PCT :: A LOOK BACK
How do I possibly sum up one of the greatest adventures of my young life in one paltry blog post? While this medium seems unequal to the task, I can’t think of a better one, so let’s just go with what we’ve got.
Though I’ve kept many blogs in many formats, this has been by far my favorite. Photos have proven a much more capable medium than narratives. I’m grateful that this current format is designed to include both, because it showcases my primary work and still allows me to relay the nuances of my experience which I either failed or neglected to capture on film. Taken as a whole, this blog encompasses my experience as well as I could’ve imagined. And yet, it feels altogether inadequate.
Either way, I must begin. But where? Well- at the beginning, of course. I began my trek at the US-Mexican border on April 18th, a cool overcast morning. The first day was surreal. Despite my endless planning and research, I felt disconnected from my ambition, like I didn’t fully understand what lie ahead.
The Pacific Crest Trail is a hike. Daunting and logistically cumbersome as it is, it’s just a hike. The path is well-marked, well-maintained and reasonably graded. It’s tame, a cookie cutter. In fact, I’d say it demands more luck than skill. Luck with the weather; luck with wildfires; luck with injuries. The resources are unparalleled: guides, maps, blogs, apps. It’s all laid out if ya care to have a look. The experience itself is challenging, but not so hard-fought as one might imagine. I don’t mean to undermine the accomplishment; it’s an amazing one. I also don’t mean to imply any shortcoming on the part of those who don’t finish. In a given year, only about half of all aspiring thru-hikers realize their goal. What could possibly go wrong on a trail where there is a smartphone application that tells you literally anything you might want to know, including your exact location down to the nearest hundredth of a mile? Lots, actually. Injury, obligations at home, inadequate fiscal planning, and shaky resolve describe a few common tales of woe.
My own resilience was tested at every turn. I always knew I’d spend most of my time uncomfortable. It would be too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. It would be too early, or too late. Even as I spent very little of my time content in comfort, I never wanted to be anywhere else. I loved every mile, every moment, every challenge. In the moments where I struggled and complained, I remained steadfast in my gratitude for the journey. And when it was all over, I appreciated that I was able to finish, especially because I knew so many wouldn’t. From my first step, I was certain that I’d make it, though I recognized with humility that it wouldn’t take all that much to stop me. I never questioned my ability or resolve, only my good fortune.
My unyielding conviction was marked by a need to maintain a continuous walking path from the Mexican border to Canada. I enjoyed alternates and side trips, followed snow packed descents and designated re-routes, never thinking twice about leaving the official PCT tread. Whatever lay ahead, I always found a way to continue north. No skips, no flips. EFI: every f***ing inch.
I don’t know what else to share here that I haven’t already written in these pages. I arrived at Manning Park on August 24th, 129 days after beginning in Campo. A dream.
While the official PCT to Manning Park spans approximately 2,669 miles, my trip encompassed just over 2,700. In these 2,700 miles, I captured 11,902 photos, which I ultimately trimmed down to 3,139. Of these more than 3,000 photos, I made public – on my blog and facebook – over 400 of my favorites. It makes my heart happy to share them.
A friend recently commented on one of those photos: “How is your life so cool ALL THE TIME?!” The answer is a surprisingly simple one, though not at all easy. We all have dreams. I began chasing mine and in so doing cultivated my passions and discovered new dreams to chase. If I’m lucky, the cycle will never end. It’s not very lucrative, but I do get paid – however little – to go on vacation. Seems I’m always on vacation.
It’s easy to romanticize this lifestyle and these kinds of experiences. Few people realize that the fantasy is far more romantic than the reality. I don’t always feel in the moment when I take a photo the way that I feel when I see it later from the comfort of a sturdy shelter and climate control. It’s really hard to live like this in the same way that it’s really hard to be in love. The idea of being in love makes many of us giddy. We imagine roses and kisses, hand holding and cuddling, support and encouragement. Yes, being in love is those things. It’s also sacrifice, compromise and pain. When we think about being in love, most of us imagine the pleasantries. In this way, my lifestyle is very much like being in love. From the outside looking in, it’s sunshine and rainbows. From the inside, it’s sunshine and rainbows peppered with stretches of freezing rain and whiteout conditions. More often than not, I’m uncomfortable. But uncomfortable doesn’t have to mean unhappy. I’m psyched on my life, rainbows and thunderheads alike. A little discomfort is part of the experience and a small price to pay for the freedom and sense of accomplishment I feel.
