This is Where I’ll Be
Two Worlds Colliding
How is it possible for time to go so fast and so slow all at once? The final days are both a lifetime and a rush. Five days become four, and then three, and then two. Yet experiencing each moment with such vivid attention gives the pace the sort of timelessness only reserved for these once-in-a-lifetime events.
The Northern Terminus approaches.
Hours after leaving the Southern Terminus six months ago, I marveled at how quickly the real world drifted away. This was my life now. Weeks into the trek, it was hard to imagine that a life had existed before waking up, walking in the wilderness all day, and crawling exhausted into a tent each night.
Was there a life before? Is there a life after? Sometimes this feels like all I know.
This Must Be the Place
The larch trees are yellowing and the low-lying plants are crimson. Northern Washington’s fall colors and expansive valleys paint the backdrop for reflection time. A dusting of snow on September 30th after Harts Pass ties it all together as Head Start and I put one foot in front of the other as we’ve done for as long as we can remember.
One day to go in Washington
I’ve been trying something new on occasion, maybe to avoid sadness, or maybe it’s a life hack worth putting to use: take linear time out of the equation. I don’t have to miss this experience, because this experience will always be here. Like a room in my house, I can come and visit any time.
I’ll always be sitting on the ground with my back against the Southern Terminus before the sunrise, looking to the north and thinking I can see Canada all those miles away. I can feel the wind on my face and hear it whistling through the border fence.
I’ll always be in Mount Laguna under twelve inches of snow, taking turns playing the piano with Helene while a fire blazes in the background and new friends sit in a broad circle chattering away. The next night I meet Head Start and Mini Chimi for the first time, not to be seen again until Kennedy Meadows. I walk into the snow the next morning and wander by two heads poking out of a tent after being snowed in for a trail-zero day. Nice to meet you too, Journey Man and Mantis.
I’ll always be setting up a tent when Dash walks in and asks if there’s room to camp, followed an hour later by JourneyMantis. Dash, meet these two. These two, meet Dash.
There will always be the moment that Sherriff sits down to have breakfast after a cold and snowy night near Big Bear, and that Catch Up and Coyote and Turtlewolf are all in the Joshua Inn sharing a beer over lunch at the same time. Hey, let me get your phone numbers.
I’m stepping onto the road at Kennedy Meadows and involuntarily shedding a tear. I’m walking out of Kennedy Meadows to tackle the route to Lone Pine with a party of nine.
After Lone Pine, the nine give way to six. These six are to become the H.O.M.E. Team. Journey Man, Mantis, Dash, Head Start, Mini Chimi and I have so much fun walking in the snow so far, that we decide we’re going to give it a real go and walk through the Sierra to Bishop. Heart Over Matter, Everywhere. H.O.M.E.
The H.O.M.E. team in the Sierra
We’ll always be at the base of Forester Pass at 4 in the morning in new moon darkness, dancing around and singing “This Must Be the Place” by the Talking Heads before our insane climb. We’ll always be at the top of the pass, elated that we survived.
I’ll always be on the couch in The Hostel California in Bishop writing a list of pros and cons about whether to continue hiking to Mammoth with Dash or to flip up to Old Station to join Mini Chimi and JourneyMantis. Head Start will always be sitting next to me on that couch when our knees touch and neither of us pulls away.
We’re making ice cream with a system of ziplock bags and snow. We’re hiking for 24 hours on the solstice. It’s hailing on the approach to Etna before the ride with the legendary Mary and eating dinner at the brewery surrounded by fifty other thru-hikers.
Unfortunately, there will always be mosquitos wherever the snow has recently melted and we’ll be boiling water in full hazmat gear before diving shell-shocked into the tent. Fortunately, we’ll always have Vector Vengeance, our electric fly swatter.
Sunrise at Crater Lake with Journey Man, Mantis and Head Start
I’m cowboy camping for the sunset and sunrise at Crater Lake. I’m slurping a huckleberry milkshake in Trout Lake. I’m partaking in mushrooms in the beauty of Goat Rocks. I’m stuck upside-down in manzanita bushes in northern California calling for help. I’m eating a burger with my parents and friends at Paradise Valley Cafe.
Head Start, Dash and I will always be climbing Glen Pass in the light of the full moon. We’ll always be going up Pinchot Pass in the sunrise, and we’ll always be at the base of Mather Pass underneath a tarp at three in the morning while hail and lightning and thunder assault us from above.
