Despite our late bed time, we woke early on the 17th of August (two days earlier than planned), determined to let nothing get between us and Canada. Though we had made it through the last possible road closure, we still worried that they would air drop a runner in, who could flush everyone out of the last 30 miles.
It was a weird feeling, knowing that we would finish that day, but thirty miles is a long way, and though we didn’t want to rush the end, to some extent, I just wanted to get there.
Everything was going fine that morning. It wasn’t too smoky, and we thought we pretty much had it in the bag. About 13 miles in, a hiker, our of breath and looking rather spooked came down the trail toward us. He had the look of a thru-hiker, weathered and strong, but he was going South. Knowing that hikers that do not have Canada entry permits must hike the thirty miles back to Harts Pass after finishing, we asked if he had just finished that day.
He looked at us, wide-eyed, and nodded. As we were about to congratulate him, he opened his mouth to speak. “There’s a fire just a half a mile West of Holman Pass that just started. If I were you, I would run to get there in time, before it crosses the trail and its too late.”
“Where is Holman Pass?” I asked.
“Look at you map.” He said in an unfriendly way.
We immediately looked at our maps and saw that it was 3.5 miles away from us. If we rushed, we could maybe get there in a little under an hour, but we knew we would be cutting it close.
We thanked him for the heads up, and then we started out, adrenaline once again pumping through our veins. Only someone who has walked 2630+ miles and is only 20 miles from the finish is crazy enough to, almost literally, run into a fire, so that they can get to Canada.
As we went, Stay Puft commented, “Are you glad we pushed ahead last night, or what?”
We honestly weren’t sure if our friends Gandalf and Chiwauwau would make it.
We kept pushing, almost running. I started to sing “I see fire” by Ed Sheeran, and immediately the boys (who are usually supportive of my singing) immediately shut me up, saying “Walk now, sing later!”
As we went, the smoke got denser and denser. We were going downhill, into where the fire was, and eventually ash started falling on us from all around. How do we know when it’s too dangerous? At what point should we turn back? I thought. I was praying a lot too. “God, you’ve let us get this far, please let us finish!”
We were racing against fire, against time, against all odds.
And then, we saw the sign for Holman Pass. We made it, now we just had to get out. Up, up, up, and out onto the ridge where there was clear air. We were free. Past what we hoped would be the final threat.
We knew the fire was knew, because all that time, there were no helicopters or planes overhead. But as we got up onto the ridge, we started to hear the took, took, took of a helicopter, and the low purr of an airplane engine.
We were 13 miles away now, with one last climb and then the final descent into Canada, but I was not willing to think it was in the bag until I saw the monument.
My heart eventually returned to a normal pace, and as I walked, I let my self soak in the surroundings- the mountains lit by the warm afternoon sun, the cool breeze on my face, the wildflowers that pepper the hills, the springs that dance across the trail. I let my mind wander back to beginning days, when this moment seemed impossibly far away. I thought of the days I cursed each step I took, yet kept taking steps because I wasn’t a quitter, and because, for whatever reason, I wanted to walk from Mexico to Canada. I thought of the good times too, when we laughed for the sake of laughter and smiles because we simply had too.
As the last few miles ticked down, I thought of the many lessons I learned.
Every day was struggle, a fight, but moving forward was always the most natural thing to do. It was the only thing to do.
Time was not a number, but a place in the sky, and dirt and grime were not something I wore, they were part of my identity.
Some days I woke up and honestly didn’t know if I could even sit up, and then I did, and I would walk thirty miles or more. Sometimes you just have to start by making a move, by sitting up, putting on your crusty socks, and beginning the day. As Influx always used to say, “The miles get hiked when you decide you’re going to hike them.”
I learned every day, that people are just people. There is no status or “difference” that should separate us. When everyone is stripped back to their most basic and natural forms, we are all the same really, and there are no limitations in friendships.
I learned to never quit in the moment of discouragement, but to always get a good night’s sleep first. Cling to the hope of morning and the promise of a new day.
We approached the last water source, just a mile away from the border, and there we stopped for a minute. We shouldn’t be here I thought. There are so many reasons we should have failed. There were so many factors beyond our control. Why us? Why not the many who attempted and did everything in their power, yet could not overpower chance, or is it the will of God?
The three of us looked at each other in a moment of recognition, and then Stay Puft went ahead, into the last mile, wanting to finish alone. After some time, Jon Michael and I began the last mile of the Pacific Crest Trail together. We walked in silence, my breath felt light, and my heart beat gently within. It was so surreal, so overwhelming. For so long, I wanted to be in this moment, and now that I was in that moment, I wasn’t sure I wanted the trail to end. I wasn’t sure I wanted Canada to be around the corner.
And then it was there before us, that simple wooden monument that marks the Northern terminus, and next to it, the obelisk that marks the changing of territories. I wanted to shout and scream and dance for joy, but nothing came out. It was just silence. Awe. Joy. Sorrow. Victory. And the end. The End.
There was no one there to congratulate us or cheer us on. It was just the three of us, and honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any different. When we looked at each other in this moment, we didn’t need words to explain or communicate the meaning, the feeling of what had just taken place. We just knew.
We wrote in the last logbook of the trail. We took photos. We laughed. We cried. We thanked God. And then, we walked into Canada.
We camped just a quarter mile into Canada that night, and the following day we walked into Manning Park, BC, where our Aunt would pick us up. When we got there, we heard the news that we made it past Harts Pass (the final road crossing) just a few hours before they closed the last 30 miles of the trail for the rest of the season. No one else would be able to finish at the actual monument in 2018. We were relieved to hear that Gandalf and Chiwauwau made it as well, but saddened to know that many the friends we had made who were behind us, would not make it.
In our last three days we hiked over 100 miles, and on the second to last day, we made a new personal distance record: 39 miles in a day. We fought until the very last day. We refused to leave it up to chance, and praise be to God, we did it. We walked from Mexico to Canada.
Dreams, they really do come true.
May I never forget the feeling of wind in my hair, of pain in my feet, of legs and body well worn from a hard days work, of sleeping on my oh so thin Z-lite pad, of walking through the land so beautiful, in my most natural state of being. May I never forget the wanderers I sojourned with, all from different walks of life, yet bound by this single purpose that takes us northward day after day. May I never forget the satisfaction of a good, hot meal, of a warm shower, a bed, and all the small conveniences that we take for granted in everyday life. May I listen always to my heart and to the calling of the wild, that pulls closer to my dreams and farther from the chains that would hold me back. Even in the darkest of days, when everything seemed like hell, the trail was changing me, remolding me into who I am today. I will not forget. The trail goes on friends, Canada is not the end. It was never meant to be.