Washington: Stehekin to Canada
August 19, 2003.
A neon purple sky greeted me in the morning as I stuck my head out of the tarp to
get a last look at the stars. Sharon was moving about, getting her gear packed up
in anticipation of the early morning bus. Roughly eighty miles separated us from the
mowed strip of forest that marked the arbitrary border between the United States
and Canada. Eighty more miles, after hiking more than 2500, still seemed like a long
way to go. Eighty miles and three days and my summer walking would be more or less
at an end. It seemed some how improbable that one hundred and two days ago I
touched Mexican soil and waved goodbye to the monument and began the walk north to
Lake Morena State Park, through sage and manzanita, powerful sun and desert mountains,
walking north into some sort of dream. In the commotion of the morning, for even
the slightest sound in an atmosphere of stillness becomes something of a ruckus,
Ed got up as well, despite deciding to take the day off. Our gear packed and
ready to go, we said goodbye to our friend and walked down the road to where the
bus would take us from the last town stop on the PCT.
Sharon and I asked the bus driver to stop at the bakery for a few minutes to get
some breakfast and coffee, much to the consternation of the other bus riders who
wanted to get to the trailhead as quickly as possible. It would only take a
few minutes, however, and this was not much to ask on their part. A 20 oz.
coffee, a cinnamon roll, and a sticky bun came out of the bakery with me, though
Sharon hauled out considerably more. I had been foolish the day before by swiping the
last box of Cherry Poptarts from under her nose. My breakfasts for the next few days
would be dull. Sharon's would be from the Bakery. Plus, she had numerous cookies
and other treats for snacks and desserts. I had Snickers bars.
At the trailhead the bus disgorged its collection of hikers and tourists, along with
two thruhikers. The others scattered almost immediately, although none were heading
north on the PCT. It was a long climb out of the valley that held Stehekin and
Lake Chelan, mostly through forest, and was not the province of the day hiker.
Sharon and I found a bench to sit on and eat our breakfast, a task greater than
usual. The two pastries that I had purchased were almost too much to eat at one
sitting, but I made the best of a tough situation, washing the sweets down with
the excellent coffee. Perhaps the best coffee of the trail, indeed. We sat in the
sun doing not much of anything, knowing that we would make Canada in three days
time with only a moderate amount of exertion. There was no rush and I found myself
wishing for more. More of everything. More time, more land, more coffee. I was limited,
though, and once the coffee was finished, we shouldered our packs and set out north
once more. alone once again.
Sharon and I quickly separated, as we usually did, each walking at our own pace, each
stopping when the location and time demanded it. The trail was well graded and not difficult
to follow, which meant that after the initial stress of walking uphill faded, life
was comfortable. It was, however, hot for a change. The lower elevation and the
fact that we were now heading to the eastern side of the main Cascade range meant
a warmer day than I had experienced for a while. Up and up and up, winding through
the pine forest, watching the land change as I slowly gained elevation, the
trail provided a lecture in ecology as a function of altitude. Day hikers, from
a different trailhead, appeared from time to time, but mostly the land was my
own, shared only with Sharon, who alternated from a mile in front to a mile
behind, depending on who was being lazy at the time.
Leaving the Stehekin River at last, though following yet another stream, I emerged
from the woods to stand on Highway 20, the last main road crossing before
Canada. Looking around for the trail on the other side, I found only a parking
lot and an arrow telling me to retrace my steps. I found Sharon going by the junction
that I had mistakenly taken and hustled a bit to catch up with her. The trail
ran parallel to the highway for a mile or two, passing a motorized cart used for
trail maintenance, before hitting the highway again and Rainy Pass proper. I entertained
thoughts of swiping the cart and using it to drive to Canada. I could ride in the
bucket and Sharon could drive it, or vice-versa. It was an all-terrain vehicle,
after all, and could surely get us down the trail. Maybe for a mile. The thought of
incurring some bad karma, and the ease of the walking, determined me against this
proposition. Sharon thought it a sensible resolution to the temptation.
At Rainy Pass we were greeted with a large parking lot with plenty of horse trailers and
a bathroom, including a bright orange sign warning us that a trail was closed.
