Welp… guess this is Canada. Looks a lot like Washington. That whole “borders are arbitrary” thing. Although I guess I just crossed a big life-border – wonder if I’ll think that’s arbitrary, too.
The trail meanders into the woods a bit, into a campsite where the bear box – Canada has shiny things like bear boxes in its campsites – is full of hiker leavings. I don’t need it, so I ignore it, cross the creek and then start the last-last climb to Manning Park and victory.
It takes about a mile and a bit for the whisky to settle in – it makes me want to talk, so I fire up the voice recorder for the last time, talk about the finish. Talk about my feelings. Talk to some slippery logs I’m trying to make my way across, catch it all in the recording. Heh. That’ll be fun to listen to later.
I imagine that A Game and Undercover will catch me, or at least arrive to the restaurant in time for beers. I’m moving pretty slow and also talking to myself. (Kind of.) That’s gotta give them a bit of an advantage, right?
Even though it’s up – as I was warned it would be – Spesh was right, it does feel like a victory lap. Like one last chance to use these skills I’ve garnered over the last five-odd months. It’s been weird and good and strange and wonderful, but I’m happy about it.
Or I will be, if I don’t get stung by Canadian bees. I don’t need to get stung by Canadian bees. I’d be really okay if I didn’t get stung by Canadian bees. Even Canadian bees have no chill, I guess.
And then the trail hits another trail and turns into a seldom-used road, and it’s down, down, past dayhikers and runners, down the hill these last few miles.
Then it’s a turnoff, from the rarely-used road to another trail, navigating with Halfmile’s maps.
And only kinda sorta down now, mostly flat, towards a paved road that’ll lead me to the Lodge.
I’m just putting away my camera when an older couple stops me, taking me for a thruhiker: Have I seen [Undercover] and [A Game]? Why yes, yes I have! I’ve been hiking with them for a while now, and they shouldn’t be too far behind me. I thank them for giving the world Undercover – they’re his parents – and ask if they’ve seen an older version of me; While I told my mom it probably wasn’t smart to try to meet me out here if she didn’t feel comfortable hiking it, I hope she didn’t try to surprise me, that she’s waiting back at the lodge for me. They haven’t seen her, so I’m hoping for the best. They ask me how hard the hike is from here; I tell them it’s not so bad, but if they get to the road, it gets a little rougher. They thank me, and keep on keeping on. I hear joyous shrieks not too long after, and my heart warms in anticipation of my own reunion.
And then, sign, oh glorious sign!
I can’t believe I’m standing here. I’m not nearly to the lodge yet, but it’s so nice to have more proof that I did the thing.
So it’s following the road, first on the road, then on a trail that may or may not be a trail, then back to the road.
I wander down the abandoned road, then all of a sudden, traffic light. Giant sign. Lodge this way.
There are a ton of buildings, and I’m way more bewildered than I ever was in the wilderness, so I ask a gentleman walking a pitbull if this is actually really where all the smelly hikers are going. He chuckles and nods. I wander until the signage starts to make sense, and I see hikers wandering in and out of one particular building. The restaurant, off to my right, seems to be closed, so I guess this, to my left, is the lodge. 2658.9 woooo.
There are comfy couches and hikers looking sedentary; I wave at Ping Pong on my way to the desk, where my mom has left a key. I make my way to her room, and knock first, for some reason, then fit the key into the lock. She’s sitting on the bed, looking worried as I opened the door, lets out an excited yell on seeing me, alternates between hugging me close and holding me at arms length to examine me. I missed you too, Mom.
Then I get swatted, sassed for not sending out spots the last few days. I… what. No but really, I did. I show her the records on my phone; I swear, I did it. My phone says I did it. Apparently my phone is a goodamn liar – she hasn’t gotten a spot since Stehekin. Spesh has been keeping her sane, giving her estimates on my arrival based on my last spot from Stehekin; he had it to within an hour. Damn good work, Spesh.
I manage to get my shoes off before my mother demands proof of life to send back home. She makes me pick my pack back up – THE HORROR.
Then she shoos me into the tub so I stop smelling like thruhiker.
Upon emerging in a towel, she tries not to show her alarm at how skinny I am – and I direct her away from my collarbones down to my bitchin’ calves. Developed over 2650 miles, they’re the body part I’m most proud of, and the one – save my ribcage – that’s most noticeably different from when I started. I hope I don’t lose them in the coming months. She brought a scale with her, and I weigh in at 148 lbs – which, still, for a six-foot lady, is supposedly within the normal BMI. I started the trail at 175 lbs thanks to a last-minute frontloading with ice cream, cheeseburgers, and pizza, so I’ve lost 27 pounds over the course of the trek, ten by Hiker Heaven, if L-Rod’s scales are to be believed. I think it was more before Shasta; I actually think I’ve put on weight since then.
We manage to make it to the restaurant before the kitchen closes-closes, get some food to go, spend the evening catching up, or, when Mom goes to bed – PST is hard, coming from EST – writing when the internet decides to cooperate.
In the morning, we eat breakfast with Undercover, A Game, and Undercover’s parents, strangely attired in our civvies. It’s a strange sensation, to be in different clothes today.
Mom’s convinced me to head out today, but A Game and Undercover convince me to come back to their cabin, share some wine. We imbibe and laugh and stare into space, wondering what on earth now. We’re in the middle of talking and wondering when Mom comes, reluctant to take me but concerned about the incoming weather. The now-Floridian doesn’t do snow. So I bid heartfelt goodbyes, and it’s only in the car, getting nauseous from the speed that it hits me, hard.
The next few days are a relaxing-but-stiff-af whirlwind – driving to Seattle, hanging around with Mom the following day, my body getting stiffer and stiffer. Walking, once second nature, has become strange and labored to me, as strange and labored as being in the noise- and people-saturated world outside the hotel. I brave it to see my Brother From Another Mother – I haven’t seen him in nearly a decade, and we speak like we never were separated. Thank goodness for family, chosen and otherwise.
I’m thankful that Mom’s on the same first leg back to Denver with me; I’m not ready to let her go yet. My heart is always in my throat when I fly, but I’m transfixed by the land below me. I walked a lot over land like that.
I’m sad to leave her, but I don’t have much time to think about it: Spesh picks me up from the airport at 10, and we have a wedding to attend at 2 – a wedding I’m so, so glad to have made it home for. At the wedding, I informally accept my first assignments at work, drink in the sight of my home mountains, breathe in my friends – and it almost seems like I never left. The last five months, the whole PCT, almost seems like a dream.
But the deep, abiding, bittersweet ache that pulses in my legs reminds me otherwise.