August 24, 2014
Start: Halfmile 2660.0
End: Halfmile 2669.0
Distance: 9.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,700.5 Mi
Yes, I had one more night and nearly nine more miles to “town,” but they were bonus, a chance to ease out of the summer. The Monument was behind me, and with it the entire breadth of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Lying in my tent last night, after 128 days, I was done.
I slept until 9a this morning, finally allowing myself to experience the exhaustion I’ve no-doubt been repressing for a few thousand miles. I can’t remember the last time I slept continuously for 12 hours. Guess I needed the rest. Cassie arrived around noon, and we moseyed on up to the Monument. How cool to have the opportunity to share this place with her. How cool that she hoofed in a full, unopened bottle of bubbling champagne. How cool that I’m composing this post from the comfort of her apartment here in Portland. How cool is my girlfriend? So cool.
The last nine miles were the longest of the entire trail. I’m done; why am I still walking? I just kept thinking over and over for hours: Are we there yet? How are we not there yet? I’m done. D-O-N-E, done! I was being a serious baby. You’d never know I walked every inch from Mexico. What’s nine miles? Nothing, unless you’re already emotionally finished. And I was. Just keep walking; just keep walking. Until finally- a car, a road, a way home. Truly done.
It’s odd, this feeling that I don’t have anywhere to be. I’m about to crawl into a bed, and I don’t have to leave it until I’m good and ready. I’m not “taking a zero.” I’m done. Done. Done. Done. I can say it as many times as I like, but it doesn’t seem real. I’m finished; I’m a thru-hiker. I’m Sochi. And no matter what happens in my life, nothing will ever change that. Nothing can strip me of this accomplishment. Nothing. This one time, I walked from Mexico to Canada. How cool is that?
And even as I compose this, I recognize that my body feels strong, fresh. My body could yo-yo, and indeed wants to. In this same moment, my heart feels full, happy. My heart is ready to be done. And yet I want to note that should I ever again thru-hike this impressive trail, I'll yo-yo it. I can already feel the allure of that tempting end. Many adventures between now and then, however. More adventures than time, I fear.
Stehekin to Canada(!)
August 21, 2014
Start: Halfmile 2580.0
End: Halfmile 2607.0
Distance: 27.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,638.5 Mi
Staying in Stehekin last night was an excellent decision. I was only planning to go a mile anyways, and I would’ve stumbled that. Better to enjoy quality time with friends. Plus I got to hit the Stehekin Bakery this morning on the way out. Best-bakery-ever. I believe Bearclaw did her full resupply out of that bakery. Wise lady.
Had originally planned to shoot for about 24 miles out of Stehekin. Started hiking a little before 9a. Made ok time. The forecast called for a 50% chance of precipitation. It rained pretty convincingly for a few minutes this evening, enough so that I stopped and threw on my rain gear. Then, about as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. I kept moving, hard and fast. Topped out on Cutthroat Pass just in time to watch the clouds sweep down into the basin below. They were thick. I could almost see the incredible view laid out before me, then it disappeared. I reached for my camera, but by the time I raised it to capture a photo, there was nothing to see. It was grey. I could barely see the trail in front of me, nevermind the adjacent peaks. It was impressive, if a bit disappointing.
I considered camping at the pass. There were some sites, but they were all exposed and weather seemed a certainty up there. For a moment, I considered backtracking to camp in the basin south of the pass. I wanted so badly to see the view in the morning. Then I realized that the view would be back-lit and a nice photo would be extremely unlikely. Instead, I pushed forward. (I imagine it's difficult for some of y'all to understand that.) The fog was shifting in the basin and sometimes seemed like it was clearing. I’d stop and watch, only to have it fill back in right as I started to see a patchwork of distant terrain. It was teasing me.
As I worked my way along the ridge, I took every opportunity to capture a photo, however unimpressive it seemed in the moment. Sometimes it’s hard to know the quality of your photos until you review them later. Looking back, I got some really great ones tonight. In fact, I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the next two and a half miles were. Part of me was dying inside, wishing the conditions were better. The fog absolutely ruined some shots, but it complimented others in such a way that I couldn’t stay mad. Stunning, especially as the sun hung low in the sky.