I inspected the sign while Sharon took advantage of the bathroom, and found that it
was only referring to a spur trail off the PCT, closed due to a fire or some sort of
problem. When Sharon came out, I announced to her that the trail was closed and
that we would have to retrace our steps to Mexico. An onerous, but necessary,
requirement if we wanted to see a second monument. Sharon, being no fool, decided to
read the sign for herself and then made a motion as if to throw a rock at me. Each of
us chuckling, we started the uphill hike into the alpine again, heading for
Cutthroat Pass. As the sun was moving low, and we had gained quite a bit of
altitude, the temperature began to drop. Indeed, it became downright cold as we
entered the alpine zone once more, where high mountain winds served to cool me
The earth began to transition from a clear light to an orange one as the sun crept
closer to the mountains around us. Colder and colder and windier and windier did
the land become as we slowly left the land of trees. The thought of camping right on
Cutthroat Pass seemed like a good one while it was warm out, but now seemed a little
less sensible. We, however, were committed at this point. It was time to stop and
it was a long way to the next drop in elevation. Might as well have an aesthetic, if
cold, campsite. Reaching the top of the pass, we found a few clumps of trees on the
south side, and a few boulders on the north. The boulders, unfortunately, were
not positioned well and so the trees would have to do. One clump looked like it
might hold us. Indeed, there was a space just large enough for my sleeping bag
under the boughs of a pine. But, it was only two feet tall: A veritable cave of
sweet smelling needles. It was out of the wind and had a view and smelled good
and was soft. It was home for the night.
Sharon and I talked quietly for a while about the upcoming end and tried to formulate
a plan. Tomorrow thirty miles would put us near a yurt (circular Mongolian tent cabin)
that we had heard was open to hikers during inclement weather. It even had a stocked
fridge and beer and games to play. Even though the heavens were clear, it seemed like a
nice place to go to tomorrow. Twenty five miles past that was the Canadian border.
What better place to spend the night than right on the border? Where else in the world
can you camp safely and soundly exactly on the border between two countries? I ate some
store bought cookies while Sharon dug into a Snicker-Doodle cookie the size of a
frisbee that she had purchased this morning from the Bakery. I tried to soothe my
ego with the fact that I had the superior spot to camp, here in my cage of pine.
It didn't matter, though. All that mattered was that I was here now, in this place,
at this time. Still, the thought of the end would creep back into my mind now and then,
jabbing at my contentedness. I tried to sleep it off, but it would not go away.
The end was too close for comfort, too close for peace.
Sharon was eating a blueberry scone when I opened my eyes after the cold night.
I reached for my Poptarts, cursing my thinking in Stehekin as I watched her work over
the morsel. At least both of us forgot to buy some beer to take to the border with
us. Today was the last full day of hiking, as only 55 miles were between us and
the border. Thirty miles now and a short twenty five tomorrow for an easy last
day. My Poptarts didn't take long to eat and I was out an moving while Sharon
sipped on some hot chocolate that she had purchased to go along with her scone. Damn.
I was out and moving under a perfect sky with hope in my heart for both an easy day and
a spectacular one. If the Universe was just, the PCT would go out with a bang. I had
more than superstition, however, to go on. The databook indicated that the trail would stay
up in the alpine environs of Cutthroat Pass for a good long time, dropping down
only briefly before hauling back up and entering the Pasayaten Wilderness, the final
one of the trip. Everything was final now. On the other side of Cutthroat Pass the
trail wound its way along the mountain side, switchbacking down and up where it was necessary
to cross a couloir or a stubborn outcropping of rock that had been spared the dynamiting of
the Goat Rocks. Crossing short meadows and little clumps of trees, I could hear the
voices of a large party in front of me. Large open spaces, rimmed with mountains,
seem to bring out the hound in all of us. Twenty minutes after first picking up the noises,
I was came upon a massive party. Perhaps a dozen tents were pitched on a plateau jutting out
from the mountain, with a perfect stream running nearby, an llamas tethered on the fringe.
The occupants were moving stiffly
about, trying to shake off a night spent on the ground and warm up to the chill air. I waved
to them as I went by and stopped to talk to a few of the more suburban inhabitants of the
little city. They were missing a few of their party and were hoping I had seen them. I
couldn't remember who was where, and when they were, and so was of little help to them. It
was hard for me to register specific people with specific times and places at this point
in the summer. I wished them well, answered the standard questions, and continued on in
the cool air, hoping to find a patch of sun to rest in for a little while.
