Cruise control

I’m becoming more and more removed from the hiking world of the last five months. From Seattle I drove to Ashland. Almost eight hours on one road gave me time to think about things but I didn’t really use it. I was busy surfing the airwaves trying to find a station that actually played music. One end of the dial is all religion all the time, and the other end is dominated by country & western. When I did find something I could put up with I couldn’t help but find some way in which the songs were picked out right for me. “Move Along”, “We are the Champions” and “Highway to Hell” are the ones that stuck in m mind. I found it a lot easier to sing along while driving than while walking uphill so I took the oppourtunity and ignored all the strange looks from passing cars. After an overnight stop in Ashland to visit Claudia and Vic I continued down to Redding to my great Aunt Agnes’ place. The PCT crosses I5 twice and I took a break at Castella to check on the PCT register and try to place myself back in the mood I was in when I reached there on foot two months ago. That was the worst part of the trail for me. The days before were hot, stuffy and exhausting. At that point I was closer to quitting than any other time, and it was there I received the memory card with videos from home and knowing everyone was willing me on gave me the kick in the junk that I needed. So thank you to all that contributed to that, and to all those that are congratulating me. I feel it’s possibly more real to you lot at the moment. I see my time in Southern California as a whole different trip and can only think about the last week in Washington as recent. When I’ve put some time between me and the hike I’ll probably merge it all into one event
A truck on a truck on a truck on a truck

I met up with Blue Sky, now known by her civilian name of Caitlin, in Davis where she is waiting for college to start. I tagged along to a college party where the plan was, after multiple rounds of Beer Pong, get to the doughnut shop when it opened at 5:30am. None of our little troupe made it but a good time was had by all and I saw a very different side of American culture. We even took a drive by of “Frat Row” and saw all the houses with their greek letters on display. What a change in my life, last week shivering in my tent alone and tired. A week later Nicole is driving me, Caitlin, Kristen and Rebecca at about 85 mph down the highway.

Ladder ball

Drinking in Davis
Davis was a blast but I had to leave. I’ve driven in this area before but after following the crest for so long it’s quite a mental shift to be in a valley so wide you can’t see the edges. I spent the afternoon wandering the streets of downtown San Francisco and smiling to myself about the looks I was getting. After I’d returned my rental car I asked the guy (I’ll call him Juan for now) directions to the piers. He said which road to take and asked if I needed a ride organized.
“No, I’ll just walk”
“Really? It’s a long way”
“I can handle it”

As I walked away I heard him tell the next person in line “That guy’s going to walk all the way downtown!” haha.

I got a similar reaction in a book store. After giving me directions to another one he said, with a bit of a sarcastic attitude “enjoy your walk”.

San Francisco from below

One minor disaster, I lost my PocketMail device. I left it in a phone booth near Pier 40.

I think this is enough for now. I have some socialising to do. My flights are booked, I’ll be back home on Oct 4th and I’m really looking forward to it.


2007-09-23 Sleeping in Seattle

The loss of the trail still has me dazed. Luckily there haven’t been any major decisions apart from transport. Lucky Joe left us at Manning Park, preferring to hitch over the greyhound bus. I’d have preferred it too but I have a schedule and didn’t want to risk it. I didn’t get much time to really experience Canada on this trip. Potential 178 (last seen at The Saufleys’) is a local but won’t be back for a few days. I’ll find a way to catch up with him another time.
We are the champions
The first bus was to Vancouver and the second to Seattle. I managed to nod off a few times and finally woke as we left Interstate 5 and entered the city about 10:30pm. Across Lake Union was the iconic Space Needle, brightly lit and reflected in the calm water. I didn’t expect to appreciate man-made beauty so quickly after coming out of the woods. So much of what we’d been driven through was just plain ugly cities.

Following Wandering Jew’s (last seen at Hiker Town) directions we found his place and let ourselves in. The PCT is a pretty cool community where a phone call to someone you spent a few hours in the shade with, four months and 2100 miles ago, can get you a place to stay in a strange city when they’re not even home. One thing to note though. Capitol Hill is an understatement. The last climb of the day was totally unexpected.

