Mileage 44.5 (14.5 miles to the Canadian border + 30 miles back to Hart’s pass)
Mile 2645.5 to mile 2660
At four a.m. in the still-dark the Hexamid beside us starts to rustle- there is no water, no white noise and so the sounds are like sharp cracks in the night and we all wake but it doesn’t matter, it’s like Christmas morning and we couldn’t fall back asleep if we tried. The monument today, the monument today. Canada, Canada, Canada, what will it feel like to be finished with this great thing we’ve all been rushing towards and what, if anything, will come after.
I leave camp first just before six, determined not to be in the back today. I want to hike with people on my last day, goddamit! These motherfuckers are so fast, with their long legs, just stomping all over the earth. Woody is a long bendy straw that travels at the speed of light, trekking poles flailing, and Tiny and Brainstorm are built like gladiators, at least seven feet tall. Guthrie has the most awesomely muscular legs we’ve ever seen and can go exactly as fast as he wants. Guthrie told me the other day that he never gets tired anymore, his feet just sometimes hurt. And Twinkle is a jack russell terrier. If you’ve ever hung out with a jack russell terrier you know what I mean.
Sometimes I can keep up with Krispies, which is a consolation, as she started on May 8th and so is actually faster than everyone anyways.
I’m going to miss these fools.
It’s 14.5 miles to the border and Krispies and I get to slack-pack there, which is cool. Slack-packing is where you don’t carry all of your gear. Krispies and I are turning around at the border instead of going into Canada so we’ve left our shelters and sleeping bags in camp- our plan is to hang out at the border for a while with everyone and then hike back to this point, for a 29 mile day. My sleeping bag and shelter together weigh about two pounds so I don’t feel that much of a difference without them but it makes my pack look really small, which I like.
I’m alone for the first couple of miles and I stop on a ridge to watch the flame-red sun work its way up over the horizon. My last sunrise on the trail! I almost start to cry but then I say not yet, not yet, it’s too early for that. I wonder how I’ll feel after finishing but then I stop wondering, and just focus on the hike. I’m tired this morning, and I feel slow. I’m hiking a narrow trail along green, verdant ridges, climbing or descending or climbing again, the jagged peaks of Canada in the distance. The sky is warming, the plants are wet where they brush against my legs. Soon Tiny, Woody and Krispies catch up to me, and we walk in a little group. I feel like no-one wants to walk alone this morning, we all want to savor the last of this camaraderie that we’ve built. I find myself wishing, again, that Chance was here. We left the Mexican border together, we should be finishing together. This whole summer we’ve been NotaChance and the Pink Blazers, following her down the trail like little ducklings, whether she liked it or not. We couldn’t help it. She’s just so good at hiking, and she gives no fucks. Now her and Mac are a day or so behind, as they took a few days off to wait out the rain and figure out the logistics of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which they want to follow west to Bellingham after completing the PCT. As I hike I remember the times Chance and I walked together, the way we’d gossip and talk shit and commiserate. The way she understood everything that was in my brain, the way we’d turn over the Irreconcilable Contradictions of the Universe (As Seen From the Viewpoint of a Woman Who Thru-Hikes), handling them and passing them back and forth until they were at least familiar and well-worn, if not any closer to being solved. The group has always been almost entirely dudes, and while they’re very nice dudes, Chance provided much-needed badass female solidarity in times of strife, and that helped me more than I can even say. Now, hiking towards the monument, I feel that there’s a Chance-shaped hole in my PCT universe and I wish, more than anything, that she was finishing with us. But of anyone in the group, she’s the one I’m most likely to actually get to hang out with after the trail, so that’s cool.
We all congregate for a snack break on top of the last climb before Canada- it’s a beautiful ridge from which I can see wild mountains going on for forever, valleys draped in light, weather gathering on distant peaks. I find a spot behind some trees to dig my last cathole (before Canada) and am treating to what is probably my best pooping view of the entire trail. Then down, down, down back into the forest and the wet, tangled brush. We cross the infamous Washington Washouts, which happened last year during the record-breaking September rains- whole sections of the scree slope turned into ravines. The washouts were much worse last year and have been partly repaired by trial crews but they still slow us down, and add a little excitement to the morning. No-one’s GPS is working today so we can’t obsessively check to see where we are, how many miles we have left. We’re just walking, and talking about this and that, and feeling tired, and picking a ripe huckleberry, here and there, and then we see it, the narrow clear-cut rising up the ridge opposite, delineating the boundary between this country and the next, and then we round a switchback and it’s there, that damp wooden monument, and I start to cry.
“Can you take my picture?” says Woody.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I just need a moment.”
Woody gives me one of the best hugs I’ve ever had.
“We met five minutes after leaving the Mexican border and now we’re here, at the same time.” he says.
“I know,” I say. “I know.” Then it’s hugs all around and people pull out the celebratory sticky buns and pabst blue ribbons they packed from Stehekin. It’s a different feeling, being here with people, versus last year when I showed up before Raho and had a few quiet, shivering moments alone in the rain with the monument in which to contemplate everything I’d done that had brought me to this point. This year, sitting in this damp clearing with my friends while they eat their sticky buns, watching the sun work its way above the trees, everything feels lighter, less serious, less final. More than anything I feel very, very tired- I haven’t been sleeping well and we’ve been doing high-mileage days, crushing our way through Washington to get to this point. We did all of Washington in just 20 days, including a zero in Stehekin! And 116 days for the entire trail- I never thought I would hike it this fast. I eat various things from the dregs of my food bag and think about the long 14 miles back to camp. Now I kind of wish I was going into Canada with the others. But no, I wanted this. I need to walk backwards, I need the introspection.