From the mini-city, the trail began to climb to a cleft in the mountain side, visible
from the city. Even with the cold air, I was quiet lathered by the time I reached the
top and found my perfect resting place: Sunny, grassy, and with expansive views in
most directions. A little sign post was at the top, directing hikers to go in one
of two directions. I didn't see the purpose of the sign, as any one reaching here
would have come from one of the two directions and could only either proceed or retreat,
but found it to be a comfortable place to lean against in the sun. I closed my eyes and
listened to the wind for a while, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, and tried to
forget about the end for a while.
For ten minutes I was in a void, as it were, in between now and then, with no
particular location or desire. I just was. The crunch of rock, indicating
an approaching hiker, brought me out of it and I opened my eyes expecting to
see Sharon coming over the pass. Instead, a different woman came over the hill,
carrying a fully loaded pack, sweating and smiling. She recognized me as a thruhiker
(the beard does it) and stopped briefly to chat. She was out on a long trip (a week)
and was looking for some friends of hers that she had missed yesterday. Had I
seen X, Y, and Z? I was of as little help to her as to the suburbanites. No, really,
had I seen X, Y, and Z? I fumbled with some answers and mentioned the town a little
ways back that she had surely passed as well this morning. This, too, wasn't
quite right and I suspected that I had lost my ability to communicate, that I
was talking gibberish, rather than English. She smiled and left me alone again
with my sun.
I passed her twenty minutes later on the downhill side of the pass as she took a break,
and promptly ran into yet another backpacker. This one came through the woods and seemed
very happy to see me. Not bother to take the use-trail down from his campsite, he bounded
through the woods, taking no chances that I might slip through his fingers. What could be
so important? I wondered. He, too, was looking for his friends. They were supposed
to meet him here last night, but never showed up. They had the stove, the food, and
Lots of bad things, as he thought them, were happening because they hadn't made it
over the pass. Had I seen X, Y, and Z. Trying to be coherent, I told him about the
city and the woman behind me. He knew the woman, but she was not one of X, Y, or Z.
I described a few of the tents in the city and he thought one of them might belong
to his friends. He asked to see my map, for of course his friends were carrying
the maps. The pass above was Cutthroat, he said, and that was where he was
to meet the friends. I calmly explained to him that Cutthroat was seven miles back,
and was not the previous pass. This he accepted, though slightly befuddled, and now
understood why his friends had not met him and why he was so tired last night.
He ran back to his campsite to get his stuff while I put away my map, and then
joined me to continue walking down the hill, perhaps happy to see another human in
what looked like a scary place. I fielded the standard questions from him,
walking slowly down the hillside, until the woman I had met on top of the
pass caught up with us. They knew each other and instantly broke into conversation,
at which point I sped up a bit and left them.
Running on a direct line through a forest in the valley below the pass, the trail
was making a B-line for the mountains on the other side. Quick and painless, with the
promise of more of the alpine, the forest walking was enjoyable and pleasant, as long as
I was by myself. It wasn't even noon yet and I had already had two interviews concerning
such mundane topics as what sort of stove I used. I could hear nothing in the forest
except for the forest, nor smell anything other than the forest. I was safe for
a while, here in the valley. Though not for long, as the valley ran out and I was again
hiking up hill, heading for yet another plateau of land above me. I still wasn't picking
up anything other than the normal sounds and smells of the forest when I rounded
a corner and came across five fifty-ish women, all carrying backpacks, sitting and
talking quietly in the shade of the trail. They were section hikers, trying to
finish off Washington by hiking from Canada to Stehekin, just as I was, sigh, finishing
off a thruhike by hiking the reverse direction. They had been out for several days
now, which explained why I couldn't smell them, and they had been in the outdoors
enough to know that loud voices are generally not appreciated by others. Still,
I was a little surprised at not being able to pick them up. Where was I coming from?
they wanted to know, eyes all ablaze with the hope and suspicion that I would say
Canada (damn beard). Not wanting to take questions yet again, I told them that I
had camped at Cutthroat Pass last night. There eyes dropped and they seemed
disappointed, which made me feel a little inhuman. Screwing up my courage, I admitted
to having walked to Cutthroat from Stehekin, and before that from Mexico. Happy
faces all around. Joy was back in Mudville.
