In the morning, I wish I could say that I felt any better – but I don’t. A self-defeatist attitude has well and thoroughly settled into my brainpan. I ask myself “what’s the point”, but I know that’s a stupid question – there are 155-odd miles to go. I’ll hit 2500 this morning, and I’m both looking forward to it and dreading it.
My rain fly is frozen into the shape of my tent and it’s hard to get my tent stakes out of the frozen ground and my hands are so cold it hurts like hell to use them. I’d put on my gloves, but they’re sopping wet and kind of useless. Which is kind of how I feel already. I’m hardly out of my tent and I’m kind of done with this day. I just want to sit on the frozen ground and cry. But instead I force some food down my throat, level out a little bit, manage to get everything packed away and get moving.
I start to sort through my Eeyore-like emotions. It’s like pulling teeth to get myself to admit that this isn’t just about a low mileage day. In 155 miles, my whole life’s going to change. I’m sad about it and scared about it and don’t know how I’m going to manage it. It’s much easier to be upset about mileage than to be upset about this nebulous thing that I can’t even fathom.
But how do I resolve this (s/m)adness? I mean, one obvious answer is “to quit”, but that seems colossally dumb at this juncture. At least I’m rational enough to recognize that. First, I’ve hiked nearly 2500 miles and I’ll be damned if I stop now, but more practically, I’d have to get to a road to quit. A road that leads to the outside world is nearly 100 miles away, meaning I’d have 60 miles – three days, at most – left to go. That sounds preposterous, and it’s enough to shock me out of the depths of my sadness. I have to take the knocks, take the setbacks, the being alone, being… kind of miserable. I resolve myself to it, keep striding on along.
The two hikers I saw at Stevens Pass lodge – who were rummaging through the hiker box, who were planning on taking a rest there – catch me despite my efforts to go faster, pass me, and here we fucking go with the feelings of worthlessness again.
The beauty of the outside is a nice counterpoint to the struggle on the inside.
The continued cold is making me whiny, I think, but on the heels of that thought comes another, kind of foreign: I want to go home. I don’t know that I’ve had that specific thought on trail before. I’ve wanted to rest, wanted to be finished, but never wanted to specifically go home. I correct myself: maybe I don’t necessarily want to go home-home, but I need a break. A serious break, not just another half-assed 22-mile nero with an overnight before resupplying and hiking out the next day. I want some time where I don’t have to be cold, don’t have to worry about getting hailed on, don’t have to be alone if I don’t want to. And, I mean, I’ll probably hate that too, after a while. I think I just need a change of pace.
I sit to take a break, do the math – I’m going to be a full day later than what I anticipated, and while that should be fine in terms of post-trail planning, I should accept it and just take it as it comes, the news sends me into another brief death spiral before I’m laughing at myself derisively. If this is what “post”-trail depression is like while I’m still on the trail, I am terribly concerned for what that means for when I’m actually off-trail.
Maybe this is my mid-life crisis – I’m already unsure of who am I, who this person is that seems to be me but with all these miles behind her. I guess some people get divorced, some people have children, I just freak the fuck out about feeling like a fraud while not actually being a fraud. There are worse things, I guess.
Let me explain you a thing, new girl: it’s tough. It’s supposed to be tough. If you can make it through this, everything else will seem a lot… simpler. I think. At least, I hope.
Up and around and over Red Pass, down through a rockfield, with teasing views of Glacier Peak:
The views get better, and I stop for too long to dry my stuff, listen to a presentation from the Commonwealth Club of California, stare at the mountain that gives absolutely no fucks how I’m feeling. There’s a bit of cold comfort in that.
The trail meets and starts to follow a creek, heading down, down, out of the views and into the woods via shaded creekside switchbacks.
The trail eventually crosses the stream, technically on a log that’s about three feet above the six-inch-deep stream. I could just cross, get my feet wet, but wet feet are cold, and I’ve had about enough of that. I let my trekking poles hang from their straps off my wrists like I usually do – I’m pretty terrible at balancing while holding them – and make my way carefully across the log. Three steps in I’m like a goddamn cartoon, pinwheeling and falling on my ass, not really hurting myself, but getting my feet wet. I have a brief moment of incredulity, then I’m bawling, more out of shock and terror at what could’ve happened than out of pain. I want to finish. I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to let my distraction end my hike. The bawling turns to hiccups, the hiccups turn to sullen sniffles. Then the only sound is the stream.
I pick myself up and keep walking.
Not long after, I finally, FINALLY run across some hikers – Smiles and Dilly Dally, drying their things on a bridge. They’re happy to talk and I’m happy to grossly understate my mental exhaustion. No need to involve them in my personal drama.
Then it’s over another creek, and another and another – so much water today! – including Kennedy Creek, with its famous broken bridge. …Well, kind of broken. It still serves its purpose.
Then it’s up up up I go, as the clouds hide Glacier Peak and the weather starts to threaten sketchiness again.
I pass a woman coming down while I’m on my way up, and she looks terribly familiar. Are you Heather Anderson? I blurt. She says yes, and then looks at me as if she knows me. I rapidly disabuse her of that notion – why the hell would a PCT and AT speed record holder know who I am?1 – but I tell her that I think she’s rad, and that I hope she has a good day out. She smiles and moves along; I wait until her stride takes her (what I hope is) out of earshot, before I let out a high pitched squee. Well that was awesome.