We take turns passing around the register, a cheap paper notebook pulled from the base of the monument. (Note to people behind us- the register is in the metal monument, and you have to lift the whole monument off its base to find it. It’s heavy. And no, there isn’t any weed in there. At least that I saw.) There are something like 35 northbound thru-hikers in the register who finished before us- out of a thousand or so who started. In the register I look for friends, remember the people who are just behind us. I wish they were here. Oh that I could see them again! I write in the register-
8/18/14, Carrot Quinn. This must be what it feels like to be a river that’s reached the sea
Krispies and I say our goodbyes at 1 p.m., after hanging out at the monument for two hours. More epic hugs (why didn’t we hug more on the trail? Now I wish we’d hugged every day) and then we’re hiking south, away from our friends, away from everything, back the way we’ve come, and it all seems so sad, and glum, and empty, and I start to sob. Still I can’t tell if I’m crying from feeling or from exhaustion- I sob like a four year-old when I reach a certain point of weariness and right now I’m so tired I just want to sit down on the trail and give up. I walk alone, crying and crying, my insides a convoluted soup of emotions.
I’m climbing back up the tilted green slopes we just hiked down, feeling more weary and sad than I can bear, when it happens- a gentle lifting of the weight from my heart and, as though coming from all directions, a feeling of peace- peace coming from the sky, peace coming down the gentle slope of the mountain, peace coming from the lupine bunched up against the trail. Peaceful clouds, peaceful forest, peaceful warm august air. Peace everywhere, rushing in to fill that space that’s been vacated now that it’s all over- I’m not in a competition, or a fight for my own survival. I’m not rushing towards anything. I’m not a thru-hiker worrying about miles, or interpersonal dynamics, or the turmoils of my own heart. It’s over. It’s all over, and I’m just me. I’m Carrot.
I’m Carrot, and I’m a fucking badass. I’m a badass but I’m also vulnerable. And I’m working on my humility.
And then I realize that the peace isn’t coming from anywhere- it’s been here all along, waiting for me. And something like absolution. A kind of euphoria, a lightness, mixing in with my low blood sugar and sleep deprivation, and then suddenly I’m not weary anymore, and the climb feels easy, and hiking feels like the most natural thing I’ve ever done. Walking is what I do, it’s what I love. I’m a motherfucking thru-hiker and I love to walk. Turning the earth beneath my feet, turning the wheel of life. And this peace, everywhere, moving through me. I’m free, I’m free, I’m free.
I pass the spot where we took our last break, the ridge where I saw the sunrise. I feel like I’m walking backwards with a pushbroom, pushing ghosts off the trail. I’m free. Already I’m missing the others in the group, and it’s only been a couple of hours- the things they’d say, their hilarious idiosyncrasies, even the way we’d bicker and annoy each other. Maybe especially the way we’d bicker and annoy each other. Maybe that’s what love is- the loyalty that’s left over at the end of the day, after everything else is gone.
As I walk I realize that, rather than feeling like I’m hiking south, it feels like I’m hiking the trail inside out- all the downs are up and the ups are down and the views are all backwards. The trail, I realize, has no inherent cardinal direction, and is fully functional both ways. I file this fact away for my potential future yo-yo attempt. I cross the washouts again and this time there is a trail crew there, shoveling rocks- so the washouts will be much less annoying for the thru-hikers who come after. That’s cool. I catalogue the state of my body now that this thru-hike is over-
Foot pain- none
Ibuprofen taken in the last few months- none
Digestion- off and on
I am getting good at this, I think. I realize that I’m proud of myself, for lots of different reasons- proud of myself for doing such high-mileage days, for completing Washington and Oregon so fast, for continuing to walk in all those days/hours/moments when I felt like I couldn’t walk any further. For keeping up with a bunch of tall dudes who make everything seem easy, as silly as it sounds. I’m proud of myself for not skipping a big chunk of Oregon to go to a wedding, even if it meant hiking by myself for a hundred miles.
I catch up to Krispies at camp where she’s sitting on the ground, going through her pack. I pull out a bag of salt & vinegar potato chips and happily stuff them into my face. The only other people here are a few members of a trail crew, sitting on damp logs around the fire pit, waving at mosquitoes. It’s so peaceful here, sitting on the ground next to Krispies, eating snacks. There were about twenty people at this site last night but now it’s quiet, empty.
“I’m running on something,” I say to Krispies. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m running on something. I feel good.”
“Yeah,” says Krispies. “Me too.”
It’s 6:30 p.m. and we’ve gone 29 miles. We’re 15.5 from the campground at Hart’s pass, where we’d planned to hitch out a ride out in the morning.
“I keep thinking,” says Krispies, “that if we went all the way to Hart’s pass, we could make it by midnight.”
That would make a 44.5 mile day- more than either of us have ever done, our biggest day on the trail. I look at my watch.
“Nah,” I say. “I bet we could do it by 11:30.”
And we do.
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