I stayed with the woman talking, fielding the standard
questions, and occasionally asking something
of them, for a good twenty minutes. They were really happy to finally meet a
thruhiker and when I told them about Sharon, they seemed ready to break apart and
fly off to the nether regions of the world in a fit of happiness. I left them
with a smile to continue my hike uphill. With only another thousand feet to pick up
before the next plateau, and the day warming up nicely, I was bouncing
again. The trail climbed to the plateau directly, passing mountain after mountain,
before leveling off in a fine meadow, through which I could see the trail cutting
to the mountains on the other side. If there is a better place in North America,
I do not know it. Of course, I could, and did, say the same thing about the Desert
Divide, the Mojave, Kelso Valley, the Ansel Adams, Sonora Pass, the
Desolation, Donner Pass, The Rim, the Klammath, Three Devils, Crater Lake,
the Sister, Jefferson Park, Hood, the Goat Rocks, the Alpine Lakes, Glacier
Peak. Places and more places bounded into my head, my memory flooding my
mind with visions and smells and sounds and feelings. I wanted to weep.
A father and a son walked by the tree under which I was resting before crossing the
meadow. They had the look and we understood each other immediately. No standard
questions, no prodding. Whether this was their first trip out or only one of
many, it would not be their last. This place was too good to forget, too marvelous
to put into a closet and dragged out a few times a year when friends visited. They
were gone as quickly as they arrived and I was again alone, listening to the wind and
the sound of an occasional buzzing insect, whom I warned not to get to close, lest
he be killed. As usual (except for mosquitoes), the insect left me alone with the
breeze and the meadow and my thoughts. I wanted to banish the spectre of the end from
my thoughts, as I had at the top of the pass. I wanted, and so I did.
The meadow was gently inclined toward the mountains in the distance. These presented
a strange aspect, as I could make out, distinctly, forests on them. Forests above
me, in coves and mini-valleys, while I was walking through clear terrain. Up and then
back down, and more up, I left the meadow and entered into a strange, dark land of
thick trees and dense growth. A cold land where the sun was blocked out by generations
of vegetation, choking upon itself in a competition for life that I had never seen in the
west. In the lush southern Appalachian mountains, this is common, as there is plenty of
good soil and lots of rain to nourish the plants. In the west, I had never seen such a
thickness of life and, for maybe the last time this summer, the PCT surprised me.
I was sitting by a stream in the thickness of life, trying to rest a little, when
Sharon came upon me, thanking me profusely for warning the women section hikers of
her impending arrival. She, too, got a kick out their enthusiasm and excitement,
but was tired of the Questions. We talked briefly before she set out and I had to
pack up my stuff again, following a few minutes behind. The trail left the
dense forest to switchback up the side of a mountain, heading for the ridge on
top. I could see Sharon above me, working back and forth across the face of the mountain,
getting further and further away from me as she powered up the hill. I ceased looking
up, and instead looked out to the mountains across the way and the deep forest below,
trying to reason out why there was such a profundity of life there, and nowhere else.
What strange combination of weather patterns and soil had built that mini-replicant
of the Smoky Mountains? Someone, somewhere, could explain it even if I could not.
Sharon had long since reached the top and crossed over when I topped out and was
greeted with a scene from the mountains of Southern California. Dry, beige mountains,
devoid of trees, brought me back to Idyllwild, or maybe the south Sierra. This
was not Washington, I thought, these are not the Cascades. High, open, and exposed,
the world at my feet brought me back to the early days of this Beautiful Thing.
The scent of laundry detergent wafted to my nose, carried on the gentle breeze here on
the ridge. Someone was close, though not yet visible. I continued along the ridge,
following the trail that I could see laid out in front of me for the next few miles.
Behind a boulder, not far up, I came upon a day hiking family of three, out with
small backpacks and looking clean, fresh, and as happy as could be. I didn't stop
to talk with them, mostly out of fear of the Questions, but also because I did not
feel that I could communicate sensibly anymore today. Hugging the side of the
mountain, the trail contoured and bent to fit the shape of the land. The dry
land and the lush forest on the other side seemed out of place together and
the mystery of the density of life behind me continued to inspire a sense of
wonder at the diversity of our world.
