The Pacific Crest Trail: Epilogue
To my trail family— I was so happy the day I saw you make it to the southern terminus.
Only 130 days since I was kicked off trail due to injury. 130 days of missing a footpath I had called home. 130 days of finding myself saying this at least once a day (probably closer to ten times a day): “oh this one time on trail…”
This one time on trail.
Oh those many times on trail! All the memories. The views. The friendships. The pain. The exhilaration. The rawness of it. The simplicity. The love.
The people I talk with love to listen and hear the stories I have to share, but deep down I know my words can only do so much. You had to be there. I still feel detached from reality and I hope this post will allow me to come to some closure about the unfinished business I have with the Pacific Crest Trail.
Beginning of the End
The moon began to set during the final half-mile ascent towards Mt. Whitney. Earth’s satellite that had illuminated the entire hike as it hung high in the sky began to turn a deep blood red as it slid below the western mountains. I threw on my wind pants and the hut at the top finally came into view. Me and the two people I had begun to call family made it up for sunrise. An experience I had dreamt of since before even starting this trek. The dark sky began to slowly dissipate and at 14,505’ above sea level I witnessed the orange sun taking its first breath over the eastern sky. I looked over at my trail family—we were fucking freezing, but we were happy.
The happiness would not last for me as the next three days of hiking would bring an uneasy feeling that the end was closer than I would want. The final three days of the Sierra were the beginning of the end. I remember looking north each day as the sun settled on the distant storms now covering the Sierra’s vast range and tears would well up around the corners of my eyes. It was as if the mountains and I were finally coming to an understanding—they had won. Injury had finally come to take me off trail. Each day as I inched closer to Kennedy Meadows South I warded off the thought that kept creeping up: I would not make it to the end.
Trying to remain positive, I hiked alongside my trail family every day trying not to create too much of a distance between us. It was as if I knew I did not have that much more time with them. Every day I felt my left foot’s discomfort increasing in severity. As we reached Kennedy Meadows South I could taste the southern border, yet my foot was in pain. Each step felt like a shard of glass going deeper into my tendon. Still fully determined to push until my body gave out I looked to my family and said: “I will continue hiking, but I feel like my hike could be coming to an end.”
Pushing for 250 Miles
The sun began to set over Kennedy Meadows South creating a pleasant mirage of colors across the desert mountains. My final section. I had made it north through the heat of NorCal, the wonderful section of Oregon, and the beauty of Washington. I had flipped back down and made it south through the Sierras— an incredibly difficult three weeks—and now there was only one section left. Past the determination to finish, however I was worried. Worried my foot would not last the next 700 miles towards Mexico.
I queued up Hippo Campus’ album Bambi and we began to walk. We were exhausted, but we were together. We had been looking forward to this section, so we set out as the sky darkened and I listened to music the whole way. Our packs were no longer weighed down by the unbearable bear-can and our food weight was only for 2 days! Again, we were happy. Exhausted, but happy. Setting up to cowboy camp my foot was throbbing and I just kept silently giving myself false-hope: I could just walk through it. It would heal.
It was not healing. On top of the protein bars, rice and beans, and cold soaked oats, Advil became a staple.
400mg after breakfast
800mg at lunch
400mg before the night hikes
1600mg per day for two weeks! Two weeks of me limping in to camp every night. Two weeks of feeling miserable, yet I somehow kept pushing. I did not want to quit. This was my dream. My home.
I finally succumbed on the day I had to walk the LA Aqueduct. A hot exposed section through the Mojave Desert towards Hiker Town. The night before my trail family and I had Taco Night with another group at a Trail Angel cache outside of Tehachapi. As I downed a cold Cherry Coke I began to feel hope once more. That hope would disappear the next day. At 34 miles my foot became unbearable and the 1600mg of Advil was no longer helping. I called the only people I knew would listen: my mom and younger sister. Angry and in tears I told them I had to get off trail. This was the first time I admitted I was injured.
I still decided to push an additional 66 miles with my trail family towards Aqua Dulce where I would be picked up. The trail felt as if it was providing a reason for me to come back because the saying goes “never quit on a bad day.” My last day was spent in hiking through rain and setting up camp cold, wet, angry, and in tears. This was indeed a bad day; however, I would not be back. The trail had its final laugh.
After 130 days I do have one regret and that is not giving my trail family a proper hug before leaving. I think in my anger of having to leave due to injury I forgot the reason the trail began to feel like home and it was because of the two people I had stayed with for 500+ miles. The two people that had helped me through the Sierra. The two people that made town days so much more enjoyable. The two people I hope to see again (once I start making enough money).
Dealing With Failure
I failed the Pacific Crest Trail. I needed to write this down. Say it out loud. Shout it off a mountain top, but that will have to wait because, again, I failed the PCT. I was on my way to finishing, but this was not the year I would complete the trail.
The days following my injury diagnosis were spent in a fog. It was over. The footpath I had called home for four months became memory. The family I had made would continue south, but it would feel as if they were waiting for me in Aqua Dulce. The encroaching thought of “you failed, Josh” made its way closer to the forefront of my mind and I became lost in the depressing claws of society.
Overstimulated and confused of what to do I went back in to “normal” life. How come I was not sleeping outside? Why was I not moving south on a 3-foot-wide path? Why did it feel going back to “normal” was going back to something unnatural? Every day I have to deal with the fact that I did not meet my goal of completing the Pacific Crest Trail; however, I count all the other goals completed.
I hiked as long as I physically could.
I pushed my body harder and longer than I ever have.
I witnessed the sunrise on Mt. Whitney.
I swam in the waters of Crater Lake.
I crossed the Bridge of the Gods.
I hiked 1800 miles in four months.
I slept under the stars for four months.
I shared drinks and smiles with friends I will never forget.
This was still a journey of a lifetime. I am forever changed. I am forever grateful.
So to all of those who hear me say “oh this one time on trail..” just know I cannot help myself. The Pacific Crest Trail is ingrained in my personality. It is a part of me as my footprints are a part of it. 130 days and counting. Until I am able to hike another long trail I will never forget the memories, the views, the friendships, the pain, the simplicity, and all the love I received on trial.
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