We woke up very early the next day. We only had eighteen miles to the monument but even after we got there we would still have another eight miles to Manning Park and my parents waiting arms. We packed everything up in the dark, took our last on trail poos, and I forced Kyle to eat something for breakfast even though he wanted to just get moving as quickly as possible. Our first order of business for the day was to head down. At the bottom of the descent we found all the other hiker we had been circling around, just packing up their tents. There was such a palpable excitement in the air as we walked through camp, smiling faces greeting us on all sides, silent but knowing. We raised a trekking pole to say hello.
Then we climbed, up to a snow-covered field and beyond to a snowy ridge. Right before the ridge we walked through snow for the first time, just a couple of footprints had come before us, leaving prints behind. The snow wasn’t too hard to navigate, although a little slippery on our treadless trail runners, and we vowed to stay ahead of the big group behind us so we didn’t have to deal with a super compact trail. The sun began breaking through in short spurts. After the ridge the trail swooped down below a large rock outcropping only to climb back up to another saddle and pass onto the other side of a row of peaks. Upon passing through the saddle we were greeted by an endless sea of peaks and ridges, hills and snow. Everything was capped in white, frosted with natures powdered sugar, fresh and cold and bright. It had that beautiful soft blue glow that a sunny day gives snow. We passed the people who had been making footprints in front of us and continued on alone into the unknown. We continued to climb slowly, the snow getting deeper and deeper but the trail obvious. Yesterday we had started passing people headed south, people who weren’t allowed to enter Canada for one reason or another, who came bearing stories of the snow ahead. We knew that we had to climb up to the top of an unnamed high point before descending down to the monument and that the descent was likely to be the trickiest part of our day.
We could see our trail wrapping around the inside of a bowl and then continuing up to the highest point in view, so we figured that was where we were headed. Sure enough, amidst a foot of snow and swirling clouds, we ended up on top of that hump, a dark lake below us, Canada ahead. The descent down the other side didn’t prove too bad, the traction in the fresh snow was pretty good. Eventually the snow melted away to mud again and the trail was clear. We found a sheltered little spot to sit down and take our shoes off and as if presenting us with a gift the sun came out right then to dry us off. Shortly after that even the mud ended and the trail was dry to the finish line.
And so we neared the end. Closer and closer. Three miles out. Two miles out. One mile out. All the while the sun at our backs and the forest chattering around us. Occasionally a squirrel would go off right next to the trail, sounding like a party animal in the buzzing woods and we would joke that it was so nice of Canada to arrange a greeting squad! We tried to have a conversation about the end but didn’t really know what to say. We switchbacked into the swath that marks the border and down below us we could see the monument. Back into the trees we went and then we were on the last stretch, the last switch back, the final hundred feet, until suddenly we were standing in front of the monument, kissing and staring and speechless. To be honest with you I am still speechless. The truth is when we got to that monument I didn’t really cry or shout for joy or anything. I felt numb, really shocked, really confused. I knew that it was ending for so long and I think I was so much more prepared than I had been when the AT ended. And I think I was genuinely happy for it to be over. The last couple of days had been hard and if anything it had shown me how badly we needed to get off trail, before the weather got worse and our decisions got harder. The only thing I really felt was relief to be standing there, and not much more. When we had summited Katahdin I had been overwhelmed with emotions, with joy and grief and such deep feelings, I had felt overwhelmed and on top of the world. If those feelings mirrored where we were, standing on top of a tall peak in the middle of Maine, then maybe my feelings at the end of the PCT also mirrored where the PCT ends. Down in a little valley, near nothing of note, on the strange swath of open space between places. I felt like I knew even less than I had started with. I felt like I had once again crossed into a realm that was going to be hard to come back from. I felt empty.
We took pictures and sat around as other people trickled in. Someone poked around in a giant plastic bag that was behind the monument only to discover it was full of weed and paraphernalia that hikers couldn’t carry into Canada. Everyone we were with was overjoyed. We laughed and decided to head out, we still had eight more miles to hike after all. Turned out they weren’t even eight flat miles and the trail condition is pretty rough until you get to a road that descends steeply down to Manning Park. It was a long eight miles and I just wanted it to be over. Finally we reached the road where we were picked up by my parents and driven back to the lodge. We showered and ate and chatted and slept. The next day we drove back to the U.S.
And now I am finishing up these blog posts, finishing up the story, and still trying to comprehend what the trail meant to me. I have started a new job which is full and wonderful and keeping me very distracted. Kyle is off wandering the country seeing friends and family before he goes back to work. I too have been keeping busy with friends and family and chores and life and honestly avoiding the trail until I could write. This is how I process. This is how I organize my thoughts and my feelings and make sense of the world.
The trail already feels very distant, like a dream or another life. The stories are becoming canonized as I tell them over and over again, they are becoming part of the fabric of who I am. But the actual emotions of the trail still feel very far away. I feel like they are in there, flitting around, waiting to pour out in some unexpected moment. The choice is if I just wait and let them surface when they will or force them out. Do I take a quiet hike by myself and face them on some mountain top? Or do I wait until I am overwhelmed by them standing in line at the grocery store. What are they? Will I realize I am happy or sad? Will I want to go back? Right now I just feel this deep gnawing void where my emotions should be. I feel cold and closed up and foggy. And sometimes I get glimpses of the trail, as if it were a friend I used to hang out with but whom I don’t see anymore. Good times and bad times flash through my head and my heart. My body feels healed by my soul is more confused than ever. It is funny that many people think that by going on the hike they will sort all these things out and it seems like when I got hiking I just mix it all up again. And so even though I am off trail I continue to struggle with the path I walk. Clearly this is a dark way to end this post. To end this story.
So let me leave you with this instead. I am in love. Yes, with nature and Washington and the North Cascades and hiking and the outdoors but most importantly with that crazy guy I hiked with, Kyle. We did it again, we went on a really really long walk together and we didn’t loose each other. We communicated our fears and our discomforts, we told each other when things got tough, we supported each other when times were hard, we climbed mountains together and we went the distance. Next summer I am going to marry this man who has been through so much with me and I couldn’t be happier about it. If there is one thing I know about thru hiking, one thing that I don’t have to think about or soul search to find it is that thru hiking is an amazing time to spend with my partner. It is so much more than a fun easy vacation, it is a trek, an adventure to spend together, a challenge to our relationship. Even if I don’t know yet all the ways that the trail has impacted me, infected my life with new needs and wants, changed me forever I know one thing that hasn’t changed and won’t change, and that is the partnership that Kyle and I have. Hiking together isn’t always easy, but it is always rewarding and fruitful and beautiful and glorious. I wouldn’t have it any other way.