The End: Part 4

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

– Himalaya

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The End: Part 3

Jon Michael and Stay Puft caught up to the three of us, and Chiwauwau filled them in on the situation. He also told us that he didn’t think we should be too worried, but that it could be a concern. Stay Puft wanted to push all the way to Hart’s Pass that night, which would be another 16 miles, making our day into nearly a 40 mile day. I told him he was crazy, and that there was no way I was gong to do that to myself, but he could go right ahead.

We all started hiking together. I wanted to only go 3 more miles as planned and hope that everything would be fine when we made it to Hart’s Pass later the next day. But as we went, Jon Michael started to get really passionate and inspired. He prepared a little motivational speech for us that went something like this:

“So guys, I’ve been thinking about how many miles we walked, how long we’ve pushed, how close we are. So close! So Close! I remember back in the desert, in the Sierra, in Nor. Cal, in Oregon, and even in Washington, we would ask ourselves how far we would push ourselves if we broke a leg or sprained an ankle, and we would say numbers like 60 miles or 45 miles, or “I would army crawl to the border if I had too because its my dream. I don’t know why its my dream, but it is, and I would do anything to get there.” We’ve been working at it for hundreds of days. We’ve sacrificed a lot. We eat cold soaked ramen, we’ve sacrificed our hygiene, our beds, good meals, sleep. We’re tired, we’re dirty, we’re in pain.

But there’s something in us that keeps us going forward. And do you know what? If we were to keep going right now and not stop, were about 15 hours from the border. FIFTEEN hours! And I’ve been asking myself a question. Are you willing to leave it up to the chance of a wildfire, or will you say I will not compromise, I will not stop walking, even when you’re tired, and you hate everything, and you hurt, will you keep going because the dream is so strong in you? You didn’t know you could dig that deep, but you keep digging to get one more step closer to Canada and the dream you’ve been fighting for. Will you keep nailing the nails back into the coffin? Don’t let the body out to haunt you for the rest of your life, because you let want of food or need of sleep or pain stop you.

This is the broken leg. These are the broken ribs. This is the army crawl to Canada. No more messing around. Its time to get out the headlamps, head into the night, climb the climbs and descend into the valley, and say “screw you!” to the next climb, and then climb it anyway! It’s time to go to Canada!”

He was crying. I was crying. Probably even Stay Puft had a few tears in his eyes. And we all were laughing too, the laughs of wild people, overcome by emotion and determination. We were all on board. All game to finish. We were not going to let chance stop us. We were going to Hart’s Pass that night, if it was the last thing we did.

Gandolf and Chiwauwau were too tired to keep going, so the three of us headed into the night, the sunlight slowing fading. Three friends, scared and determined and Canada bound.

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Stay Puft took my much heavier pack in exchange for his ultra-light pack so we could move quicker, and as the sun left us in a smoked out night, our headlamps illuminating the way, I couldn’t help but smile some more.

Conversation came and went, my eyes started to feel dry and heavy, and my body, hyped up on adrenaline, eventually started to grow weary. But we refused to stop until we were at Harts Pass.

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At 11:30pm, we staggered onto the road, the last point of human contact before the Canada, and then beyond it, where we pitched our tents only 30 miles from the border, and fell onto our mattresses.

– Himalaya

(Continued in Part 4)

The End: Part 2

When we entered Washington, we felt, for the first time ever, that mentally and physically, it was actually possible to finish. We had worked ahead, so that our time in Washington would be more relaxed, with no 30+ mile days. Believe it or not, a 25 mile day felt like a vacation day to us.

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Our friend, Stay Puft, who had been hiking with us since mile 700, decided he wanted to finish the trail with us, so the three of us spent many days on the trail having campfires at night, soaking our feet in streams, bathing in lakes, eating wild berries, and soaking in the cooler Washington weather (and still hiking over 25 miles a day of course). It was the way we always wished we could spend our time on the trail, but were never able to do because we always had to hike so far each day.

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“I really enjoyed descending into the valley, especially since the sun finally started shining. There is so much moss and undergrowth. We are enjoying another warm campfire. Only a week left! Oh, and we reached mile 2,500 today!” (Excerpt from my journal, Day 102)

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We managed to make it all the way through Oregon without any threat of fire, though many wildfires began shortly after we passed through them. But as we continued North into Washington, our luck started run out. We started to hear rumors of fires in the North, and we had to go through several fire detours. Thankfully it was still possible to connect our steps through them, but it meant adding a lot more mileage than we had planned for.

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On August 14 (Day 105), we headed into another detour. The trail was only closed for 20 miles that were going to be basically all downhill. The detour however, was 30 miles, including an extra mountain pass and a 7 mile road walk (which are hated by all hikers). The next day, knowing that the detour was going to put us behind schedule and because we had heard rumors of more fires between us and the border, we decided to push ahead as far as we could. When we went to bed that night, we were only 70 miles away from the border.

The plan was to simply hop, skip, and jump to Canada in three days so we could finish on the 18th (a day earlier than planned). It would be easy, only two 25 mile days, and a 20 to end on. But I didn’t sleep well that night. I don’t think any of us did. We decided to wake up early and try to get to Highway 20 (Rainy Pass) as quickly as possible, because it was the second to last road we would cross before the end, and we wanted to get there before they closed the trail due to the fires. We were not going to let anything compromise the end of the trip.