It was time for lunch and a rest when I spotted the stream that I had been waiting for.
Down below me in a little mini valley was a slice of Eden, where I was sure I
would find Sharon. She would not be able to pass this place up, anymore than I could.
A backpacker appeared on the cliffs above me, apparently lost or, better yet,
exploring some off trail oddity that had struck his fancy. I dropped into the valley and
followed the stream bed until I reached a place where it held sufficient water
for my needs. Sharon was leaning against a large rock starting to cook lunch, not
surprised to see me. Gear spread out to dry, water boiling, tuckus on ground. It
was all so simple and easy out here, so perfect. A few deer came up from below us to
drink at the stream, slightly on edge from our presence, but clearly used to the
sight of two legged animals. The backpacker I had seen earlier scrambled down to the
stream to collect some water, greeting us briefly before finding his own part of
paradise to sit in for a while; there was room for all here.
I left Sharon in Eden to continue walking north to Canada, having collected my
now dry gear and eaten my ramen noodles. I would miss this routine in a few days.
At the end of a long day, I knew that when I took my sleeping bag and liner out,
they would still be warm from the drying session at lunch time. Simple things
stood out in a clarity that I had never known before this summer; a clarity that
I hoped would continue after I left this land. The dry nature of the place continued
most of the afternoon, though the lower elevations brought the trees back, as well as
more people. A former thruhiker was met and passed, on his way south on a long section
hike of Washington. He confirmed what I had been told about the Yurt at Windy Pass, although
the weather was so nice that it seemed a shame to spend it indoors. Perhaps I would just
take a few beers from the hut and leave a few dollars on a table. I didn't need much at
this point. The trail ran through a forest for a while with a scenic view of an
improved road below me, where two cargo vans were parked, pumping out music, but
seemingly without owners. Further down, I could still see the road, several
large tents were seen by the side of the road, to which one of the vans had
driven. Still, no sign of the actual people, however. Two deer, a mother and, perhaps,
a yearling, stood on either side of the trail in front of me, unsure of what to do.
I had snuck up on them, being downwind and smelling only of the woods, while they
fed by the sides of the trail, and the little one was paralyzed upon seeing me.
The mother initially bolted a few yards, before stopping and looking at the yearling,
imploring it to follow. Instead, it just looked at me, trying to figure out what to do.
I tried to encourage it to follow its mother, speaking to it softly and gently, warning it
of the dangers of trying this with an armed human in a few months, when hunting season would
begin. Still it stood, quivering a little bit as it reached out to me with its nose and ears.
The mother had taken a few steps further away, but was calm. I was getting tired of
waiting for the yearling to rejoin and run away, but did not want to come between the
two relatives. In a harsh voice, I shouted, "You better haul ass on out of here!"
Taking a step forward, the yearling took off
in a rush, heading away from the mother, with the mother going in the opposite direction.
Continuing unobstructed down the trail, I caught sight of the two, reunited, a few minutes
later in a meadow nearby. Upon seeing me, they ate some shrubbery, unperturbed.
I stood at Harts Pass, having crossed the first trail sign indicating the mileage to
Canada. Harts Pass held a paved road and a caretaker cabin, the last I would encounter
this summer. There was not much here, though up the road was supposed to be some sort of
overlook that tourists liked to drive to. There was a trail register at the cabin,
on whose porch I could see a retiree sitting and reading the newspaper in the
late afternoon light. Wall and Will had been here, of course, along with
Zebediah, continuing his "record breaking" thruhike (of what, I wondered?). Will was
probably in Seattle or Vancouver now, waiting to fly home. Or, perhaps, he was already
home in Virginia and sleeping uncomfortably in a bed.
After signing in I took a seat by the side of the road to rest a little bit, before starting
the last leg of the day to Windy Pass and the yurt. Sharon arrived as I was stuffing the
last bit of a Snickers Bar into my mouth. She, too, had met the former thruhiker on
his way south and had also asked about the yurt. She, too, was hoping there might be a
beer or two in there so that we might have something special to celebrate with tomorrow.
