The entirety of the trail is completed at last. From May 27th to October 3rd I hiked from the Mexico border to the Canada border. I hiked through deserts, through forests, across meadows, by lakes, along streams, by alpine snowbanks, across lava, up volcanoes, in front of and behind waterfalls, in 110 degree heatwaves, in hail and snow below freezing, and up steep canyon switchbacks to 13200 ft. I have seen alot in the last 129 days. But now it’s complete.
But being complete is not the same thing as being over. I still have thirty more miles to hike back to civilization before the trip is over. And even then, it’s not completely over. I still have to make my way to Seattle and back home to Karen.
I was the first one awake at our campsite and got ready as soon as I could to get a head start on all the other hikers who are faster than me. I managed to get on trail at 7:20 and by then the other two were awake and beginning to stir. There was still more climbing to do – two more passes to cross before beginning the long eight mile descent to Canada.
The climb up from the campsite was not too bad. There was some underbrush, but it was below freezing so it was dry and did not get me wet as I walked through it. The ground was frozen in most places and the dirt and rocks heaved an inch above the ground. Being the first one through, I got to set fresh footprints in the icy ground.
As I made my way up that first climb, I could see the valley to the South was enveloped in clouds. And the further I got up, it became more and.more obvious that the clouds were coming right our way and would fill the valley soon. I kicked it up a notch to make it to the top before the clouds did. I managed to beat them by about ten minutes and by the time I was half way down the switchbacks on the other side, you could see the clouds spilling over the pass I had just come from. The rest of the crew was in the clouds now.
The trail had a few more ups and downs in store, and by the time I got to the second pass, Flyby and Sheppard had passed me. I didn’t even try to keep up with them but they were in sight the whole time up to the third pass. By the time I got there, they had stopped for lunch and so did I. It was 11:30 and I knew I would be eating my lazagna at the border, so I intended to eat lunch early and at this exact spot, too. It had been cold all morning and this spot had sun and very little wind and was quite comfortable.
Not long afterwards, the rest of the crew rolled in and stopped for lunch. We had nine people all eating lunch together at the last high point only 7.8 miles from Canada. I had just about finished, and so had Flyby and Sheppard, so we left before the others.
The first set of switchbacks led down to a neat lake. This would be a nice spot to make it back to tonight, but at seven miles away, it would be a stretch unless I only spent thirty minutes at the border. But I had a feeling it would be an hour or two. I kept looking for camping spots the whole way down knowing I would be back here tonight. There were plenty, so I stopped looking.
At some point down the last.miles, most of the crew ended up passing me. I caught up to some of them when they stopped for water. I ran into Six as he was packing up from getting water and we ended up hiking three or four miles together. He is also from Florida and also a UF grad, so we talked about football quite a bit. He managed to take a zero in Eugene and go to a Ducks game. He took Meercat, who is from Australia and never seen an American college football game. He thought she was most impressed by the tailgating.
I heard voices when I knew we were within a half mile of the border, so I began to run. I thought they were at the border, but they were just on trail chatting, so I ran right by them. Shortly thereafter, I could actually see the border. They have cut a six meter swath of woods away and you can see it go up the mountainside.
The switchbacks to get down to the border actually take you back South twice before you get to the border. A bit of a cruel joke, don’t you think? And then there it was: the border, the 78th parralel marker, and the terminus posts. Flyby, Sheppard, and Breakaway were already there, and the others arrived in less than a minute.
And then the party ensued. Champagne came out, rum came out, whiskey came out, beer came out. Behind the monument is a register and bags of goodies people have left. Party hats, noise makers, whistles, and marijuana. Oregon and Washington are recreational use States, so people freely smoke pot in towns, on the trail, whereever. But now that most people are entering Canada, it’s now illegal, so people leave their stash at the border.
I cooked my celebratory lazagna and shared it with everyone. Pictures were being staged for what seemed like over an hour. Everyone was reading through the register looking for acquaintances who had already finished. I found Tule in there, but not alot of other hikers I was expecting to find. I never found Robin, so I have no idea if he finished or not.
After about two hours at the border, it was time to go. I was the only one yo-yoing back to Hart’s pass. Two were hiking the 8 miles to Manning lodge tonight, and the rest were going only a quarter of a mile to a campsite. I didn’t realize how lonely I was about to feel once I turned around and headed back South.
But that’s exactly what happened. I had spent the last three days with most of these people and now I was all alone again. I hiked most of the trail solo, so now what’s the big deal? Probably because going north, there is always the goal of reaching Canada. Now that I have been there and was heading back, there was no goal. Sure, I have to be at Hart’s pass in two days at noon, but then what? Be on a plane October 8th but then what?
Many people have a hard time adjusting to life after a thru hike. Some people have jobs to go back to, some don’t. Some have families to return to, some don’t. I’ve had alot of life changes in the last five months who knows exactly what’s in store for the next five?
Enough of the mushy stuff for now, I’m still hiking. And I hope to get five to seven miles, but I did not leave the border until after 5 PM so seven is not likely. I have a day and a half to go thirty miles, so even twenties are fine. Even five will take me to dark.
Speaking of dark, the sky has gotten quite dark and I’m only a mile.from the border. I keep hiking until the wind whips up. Rain is coming. I stop to put the down jacket away, and get my rain jacket and pack cover on. Just as I am finishing, the rain starts. Only this is not rain, it’s hail. Super.
I keep hiking and within five minutes the ground is getting mostly white. And then the hail turns to rain. I am still getting wet, mainly on my legs, so I stop under a tree to put my rain pants on and my phone away.
The rain only lasts thirty minutes, but everything is soaking wet and my shoes are now soaking. Great. It is after 6:30 and starting to get dark when I hit the first campsite. I think it’s time.to stop, even though I’m only four miles from the border. This will have to do.
I find a good spot for the hammock, set up quickly, and start on dinner. It is dark by the time dinner is done, so it’s time to get out of wet clothes and into bed. Perhaps it it gets below freezing tonight the vegetation will be frozen and I can stay dry in the morning. We shall see.
October 6, 2016 at 2:35 pm
Congratulations, Jim! Pretty inspiring journey. We really loved following your trip – such a great accomplishment! Quick time and it’s always a great perk when you make a bunch of new, lifelong friends while doing something you’ve chosen to pursue (and they have too)! Hope to see you out racing again soon!
–Tom and Diane