Glen Pass in the moonlight with Dash and Head Start
Head Start, Mini Chimi and I will always be at the Oregon border at dusk. We’ll always be immersed in more inside jokes than we can count while walking inseparably from Old Station to Ashland.
Mile 900 with Head Start and Mini Chimi
Journey Man, Mantis and I will always be stumbling home from the bar in Tehachapi. I’ll always be sliding my phone under their door the next morning with a song playing loudly to which Journey Man comes out dancing in nothing but a towel. The song? “This Must Be the Place.”
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, burn with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong. Nothing
Hi yo, I got plenty of time
Hi yo, you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight
Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
Guess this must be the place
I can’t tell one from another
Did I find you or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be
Hi yo, we drift in and out
Hi yo, sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You’ve got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me til my heart stops
Love me til I’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head, ah oooooooh.
-The Talking Heads
This Magic Moment
I’ll always have 24 hours left on the trail, and it starts getting emotional when everything is becoming the last thing. The last lunch. The last climb. The last time setting up the tent and the last time breaking down.
I never loved climbing, especially if the terrain was exposed or the day was hot or my legs were tired. So, pretty much any difficult climb would put me into a head space where I couldn’t hold conversations and just sing a song to myself for cadence. Just one foot in front of the other for hours on end to get up this six mile hill or that 3000 foot ascent.
At the top of this final climb, we take about fifteen minutes to sit facing southward. Just over that mountain is Mexico, surely. I would say I cry easily, so this moment is no exception. I let the experiences of the last six months flow through me, and the tears are not necessarily for sadness or joy, but a pure output of these overwhelming amounts of memories.
By the time the tent is broken down for the last time the next morning, I feel full with the emotion of the prior 24 hours and am ready for the walk down to the border. This too is as much a part of the trek as every moment leading up to it.
Head Start and I round the final corner of the descent and can see the border sign before the monument. We both approach as if walking on a cloud, lips trembling and taking short labored sniffly breaths. And there it is.
All is electric as we remove our packs and take it in. We might be saying nothing or we might be making wonderous comments of the accomplishment, since every possibility is existing at once. An hour passes or a minute passes, and eventually we muster the strength to do the obligatory mounting of the monument for photo ops.
We made it to the moon.
The moment is magical, but it’s only one moment in the infinite series that has made up these six months. More so than this moment in particular, it feels like a ribbon tied up around a gift. Everything has come to a close, but everything special is all a part of the package.
But I Guess I’m Already There
It takes a few days at home before it really hits. On the trail, we’ve had some zeros that lasted two or three nights and this hasn’t felt any different. It’s once the fourth night passes that the body and mind come to realize that we’re not walking tomorrow.
For the first time in six months, there is no plan. Life is open-ended, without the structure and routine of walking step-by-step closer to Canada.
For thirty years, I’ve dreamt of this journey. I thought that when I got to this moment I would be left with a void and at a loss for what to do now. Strangely, I feel full. Yes, it’s open-ended and I don’t know what to do next, but the Pacific Crest Trail is in me, not gone from me.
I have an amazing partner in Head Start, whose side I have barely left in the four months since Kennedy Meadows. We have plans for the winter and spring that are filling the calendar, and maybe I’ll try to work somewhere somehow in the midst of all that fun.
Though we talk about future trails and trips, I don’t know if any will live up to what we’ve just gone through. There’s probably no substitute for your first time, especially if it’s twenty seven weeks hiking from Mexico to Canada in a legendary snow year. Thankfully it thrives as fully today in my heart and mind as it did while I lived it.
I don’t know if I’ll post again. Maybe I will have more to say later for a final goodbye, or maybe I’ve said enough. Thank you to everyone who has supported this journey. To all my family and friends, new and old, I love you. You walked beside me during this trek, whether you know it or not, and we’ll always be walking together. Happy trails.
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PCT what a great adventure. Growing up in Paradise, Ca. I’ve hiked alot from Tahoe to Lassen. Just retired and it’s been my dream to do the whole trail 👣.
Congratulations my man.
Great Post. Congratulations on finishing your PCT hike. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77
Way to go, you did it! Congratulation what next the cdt or at?good luck dude, may your boots be muddy or snow covered soon.
Yeah , Congrats to all of you for finishing the PCT.