As she signed in and prepared to take a break, I set off down the trail, heading for the
final wilderness area of the PCT: The Pasayaten. After a mile or two of climbing through the
forest, the trail opened up into open ridges and contours and passed a use trail to a
parking lot trailhead, again the last of the summer. The light of the early evening
cast long shadows of my body upon the mountainside as I progressed along. Brown, tan, and
green grasses waved in the gentle breeze and I could make out the massive Mount Baker,
barely as the sun was in my eyes, on the horizon. Everything was perfect. Too perfect
to continue walking. And so, less than an hour from Harts Pass, I sat on the ground, in a
patch of fragrant flowers, to do nothing but be.
Sharon came upon me twenty minutes after I sat down, surprised to see me sitting there.
Upon asking me why I was on my arse yet again, I told her "This was too perfect to
pass by," in a dreamy sort of voice that surprised me. Sitting in the light and the
flowers, I was again in a state of grace, perhaps for the last time. Sharon stood
there looking at me as I sat. I had been here long enough, long enough. I had to move
on. I hadn't even bothered to get food out or to take out the maps, and so had nothing to
pack up. Indeed, I was still wearing my pack, not having bothered to take it off in this
place. Moving once more, it was only ten minutes before we caught sight of the yurt,
nestled in a cove below Windy Pass. The yurt had a four-wheel drive vehicle in front
of it, which did not bode well. Upon getting closer to the structure, several people could
be seen moving away from it toward Windy Pass. At the pass itself, we saw two
hikers eating dinner in the meadow, waved, and started down the use-trail to the
yurt itself. Neither of us had a good feeling about the presence of the truck and the
drivers of it.
A forty-something woman and her two teenage children stopped us on the walk down,
wanting to know, politely, where we were heading. I told them that we had seen the
yurt and wanted to take a closer look at it, as it appeared to be an interesting
building. "I own it," she said. Thinking she was a member of the ski club that
we had been told owned it, I expounded upon my theory of its ownership. "Oh, no, that
isn't it at all. It is private property," she said. She explained to us that she
owned a large chunk of land in the area that her family used to mine. It was
right on the boundary of the Pasayaten Wilderness and had been in her family for
generations, though the mining and logging had been ended for a while. Now, they
ran ski tours as a commercial company. The Forest Service was trying to get them to
remove the yurt, but as it was outside the wilderness area (by about twenty yards), they
left it up. The yurt was the base camp for the ski tours in the winter and in the
summer was more or less deserted, except for when the family came up. They left it
unlocked because they knew that during bad weather, people (hunters,actually, she said)
would just break into it. A sign was posted on it telling people to stay out unless
there was a dire emergency. They had not been up all summer long, but decided, on a
larf, to some up for a few days before the children went back to school. Sharon
asked nicely if we might be able to buy a couple of cans of beer from her, as we were
finishing a 2650 mile walk tomorrow, but she had apparently drunk the last of them
last night. Thanking her for her story, we walked back down the use-trail to the
pass, disappointed, but by no means sad.
The two backpackers that we had seen eating dinner were still there and had
pitched their tents about a hundred yards from their dinner place, apparently
hoping that this would keep bears away. I didn't bother to point out that
bears can follow a scent for more than one hundred yards, as they seemed happy
with their choice. Sharon and I poked around along the fringes of the pass and finally
settled in next to some tall trees with a view of the stars overhead. I didn't have
much to say and was mostly lost in thought. Sharon had completed the Appalachian
Trail and Continental Divide trails, in addition to the shorter Long Trail,
Ice Age Trail, and Superior Hiking Trail and was used to the emotions felt at the
end of a long journey. I was not and I wrestled with them, there in my sleeping
bag, as the stars came out. My mind was unsettled, and I would not sleep well,
for sure, this last night in America.
The last day. I had to be alone today, at least for a while, and so I packed quickly
this morning and left while Sharon was still working over a scone and some hot
chocolate. The day was clear already, a sign of impending heat, without a trace of
clouds or haze to mar the horizon. The Pasayaten was already one of my favorite of
places between Mexico and Canada and it seemed a fitting way to end the summer's
hike. To end this Beautiful Thing. I lost myself in thinking about the past and
the future, rather than the present, which is where I currently was. The first
month of the trip and all the uncertainty of what the land and the time held for
me. The new things I had seen and all the people I had met. A mountain went
by without my noticing it. I tried to remember each and every person that I
had met this summer, but found it to be too difficult a task. A grand glacial
valley swept by at my feet, unacknowledged. I refined my labor to concentrating
on the people that had made some sort of impression on me, even if only for a short
while. I found myself seated under a tree, my eyes pointed toward a distant peak,
Passing Glory's tent, pitched right on the trail, just five miles from the border.
