6 October 2013:
It’s what should be my final night on the PCT and I’m in my tent drinking hot chocolate thinking to myself, ‘I don’t think I want this to end’. As much as I’m craving to cross that finish line, I know that the life I left behind will be waiting on the other side of that border and will wrap it’s arms around me and consume me all too soon.
I’ve had a lifetime of experiences on this journey, but as I walked alone again today I realised just how little my life and I have changed because of them. Or maybe I just can’t see it yet because I’m still in the trail bubble I entered over five and a half months ago.
To be fair I think I’m still in complete shock of the events which have taken place over the last week. Getting to the border is my focus right now, but as soon as I’m there the reality of what went down over the last couple of days will start to sink in. I was a completely broken woman coming off Harts Pass yesterday, and if it wasn’t for Ravensong (the first solo female PCT hiker in 1975) picking me up from the Mazama store and taking me back to her place where she and Otter convinced me I could take on this last 30+ miles solo, I think my trail would have ended short.
The trail and conditions from Skykomish to Harts Pass were so incredibly difficult and intense, it makes the rest of the trail seem like a cakewalk. I don’t know how I would have got through it on my own and it was thanks to UB and his experience of that part of the trail that pushed us forward when others turned back, getting us through the last day by the skin of our teeth. I still to this day don’t think I appreciate the severity of the situation we were in, but I’m thankful that UB led us safely through, and from what I’ve heard recently, the other hikers that were missing in similar conditions have been located.
It’s incredible how rain can alter everything about your hike, especially in freezing temperatures. Not being able to dry out went tents, clothing and gear over the course of four or more days is incredibly frightening when you’re in the middle of a section past the point of no return. We used my tent for wet clothing and our packs, and slept in UB’s; but cramming two people into a one man tent meant that inevitably our sleeping bags would touch the sides of the tent and become wet too. We used the term ‘survivable’ when assessing the tent and our gear each morning. When we were still 22 miles from Stehekin with two passes to cross, we hit the trail before sunrise knowing that our situation was no longer survivable if we had to camp one more night.
That final push to Stehekin took a lot out of us mentally, especially UB; who felt the weight of responsibility to get us both through safely. I think this weight hung heavy over the following days to Harts Pass, despite some glorious weather and the novelty of snowshoeing for the first time. After a restless nights sleep under the cover of a drop toilet with mice scurrying over our sleeping bags, we headed up to Slate Peak as the sun was beginning to rise. At the top the sky looked stormy, the wind was blowing, and uncertainly crept into our minds. To go or not to go was the question, and again UB felt he was in a no win situation. Run the risk of bad weather or the risk of ending the trail prematurely.
UB finally decided it wasn’t worth the risk to continue to Canada and left the trail and I behind. I don’t blame him for making the decision he made. Having experienced so much on this journey, including his own rescue from the trail, he needed to follow his gut. He is an incredible human being, as you all know from my and his own stories and videos, but from here the partnership crumbled and the team split in two.
I stared at the trail for a long time in stunned silence, not prepared to say goodbye but not prepared to put myself at risk and put UB in a situation where people would point the finger and ask ‘why did you let her go on alone?’ As I walked down the dirt road from Harts Pass to Mazama I tried to console my mind that this was a lesson the trail wanted me to learn. Maybe I wasn’t destined to complete the PCT, maybe I needed to learn how to cope with such a devastating end to such an epic journey. As these thoughts swam through my mind a car came up the road heading to the pass. I stopped to ask how far it was to Mazama or a paved road and unfortunately the answer was ‘far’. When they asked me if I was hiking the PCT and if I was quitting the trail, I burst into tears. I couldn’t stomach the thought that this was how my hike was going to end, that the window of opportunity to reach Canada was closing the further I walked away from the trail head. But I knew I couldn’t turn back. Mentally I was broken.
We both managed to get a hitch not long afterwards into Mazama together. As I stood outside the store with no idea of what to do and where to go, Ravensong and a fellow thru hiker Geoff appeared in his truck and asked us if we needed a place to stay. I hugged Ravensong as I teared up again and accepted. UB already had a ride to Bellingham Airport with the man who drove us to Mazama. This is where we said goodbye.
In the truck Ravensong told me Otter was also at her place planning his final push to the Canadian border. A few hours earlier I had called out to the trail to provide some magic… and magically here it was. I was so brain dead that when I got to Ravensong’s new property purchased especially to help out PCT hikers, I hopped into the shower still holding the dry towel she had given me. Once I was clean I spoke to Otter about the trail. He wasn’t planning to leave until Tuesday with another couple who were starting back at Rainy Pass. If I waited for them I’d never make my visa deadline. Geoff called the hostel in Winthrop to see if there were any hikers heading out from Harts Pass. There were none. I asked Otter if he thought I was crazy to head out on my own. He said no. I then went to the store where there was signal and spoke to Fuller about my situation. He was concerned about me heading out on my own, but also felt I could do it and would make the right decisions. He knew how determined I was to reach that border.
I went to the gear store and bought a poncho, a safety blanket, a new ground sheet for my tent incase I had to camp in snow, and asked if they had any cheap long johns as I just needed something extra to get me through the next 2-3 days. The woman said she had a pair at home I could have, and would get her husband to drop them off at 6am the following morning. More trail magic! I bought enough snacks for about 6 days then headed back to the house to see if I could get a ride back to Harts Pass in the morning. Ravensong said of course, and also said she’d hike in the first few miles with me.
It felt incredible having the first solo female PCT hiker drive me back towards my dream, and set me off on the right footing. After about 4 miles she waved me off from the top of a ridge, and there I was again, alone with the trail. ‘Mind, body, trail. Mind, body, trail’. The trio was together again, the sun was shining and I was heading towards Canada.
All was going well until my poor ankles refused to be beaten and bruised by my new boots any longer. When I had to slow down to a hobble I knew something had to be done.
Then I simply started losing my mind and went on a rambling rampage for over 5 minutes…
I set up camp just after 5pm, about 4 miles from Woody Pass. I felt so mentally fatigued today that I decided to get a good nights sleep and face the two big climbs tomorrow. I’m praying they won’t be too icy to cross in the morning!