Start: Hart’s Pass (PCT mile 2619.5)
End: Castle Creek (PCT mile 2650.4)
We had a plan when we woke up before dawn in the Hart’s Pass campground – 27 miles today, then 3.7 miles to the monument tomorrow, plus the last nine miles from the monument to the road at Manning Park. But, as no doubt every thru-hiker learns more than once while out on the trail, things don’t always go according to plan. I didn’t know as I brewed my instant coffee, rolled up my air mattress, stuffed my sleeping bag, sorted my food for the day, and worked through the litany of little chores involved in getting ready for the day and breaking camp that it would be our last morning on the official PCT. I didn’t know as we tiptoed out of camp at 5:45am with headlamps swinging that we were about to catch our last sunrise on the PCT.
Despite not yet anticipating the day’s unexpected finale, as we climbed out of camp, gradually ascending a mountain slope with sweeping views of snow-capped peaks to the north, I took the time to pause and look back at the sunrise more than once. I lingered as the soft yellow and orange hues tinged the dark silhouettes of the mountains we’d come from and cast a palette of pink and purple behind the mountains ahead. With few clouds in the sky to reflect the sun, it wasn’t a spectacular sunrise by any means, yet taking a few moments to be still and bask in its quiet beauty reminded me, once again, of why I began this journey in the first place.
I kept my phone turned off for most of the day in an effort to conserve battery. My charging cable had stopped working a few days prior, so for the last three days of the trip I would only turn my phone on in the evening to use as an alarm for the morning and to check maps and mileage for the next day. Without podcasts or music to listen to and without my trail apps handy to check my mileage progress or upcoming waypoints as a distraction, I felt more in tune than ever with the sights and sounds of the trail and the landscapes I moved through. The sun shone brightly overhead in the clear blue sky, warming my skin and invigorating my step; marmot whistles and pika squeaks echoed shrilly across the canyons; the steady cadence of my footsteps on the trail lulled my mind into a peaceful, meditative state as the miles rolled by, one after the other. Hiking zen unlocked!
With a solid twelve miles under our belts by 10am (on most days we strive to get 10 by 10 – ten miles in before 10am), and just under 20 by the time we decided to break for lunch shortly after 2pm, it became clear to both of us that “the plan” was going out the window. Were we going to complete our planned 27 miles at 5 pm, then sit around camp and twiddle our thumbs while Canada laid in wait less than four miles away? Not a chance. Today, we were going to CANADA!! After lunch at Woody Pass, we climbed a ridge and some gentle switchbacks up to Hopkins Pass before sailing through the last six miles to the monument on the US/Canadian border.
A flurry of thoughts and emotions flooded my head in those last few miles. It wasn’t the first time I had thought about what I would do or feel when I did reach the border and complete my 2,650 mile journey. I had tried not to think about it too much in the months and many hundreds of miles preceding this moment, but I did occasionally imagine what it would be like. Mostly I envisioned a burst of emotions and definitely tears – tears of joy, sadness, relief, gratitude. Yet as I sped ahead of Proton for the last one-tenth of a mile (I started the trail alone, so it was important for me to finish alone) and approached the pillars of the monument, there was no outburst of emotion, no tears. I placed a hand on top of one of the pillars and gazed at the monument for a long, silent minute. This was it.
Shortly after Proton arrived, we took turns taking pictures and signing the trail register before setting off to find a campsite at the trail camp a quarter mile past the monument. Although the monument on the border marks the official end of the PCT, we still had to hike an additional nine miles to get to the nearest road in Canada, so our hike was not quite over yet.
Sitting quietly in my tent that evening, getting ready to go to sleep for what would thankfully be my last night in a tent for a long while, I realized that all the things I thought I would feel but didn’t had already worked themselves out on the trail. All of the joys, pains, suffering, laughter, triumphs, highs, and lows of thru-hiking were scattered across the 2,650 miles I had walked and now, here I was at the monument which marked the end of the trail, but was really only a goal post in a much longer journey. What I felt inside was not a lack of emotion, but a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude for having reached the goal I set out to achieve and for the many lessons learned, friendships formed, and memories made along the way.
Stay tuned for more reflections on completing the trail and what comes next. For now, THANK YOU to all who followed along and stuck with me though my blogging was sporadic at best. Thank you to everyone on the trail who I met or hiked with along the way, most importantly Proton who stuck with me for nearly 2,000 miles, making the journey a lot more fun. Also to Sugar Rush and Tough Guy (or Rusty, or RTG?!) who I hiked with in the desert. BIG thank you and hugs to Sweet Pea and Beardoh, Mountain Man, Gazelle, XC, and Lid, the rest of the hiking family I was lucky enough to be adopted by through the Sierras. There are too many wonderful hikers I met to name them all, but Tiptoe, Weta, Mowgli, Oasis, Morning Glory, Digger, Frost, Apple, Cheesy Mama Bear, Shepherd, Pepe, Dude Man, Tupac, Toe Touch, Megan, Three Bucks, Bamboo, Morning Kid, Bae, Poppy, Wildflower, Billy, Rambler, Long Haul, Burnsides…you are all amazing people and I’m lucky to have met you, even if only for a few miles of this magical journey.
Happy trails and peace to all!