Day 174 31.08.18 25miles / 40km
Waking up to the still fresh news that I’ll be finishing at the monument in just four days left me with a heavy heart.
The reality of this amazing trip ending was slowly sinking in. I stood there and reflected on the fact that I was about to wash my socks in a creek for the last time and I was sad about it. I could feel my anxiety building as I prepared to re-enter my old life in the real world. I was so scared to lose grasp of the person I’d become out there. I was trying to prepare myself, but it made me so sad and stressed. I didn’t have balance before I left, and I didn’t find it out here either. But I did find what I want more of in life. And I was so scared to lose it. I sat down and wrote my thoughts while holding back tears. “I don’t want this to end. This sense of freedom. Time in nature. This independence. A common goal, amazing people. Feeling invincible. Being reminded that you’re not. Overcoming the challenges, performing beyond your own expectations. Growing. Unlearning. Developing and strengthening. Achieving the unbelievably huge goal, one step at a time….we did it.” And with that off my chest I managed to keep walking, letting go of any thought of my upcoming life back home, and stayed present on the trail for the rest of the day.
Approaching Rainy Pass I come across a small reminder of how lucky I was to be able to walk to the border. The final fire closure and “end” of the trail for those the day before us was here. A beautiful trail angel had made and left a small replica of the Northern Terminous with a note.
Full of gratitude I took some photos and kept walking. Crossing the road someone had written on a paper plate and hung it to a sign “trail open again!”.
Crossing the highway and walking through the car park I hear voices and see a car. Then I hear my name “River! Trail magic!” I joined Ninja Fabric and other hikers in camp chairs as a beautiful couple offered us pulled pork rolls and drinks to celebrate the trail re-opening and being so close to the end. A second trail angel, Ed, pulled up and offered more beer and cider. Soon Ray and Speedy arrive and I buzz with my trail family as we celebrate.
These angels were amazing. They handed out fudge and sodas, chips, fruit and lollies, and power banks to charge our phones all to see the joy on our faces, and to know they made a hiker’s day. We sat around for an hour chatting and watching as Ray showed Speedy how to feed birds chips from his hand. We all laughed as Speedy used all his courage to keep from squealing and ducking as the birds got near him.
After relaxing for longer than we should have we decide at 4pm to walk together to camp. It was an uphill 16kms (10miles) and Ray wanted to get there at 7pm. Accepting the challenge Ray kept me distracted as we hiked at a quick pace uphill. I really do hike so much faster with company, and after stopping for a few short laughing fits we make it to the peak. Almost at camp we make the final push through the amazing landscape looking over valleys, ridge lines and mountains. After the huge push we roll into camp at 7pm, full of energy and excitement as we poke fun at each other while setting up camp and brace ourselves for a cold night as the temperature dropped.
Day 175 01.09.18 (ah I forgot the mileage! 30ish kms?)
After vivid dreams of bears in our site I woke up before the others to get a head start on my 10 by 10 (10miles by 10am). Being the coldest morning in a long time I leave in the dark rugged up in my beanie and down jacket and start climbing as the sun rises next to me. Beautiful pinks and oranges splash across the valley as the mountains wake up for the day. I stop in awe. I consider I may never see something as beautiful as this again. With a full heart and a competitive streak I keep walking. Waves of emotion wash over me, I shed tears because this experience is ending, I feel grateful to have made it and surrounded by these wonderful people. I’m excited to go home and see my family and friends.
After a few annoying inconsistent stops to poop, take off my jacket and collect more water I push as hard as I can for the final stretch before 10am. Sadly I come in just short at 9.3 miles (15km) at 10am, but keep walking the final 0.7miles and take a rest to wait for the others there. Only 10mins later Speedy then Ray catch up. Speedy flies past and Ray stops for a snack. I take the opportunity to have a sneaky second snack and make a coffee since I wanted to keep up with him.
Walking together we talk for miles dreaming up our life back home. We discuss dream jobs, blog articles to write, adventures to take and lifestyle choices we’ll get to make. The day flew as we walked and talked, for which I’m thankful since time seems to slow down when I’m walking alone now.
The Northern Cascades section of trail is beautiful as it skirts along ridges, though the fire ahead meant we still had a detour through one of the valleys before we could reach the finish. We caught up to Four Eyes and Speedy and started the detour together. Very quickly I fall behind the group immediately feeling insecure and vulnerable since we were off the trail. I was annoyed, I thought we should stick together when on detours since the direction isn’t always clear. Just ahead I spot the others and catch up to hear the end of a map discussion at a junction. I point the opposite direction and say “Isn’t it that way?” but am assured it’s the other way. Happy to be wrong since I wasn’t holding the map I followed. Roughly a mile later Ray realised we had gone the wrong way, so we turned around and again picking up their speed in frustration I was left alone. This time it didn’t matter. I got my confidence back in my navigation and realised that I could trust my decisions. Instantly a weight lifted and I was satisfied. They wouldn’t leave me behind if they didn’t think I could figure it out.
