As on most nights on the trail, I woke up every hour or so, checked the time, saw that it was still the middle of the night, and changed my sleeping position. Around 5:30 in the morning, I fell asleep hard (also as usual). This morning, I awoke at 6:33 to the sound of my breathing. It was 6:30 already? I looked out and saw Gumby and Double-It packing up their tent. There was no way I could be ready in time to leave with them. Although I was worried that there would be no one to take my picture at the border, I reminded myself to stay calm and stick to my own rhythm. Everything would work out, I told myself. I ate my half serving of granola and started a boil for my coffee, which I ate with a single poptart. Double-It called out another “Congratulations” to me, which made me smile. Gumby said that if they didn’t see me at the border, they would see me in Manning Park. “Okay”. They took off at 7am. It was still rainy and dark out. I figured that my slower start would give the clouds more of a chance to break up. Slowly, I packed up my things- stuffing my long underwear and sleeping socks into my extra clothing stuff sack for the last time, squishing my sleeping bag into its own sack, and throwing each little bag outside my tent in order to fold up my sleeping pad and groundcloth.
I realized that it was best if I took a few extra minutes to myself on this last morning. A few tears flowed out as I thought about the magnitude of what I had just undertaken and what I had gone through over these past few months. In only a few miles, it would all be over. It was time. It’s not fun to hike and camp in cold rain every day, and now that my tent was completely blown apart, I didn’t even have a useful shelter anymore. I needed to give my body a chance to rest and heal, as well. I had been sick for far too long. A month into this hike, I remember feeling so sad that I only had four months left out here. In Oregon, I felt traumatized by the thought of being alone in Vancouver, going through security and waiting in long lines at the airport, and being cramped up in an airplane for hours on my way to a city in which I really had no one to greet me. I wanted to keep living this trail life, even though I was sick and in pain. Now, it had come to its natural end and I was finally ready for it to be over.
I headed onto the trail for the last time. The bushes along it transferred the rain water that had settled on them onto my rain pants as I walked. I thought I had slept in too late and had missed Joat on his return, but suddenly, I saw him in front of me! I congratulated him again, and just like last night, he reminded me that what we had done was a very impressive thing. He said there are a lot of people who will never be able to comprehend why anyone would ever want to walk more than 10 miles. Very few people would be able to even begin to understand what we did. The emotions that I had felt while I was packing up quickly returned. My face contorted and I could not hold back the tears. Joat stood calmly in front of me, allowing me to release what needed to be released. I realized how much pain and suffering I had gone through for most of the duration of the hike, knowing that it had made my hike so much tougher than it would have been otherwise. Despite everything, I had made it and now stood two miles from the finish line. I asked Joat what his name meant and he said “Jack of all Trades”. He listed all of the occupations that he had tried out during his life. Now, the thing that he wanted the most was to be back with his wife. He asked me if I needed someone to take my picture at the border. I told him that I wasn’t worried- that someone would come along. “It always works out.” He agreed. Then he looked up, and said, “Here comes someone now!”. I smiled and looked back to see who it was. Purple Haze! I waved to him but he didn’t seem to recognize me until he got close. “Wendy! How did you get ahead of me?”. I was wondering the same thing! “How did you get behind me?”. Joat said, “You two can take pictures of each other at the border!”. Purple Haze said his wife was coming to meet him, so he didn’t need anyone, but I knew I now had someone to take my picture. Joat let me know that when I hit the S-curves in the trail, I was close. Part of me wished he hadn’t said anything so it could be more of a surprise. We said our goodbyes and let Joat continue on his way, and then I took the lead, happy to exchange my tears for smiles and chit-chat. Purple Haze talked about his early night last night and the feast of snacks that he had allowed himself to eat. He also told me the story about meeting Story Time one night in the dark. After he had gotten into his tent, he heard a noise, which he thought was an animal. “Go away!” he shouted at it. In the morning, he awoke to find that another camper that had slept nearby. He introduced himself as Story Time, and Purple Haze realized that he was the one he had shouted at last night. He actually did move away!
I saw a grouse in front of me and stopped to take a picture. “It’s a male”, I told Purple Haze. My camera was not capturing it in the darkness, but for some reason, the grouse was not frightened off. It was the first one on my hike that let me take its picture over and over again until I finally got a good one!
Purple Haze was pleased as well. We finally both got good images and felt like we could continue on. After awhile, Purple Haze fell behind a bit.
And then, before I knew it, I came to the first S-curve! My heart started to beat a little faster. Still, I had to be patient. The monument was not within sight.
