Finally, The End: PCT Days 129-147
On the 1-year anniversary of starting the PCT, I’m reflecting on how it ended.
Back in the fall, I left off blogging just weeks shy of the end of my thru-hike. Finishing the blog remained on my to-do list as I moved back to Arizona and resumed guiding for REI. But, for some reason, I never quite got around to it.
Part of the problem was that I was genuinely busy. Between work, rekindling friendships, and settling into a new city, blogging didn’t feel like a priority. I trained for a marathon for my three-year kidney transplant anniversary. The post-trail depression didn’t hit too hard, since my job is still just backpacking (just more slowly). I was relishing every minute I spent with my sweet dog after missing her on trail.
But the real problem was that I still didn’t know how to feel about my last 200 miles of the PCT.
When I finished the Appalachian Trail in 2018, the emotions felt straightforward: gratitude for the experience, and relief that it was over. My physical fatigue was overwhelming, but the conclusion felt narratively satisfying. I had achieved my goal, fallen in love, explored new places, and honed my outdoor skills. The end felt like The End… in a good way.
The PCT was different.
I wanted to frame it in my mind and my blog, to tie up the loose ends with a neat bow. But with fires closing the terminus, social hurdles, and my vague and mixed-up emotions, the end of the PCT was not what I expected.
All winter, I’ve felt increasingly disconnected with the trail. I’ve wondered if some time and distance is what I needed before I could put the 5-month experience into context. Perhaps now, exactly one year after starting, I can reflect on the end.
In my last few weeks on trail, I wrestled with wanting to Hike My Own Hike but also cherish the last opportunity to spend time with my new friends out there. Once the fires closed the northern terminus, straddling these differences got even more complex. One main question loomed: what did “finishing” even mean? Not all of us agreed.
In the end, Rainy Pass seemed like the most logical place to finish my PCT miles for now. Technically, the trail was open up to Hart’s Pass, but with conflicting reports on FarOut about whether the road was open, and not enough food to reach the closure and double back, I hitched into Mazama.
I bought provisions (and champagne) and then hitched west to Ross Lake. There, I met back up with Smiley, Cookie, Wild Card, Leaky, Nudist, and Red Panda. We camped under a cloudy, smoky sky. Rolls, Royce, Cloud Whisperer, and Undecided would join us the following day, after waiting hours for the highway to reopen after a landslide.
In the morning, we rented kayaks and canoes and started paddling north to Canada.
The NPS ranger who issued our permits cautioned us that our itinerary was too aggressive. “The south wind is too strong,” she said. “We rescue stranded paddlers on that lake all the time when they can’t make it back.” I was nervous.
But we did it. Over three days, Cookie and I canoed 46 miles round trip to the border and back. It ended up being a weird and wonderful way to “finish the PCT,” even if the middle day was so windy that we feared we’d need rescue, just like the ranger warned.
But we made it. Our second night, after tagging the monument and starting back, the whole group sat in a circle at camp and passed around a bottle of champagne. I felt joyful and grateful. That whole evening felt surreal.
And then, it was over.
Since then, I haven’t felt much about it at all. Was it because it wasn’t my first thru hike? Was it because the social tension distracted me from appreciating the conclusion as it happened? Was it because the past few years have just left all of us numb inside?
I don’t know. I wish the end had a more satisfying end, but here we are. Before the PCT—even before the AT—I learned from the Camino in 2015 that it’s a mistake to expect a long hike to fundamentally change your life or fix your problems. So, I didn’t expect that hiking from Mexico to Canada would leave me “happily ever after.” I did hope that it would leave me fitter, fresher, and little less unhappy than when I started. And on all counts, it did.
I wanted to see if my single-kidneyed body could cover more miles than my pre-transplant self, and it did. I wanted to connect with people and nature in meaningful ways, and I did, even if I found that part harder than on the AT. (Whether that’s a difference in trail culture, individual hikers, or my own personality changing over the past four years, I still don’t know.) I was privileged enough to hike through places of unfathomable beauty. I met great people, including fellow hikers, trail angels, day hikers, and emergency workers who kept us safe while fires raged. On paper, the PCT met or exceeded all my expectations. I remain overwhelmingly grateful for the experience as a whole.
And yet, and yet, and yet…
At some point this year, I hope to hike from Rainy Pass to the Canadian border on the PCT. The monument is just a symbol, but maybe then, I’ll feel finished.
And who knows? If that doesn’t work, I might just have to hike the Continental Divide.
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