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All this time we had no cell service, so no way of confirming or denying the little information we had heard about the fires. We also had no way of informing our Aunt, who planned to pick us up on the 19th, that we were still on track to finish. In fact, a few days earlier while we were on the fire detour, we actually had to flag down a car and ask if the driver would deliver a message to our Mom, who could send it to our Aunt. The dude, Brendon, didn’t have a cell phone, but he promised to send an email for us. Our telegram read:

“19 August @ 12pm on track to finish. No service. Please pass to Auntie Lisa. – Sarah and Jon Michael.”

When we crossed Highway 20, we all breathed a sigh of relief. No trail closure. We were clear to go on. Stay Puft actualy said the words: “I feel like for the first time, we have this in the bag.” We were now only 60 miles from the border.

That same evening, I was almost to our intended camping spot, when Gandolf and Chiwauwau, two other hiking buddies caught up to me. Both looking tired and worried they proceeded to tell me that there are not one, but two fires North of us. There is a fire 10-12 miles to the West and another to at least 20 miles to the East. The wind has been consistently blowing East, so the fire to the West has a good chance of spreading closer to the trail, which means that Harts Pass, the final road crossing, could be closed soon, making it impossible for us to finish.

As I sat there, listening to them, it started to dawn on me that after 107 days of restless walking, of pushing myself to my very limit every day, of waking up before the sun, of getting sunburned and windswept, all this time holding on to the hope of one day walking into Canada, I might not get to take those last steps.

-Himalaya

(Continued in Part 3)

The End: Part 1

Day 78, the day I puked and we kept walking, and I puked again, and we kept walking- that was where I left you, dear readers, and almost never came back to tell the end of the tale.

I guess, like some kind of war-vet, or like Frodo and the hobbits at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I find myself at a loss for words. There is so much that I felt and experienced in the last few weeks of the trail, and I have few ideas of how to begin telling of it.

Or maybe it is fear that has prevented pen from page. It’s been nearly a month since we crossed over to Canada, and I have done a good job of keeping myself distracted. I live far away from the West Coast mountains, starting college in New York just days after finishing. I have thrown myself into my studies, into the art of making friends, into settling into a new place again, and I have not let myself process that the trail really is gone. I’m afraid that when I open my journal to remember again, a flood of emotion and grief that I am not prepared for will overcome me.

But now it is 5:00pm on a good as any Thursday in September. I am listening to a newly discovered music group, sipping coffee, and snacking on crackers and cheese. My journal is open beside me, ready for me to recall the memories and secrets it holds deep within.

This is how it came to pass. This is how a brother and sister who had never backpacked before, walked from Mexico to Canada. This is how our trail came to an end…

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– Himalaya

(Continues in Part 2)

Day 78: That’s Hardcore

Today started with heavy hearts, and let me tell you, extra weight of any kind is never good while hiking. We were heavy hearted because we had to say goodbye to our family. Soon they will be a continent away.

We had a big breakfast, a great deal of hugs, and finally the dreaded goodbyes.

When we finally got on the trail, it was nearly 10am. Late starts are never good, but the extra time with the family was worth it.

It was time to crush the miles. But there was a slight problem. When I eat a lot for breakfast and then immediately hike, my stomach can’t get it’s shit together. So, we did crush the miles, but my stomach continued to churn and churn angrily. It’s sour disposition continued to worsen until I projectile vomited not once, but twice. Both times I simply pulled off to the side, let things fly, and then continued to walk.

“It’s time to make the miles.” I said.

To which Jon Michael replied, “That’s hardcore.”

We still managed to walk 28 miles even after a late start and vomiting. Yeah, that is pretty hardcore.

– Himalaya

Day 77: Rendezvous Point

Our family has been incredibly busy this summer, traveling all over America to visit family and friends before they return home to Kenya again. A few months ago they told us they would love to see us on trail, but July 17 was the only day they had free all summer (shows how busy they are). We didn’t know where we’d be, but eventually we were able to estimate a road that we would pop out on, and a time.

They would be returning from a family reunion in Nebraska and have to drive 1500 miles in 30 hours, and we would have to maintain our schedule, hoping for no fire closures, injury, sickness, or other problems that might slow us down.

Somehow, by the grace of God, it worked out. We arrived at the road within 20 minutes of each other.

They whisked us away from the trail and to some good food at a restaurant in Crater Lake. There we were able to enjoy the same views of yesterday with the whole family.

It feels so good to be back together again, cracking jokes, getting lots of snuggles and hugs, and telling many stories.

We are staying at a little crossroads motel out here on highway 158. It’s the kind of motel that looks like it came right out of the 50s, with old furniture and cigarette stained walls. The perfect place for a little family reunion.

A 16oz steak is resting in my belly right now. My siblings and my parents all within reaching distance. My stomach is content. My heart is content.

It will be so hard to say goodbye tomorrow.

– Himalaya

Day 76: Crater Lake

We spent today walking the rim trail along Crater Lake, the deepest lake in America. Most of the tourists in this area pull up in their cars to snap photos of the lake, but we got to spend all day deeply experiencing its beauty.

We even took a nap on the ridge, looking down into the crystal blue.

It’s one of those places that really makes you feel small. It makes you want to be small.

– Himalaya