Day 148: The Last Stretch

Day 148
September 13
mile 2580.2-2587.9 (North Fork Camp)
7.7 miles

Although I wished I could keep sleeping, I got up well before 8. I had so many things to do! I headed over to the restaurant for breakfast, where I was surprised to find no other thru-hikers. Soon enough, Purple Haze came in to join me, however. We talked about our post-hike plans and I finally got some confirmation that the lodge and hostel in Manning Park was open! His wife had made a reservation! I now no longer had to worry about the bus to Vancouver and could pack one night’s less dinner! I thought I would need to camp out on my final night! This news brought me a lot of relief!
At 8:00, I ran out to wave goodbye to the boys as they boarded the bus, thinking this was definitely the last time I would be seeing them. Then, I returned to my table and ordered some yogurt with granola and fruit. This would be my last chance to eat a double breakfast!
Then, I headed back to my room to do my sorting and packing. The post office opened at 10, so I walked my box of extra things to send home back down the street.
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I ended up walking way past the building, however! I didn’t realize it was really only steps from my room! After that was taken care of, I headed over to the common area to see if I could get on the one common computer in the Landing. I found Purple Haze on it, however, typing up his latest Trail Journal entry, so I decided to head back to my room and finish packing. I needed to get on the next bus which left at 11am, and would hang out at the bakery until the afternoon bus came to bring me back to the trail. I wished the bakery was in this section of the town so I could look at the water while I ate. I felt like I didn’t have a chance to take in the beauty of this place, which was only accessible by hiking the PCT and taking the shuttle in, taking a ferry, or flying in on a water plane! I wished I could have gone swimming or at least watch the sun set over the gorge. With minutes to go, I managed to get on the computer to tell the friend I had asked if he could pick me up at the airport to please reply by e-mail, as I had no reception and couldn’t access text messages. The computer was unbelievably slow! I tried to send out a quick facebook update to let people I was in the final town and had only 90 miles to go, and then I had to run for the bus!
Several of the hikers that I had seen at the Dinsmores were now hanging out at The Landing. I loaded my pack into the crowded bus and told the driver I would be getting the 2:00 bus back to the trail from the bakery and gave him a tip for his efforts in getting me to the post office before it closed yesterday.
As I exited the bus at the bakery, the morning crowd got back on. “Now it’s my turn!”. Gumby told me that she and Double-It were on the five day plan to get to the border, so they would probably be seeing me. “Cool”.
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I headed over to the chairs on the lawn, set my pack down, and spread out my wet clothes. Then, I headed inside for a latte and scone. Unfortunately, they were completely out of the blueberry scones and weren’t making anymore! I scoured the case for something else, but was having a very hard time coming up with something that I wanted! I went back and forth between the day old shelf and the fresh baked goods, and at last decided on something called a thumbprint. The cashier told me he would make my latte after the hiker crowd got their fill and were all back on the bus. As I sat outside, the mosquitoes bit me, one after another. Shouldn’t they be gone by now? It was the middle of September!
Soon, Joat, his father, and several members of his fanclub (ladies from a hiking club just outside of Portland) arrived. It was nice to see some familiar faces. Joat’s father was very sweet to me and very concerned about my stomach illness. He told me not to push too hard. They were headed to the Landing to get Joat’s resupply box.
I decided to head inside to try to escape the mosquitoes. It turned out they were worse inside! I kept slapping my arms as they landed on me. Soon, the bus from the Ranger Station pulled in and another batch of thru-hikers got out. “Tumbleweed! How did you get behind me?!”. He told me that he had taken a couple days off to hang out with some friends. He didn’t think he was going to be able to finish by the 17th anymore. He told me Puma would probably be coming in on the next bus.
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I watched the frenzy at the counter and then went outside to watch the hikers re-board the bus. Beads got excited when she saw me and asked if she could give me a hug. Several of the Portland hiking group members also boarded the bus, leaving only a few behind. One of the ladies pointed me out to her husband and told him, “That’s Wendy! You should talk to her!”. He offered to buy me an ice cream in exchange for my life story. “Talk to her about her career!”, his wife shouted as she got on the bus. After we got our ice cream, we sat on one of the picnic tables outside and I told them why I hiked these long trails. The woman said it was very understandable. Unfortunately, the man wasn’t able to offer much advice in the way of a career because I told him that I didn’t want to work in biotech anymore. It was nice to have some friendly and interesting company for awhile. I had to jump up to order a sandwich to take with me as well as a couple of extra baked goods before the bus came back.
My companions sat near me on the bus as they returned to the ranch and then I was left with the few remaining section hikers on the way back to High Bridge. The man in front of me started talking to me and I learned that he had hiked the AT in the late 60s. He told me about all of the peaks he had subsequently climbed.
As we arrived at the ranger station, I saw Story Time sitting near the bus and thought he was headed into Stehekin. However, he was still there when it left! He was bypassing the last town and would be in the exact part of the trail as me in this final stretch! I couldn’t believe it…
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I decided to sit at the picnic table and eat half of my sandwich so I didn’t have to carry the weight. The friend of the man who had hiked the AT sat down across from me and chatted with me a bit before the AT guy came over. He had a very serious, straight-laced demeanor and never smiled! He asked me why I was hiking the trail and seemed to like my answer. They then headed off to start their hike, leaving me alone for a few minutes to take in the feeling of starting my final stretch and last 90 miles of this hike. There were so many tasks that I was hoping to get done in Skykomish or Stehekin, like call up my gas and internet companies to let them know when I was returning home and when I needed my service restarted, plans for an airport pick-up and possible wedding attendance, the purchase of a wedding gift, and other communication, none of which happened because I had no service. But part of me was just fine with the sense of peace of not having that outside connection to the world. I thought about everything I had dreamed this hike would be and everything that I went through, and felt very, very strong.
I packed up and headed back out to the trail, this time knowing exactly where it started because I had checked it out while I waited for the bus yesterday. I climbed up to Coon Lake and instead of feeling the strength and happiness that I usually feel upon leaving town, felt like I was dragging. My pack was much, much too heavy. And I thought I had lightened it up as best I could! I wondered if Geared Up and Captain Kiddo had put a stone in it when I left it in their sight while I checked out of my room! I guess it was the weight from the baked goods that was making it feel so heavy!
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After another stretch of climbing, I decided to sit down and eat the rest of the sandwich to try to lighten my load.
I hiked on to the Bridge Creek Camp area, which was extremely crowded, and then headed back into the solitary woods to climb again. I had read in my guidebook that special permits were needed to camp in this section, and that camping was only allowed in certain allotted campgrounds, each with a quota. Since none of the other thru-hikers I had talked to were concerned about the additional permit, I didn’t worry either.
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In the evening, I came across Story Time sprawled out along the trail, snacking. I had to talk to him for a couple of minutes and then continued on my way in the receding light.
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After crossing Bridge Creek, I followed the tent symbol on a wooden sign up the side trail to the North Fork Camp. Surprisingly, no one seemed to be there! I decided to set up in a spot away from the water so I could hear if someone came by, and when it got dark, figured no rangers would be bothering me now. I ate the last remnants of my sandwich for dinner and tucked myself into my sleeping bag, feeling peaceful about the last stretch ahead of me.

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