Arriving at camp at almost 8pm I set up in the middle of of our site in a spot they’d left me. We all had the giggles as we made the most of each others company knowing we’ll soon all be going home.
Day 176 02.09.18 24miles / 38.5km
After being constantly woken by the clip clop of curious deer through the night Ray finally took it into his hands to have the last laugh. Suddenly he yells “Rahhhh” from within his tent while shaking the walls. From within our tents we heard the deer jump before running away startled.
Four Eyes did her usual rush out of the tent for her morning poop, and as she hastily hiker hobbled her way to the bushes Ray and I teased her with our game of Deer or Four Eyes.
Ray: “Hey Heather I don’t think it worked, I can still hear a deer outside our tents”
Me: “Yeah I think you’re right, I can hear it too”
Four Eyes: “It’s me guys”
Ray: “ Nooope, there’s definitely a deer still out there”
Me: “Yeah, clearly a deer, watch out Four Eyes!”
As the others stayed snug in their sleeping bags I got up to get my usual head start. Walking past the next site I see Ninja’s tent covered in frost and I feel sorry for her huddled inside her igloo. I note to myself how much colder Washington is compared to the last few months. I also note how much harder it is to walk while cold. My muscles and joints are stiff and slow to warm. I’m on a relatively flat stretch along the valley but still can’t seem to get any decent pace going. I was slow for the first 16km (10miles), which took me till midday, feeling no rush for my last full day on trail. I allowed myself to get curious and distracted, looking at all the plants and rocks and stopping to listen to animals. The animals that now sound so normal to me, despite having never heard them before I started this hike. The animals I’ll likely not hear again until I return. Ray said I almost looked lost when he passed me at 3miles because I was just standing still looking around. That says to me that I was doing something right.
I found Four eyes at midday who was having a similar day. We stopped for a snickers then she quickly got ahead again as we started the 13km (8mile) climb back out of the valley to connect with the PCT that follows the ridge-line all the way to Canada. The reroute was an obstacle course of down trees and overgrown paths…but worth it for the monument. As I climb over all the down trees with my pack I silently thank all the trail maintenance crews who had done such a great job of keeping the open trail so clear.
Pumping music through headphones Michael Buble’s Feeling Good energised my tired body as I scrambled over and under logs through a brief forest section in a moment on the trail that will forever stay with me. It resonated so well, it was dramatic, calming, rhythmic and it felt so damn good to be there.
After what felt like too long I reconnected with the trail, realising I was within 12hours of finishing. Eagerly I kept on eye on the horizon, wondering if the mountains I was looking at was actually Canada, trying to spot the cleared line of trees that marks the border.
Looking behind me I could see the distant smoke of the fire we just walked around, and looking ahead of me I see my final hill of the trail. I get to the top with a rush of excitement and yelled and yippeed with tears streaming as I celebrate no more hills to Canada and let the last few months of work sink in.
On my way to camp I passed hikers Spiderman, Bee keeper and Rat who I knew. They had all finished and were now walking back to Hearts Pass since they were going back home in America. All three of them were quieter and calmer than usual. They seemed so proud and pleased and accomplished, walking back with a senses of achievement I was only miles away from.
I rolled into camp at 7:45pm and chatted to Four Eyes, Speedy and Ray while we made the most of our last night. We’d camped within 6.5km (4miles) from the Terminus so we could savour the experience and not rush our time there. This was the best decision we made.
Tomorrow I’ll finish the PCT. It’s finally sinking in now I’ve spent the whole day thinking about it. It comes with relief. Also sadness, and pride. There’s so much emotion going into this. It feels like it’s come up out of nowhere…but I’ve also been counting down to this for so long.
Day 177 03.09.18 12miles / 20km
Waking up at 6am everything felt like a novelty since I knew it’d be the last time I did my morning routine. While I ate my cold soaked oats sitting up in my sleeping bag I took a recording as Ray played our morning theme song Hooked On A Feeling for the last time.
Sprinkling lightly while we pack up we blame Ray for jinxing a rainy finish, and I laugh as he waves to me while I pee behind a log.
Heather “Is it my fluro jacket that gave me away?”
Ray “No, just your lack of hiding”
Leaving camp at 7:20am I fast walk for the morning with a stupid smile on my face. It felt like there was a skip in my step knowing the end was just about here. A hot shower and warm bed was so close I could feel it, and plans of a sleep in and a lazy day at my Aunt’s place in Vancouver consumed me.