2007-09-22 epilogue

My mind is still reeling from the sudden changes but at least my body is at rest. My feet look a little puffed and I prefer it to the thin, pale and wrinkled toes I had yesterday. The scars on my hips are still with me but I know they’ll fade for today I am not hiking. I’m done and the last five months seem like a blur. Even entering Washington seems like a life time ago. The High Sierras, where I met my team mates Lucky Joe, Angelhair and Rigatoni, is just a dream now.

My dreams of failure stopped after Stehekin. After that I dreamt once of returning home triumphant but the other nights were too disturbed to dream at all. Last night I can’t even remember. I know I was in a bed and the cold and the rain and the wind were locked outside away from me.

Now I have to find my way home. I’m in the wrong country and the authorities don’t even know yet.

Rigatoni has just told me about the CFT which sounds like a good idea. The Couch to Fridge Tour 🙂


2007-09-22 …and I'm done!

So I’ve done it. I have actually walked all the way up the west coast of America. I’m obviously a little stunned by this all so it may take a little time for my brain to settle down and deal with it all.

The night was the worst I’ve experienced on the trail (except maybe the second night, when it snowed). The rain was going non-stop and the sudden wind gusts were really worrying. Several times I heard a dramatic flapping from the direction of Lucky Joe’s tarp. One of his poles had collapsed and he was having one hell of a night. A small river formed across his ground sheet, pooling around his shoulders and a frog had decided to join him for comfort.

It quietened down in the early hours and I got just a little bit of sleep. I awoke to a calmer world and set off up the hill after breaking the ice off my tent.

The last few days have been tough and it’s still kicking us in the arse. It was snowing and the clouds swirled up the slopes, over and beyond me. Lucky Joe wasn’t far behind and we were both shivering the whole time. I was dragging my poles with my fingers balled up in my fists just staving off complete numbness.
When we could see far enough around us it was a beautiful scene with a light dusting of snow on the rocks, the bushes and the oh-so familiar trail. Woody Pass was nothing like you’d expect and only worth mentioning because that was the point the snow got even stronger. It did eventually abate, and there were even sunny moments. All the while I was doing the sums and counting down our miles. I wasn’t thinking about the end, how far we’d come, how this was not just a town stop. I was just measuring the miles I had to walk and the time I wanted to be done by. I’ll be relieved when that is just memory. Soon we overtook the Noodleheads and emerged into a clear-cut. Then I saw it.
The line running down the hill. 20ft wide and running west to east it was the border. In four short switchbacks I was there, whooping and hollering. I even broke out a little dance.
We spent a while doing the usual. Taking photos, signing the book, reading who else had passed this way and finally getting around to lunch. A german couple came in from the Canadian side. They’d walked in the eight miles and were surprised to see people already there.
Lucky Joe, Angelhair, Rigatoni and SunWalker/Heaps
With the festivities over we began the final walk. It was eight miles to the road and a 1,000ft climb made it feel just like home. Nothing had really changed yet. We were still in the woods, still marching and still getting rained on. It didn’t matter though. We were done, the real world waited for us at the road.

Easy, Lizard, Samurai Joe and Monty were at Manning Park and left not long after we arrived. We four got a room at the lodge and have begun our cleansing. That shower felt so good. The dirt left me and I shall not stink that much for a very long time. My feet have dried and I’ve called home. The adventure is over, now it’s re-entry.

Quote of the day: “Have you come far?” The german tourist

2007-09-21 The final countdown

The call came from the Noodleheads’ tent and we all agreed, today was not a day to start early. Everyone’s shoes were frozen solid. Lucky Joe only has one pair of hiking socks with him and they were as stiff as wood too. I packed up slowly allowing time for my damp clothes to thaw a little. The last thing I did before stepping back on to the trail was swap the nice thick socks Anna sent me, for my normal ones and put on my shoes. Instantly my feet were freezing and my toes were almost numb before I could get very far. But the feeling came back and with mostly clear skies we trundled on. During the day the skies became greyer and with a cold bite to the wind it really felt like winter was arriving. The rain held off until the last few miles before camp and then it slowed enough for me to set up this tent for the last time.
Under grey skies
It’s only 15 miles to Canada from here. It’d have to be pretty strong rain to stop us now but it wouldn’t take much to make it miserable. Tomorrow I’ll complete the Pacific Crest Trail and truly be a thru-hiker, then I’ll get a warm shower and a bed.

