When we last updated our trail journal, we were heading up to Canada to finish the second half of the trail Southbound. Since then, we have finished the state of Washington (minus a bunch of miles on account of the record wildfire season), a much-anticipated section of the trail for us.
In retrospect, going Southbound was both a good and bad decision. Good, because we were able to beat the Northern California heat that was bent on killing me, as well as beat the majority of inclement weather and forest fires which seemed to pop up in our wake as we made our way south. Bad, because after finishing Washington, the most beautiful parts of the trail were now behind us, and the remaining flat expanse of trail in Oregon and NorCal was to be not only anti-climatic, but choked with smoke.
After making it to Trout Lake, just a few days away from the Washington-Oregon border, we decided to end our 2015 Pacific Crest Trail hike.
I would love to blame it on the smoke and my lungs (I have asthma), my arches that throb and burn daily and might be collapsing, the handful of other medical troubles that could do with being “checked out,” but the honest truth is just that our hearts haven’t been in it for a while. For about a month and a half, maybe more, we’ve been weary of the trail.
After leaving the town of Trout Lake, Washington, we hit the trail for the evening, hiking up and back down as per usual when crossing a road. Also as per usual, our packs were heavy with a full resupply of food and we went about half the distance that we’d planned, made lazy from a few hours rest in town.
We selected a nice campsite. “Nice” meaning the ground was pretty flat and there were well placed logs to sit on. We enjoyed these in silence, not setting up, not doing anything for a while.
Indiana pulled out his phone and began mulling over miles, an evening ritual. He had a spreadsheet of our daily distance, and always added our miles for the day to it, watching the number of average miles per day needed either go up or go down.
“We just hit 1,500 miles today,” he announced.
“Yeah,” I answered, like I had known. I hadn’t. Even though we had skipped some miles here and there since Campo, I knew we had roughly 1,000 more to go. One thousand.
We had the leaving-town blues. The emotional energy was cresting over us and I could feel the “talk” coming. The one we’d had countless times already, but with greater and greater frequency now that we were well over three months of hiking in the woods.
“What if we just went 500 more miles?” I asked.
“Won’t we go the 500 and just want to finish it?”
“Come on… I’m so tired of this, but I feel like 2,000 is an impressive number, you know? Even though I wouldn’t have hiked the entire PCT, I’d definitely feel accomplished with having hiked 2,000 miles.”
He pondered this, then started to look over maps on his phone. “Ashland is in about 500 miles.”
“507, to be exact.”
“That’s perfect! Ashland is a great place to stop. It should be easy to get back home from there.” I thought about this some more and noticed I was smiling. “500 more miles- we can do that right? Well, I guess it’s basically a third of what we’ve done so far…”
“We can do it,” Indiana said. “Look at what’s ahead.” He showed me the elevation profile, with the minimalistic terrain that extended into Oregon ahead of us. “This is so much easier than everything we’ve done so far.”
Simultaneously hopeful and discouraged, I took a glance at the elevation. Admittedly, it did look easier so I tried not to dwell on how many more days it would take to complete.
Ironically, our hike only lasted until the morning after scheming the “500 more miles” plan. I would love to say that the arches in my feet were on the verge of collapse, or that my lungs were choked with smoke, but I was simply so tired. At 9:00 in the morning.
Aren’t We Sad to Leave the Trail?
A little, yes. It’s sad leaving friends that we may not see for a long time, or ever again. It’s sad to leave the sense of “place” the trail has, where the scenery is always changing but the feeling of being home remains the same. Of course it’s sad to leave places of such beauty, but we were never meant to stay there anyway.
I’m sure that a while from now, we’ll look back and miss this part of our lives, but for now I think we’re both relieved to be done with the drudgery that the trail has been for so long now.
The Trail Provides… but The Trail Also Takes
Even before we reached the half way mark, where we decided to go Southbound, we’d lost quite a few of our trail comrades. In the desert, dropping out was mostly due to acute injury, usually bone and joint trauma. Stress-fractures in the feet were common. As the herd progressed into the Sierras, people began to drop out as more vague problems snowballed over hundreds of miles. Problems like: lack of funds, increasing concerns over what the trail was doing to their health, and disenchantment with the reality of hiking 2,650 miles.
On our way out of Chester, Seattle-bound, we were surprised to see a couple we had just met board the bus. I assumed, based on their ultralight set up, that they were the types who would be speeding ahead of us and we would never see them again. But when we started talking, I was floored to hear that they were done. Over it.
“It’s just become this robotic walking exercise,” she said. “Now that we have all this free time, we want to do something cool, so we’re heading up to Alaska. We want to see the Northern Lights.”
That was pretty cool, we had to admit. I admired them for chasing adventure, and for being honest about not enjoying the experience anymore, something very few people did openly on the trail. Even as thruhiking for a summer gives a tremendous, life-enriching experience, it also takes a constant and hefty toll, daily.
Aren’t We Giving Up?
That’s a matter of terminology, I think. Some people prefer to put things in black and white terms, and they might only accept things in terms of “success” or “failure.” Personally, I feel as though we have gotten what we wanted out of the experience (and then some), and are moving on to do something else.
Countless times in the past 500 miles, we’ve considered giving up on our hike. A variety of reasons kept us going, but the only one that really motivated us was wanting to finish to say we did and the fear of ridicule if we didn’t. I was trying to rationalize further, hiking another 500 miles because “2,000 miles is an impressive number.”
That is absurd. 1,500 miles is an impressive number. So is 1,000. Or 697. Or 213. No one better understands that than those who hiked for hours, days and months on end to get there. Somehow, I’m not exactly sure, but hiking for months at a time scrambled our brains and we forgot why we went out west to hike the PCT to begin with. Hint: it wasn’t because of miles.
Miles exist everywhere, we could walk around in our hometown until we hit 2,650 miles if that was all we were after. 2,650 miles only seems important because it’s the length of the trail from one border to the other. Fun fact, it takes less than half the distance of the PCT to actually walk from Mexico to Canada, but the trail traverses scenic wildernesses and seems to require thousands of switchbacks that add to the mileage.
No, 1,500 miles and 118 days of hiking is enough. It’s plenty.
But we’re not heading home. Because you know what isn’t enough?
What Are Our New Plans?
In just two days, we’ll be on an Amtrak (our preferred mode of travel!) headed for Glacier National Park in Montana. I am teeming with excitement over climbing big ‘ole mountains again, visiting the state of Montana and one of the top-rated National Parks in the country for its stunning and pristine scenery. From there it will be an adventure to see how we can get to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone and hopefully Grand Tetons National Parks.
Though we’ve been effectively off trail for a week (it feels like much longer), we’re still in the best shape of our lives- mountain climbing shape– and there’s no better time to tackle these rugged landscapes than right now.
Stay Tuned to Our Adventures
Of course we wouldn’t visit more of wild America without sharing it here. We’re hitting Glacier and Yellowstone with camera in tow, and will keep the adventure, post PCT, alive and well on the blog.
We’ll be heading home by early October, just in time for our fall engagements and to miss the effective closure of the Western wilderness due to winter weather.
And don’t forget our existing travel plans, or in case you’re learning about them for the first time- Overland Undersea is foremost a travel blog. In the beginning of December, we set out on our global adventure, starting in Southeast Asia and slow traveling around the region with only a faint itinerary, documenting everything on the blog as we go.
We have hiked our own hike, as they say, and we’re excited for what’s ahead!
Stay in touch,
Chunks & Indiana/Sally & Nikita/Overland Undersea