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.

Day 147: Stehekin!

Day 147
September 12
mile 2565.5- 2580.2
14.7 miles

The kid never returned last night, but in the morning light, I discovered that I had slept right next to a mouse hole! I saw one scurry by my groundcloth and disappear into a hole right beside me when I sat up! With only 14.7 miles to hike before I got to High Bridge, I knew I could make the 3:00 shuttle. I still wanted to get going as early as possible to ensure I wouldn’t need to rush. I was now on the last 105 miles of my journey, which I almost couldn’t believe! It’s been long and tough and far more stressful than I ever imagined, yet here I am at the other end. I have fewer miles to hike than my first stretch from the border to Warner Springs (although much tougher ones)! Yesterday, I thought a lot about the 100 mile Wilderness and Mt. Katahdin at the end of my Appalachian Trail hike- the equivalent to where I am now on this one.
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After I ate my breakfast and packed up, I headed back down the side path to the PCT, still unsure of what I might find on my way. Fortunately, I saw no fallen trees or crushed bodies. Although there were many small uphills sprinkled into the miles, I was generally descending about 4100 feet today. However, I discovered that it wasn’t going to be as easy as the profile made it look.
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I encountered several more huge fallen trees over the trail which took a lot of extra time and energy to get around, and then realized I had to ford another wide river. I spent several minutes trying to figure out the best way to get across and ended up using a thin fallen tree, which made me nervous about falling off. My body was extremely tight and I had no agility left, and with my backpack on, it was easy to topple over. Somehow, I made it across, but couldn’t figure out where the trail picked up on the other side! I reached a dead-end and realized I needed to turn around. The extra minutes I had given myself were rapidly disappearing. I walked past a sign posted on a log warning not to camp in this area due to the falling trees, and again, was glad I had stopped where I did last night (although trees were falling up there, too!).
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When I reached Cedar Camp after about five miles, I stopped for a snack break. I felt extremely tired.
The day heated up rapidly and my intestines were still acting up, which was frustrating. At one point, a brown animal caught my eye.
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He was moving very quickly from a branch to the trunk of a big tree and would alternate between hiding and peeking out to look at me as I stood there hoping to get a better glimpse of him. I never figured out what he was. It looked somewhat like a marten, but bigger. I was thankful I got to see him, though!
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Later on, I spent a few minutes watching a squirrel play on the trunk of a gigantic tree that
made the little guy seem so tiny!
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As the miles wore on, I felt more and more worn down. Suddenly, I came across a large group of people sitting on a rock. They all turned and looked at me as I walked by. One of them asked if was hiking the PCT and another asked if I knew Joat, who they were waiting for. I had never heard of him! They said they were expecting him at any moment. The one man in the group walked towards me and asked me something. I learned that this was Joat’s father and we tried to piece together where he might be. He told me when he had left Steven’s Pass, what color clothes he was wearing, and how many miles a day he was hiking. I figured the only way I could have not yet met him was if he started after me and was only now catching up. Some of the women came over and started asking me questions. One of them liked my skirt and wanted to know where it was from. She said I looked like I stepped out of a Patagonia catalog! Most of the group wanted to head back to the Ranger Station to get the 3:00 bus back to Stehekin, but Joat’s father said he would stay awhile longer to wait for his son and get the 6pm bus back. I thought it was so sweet for him to come out here and wait for him like that! And this guy had an entire fan club in addition!
The interactions helped give my energy a bit of a boost for the last several miles, but still, I felt very tired and dehydrated. I needed to take a couple more breaks. During one of them, the young kid that had walked away from his tent last night passed by with only the slightest acknowledgement! I watched him ahead of me on the switchbacks descending towards the Ranger’s Station.
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The little uphills thrown in zapped any remnants of energy I had. It took everything in me to get across the final bridge and reach the picnic table area.
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A couple of hikers were hanging out and reading, but none were thru-hikers. The sun was incredibly strong and I felt like I was baking. I brought my pack over to a picnic table in a more shaded area and opened up my food bag. Nothing was appealing anymore, but I needed to eat something. I lied down on a bench and tried to relax while I waited nearly an hour for the bus to arrive. It was one of the first times on this hike that I had the chance to do so! Occasionally, I would look around to see if anyone was offering a ride into town. I saw the kid when I first got here, but he had disappeared again! Someone must have given him a ride.
The members of Joat’s fanclub slowly started coming in, and well before the bus arrived, Joat and his father made it in as well! It was now after 3. The bus was late. I took out some cash, packed everything up and continued to wait. Finally, the red bus pulled in. Before I got on, Joat’s father introduced me to his son, who confirmed that we had never met. On our ride in, a couple of the ladies chatted with me, asked a little about my journey, and told me about the ranch where they were all staying. I planned on staying in the “Landing” which was where the lodge, restaurant, and post office were. The first stop was the ranch, where most of the bus emptied out. The bus then turned around and headed back onto the main road. I assumed the Landing would be the next stop, but the driver pulled over next to a small building. Everyone was confused. He asked if anyone wanted to get off at the bakery and I finally understood that he was stopping briefly and that we would be able to get back on. No one budged. Since the driver continued to sit, I got up and volunteered to get out and see what the bakery had. He said, “You asked when the post office closed. You’ll need to hurry. You have two minutes!”. I ran in, looked at the goods in the glass case in front of me, and asked for a blueberry scone, a fudge brownie, and a cup of coffee. Upon seeing me run out, another man in the bus decided to do the same. It was all a bit exciting. Then, we piled back in the bus with our goodies, which
I nibbled on as we drove further down the road. This would give my energy level a little boost! Then, we got stuck. A construction crew was working on clearing the rock debris off the road from the recent rock slide and the bus driver was told to wait. He told me that I would have to drop my pack and run up the stairs as soon as he let me out and explain to the postmaster that I was held up due to the road work. The driver said he hated it when hikers arrived to pick up their packages when he was about to close.
I got myself as ready as best I could with my paper bag of baked goods, coffee cup, stuff sack, and backpack at the front of the bus. When the door opened, I clumsily made my way out and dropped my possessions in the grass at the base of the steps. I was surprised to find that the man was not in a bad mood! I also saw why there had been a lot of theft at this post office in recent years. All of the boxes were piled around the room in no order. First, he needed to find each one on his list, look for the number, and then search for the box which was in one of two rooms. My friend Erik had mentioned that he was going to send me something here, but I only found my name next to two boxes- my regular resupply box and one I had sent ahead from Cascade Locks. He asked me to sit out in the lobby and look through the list of names while he searched for my second box upstairs. I found nothing from Erik, but it was interesting to see the names of the hikers who had mail waiting for them here, as that meant they were still on trail.
I thanked him and headed back down the steps to finish my scone and coffee before walking up the road to the Landing with an even heavier load in my arms. On the porch of the main building, I could see Ole,Veggie, and Trackmeat! “How do you get up there?” I asked. Ole invited me to join them at their beer can littered table. They had arrived in the morning and had spent a couple of hours swimming in the water. They said it was a perfect temperature. I said I wanted to see if I could get a room first. Fortunately, there was one available and Ole offered to help me bring my boxes back to my room. We agreed to meet for dinner after I showered and got settled. I started hand-washing as many clothes as I could and then headed back to the porch, where we strung together several tables. I was introduced to Gumby and Double-It, whose names I had been seeing in the registers most of the way, but who I had never met. Iceman and Cattywampus and Purple Haze also joined the table. I decided to get a glass of wine with my dinner and it turned out to be a good one. We were telling funny stories about things that had happened to us during our hike and although it’s easy to make me laugh, the wine was making me laugh even harder. Purple Haze was talking about the guy who had given him a ride into Tehachapi, who was convinced that he would one day see Bigfoot in the Mojave desert and who later wrote comments on Purple Haze’s blog asking if he had had any sightings. I asked Purple Haze if he had allowed the guy to think that he believed in it, too, and he said, “Well, I did kind of leave the door open!”. I told the guys near me about my strange night with the kid walking off and then, I saw him walk by. Trackmeat thought he looked creepy. “Did you see him staring at you as he walked by?”. Then Ole said, “He’s looking at you through the vines down below!”. I had seen him at one of the tables when I walked into the bakery, but didn’t feel like talking to him. I told them about the frog hopping towards my face and the mice hole I slept next to, and soon everyone was talking about their cowboy camping animal encounters. We recalled Viking’s deer clothes-eating story and the time the deer leapt over Veggie and TrackMeat while they were asleep. Then, Ole told the story of waking up early one morning when he heard Veggie getting up and feeling something wet on his face. It was a giant green slug!! And it had left a trail of slime all over his sleeping bag! After he peeled it off his face, Veggie asked him if he wanted him to put it back on so he could take a picture! I thought that was by far the most disgusting animal story I had heard! The boys had no plans on where to sleep. They hoped they could spend the night on the porch and then take the 8:00 bus back to the trail. Ole said I would still probably be sleeping then and I said he was probably right!
I headed back to my room and looked at the boxes of things I had to sort through. I washed out my pot and a few more pieces of clothing and put all of the food aside to deal with in the morning. It was time to go to sleep.