2007-09-20 Let it snow!

Last night was the coldest I’d been in a long time, beaten only by today. It was damp at the campsite, frosty up the hill and snowing before the first pass. I wrapped up as best I could and pushed on, holding my hood in place when the cold wind came through. And boy it was cold. Poor Lucky Joe had only thin wool gloves and was numb until lunchtime. On the way down from the very exposed ridge I saw bear prints, big ones. They were at least the size of my hand and very deep in the mud so the beast was heavy. Snow had already settled in so I’m guessing it passed at least a day ago.

We passed two tents in a very exposed spot. If they’re trying to wait out the weather they’re in the worst place for it. We carried on, dropped nearly a thousand feet and the snow became freezing rain, then sleet and slowly stopped. There were a few times when the sun found a way through the clouds, but it was never for long and hardly made a difference. We were cold and wet so we kept moving, all motivated to a place where we could put down our packs and get back into our sleeping bags. It’s almost 6:30 and I’m ready to sleep, even though there’s at least an hour of daylight. I hope to wake to a different world. Down the valley I can see sunny spots so the cloud has an end. Maybe the end will come to us and I’ll get to enjoy the last two days rather than endure them.

Quote of the day: “Kicking us in the arse right up to the end” – Me

2007-09-19 Stung

We left Stehekin at last and are now firmly on our last stretch to the border. One more muffin from the bakery and I was good to go.

Lucky Joe, Angelhair, Rigatoni and I walked tightly together almost all day. We talked about all manner of stuff and generally passed the time through an unexciting section. The highlight of the day was the wasp nest Lucky Joe spotted. He stepped in to the bushes to get a photo while I waited for my turn on the trail. As he turned to leave he knocked the bush and shook the hive. As I leaned in for a photo he started swearing and jumping around. He’d been stung on the wrist and I turned back to see the swarm coming out to defend their spot. One landed on my right hand. I shook it like crazy while backing away but before I knew it I’d been stung on my left. For a while it was a little stiff and swollen but it had passed by lunch time.

The only road crossing today was a cheery place called Rainy Pass. From there it’s just over 60 miles to the border and in that stretch we’ll cross Glacier Pass, Windy Pass, Foggy Pass, Woody Pass and go below Blizzard Peak and Frosty Pass.

I’m wrapped up in bed already and definitely the coldest I’ve been in a long time. But better cold than wet.

Quote of the day: “La-la-la-Last” – Angelhair excited about starting Section L

2007-09-18 One last zero

So I’m not quite yet on my way to the border. I stayed in Stehekin all day and I’m glad I did. There’s no need to end my holiday just yet and I know I can reach the border, it’s just a matter of choosing the right days to be out there.

I took the shuttle (one of those typical American yellow school buses) to the bakery and ate my way through three excellent goodies. Lucky Joe came in from the trail. He’d had quite a different experience over the last section. In rain for a lot of it he lost the trail before Kennedy Creek, bush-whacked up a ridge in the wrong place and slid down a steep bank clawing and grabbing at anything to slow him down. He sure was lucky to come through un-harmed and I’m glad he’ll now be finishing with us.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the boat landing area and watching the sky. For a while it was actually sunny and I lay on a log by the water trying to doze. Most of the time the brooding clouds and gusty wind kept me indoors. The visitors center was nice, I can now tell the difference between black and grizzly bear paw prints. I learned in there that Lake Chelan is dammed at the southern end. It’s 67 miles long and with no road out. The boat ride (or the cool floating plane) is the only way out for non-PCTers. Somehow the mountains here make me feel much smaller than elsewhere. Their texture, the clarity of the air to see each tree and rock on the steep west wall, the way a cloud only covers part of the hill as if they are bigger than the sky itself. There was even a patch of fresh snow on one peak this morning which made me very glad to be finishing soon and not in a few weeks when it’d be much colder and the bakery will be closed.

The atmosphere is a strange one. This is where real writers would excel. They could quantify and dissect that strangeness but all I can do is experience it. We’re so close and so happy to be almost done, but it’d be premature congratulation if we thought it was a done deal. 89 miles is still a fair bit and though we’ll take only four days it’s more than most do on the Appalachian Trail before giving up and going home.

