This morning was full of frantic plan-making. Sneaks left just after dawn to return to the Rainy Pass trailhead. He would be attempting to reach the border through the snow for a second time with a different group of thru-hikers.
Wocka, Giddyup, Kazu, and Sunshine packed up their gear, ready to catch a hitch with Aloha, Toots and Tears to the trailhead so they could start their road walk to the border. They were planning to walk the highway for twenty miles, at which point they would arrive at the Ross Lake trail, which was lower in elevation than the PCT and shouldn't have snow on it. They could then follow this trail to the Canadian border and return home knowing they had physically walked from one end of the country to the other.
There was just one problem. They couldn't get the maps.
It was a strange phenomenon, actually: Wocka went online to download the topo for the Ross Lake trail, but when she visited the website, it came up with an error message and said the site was disabled.
It was then that we realized just what the government shutdown was doing to us.
"If the government shut down the park website, do you think they'll close the Ross Lake trail?" I wondered.
"I don't know," Wocka admitted. "I've heard they're closing the national parks."
"The PCT goes through the North Cascades National Park up here," I pointed out. "And six other national parks, besides... they wouldn't close the PCT, would they?"
This thought made us all fall silent with horror. Not being able to walk the trail due to weather was one thing, but to be run off the trail by the government?
To be told that as free, legal US citizens we couldn't walk a trail that was built and maintained by volunteers and that all of us had been faithfully walking for five months? They couldn't legally take that away from us, could they? Surely not.
But the truth was, we were all afraid they might.
"We'll just have to try," Wocka sighed. "We won't know anything until we try. We're going to walk north until we can't anymore."
After big hugs and goodbyes, Wocka, Giddyup, Kazu and Sunshine left for the trail, and I was left sitting by myself in a big, empty hotel room. I had never felt so alone. Part of me wished I was walking the road with them, but I stared out the window at the pouring rain and knew what a miserable hike it would be. And to what end? I wouldn't get to see the monument, anyway, and that's what I wanted.
I stayed in the hotel until check out time, and then sat on the porch beneath the awning, waiting for Tanner to pick me up and take me to my aunt's house. He arrived just after noon and solemnly we drove out of Winthrop and toward the coast.
It was pouring as we drove; it didn't take too long to catch up to the others, who were walking in a line down the side of the highway. They had left their packs in Aloha's car and were slackpacking it beneath their umbrellas. Wocka was walking in her Crocs because her new waterproof boots had given her blisters. Her feet were soaking and she looked exhausted but determined. We stopped to give them final hugs and I told them if they needed anything, we would only be a few hours away.
After a quiet few hours in the car, we arrived at my Aunt Katie's house and gave hugs to her and my mom. It was warm and cozy here, though I felt drained of all energy and just ready to go to bed and sleep for a long, long time. Everyone was so proud of me and insisted that fifty miles shy of the border was hardly anything to fret over - but despite these words of sentiment, I was still full of regret for not reaching Canada.
We lay around the house talking and catching up with my cousins, and then, as evening fell, my phone rang. It was Wocka, and I knew immediately that something must be wrong.
"Wocka?" I answered the phone. "Where are you?"
"It's over," her heavy voice replied, empty of emotion, as though she had spent it all already. "We're done with the trail."
"What?" I said, shocked. "What happened?"
Slowly, she unraveled the trials and tribulations of the day: it had been a long twenty miles of road walking, but they had been making relatively good time at 3mph. A group fifteen people or so reached the Ross Lake trail early in the evening and stopped to take a break and eat some dinner. It was then that a ranger car pulled up to the trail and two park rangers got out. Apparently our worst fears about the shutdown this morning were right: the government had closed the parks. The rangers were there to keep everyone from hiking the trail. The hikers begged and pleaded and said they had walked twenty six hundred miles to be there, they were only thirty miles from the border, and couldn't they just finish? Please? But though the rangers were sympathetic, they were following orders and couldn't relent. They took pictures of all the hikers and said if they were caught on the trail, they would be arrested. And more than that: because the PCT went through North Cascades National Park in this area, it was also closed. Unless our friends snuck through Rainy Pass early this morning, they would be barred from hiking the real trail, too.
"And so we've done all we could," Wocka sighed heavily. "We tried our best. The weather and the government are determined to keep us from finishing our dreams."
I was stunned. I couldn't believe that after all this time that we could be so close to the end - a mere thirty miles - and have everything we've worked for pulled out from under us.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Oh, I've been crying all afternoon," she laughed. "But I can't do anything to change it, so I'm trying to come to terms with it. It's not easy."
"Yeah," I agreed, feeling her pain. "So what are you going to do now?"
"Well, that's what I'm calling you about," she said. "You said your aunt lives close by? Is there any way we can stay the night? Until we can figure out what our plans are for getting home?"
"Of course!" I said.
And so a few hours later Wocka, Giddyup, Kazu, and Sunshine arrived via hitching and Tanner, and our little house on the water was full of life and noise. We sat around the table talking about the trail and everything we've gone through to get to this point. And still no one could believe that after all the chaos with the weather, that the government shutdown would be the final kink in our plans.
"So what about the rest of the PCT?" I asked. "It goes through Yosemite, and Lassen Park, and Crater Lake... and a bunch of other parks that must be affected by the shutdown. I know most hikers are up in Washington, but what about the southbounders who are in California?"
"It's making life hell for them, too," Wocka said. "Apparently all visitor amenities are being shut down - as in, the outhouses are locked up and the water spigots are being turned off."
We gasped, remembering our days in the desert of Southern California: walking through thirty miles of heat and dehydration in order to get to that one, life-saving water spigot. And now they were turned off. As if lives didn't hang in the balance by doing this one simple act.
"Fortunately there are some amazing trail angels in those areas, as we know," Wocka continued. "It sounds like a lot of them are banding together and trying to leave extra water caches in these places to supplement the hikers. I hope it'll be enough."
Our hiker Facebook page was blowing up: desperate southbounders in need of trail magic, northbound hikers trying desperately to get through the snow, all of us learning about the extent of the shutdown and grasping for the latest news. Who had hiked from Rainy Pass? Who was hiking from Steven's Pass? What were the weather conditions like? What was the upcoming forecast? What gear was needed? Who had tried road walking? We updated everyone as best we could, giving the latest info about the Ross Lake alternate being shut down. Desperation was everywhere. Everyone was trying to find a loophole, and no one could. No one wanted to be the first to admit that maybe the hiking season is over. Maybe we can't make it, after all.
Wocka, Giddyup, Kazu and Sunshine spent the evening online trying to rearrange their flights to get home. Since our car only had one empty seat to drive home to Portland, we could only take Sunshine back with us. Wocka, Giddyup and Kazu decided on taking a bus to Seattle tomorrow morning to catch a bus to Portland where they would fly out in a few days. Kazu would fly out from Seattle but Wocka and Giddyup planned to stay with Katie in Portland before leaving. I was glad, at least, that I would get to see them one more time before we all said our final goodbyes.
Bramble + cousins