There’s some wiggle in the profile, and I come up against a bigger downed tree puzzle than I’ve seen since Oregon. I’m nearly over it when I remember there’s an entry in Guthook that talks about not climbing over this snarl. Dilly Dally and Smiles come up behind me, and I ask them if there’s a switchback above them. Oh hey, yeah there is, guess that’s where the trail goes. So it’s up and back over and around to get back to the trail. At least I’m getting my exercise in for the day.
The pair escort me ahead of them when Dilly Dally asks if that’s my Buff hanging off my pack. No, I found it in the trail earlier today. Turns out, it’s her Buff, and she’s glad to have it back. I’m glad to have been able to give it back to her, and we chat about finding and losing things and ohmygodthatwasreallyHeatherAnderson as we make our way up the last up for the evening.
The down is stunning – I love ridgewalks, and only wish I could see farther! But it’s getting darker and cloudier and the light is not optimal for pictures. Rats. But it’s a beautiful rocky landscape where I can see, all the way down to Mica Lake, where I’ve decided to camp, and where, glory hallelujah, there are people.
The two hikers who passed me early on in the day are here, chatting and eating, and once I go to the lake and come back with water Dilly Dally and Smiles are here, too. Galactic rolls in as we’re setting up, and we’re all far enough from the lake but kind of also on top of each other, in a merry, companionable sort of way. I intend to eat out where I can see everyone, but the wind is rough and crazy, and I retreat into my vestibule, cooking from there and chatting with folks over the growing wind. It’s Idahoan for me this evening, and while I think I’m going to have a problem finishing it, I down the whole packet no problem. Rite of passage completed. I guess I’m a real thruhiker now.
The sounds of people settling in for the evening are music to my ears, a lullabye for a rough day.
Date: September 22 • Start: 2495.7 • End: 2518.3 • Day: 22.5
Notable Accomplishments: Did more miles than I thought I would1 • Saw Heather Anderson! • Camped with people!
 Funny story: She actually does know who I am, and she was in the process of recognizing me. She and Spesh are acquaintances, and she knows of me through him.
 Extended footnote related to yesterday’s footnote: So I recorded the first half of the day’s notes on the morning all of the feels were happening. I recorded the second half of the day’s notes the following day. Lemme just say: what a difference a day makes. We’ll be done with the maudlin musings tomorrow.
12 thoughts on “Day 142 – Almost Home”
The day after election day, with the smoke of a million fires filling the air as if civilization as we know it was ending, I almost quit at Neal’s gap. You can almost see Springer from there. I’m wondering if all epic journeys end with mixed feelings. 1100 miles this year…I guess I will have a chance to find out. Love your writing. You capture feelings in your words that ramble through my own psyche, but generally escape my powers of reflection. I’m facing the end of your journey with mixed feelings too. What’s next?
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They sho do end with mixed feelings. Or, at least, that’s been my experience of them.
Things are a bit up in the air as of right now, but by the end of the month I should have a better understanding of budget/scope for the hiking season. I will be getting out there, just probably for a shorter timespan than five months. 🙂
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I just wanted to give you a hug – I looked a little weird with my arms around my computer screen. Co-workers are talking now. Glad you had some company later on though. Googled Mica Lake – looks beautiful.
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Heh 🙂 I definitely would’ve appreciated one then, but I certainly appreciate the thought now!
I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your writing and how much I appreciate you taking the time to write those posts after such a long time – thank you!
I have only once done a long-distance hike in a much easier setting here in Europe from my home in Germany to the most Western point in Spain, so no wilderness (but still many beautiful landscapes), and I nevertheless recognize that feeling of dreading the end of the hike and still wanting to complete it – a hard time! Looking forward to your remaining stories, and dreading them, too! What shall I read at night after work?! I really really hope that, should you take on another adventure (please say you do!), you might consider sharing it with us in one way or the other! 😉
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I’m glad you’re enjoying them! I had no intention of leaving folks hanging; thanks for being patient with me. The end of a hike is hardest, I’m finding – not only to read about, but also, at this point, to write about. I’m really looking forward to my voice notes from the end. I imagine I won’t be dry-eyed next Thursday. I’ll have a follow-up post with the immediate aftermath of finishing, then I’ll be switching to posting two or three times a week (haven’t decided yet) with, first, some follow-up posts on the PCT as a whole. These will include a TL;DR like I did for the Colorado Trail, an update on the Gear pages, and in-depth gear reviews of what I used and what I’m thinking of for next time.
And yes, there will definitely be a next time. I’ll be getting out there this summer, though probably not for another five-month stretch; I’m working on putting together both a time and financial budget to see what trails are within my reach. It probably won’t be this summer, but I’d love to hike Europe one day – there’s a gentleman walking from the northernmost point in Europe to the southernmost point, and I’m definitely a little jealous of him right now. I’m missing the trail and backpacking something fierce these days.
Very nice post. Well worth the wait. I experienced the same shit on my hike and I didn’t fare as well.
I’ll be missing your posts when you “get to Canada”. Please do post about your post-trail emotions and situation. The end is really hard and not enough people write about it.
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I will. It’s important for people to know.
Thanks. You rock! I know you will do it justice too. You’re a good writer.
Thanks! I hope so.
Wow – you saw Heather Anderson doing her thing!
You are so right about it being hard because it’s supposed to be hard. It’s part of why we love hiking! And it’s sometimes the reason we hate it. I don’t know what it’s like to be a thru-hiker so I’m not going to assume, but there have been so many trails where I have cried with anguish and also felt unimaginably triumphant. And then I realize that is exactly why I’m doing it.