As promised Ray and Speedy waited for me a mile out from the terminus so we could arrive together. Four Eyes missed the memo and was likely there by now. As I got closer Speedy starts to shout “Nooo River, stay there, I’m pooping!”, so relieved, I disappear into the bushes on the other side of the trail to do the same. Returning back to the track they both witness me trip and recover the landing in a very dramatic final trail poo.
After pushing through a section of overgrown raspberry bushes and following the extra thin line dirt trail we turn a corner and there it was, the terminus, with Four Eyes in her tent waiting for us while prepared for the on and off sprinkling.
Approaching the terminus together Ray counted to three and we all rested a hand on the wooden structure. We were all equal, all accomplished, all deserving. We had become a family, whether hiking together or not we were always in touch, and reunited for the important moments, like completing this journey together. There are only a handful of people who truely understand what this experience was like for me, and the three people I was standing at the Northern Terminus with are the ones who I’ll forever be able to relate to.
My emotions were mixed. I felt proud, but too exhausted to look anything more than simply pleased. I always thought it would be emotional, but I didn’t shed a tear like I thought I would. It felt complete. I felt like I was at the very place I was meant to be at that moment in time, and that I was closing this book completely satisfied with the ending.
I took a moment to myself to flick through the trail register and see everyone’s humble note of completion signed off with their trail name. Now was finally my turn. In the neatest handwriting I could have after almost no pen and paper use for the last 6 months I wrote “Successfully followed my heart and feet to Canada – River”.
We took hundreds of photos of each other, all striking our poses and recording the videos we’d long been dreaming up in our heads. While ecstatic I still felt too tired to give it all for jumping poses and the spraying of beer and champagne everywhere. Instead there’s a grinning photo of me holding a beer of which I only had a few sips before pouring out because it was only 8:30am and I already felt too dehydrated to finish it.
With the satisfaction of the last hour at the terminus we cross the cleared path marking the border of Canada and began our final 13km (8miles) of the trail to Manning Park. While the idea of continuing to hike even though we were “finished” was a little exhausting, it was nice to take the time doing what we knew best to truly digest the accomplishment and process the end in solitude.
Completing the last leg, which was predominately road walking in just 3hours I surprised even myself with a quick pace and feeling the strength in my legs, strangely keeping myself more aware than usual to truly appreciate these last 13km of freedom.
Passing someone walking the opposite direction and think to myself, “Look, my first Canadian” then realised they had no idea the significance of my being there; and that I’d walked there all the way from Mexico, completing a 177 day journey. Where’s my credit? You walked here from the car a few hundred metres away and all I get is a nod? The reality that the magnitude of what the PCT means to me will be totally misunderstood by most around me slowly started to sink in. I’m leaving the world where everyone got it and heading back into civilisation for good.
In Manning Park I found Ray and Speedy, and then my Aunty June and Uncle Pete who live in Vancouver and had come to pick me up. It was so great to finally see them, knowing they’d eagerly followed along this journey with the promise of seeing me at the end. My Aunty gave me a big hug and joined us all for lunch in the brasserie. Amazed, my family watched as we hikers put away huge amounts of food, each having burgers with chips and then finally eating poutine having walked all the way there to have it.
Furthering her hospitality, my Aunty June kindly housed not only myself but also Speedy, Ray and Four Eyes for the night. We shared champagne, admired her paintings and pictures of her lifetime of adventure and listened to her stories of expeditions. It was incredible to connect with her.
After a long hot shower, a load of laundry and putting on my jeans and shirt I’d mailed myself I sat down on my comfortable bed and opened the letters I’d carried sealed this whole way. Before I left I’d asked my best friend Lani to write me a letter to read if I ever wanted to give up on the trail. Obligingly she wrote me multiple for various occasions, which all became silent objects of resilience, each staying unread since every possible moment it could have been suitable still didn’t seem like the worst I was going to face. It’s comforting to know I never needed them, so even more heart-warming now to read from the safety of the end, and shed a small grateful tear when discovering they were full of jokes and love and supportive comments giving me permission to stop if I needed to. They were perfect.
It’s both hard and sad to end this blog. Since the story of my walk along the Pacific Crest Trail ends here, I’m going to give just a quick wrap up of the following days after. There is so much more to say about my return back to everyday life back home in Australia, so that will be in posts to come. But for now, thank you so much for reading along and for all of your supportive comments. One of the biggest things I gained from this experience was a sense of community, and you are part of that, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
In the following days I had to say goodbye to Four Eyes and Ray and Speedy as we all went our separate ways. It was heartbreaking and ended in tears every time. I flew back home and made it with 3 days to spare before my identical twin sister gave birth to a healthy little boy, of which I had the pleasure of supporting her through the delivery. My final deadline was met, and now my journey as an Aunty begins.