Immediately after arriving at Stehekin, which is seeing hardly any tourists because of all the fires, a ranger came out and asked if we had any questions. I took advantage of this opportunity to go through a sampler of the stupid questions I was asked while working in Yellowstone. “So at what elevation do deer turn into elk? Why do you guys sell animal crackers if there are signs everywhere saying not to feed the animals? When do you release the bears in the morning?” He had no sense of humor and tried to explain to me that deer and elk can coexist at the same elevation.
The first stop was the ranger station, where we got the necessary permits to spend the night in the national park. I’m glad he didn’t ask me for our real names, because I would’ve had no idea what they were and just made stuff up. As I should’ve known, they were familiar with thru hikers coming in during the six weeks we trickle through. I became the group leader in the national park records, and the others ended up calling me Dear Leader all the way to Canada. We were all listed as being from Ohio because that’s easier than listing Tennessee, Japan, Missouri, and Ohio all on one small space.
The next stop was, of course, the bakery. The Stehekin bakery is the stuff of legends, and we’d been hearing about it all the way since the SoCal desert. Martha Stewart visited there, and when I tried to confirm this with a clerk she told me, “I don’t know, but I go everywhere Martha goes so I hope so!” I replied, “Me too! I’ve been doing the same ever since prison.” There was an awkward silence and she found an excuse to help some other customers.
We spent over three hours at the bakery eating and telling stories about Paiute Mama, the “Wicked Witch of Walker Pass” and everyone’s favorite sorceress trail angel. Quick refresher: she killed her boyfriend with a knife, spent 12 years in prison, and now claims to be a practitioner of white and blue magic in the desert. She lives in a shack with her boyfriend, Scary Larry, and recently posted on the PCT Facebook page about the police helicopters over her house after her neighbor mysteriously died. “Everyone knows he was a tweaker [meth addict] who couldn’t handle his shit. I had nothing to do with it,” she let us know. She opens her shack to hikers in the final desert section, and the PCT Association has politely asked her to stop being a trail angel because she’s insane.
The rain started right when we got to the trail, though wasn’t terribly heavy. We only went an hour and 40 minutes to our campsite, where there was a family that seemed concerned to have five homeless looking guys with crazy names walk in and join them. Cardboard and I slept inside a random three-walled shack we found nearby in the woods, and it was incredibly luxurious compared to setting up camp in the rain. By the next morning the rain had died down and left us in peace until the very last day, except for some strong storms during the nights.
It was cold, especially as we ascended to 7000 feet (2130m) and stayed at that elevation until Canada. We managed to do 30 miles (48km) a day in 12 hours each day because it was too cold to stop and take long breaks. We had to sleep with our water and keep it close to our bodies during the day so it wouldn’t freeze, and there was snow at the higher elevations. It was a bit brutal going through there in a freakishly early winter storm, but incredibly beautiful.
Four of us, all except the German guy we never saw nor heard from again, stayed together all the way to the end. It was nice to do something like that together, especially since we’d all met way back in California.
The scenery in the last part of Washington was among the best on the entire PCT, comparable only with the Sierra Nevada and the John Muir Trail back in central California. Cardboard left his spoon by accident at Cutthroat Pass, my favorite view since Mexico, and ended up using a stick to eat his peanut butter and ramen noodles. We are hiker trash.
At the advice of a former thru hiker, at the very end we went around and decided to share our trashiest moments on the trail. Mine involved wearing a trash bag during laundry, sleeping in an outhouse to escape a storm, and getting kicked out of the Redding post office because the postmistress thought I was a hobo. Cardboard got desperate with water in the desert and used his pee bottle as a water bottle.
I wish I could have some great story about how wonderful it felt to finally get to the Canadian border. To the contrary, I just wanted to get out of there. We were soaked and cold, and still had another three hours from the northern terminus until Canada’s Highway 3. Rather than make all the thru hikers hike another 30 miles south to the closest dirt road, the Canadian government constructed a 14km footpath from the US border to the lodge in Manning Provincial Park. The British Columbia section took us a little less than three hours. Definitely the shortest out of the four states and provinces we visited on this trek.
After a quick victory photo shoot we were anxious to get warm and dry. We booked it to the lodge, where we devoured large enough pizzas that the Aussies who worked there thought we were insane.
The PCT was definitely worth all the heat, cold, snowstorms, rain, blisters, sore feet, hunger, and thirst. On the grand series of buses and trains between Manning Park in British Columbia and my hometown of Columbus, Ohio I already found myself looking up details of the 3000 mile Continental Divide Trail, which I’ve been seriously thinking of tackling in a few years. Thru hiking seems kind of addictive. Or maybe I’ll hit up the Appalachian Trail. I have a lot of time to decide.
In Chicago on my way back home I stopped by the Spanish Consulate to pick up my Spanish visa. Next week I’m moving to Madrid to teach English for the Ministry of Education, and I’m looking forward to living in one place for a spell.