On the final curve, I saw a clearing through the trees and could make out part of the wooden monument and a sign. “I see it!” I called back to Purple Haze. And then, I was suddenly there in front of it. Just a quiet little wooden monument in the middle of a clearing in the woods.
I yelled out a “whoo-hoo” and lifted my hands into the air. Purple Haze gave me a hug and I set my pack near the obelisk and tried to lift it off its base, as I knew the register was inside. I also knew I wanted to have my picture taken with me lifting it up, as I had a seen a picture of my friend doing it last year. I did not, however, realize how extraordinarily heavy it was! I could not get the top part off the base! Purple Haze and I had to rock it back and forth several times and then he was finally able to get it off. If I was alone, I don’t know how I would have managed! As I was flipping through the pages of the registry, I heard a noise in the woods. I looked up to see Beads heading towards us. “Beads! Congratulations!”. I tried to give her a hug, but she wasn’t as receptive as she was in Stehekin. She said that she had something in mind. “Something in mind?”. I wondered if she had some party horns or champagne or something similar in her pack. It turned out that she wanted to have her picture taken naked! She had been doing this on all of the high passes throughout the hike. I told her she better hurry up and do it before Mrs. Haze came along, as I was pretty sure she would not appreciate that! Purple Haze gladly accepted the job of photographer. After she was done, it was my turn to have my picture taken.
They wanted to try it, too, but neither managed to lift it up. The rain started coming down again and we scrambled to put back on our rain layers and tuck our packs under some branches. Beads said she wanted to get going, but I wanted to stay and read through the registry and hang out a bit longer. I huddled underneath a tree, shivering in the wet, while I read the previous comments.
At last, Mrs. Haze arrived! After her celebratory hugs, kisses, and photographs with her husband, and the gift of a matching Purple Haze T-shirt, I was invited to share the bottle of champagne and snacks that she had hiked in. The champagne began to affect me and I had to do my best to hold myself together while I answered Mrs. Haze’s questions. Purple Haze told her about his role of photographer to Beads, and she was not pleased! She said that if she had seen that when she arrived, she would have turned right around and hiked the 8 miles back!
I still had to sign the register so I walked back to the notebook in its plastic bag on the base of the monument. My hand almost couldn’t write and my brain was not able to think properly by that point. I scribbled something illegible.
I took one more look at the clear-cut separating the border between the two countries, and then put on my backpack once again.
I thought it would be nice to have some company for the remaining 9 miles, but they urged me to go on ahead, as I would be faster. I figured that they needed some catching up time, as well. During the first mile or so, I thought about all of the lessons that I had learned on my journey and felt like I was having a lot of profound thoughts that I would have to share with people later. Then, the effect of the champagne wore off and I suddenly felt very, very tired and I quickly forgot all of my fascinating thoughts! How many miles did I have left? I wanted to get my heavy pack of my back! The trail climbed and still, the grey clouds hung low.
I walked over a little stream, which just a day ago, was so meaningful and life-saving to me, but now, I just wanted to be done with it all.
The remaining miles dragged on and on. Mrs. Haze had directed me on which way to turn, but I hadn’t really taken it in. Maybe I would get lost on my own. I followed the signs to the best of my ability, and when I got tired, found a little rock to sit on and eat another Snickers bar and take a sip of water from my dirty water bottle. The trail opened up to a wider path and then dropped down to wetter terrain. I had to step to the sides of the trail to avoid getting my feet wet. At last, I reached the road. After figuring out which way to turn, I hoped someone would offer to drive me the last mile to the lodge. No one did. Ever so slowly, and with all of the remaining energy I had, I finally reached Manning Park. I tried to figure out which building was the lodge, but chose incorrectly. A van driver said, “You look like you just walked a long way.” I nodded. He pointed me over to the lodge. Then, I saw Beads outside a white van. And before I knew it, TrackMeat was making his way over! Everyone was still here! They were all waiting to get a ride to Vancouver on the floor of Story Time’s converted van. I still hadn’t taken my pack off because it was raining and I just wanted to get inside. They invited me to go with them, but I said I was going to spend the night here and take the bus to Vancouver in the morning.
We posed for a group picture, said goodbye, and I finally headed into the lodge to get a room.
My fingers were so cold that I could not even manage to use the pen to sign my name!
I made my way to my room, and for the last time, stripped off my dirty, smelly clothes and jumped into the warm shower. I let the water fall off my body, and with it, all of the stress that had accumulated within me to make it here. I turned on the coffee maker, jumped under the bedsheets to warm up, and for the first time on this endeavor, did not worry about cleaning or re-organizing anything. After months of preparation and five months of constantly being on the go, I finally had nothing to do. It was a very good feeling.