0.5 km from the road so we could still walk in together. My friends Laura, Luke, and Jen made the trip from Vancouver and we caught up, then had dinner. They are the busiest people I know so being able to get together and celebrate was a treat.
One of the hardest parts of finishing the trail is going from being on the trail with your friends to saying goodbye so quickly—there is no transition period. One moment you’re celebrating at the border after five months of hard work and crazy experiences, then the next you’re hugging and saying your goodbyes—often saying something like “have a good life” because you don’t know if you’ll ever see them again.
I am grateful that I got to make so many wonderful friends on the trail. Being part of this community was one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to experience. As soon as I started making my way home, the trail started to feel like some sort of dream. It’s felt that way ever since. Thankfully I have the photos, journals, memories, and friendships to remind me daily that it was oh so real.
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