PCT Days 1 – 4: To Canada and Back Again: A Hiker’s Tale
Day 0: Surviving Transportation Day
When we leave the hotel, I’m so nervous I feel my whole body turn to static. This big hike was one thing online, but now it’s going to become real and in motion the second we step foot outside room 408.
“I’m ready!” Nick says.
We meet the shuttle bus at Sea-Tac airport. The driver is loading everybody’s roller luggage into the back.
“Just drop it and I’ll load it up,” he says to us when he sees our backpacks.
Nick shakes his head. “My bag is pretty heavy, I don’t mind putting it in myself.”
“No,” he insists. “I’ll do it, no problem at all.”
We shrug and drop our bags. Moments later while we’re climbing into the shuttle van we hear him exclaim, “How the hell do you guys wear these things?!”
D picks us up in Wenatchee in his brown Tacoma truck. We found him on Facebook and he truly is an angel. While he drives us the two hour trip, we talk about all things from trail life and expectations to living in big cities and our lives. He drops us off at The Lions Den in Mazama. Raven shows us around and the coolest shower we’ve ever seen. We put our names on the list to be driven to Harts pass the next morning. Roll call at 6:45 a.m.
We set up our tent in the back with other hikers. Most of them are snowbos or have already been to Canada and back and are taking a rest day or buying new supplies. Quiet hours start at 9:30, but everybody is already in their tents anyway. We fall asleep to the sound of crinkling and blowing air.
Day 1: Sore feet already?!
The next morning we’re up and ready. Inside the little hikers’ hut, there’s a few people making coffee and breakfast and they all wish us luck today. We meet with Lion and she drives us up. We offer her money for gas and talk about all sorts of things on the way up: mountain goats, hiking and her passion to start The Lions Den, and the Las Vegas golden knights (a favourite hockey team both she and Nick have in common). The Ranger checks our permits, and a few moments later we’re taking our first steps onto the trail.
The trail is beautiful. We can see it curve around and up and down mountains from miles away. It’s also busier than we thought. We pass dozens of hikers, some who want to stop and chat and others who are on their way after a quick “hi!” Or, “happy trails!” One thing remains the same is they all have the same answer to my annoying default question, “how’s your day going?”
The answer is always something reminiscent of, “perfect.”
We meet a dozen or so people in passing or at water sources. Mostly they have interesting stories to tell. One is coming back from the border and worried about the Stehekin post office not being open on Saturday. We stand in the middle of the trail and check Far Out and old screenshots.
She jumps up and down. “It’s good news, Shannon! It’s open.”
We laugh and celebrate.
“That should be your trail name,” she says. “Let it fit for a few days and see how you feel.”
I kinda like it.
That night we walk until our feet are throbbing and finally settle in on a beautiful campsite over looking the range. Nobody else is there. We eat Knorr pasta mixed with this Indian lentil mix we picked up at Safeway. It’s delicious. I fall asleep to the sound of my crinkly sleep pad and my feet hurting, but I’m happy.
Day 2: Already Home
When we wake up my feet are already protesting.
“This is going to be every day?” I say to Nick as we pack up. We have a new tent, I have a new sleeping bag and backpack, but the pack up routine is still the same.
Soon, we are walking again. We meet several people with names or trail names, all who are bustling with energy or focused on the trail ahead of them. We round mountain passes and climb up and down switch backs in the sweltering heat. We find a small water source and are only able to grab water from it because of a well placed leaf.
It seems like we’re walking down forever, when finally we round the corner and there it is – Canada!
Only to turn around and walk far, far away from it.
Day 3: There isn’t enough toilet paper in the world to save us!
For the past few days we’ve been in denial and buzzing with excitement and adrenaline, but we have to face the truth. Our throats hurt. Our ears are clogged. Our sinus and heads are aching. Before we left home, a few members of my family were sick, including my two-year-old nephew.
“Kids always have the strongest germs,” I say to Nick as we try to force peanut butter wraps into our stomachs in the morning.
He agrees. Luckily we felt the cold coming for a few days and did grab some cold and sinus pills from Walgreens before we left Seattle.
That day, Nick and I both take six pills each and it only seems to help a little.
We spend a lot of the day not really seeing anybody, a contrast to our last two days of social smiles and waves. Which works for us because we both feeling like a sinus infection walking. We put our headphones in and zone out, ignoring each others sneezing and coughing. There’s nothing we can do about it here but walk it out.
We stop about eight miles from Harts Pass and my body is aching so much I lay down in the hot tent, pitched directly in the sunlight, and stare up at the orange fabric wall.
I wanted this, I remind myself. It’s only day three and I wanted this.
With that, I summon the energy to make ramen and this lentil Indian mix together and it’s delicious. We eat it with one spork, passing it back and forth, sitting in the dirt swatting mosquitos away.
Day 4: Finally on our way to Mexico!
A familiar face passes us in the morning while we’re packing up our tent.
“Did you see the wildfire that started last night?” He asks us at 7:00 a.m.
We didn’t, but he tells us they are already dumping water on it.
Today we’re feeling a little more alive, a little more excited, and a little less full of snot. We pop our last cold and sinus pills and Nick plays a few songs on his phone. We have a mandatory dance party as we pack up and get ready for another day on the PCT.
I’m not sleeping well despite my $200 new sleeping mat. As I pack it up I shove it in the stuff sack, like it’s responsible for my restless night.
As we walk closer to Harts, we pass people who are still clean. Who still smell good. I don’t know how I became so dirty in four days, but I am. There’s layers of dirt shoved underneath my fingernails.
At Harts Pass we collect our huge food bag and sit in the grass near the parking lot to organize it. The ranger sits by us and tells us the fire has been put out. She points up to a cooler by her cabin. When we open it, it’s filled with ice cold pop and Gatorade. We both choose the blue flavour and nothing has ever tasted so good on my sore throat.
We wave to familiar faces in the parking lot, and shortly after we start walking onto the trail to Mexico. A few miles in we find a parking lot with our first service in days to call our families and friends.
“We made it to Canada!” I tell my mom and dad.
They cheer and say, “Next stop, Mexico!”
When we leave the lot, we see a familiar face. He’s coming back from Grasshopper Pass. We can hear the thunder booming overhead and the rain falling in big, fat, slow drops.
“The next part is all exposed,” he tells us. “I’m going to camp for a bit here and wait until it passes.”
“Good luck!” Nick says. He confidently goes on and upwards. We pass a group of trail runners who are looking at us cautiously. As we get closer to the top, the thunder is quicker. Louder.
And then we see lightning.
“Oh shit,” I say. “We gotta get down now!”
When we’re starting down the switch backs on the other side, the thunder gets louder and louder and I think we’re going to get electrocuted! We actually run a little down the trail with our bags just exploding with food. Finally we make it to a tent spot in the forest where we find two people already set up. We find a site that has no tree cover and is slanted, but we assemble the tent under a tree and then put it into place and dive inside. Soon after we see the same man. He comes up to us and says he wasn’t going to hike up, but after he saw us go for it, he had inspiration and followed along.
That night when we fall asleep, we think of all the footsteps, adventures, and mishaps that will await us on the next portions of our trip.
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