Tom from Austin, whom I met Hauser Canyon and later in Lake Morena. Jenny B. (was
she still out here?) and her mad plans for skipping resupply points that required
a hitch or were far off trail. Finally meeting Glory in Lake Morena State Park,
and the cookie she brought me from the store. My sister and the bikers we
later met with Glory at Mount Laguna. I was walking again, tracing a narrow path
with the world at my feet on either end, flowers waving in the wind. Leaving
Glory for the first time after our camp in Chariot Canyon, only later to be
reunited with her in the San Felipe hills, along with Jenny B., Tom, and Gray.
Jay Powell and his connection with me to Vancouver via my friend John. Meeting
Will and Sharon for the first time on the Pines-to-Palms highway before entering the
San Jacinto Range. The two students at the end of Fuller Ridge who were too poor to go
with their friends to Los Vegas, and instead went camping, Audioslave pumping out of their
car as the world grew dim. A field, a meadow, a forest passed by, barely noticed.
Meeting Dave Carson for the first time, clad all in black and sponsored by
Clif Bar, as I neared Big Bear City. The Chaos Twigs, Blondie and Chunky, Team
France, the names and faces were going by at a rate slower than I was moving.
Or was I standing now. I couldn't continue at this pace and still get somewhere,
anywhere. I needed a further refinement. El Dorado, Jason, 'F 'n Shizz, bearded
Jason, Smoky, all met on the haul between I-15 and Agua Dulce. The knobby
knees and Kerouac-esque life of Pinetar. Patrick and Andrew. Too much, too much.
I couldn't list everyone as a mathematician might list all finite simple
groups. And so I sat once more to rest, banishing thoughts of the past to
some later time, when I might have nothing else to sustain me, perhaps during the
winter of my life in Bloomington.
They trail had taken me far this summer, though the remaining ten or twelve miles to
Canada seemed like a long way. I had finished a long climb to get to an unknown pass
where the true path of the trail seemed lost, and Virgil was not around to guide my
foot steps. I could see two divergent paths in the distance, one hugging the
mountainside and the other dropping into the valley below me. They both seemed to
link up again at a far pass, but the valley route involved much more
work, it appeared, that the hugger route.
Step by step I was moving closer to the end of the summer that I had hoped, beyond
reason, might prove to be endless. It had to end, I knew, but that did not
quash my hopes. Without a reason, I took the valley route. It looked longer, I suppose,
and that was appealing now. It also turned out to be the best route. Descending, I could
see the hugger route run along the mountainside and then become an absolute mess in a
boulder field. Perhaps it was the original PCT, but it was now thoroughly blocked by
rockfall. It could be passed, I supposed, but not without a lot of delicate footwork.
And, it was direct, the last thing I wanted at this time. Forcing the past from
my mind, I walked through the valley and its flowers and streams with the future on
my mind. The future was both frightening and hopeful. The future depended upon my
actions and how I moved through it, which generated plenty of hope. If I wanted it,
I could have it. It also generated fear. Could I ever recapture this summer, or
would I only go downhill after?
A man on horseback, towing a grey mule behind him, was watching me move up the valley,
climbing toward the pass. Heavily bearded and dressed like someone from a John Ford
movie. Large hat. Leather chaps and fringed, leather jacket. A long barreled revolved
on his hip and a rifle slung into the saddle. The mule was loaded down with bags and
tools of various sorts. He squinted, rather than looked, at me. A nod.
"Anyone else coming down the trail?" I mentioned another hiker was an hour or so behind
me. He didn't want to take his horse and mule over the pass I had just come
from if others would be on the trail at the same time. I asked him if he was out on a
long trip or a short one. "I live out here," he responded. I asked him if he was
from Leavenworth or something. "No, I live out here," he flatly told me. "Here?"
I asked with a sweep of my arms. Another nod. "I used to be a trapper in Alaska.
Indians bothered me, so I shot a few of them. No more trouble." That was
about all of his life that I was destined to find out, although he added, again,
that now he lived out here and repaired trail occasionally. A few small words
exchanged, and then I left him, not sure if he was real or not and made a mental
note to ask Sharon, when I saw her, if she had met the horseman or not.