2007-09-17 Still learning

I’ve taken five months to walk this far. Something that could be driven in a few days or flown in a few hours and I’m still as impatient as ever. Proof of this comes from the fact that I woke every few minutes from well before dawn, desperate for it to be 6am, the time I judged right to break camp and walk to High Bridge Ranger Station where a bus would take me to Stehekin. It’s the last settlement on the trail and by all accounts the nicest.

On the drive down we stopped at the ranch and picked up hikers who had been there last night including Ricola (last seen leaving the Sierras via Kearsarge Pass), Totally Rachael and A-Train. Together they made a young team and I was very keen to make a quick turn around here and thus finish with them in three days. Rigatoni has been a little sullen for the last few days and it’s been awkward walking with them since he used to be so cheerful. Plus it would give me more time after the hike for socialising in San Francisco.

Monty was in town (another reason to turn and run for the border) and he found a forecast for rain/snow tomorrow night just north of here. But it was Angelhair that tipped the balance. We talked for a while and I began to see I was still rushing everything, even down to the massive pile of fries that made my stomach ache.
“What’s the worst that will happen?” she said. Not much really, I’ll arrive in Auckland later but not too late and I’ll feel a lot stronger taking on the massive climb leaving here. So I’ve stayed, and with bad weather I will probably take a zero tomorrow.

The care packages were amazing. Kathy clearly knows what a thru-hiker needs: dried fruit, candy, little apricot rolls and Blue Sky must have tipped her off about apple sauce. Heavy but the best way to carry apples for 4 days. Anna’s one was wonderful. NZ lollies, a flag and some cool badges (pins) that look like big eyes for freaking out bears/mountain lions that are sneaking up on me.
Stehekin Dock
Stehekin is really nice. At the lake front there’s a small store, restaurant, post office free shower and campground plus a lodge that doesn’t seem to mind hikers wandering in to use internet or air conditioning. A mile or two up the road (towards the ranch) is a bakery. Strangest place for a bakery I think, out there in the woods. It has incredible food and I’ll spend some time and money there tomorrow. The ranch is pricey, about $95 per person, but with three all-you-can-eat meals you get your money’s worth.

The restaurant in ‘town’ is very nice. I highly recommend the beef medallions with “twice baked” potatoes, and I also recommended to Holly the waitress that they call them “stuffed potatoes” because twice baked doesn’t sound good to me.

And I nearly forgot to mention the minor disaster with my passport. My NZ passport and Canadian entry papers should now be waiting in Manning Park. They almost weren’t because NZ post requires a signature on ‘track and trace’ packages and I’m not there to sign for it so Dad spent a while trying to find out just where it got delivered. It seems to all be fine now though I am definitely glad I carried my UK passport with me this whole time.

2007-09-16 Blowdowns

We’d been warned that the first seven miles of today’s trail were the hardest. There were certainly a lot of blown down trees. Some as wide as 7ft fallen right across our path, or piles of trees making an up-down-around climbing frame that slowed us down considerably. Vista Creek was wide and shallow. A tree had fallen in almost exactly the same spot as the bridge had once been so we hardly even paused there. Suiattle River was another matter. Using Scatman’s guide we angled upstream across the wide wash of grit, boulders and quite sizable trees that must have come down during the storm in ’03. We found the big log across the river and without it we’d have been stuck. Though not very wide it was very fast and deep enough to swallow a hiker whole.
Lots of blowdowns
Up the other side we began the day’s climb and were relieved when we saw the first blowdown that had been recently cut away. The trail was clear from then on and thanks to the unseen trail crew we made great progress.
Suiattle River
As we climbed higher, to just about 6,000ft, we entered the clouds and things started to get wet. Unfortunately we never got above the clouds and soon it was raining. My trousers were soaked through and if I leaned forward on my toes I could squeeze water from my shoes. With my rain hood up and my game face on I knocked out the miles and it wasn’t until I reached Agnes Creek I realized the rain had stopped and I was actually getting drier. The walk from there was exceptionally pleasant. Agnes Creek had cut through a layer of tough black blocky rock and ran across a bed of large smoothed pebbles. The type some people pay good money for at garden centres. When it dropped away from the trail the trees thinned out and I saw just a little blue sky above the mountains. Tomorrow will be a better day, and even if it’s not, I’ll be in Stehekin!