I thought the weather was settling in for the long haul, but looking up tonight as I arrived in camp, I could see clear sky making a case. Lots of user trails here at Granite Pass, many leading to campsites, most of those not great. Exposed, uneven, rooty or rocky. There was one that was wicked-sweet, except that a gnarly half-fallen snag was hung up right overhead. I gave it a shove, and it was loose. Oh, c’mon! I spent 20 minutes of the rapidly-fading twilight hour trying to jostle it free. It seemed so close, but I couldn’t make it go. In the end, it was just too risky to set up there. It’s like Sid said in Ice Age, “No thanks, I choose life.” But boy it was tempting, especially given the unlikelihood that the tree will fall tonight. That’s a bad habit, though – assuming that nothing awful will ever happen to me.
I’m camped a stone’s throw from that nearly ideal site and in a low spot on damp vegetation. Looking forward to a sopping wet tent tomorrow morning. You could call it sub-optimal, but being after 9p, I’d simply run out of time and had to choose something. Ah well, this’ll do. Beggars can’t be choosers.
August 22, 2014
Start: Halfmile 2607.0
End: Halfmile 2636.0
Distance: 29.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,667.5 Mi
Tons of condensation this morning, but I knew there would be. I woke up to my rainfly dripping on me. Ugh. At least it didn’t rain. And even better, I awoke to a sorta blue sky. Decided to dry out my gear first thing in case I didn’t get the chance later. Ended up being a good call. The clouds moved in so early, I wasn’t even able to get everything dry this morning, but at least I got close.
Pretty easy day. Even the climbs were mellow by Washington standards. Like the last few days, some great shots never opened up, some did but were socked in, and still others were made even better by the thick clouds. It’s a game of luck, and ya never know how it’s gonna go.
When I arrived at Hart’s Pass, I checked the register. Saw lots of familiar names and just stood there thinking of all the wonderful folks with whom I’ve shared the trail. It’s been a privilege. A few miles north, I first ran into Mac and then NotaChance headed south. They finished yesterday and are exiting at Hart’s Pass, rather than Manning Park. So glad they are. It was a wonderful surprise to see some familiar faces coming my way.
Being so close to the end is – of course – bittersweet. Tonight, I’m thinking about how it felt to finish my first day in SoCal and how it feels now to have only one left. The feelings contrast sharply: determination at the start, and now a sense of accomplishment. I’m so close, I’ll crawl if it comes to that. I’ll reach the border tomorrow. This whole time, I’ve never experienced a feeling of “what have I gotten myself into,” because I understood the task when I chose to undertake it. Now I’m not feeling awe and disbelief so much as I am happiness and pride. I always knew in my heart I’d make it. The thought that I wouldn’t see this thing through never crossed my mind. I understood that I might get hurt, but barring that, nothing could distract me from this goal, my dream. Tomorrow my thru-hike ends, and all that’s left is my hike out with Cass on Sunday. It’s surreal. You pursue something for so long, then it’s like “Cool, now what?” I’m lucky to know my next step. Hoping that Open Sky training turns into something long-term. But for now, eye on the prize. Twenty-four miles to Monument 78; twenty-four miles to home.
August 23, 2014
Start: Halfmile 2636.0
End: Halfmile 2660.0
Distance: 24.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,691.5 Mi
Emerged from my tent this morning to another beautiful blue sky. Oh, please stay today! But before long, the clouds rolled in once more as if to say “no one finishes Washington on a clear, blue day!” At least it didn’t rain. That would’ve put a real damper on the mood. Got a few views today, though not quite what I had hoped for. Spent a lot of miles in the trees, but I can’t complain. I’ve seen incredible things this summer.
I chose to wear my full Bike & Build cycling kit all day (the jersey is tucked away safely under my shirt). Hiking in chamois is every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds, but I wanted to finish this trip the same way I had last summer’s. It helped me feel connected to my team again. Two traverses of our amazing country in as many years. One, an east-west traverse by road bike with a team of 27 other young people as part of the non-profit organization, Bike & Build; the other, a solo south-north traverse on foot as part of my personal on-going journey of self-discovery. Both so different. Both so challenging. Both so incredible.
And now I’m here, camped in Canada just beyond the US border. It hasn’t really sunk in that I walked here from Mexico. Wow- I walked here…from Mexico. How am I supposed to sleep, filled as I am with pride, excitement, and gratitude? There is so much I wanna say, but I’m struggling with words tonight. This is not my final post. Cassie is hiking in tomorrow to meet me with a bottle of champagne. We’ll celebrate proper at the Monument, then head out and back to Portland. It will take some time to process this summer, this trek, this achievement. And I’ll be posting updates as I work my way through that process. Don’t worry, none without photos!