The past returned, despite my best intentions, as the trail began to level off
and the walking became easier. Mount Baker floated by again. Tracey floated
by, as the memory of Glory's 19th birthday into focus. Richard Skaggs. Jim and
his lost sock, and his reappearance outside of Dunsmuir. Leaving
Dave for the last time on the aquaduct. Special Agent and Marko. Team France for the
last time. Tyson on Donahue Pass. David, the British cyclist. DNA, Mr. Tea, and
Pat from the PCT Express. Too much. Too much, indeed, to think over. I was
moving again after sitting in the shade to rest a bit and cool down from the
hot sun. I couldn't hold back the past though, anymore than I could hold back the end and
Canada. The Japanese Couple. Walt and Floater and Graham and Falcor. Tutu and Rye
Dog. The hiking family and tourists who had resupplied me at White Pass. No,too much,
I must proceed on, rather than walk back.
Nearing the base of the final climb of the summer, I ran into two beat hikers, who
were clearly on a flipflop. A man and a woman, they had gotten off the trail somewhere
in the south and were no heading southbound from Canada. They congratulated me on
finishing the trail, which I didn't know how to take. I muttered something about
having a few more miles left to hike. I didn't want to focus on the end, and so
instead gave them some resupply information and water updates. They left. I left.
Was I really on top of the last mountain already? I looked at my watch, then forgot
what time it was and had to look again. Dropping down from the top of the mountain,
it was time for lunch. A large tarn beckoned, but I refused its call and instead picked up
some water from its inlet before hiking on for a last meal on the trail. I sat and
thought about where Sharon might be, and whether or not the border was as close as the
flipfloppers had indicated. Perhaps they were wrong, and it was still another week or
two ahead. The mountains would not be moved by my faith, and so I ate my noodles
No Sharon yet, and so I left my trail side lunch spot wondering if I would finish
alone, or if I would wait for her to catch up. I didn't know and wouldn't know until the
time for the decision came. That time, however, was now. I was losing elevation quickly and
the map indicated that the trail switchbacked four or so times before hitting the
border. At the third switchback, I sat in the shrubbery to wait.
I sat and tried to empty my mind in preparation for the end. The border couldn't
be more than a minute or two down the trail. I looked at a bush in front of me with
unfocused eyes, for a half hour, before I heard her steps coming down the
trail. Sharon approached with a huge grin on her face and stood over me,
beaming. Time to finish. I put my pack back on, and we walked around the
last switchback together. There, not a minute or two down the trail, but rather
thirty yards from where I rested, was the border. A clear cut strip of land with a
trail piercing it, complete with a the same monument that I had seen 105 days ago
next to a steel-sheeted fence. We crossed to the no-man's land of the
border, and stopped walking.
A Morgan Freeman character once expounded upon the feeling that only a freeman
has at the start of a long journey whose conclusion was uncertain. I knew what that
meant, but now I needed something more. Sharon knocked over the mini version of the
Washington Monument that held the trail register. A rubber chicken was inside, along
with the register. Neither Will nor Wall had signed in, apparently unaware of its
location. Zebediah was signed in, but he was different. Many day hikers had come out
here from Manning Provincial Park, which a sign indicated was only twelve kilometers
away. Flipfloppers and section hikers had scrawled various messages of joy and
hope. Sharon and I added our own messages, in our own styles, for those who would
come after us. It hurt to think that some of the thruhikers would get another
two months out here, but that was how things had worked out this summer.
Throwing out our ground cloths and sleeping bags for the last time, we both
cooked our last bit of food and opened up the extra large chocolate bar that
Sharon had sent me in Stehekin. The land grew dim once more, as it always did,
and I burrowed into my sleeping bag for a final time this summer, watching the
stars come out. Tomorrow, the world I had known would end, or at least be put
off for a few months. I hoped, such would be the case. I went to sleep
thinking of something from Ecclesiastes. Something that had always inspired
me and brought trepidation to my hear, for it held both an exhortation and a
caution. I was done, for now. Time would judge whether or not I was better
for having done this Beautiful Thing, or if I had merely walked a long, long
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy
youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know
thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment