And so it was that we left Washington and traveled the long route back home.
Tanner drove, which meant that since leaving Portland to pick me up from Wenatchee a week ago, he had driven about 50 hours to and from Washington helping hikers try and finish our hike. After today, he and I both deserved a long rest.
Once back in Portland, Sunshine continued to make travel plans and I got in touch with Katie. Rotisserie and Sansei had left for Eugene and were planning some small vacations on the coast before Rotisserie headed home to Minnesota. Katie's family was planning a get-together tonight in celebration of our PCT journey, so she invited Sunshine, Wocka, Giddyup and I to attend.
We arrived just after dusk, spending the evening in good company. Katie's family made some wonderful food and posted pictures of our trip on the windows, so we all stood beside the panes and laughed as we remembered each memory on trail.
We talked about friends we missed and the memories we had made with each other these past few months. We talked about our sadness at not finishing our journey, and how proud we were at all we had accomplished this summer. We didn't know the ending to everyone's stories, but over the next few weeks we would learn more about our hiker friends and the fate of their journeys.
- Sneaks, after setting back off into the snow, made it to the border a week later. Good weather, GPS, and a dedicated group of people made the walk successful, though it wasn't without peril. They faced steep, icy terrain, freezing temperatures, a slow pace, dangerous washouts, and navigational errors. But they persevered and they were able to achieve what we had not.
- Most thru-hikers who were stuck behind Steven's Pass ultimately gave up the dream of the border. This included our dear friend Papa Bear, who hadn't quite made it to Steven's Pass before the storm. The path from Rainy Pass to the border was well broken by Sneak's group, but Steven's Pass to Stehekin remained impassable for some time.
- Even those most hikers behind Steven's Pass gave up, there were some who attempted to walk through the snow without good equipment or locational devices. Search and Rescue was called out several times in the coming weeks for two or three hikers who had gotten lost in the snow. Fortunately in all these cases the hikers were safely retrieved (thanks in part to the wonderful trail angels the Dinsmore's, who were a huge asset to the police with their carefully kept hiker-records), but there were a lot of fears, worries and rumors floating around our Facebook page in the meantime. It made a lot of hikers rethink their desperation to reach the border.
- Our friends Dance Party and Focus, after trying to walk through the snow from Steven's Pass to Stehekin, ran into the same issues we had: four feet of snow and constant trail breaking for hours on end. Deciding it wasn't worth it, they opted to take an "alternate alternate" route (since the "alternate" route - Ross Lake trail - was closed) and highway road walked the entire 100 miles to the border in costumes with friends. They ended up in local newspapers and people who lived on the road became instant trail angels, putting out signs reading: "PCT Alternate Alternate Route Trail Magic."
- In the last weeks of October, the final group of hikers stuck in Steven's Pass, including Sweet Tooth, Hot Tub, 30 Pack and Outburst, rallied together and did the impossible: they plowed through 100 miles of snow to get to Stehekin, and then continued to the border. They may have been the last hikers this season to reach Canada, and we were proud of their tenacity.
When the night grew dark, we sat around the outdoor bonfire and shared stories, telling our nightly highlights one more time. We talked about our favorite moments, the insightful things we had learned, all the ways we had changed and yet, had stayed the same. We talked about how things would be different at home, and would we be able to adapt? We didn't know how to sleep indoors, how to eat real food, sit on couches all day, or go back to working 9-5. We didn't know how to be part of society anymore, and we didn't know if we wanted to. We talked about our longing to finish the trail, our sorrow that it had ended so soon. But to sit among friends and talk was a kind of healing. And I realized that having fifty more miles of trail left was a bit of magic in itself: now I didn't have to say my journey was over. There would always be a small part of me that would want to go back to the PCT, to feel those miles beneath my shoes until the monument rose into sight. Having that small piece was enough to keep my dream alive. As long as I still had fifty miles at the end of my trail, I would never truly be finished walking. The journey would never truly be over.
As the night wound down, we wiped away tears, gave each other hugs, said goodbye. We made promises, to return to the trail, in one way or another. It would always call us back, and in each other, we had this shared experience.
I said a final goodbye to Wocka, Giddyup, Sunshine and Katie, and drove home with my family. I thought about what life would be like, in the next few days, the next few weeks. I knew it would be culture shock to return to "real life" from the trail, but I didn't know yet how hard it would be. All I knew was that I had changed in small ways and in big, and I didn't want to go back to being the person I used to be.
As I stared out the window to the blackness, I was reminded of something from a fellow thru-hiker. His friend had written a poem for him upon his arrival home, and its poignancy struck me in this moment.
After Caesar conquered Gaul,
he returned again to Rome
and kicked his sandals off in the hall
of his well-appointed home.
His wife poured out a cup of wine,
the senators saluted,
and though he saw that all was fine,
his heart felt convoluted.
“Is it me,” he said, somewhat chagrined,
“or have you changed the chairs?
That statue in the atrium—
was it once beneath the stairs?”
“I haven’t moved a single thing,”
his wife said with a shrug.
“See that sepia-colored ring
of vomit on the rug?
The day you left, the tomcat hurled
and I preserved it in your name,
so that even when you owned the world
your house would feel the same.”
Caesar scratched his head and thought,
something still feels mighty queer.
He wistfully recalled the cot
where he’d slept these last eight years.
“Julius,” Senator Lucian said,
“I don’t mean to be a jerk,
but shouldn’t you be off to bed?
Tomorrow, it’s back to work.”
They raised a toast to victory,
said it’s good to have you back;
then they all walked out in twos and threes,
while Caesar stowed his pack.
How, he thought, can it all be the same,
just the same as it was before?
When it feels like every single thing
is a little less—or, no—a little more?