PCT Day 150: Last Steps on the PCT

September 15, 2022

Bridge Creek Campground at mile 2577.8 to Rainy Pass at mile 2592.1 

14.3 miles

I wake up slow. There’s no need to go fast, not anymore. I pack up my tent and move all my stuff over to the picnic table, where I eat breakfast: part of one of the cinnamon rolls that I packed out from the bakery and a coffee, because why the heck not. There’s a privy here, AT style! It’s a luxurious morning on this last cloudy day on the PCT.

When we eventually start moving, I walk with Jumbo for a bit. His ankle is really next-level bad now, though, and in order to stay with him, I have to really work to reduce my speed. So I let myself get ahead, reflecting on the trail and the fact that this is our last day on it. 

There are a few really cool suspension bridges today. The first one makes me a little nervous, so I wait on a rock until Jumbo catches up. I’m not sure what I expect him to do if I fall over the side–call for help? Scream my name? But the fact that he’s there makes it feel a little less sketchy. At the second bridge, we take a break on a rock overlooking the creek tumbling into the valley. We both eat cinnamon rolls and make another round of coffee.

“I’ve already had a cry today,” Jumbo admits.

“I have too,” I reply, “while listening to ‘Change’ by Big Thief.” 

We talk about the trail then, what we’ve loved and what we’ll miss. Somehow the topic of Bighorn Plateau comes up. That was the evening on the day we summited Whitney, when the sunset was gold dripping across the world as marmots ran around us and the light sparkled on alpine lakes. In a vulnerable moment, I admit to Jumbo that I wrote a little poem about that night, and about how I felt watching him cry as he took in the beauty of everything around us. He asks to read it, and I let him. And then there are big fat tears pouring out of his eyeballs, and I feel kind of bad, but also deliriously grateful to have experienced so many beautiful moments with him out here.

I walk alone for a while after that, listening to my PCT playlist and remembering the specific context surrounding each of the songs. I pull over to pee, then catch back up to Jumbo just as we pass a hiker going the other direction. He says he’s just received a notification that the highway at Rainy Pass is closed due to a landslide. He’s walking back to Stehekin to catch a ferry to Chelan.

Jumbo and I look at each other with concern. You have to take trail beta with a grain of salt because news can get garbled in the grapevine, but still. This is not good. I message my mom on my Garmin to ask her if she can google the situation. A little while later we run into some other hikers who have heard the same news and we debate what to do. My mom replies saying that the road is closed, but it’s expected to open by the afternoon. Since we have all the time in the world, Jumbo and I take a long, luxurious lunch break by a creek. I drink multiple cups of tea and eat snacks like there’s no tomorrow.

There are five more miles after that. We stop for another break on a log, then we pass a ranger who confirms that the road is open. Hooray! Crisis averted. Jumbo and I finish up the day together. We stop at a water source for our last CNOC load-up of the PCT. Then, right after the creek, we see a pile of rocks that forms the number 1 on the ground in the middle of the trail. I’m catapulted back to the day going into Big Bear, the first day Jumbo and I hiked together, when we saw the same kind of little rock number that told us we’d completed 10% of the trail. I remember thinking, “Ten percent already? This is going too fast!” And now, suddenly, here we are with only 1 mile left to Rainy Pass. I get Jumbo to stand with his feet to the right of mine, then I take a photo with our two pairs of shoes beneath the 1, just like the 10% photo we have from back in May. Here we are, all these months and memories later, still together, almost done. 

Knowing we have so little time left makes me savor every step. Every footfall is one of the last on this trail. Jumbo and I take it slow, walking together and talking until we can hear the cars on the highway. Then we’re at a PCT sign, and then we’re at Rainy Pass. There’s a big Forest Service sign next to a makeshift terminus of three poles that someone has constructed here for hikers who have decided to finish their journey at this point. 

And suddenly, James and I are both crying. 

There’s a PCT blaze on a wooden sign, that little rounded triangle with the image of mountains on a teal background, and I realize that this is the last one I will see for who knows how long. I walk over to it and put my hand on it. It’s just a little piece of plastic with some words and a logo, but it is also everything to me. Now that we’re at the end of the trail, I’d give anything to go back to the beginning. I’d give anything for it to be April 19 at the southern terminus in the morning. I’d do anything to be back in Julian or Idyllwild or Big Bear or Wrightwood or Tehachapi, anything to be frolicking among the wild paintbrush and asters and lupine. I do not want to leave this thin ribbon of space-time, do not want to be drawn back to a life where I am not walking in one direction every day. 

I bend down and grab a handful of the dirt on the trail. I put it into a ziplock bag and secure it in my hip pocket. I’ll keep this little bit of the PCT with me. As long as I have it, I’ll always have a part of the trail. But even if I didn’t, I’d still be there. In my heart, in my mind, I will always be walking from Mexico to Canada. I will always be home.

Jumbo and I can’t stop looking at the blaze. We can’t stop hugging each other and crying. Neither of us really processed that today was the last time we’d be on the PCT. And now it’s time. It’s time to walk to the road and stick out our thumbs and get to Ross Lake, where we will finally get to the border and end this journey.

We don’t expect to get a hitch as fast as we do, but within moments, a guy in a Subaru pulls over and says, “Are you PCT hikers trying to get to Ross Lake?”

“Yes!” I reply, incredulous. 

“Alright, get in.”

I get up front. I know Jumbo didn’t expect to get a ride this soon and was banking on some time to process leaving the trail. I know he’s in no fit state to talk, so I take up that task. Our driver lives in Seattle and has just finished a multi-day backpacking trip. He peppers me with questions about gear, the PCT, and what made us want to do it. Before long, he’s pulling up to the side of the road and letting us out. We thank him, and then we’re alone again.

Our boat across the lake leaves early the next morning, and we find a pretty terrible stealth spot to spend the night, both of us piling in one tent on a precarious little ledge. We cook dinner and then settle in for the night, our last night of camping on this journey. Honestly, I’m pretty excited to sleep in a bed again, and I won’t miss having to re-inflate my sleeping pad every night. But I will miss this, the simplicity and wildness of being able to set up camp anywhere. 

Canada tomorrow. 

Our packs at Rainy Pass. You did good, little buddies!

5 thoughts on “PCT Day 150: Last Steps on the PCT

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