160. September 17: Mile 2646.19 Boundary Trail Junction to Mile 2658.91 Manning Provincial Park
9/17 6:00 AM – All last night I kept waking up with the same excitement and anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I decided to do a thru hike way back in 2013. We had agreed to not set an alarm and just wake up organically knowing that we’d still be early risers which is exactly what happened. It was probably the easiest waking experience we have had in months.
The others in the camp slowly made their final camp departures to the border as we collected our things. As we began walking away from our tent site you would think that it would be most appropriate to spend the final 3.7 miles in quiet contemplation. But no, we spent those last miles listening to our PCT playlist of songs that we’ve found fun to listen to such as Desposito, Shape of You, The Sound of Silence (Disturbed cover), Baby Got Back, Get Low, You’re the Voice, and Space Jam.
9/17 9:00 AM – Step by step we approached the border. It didn’t really take all that long after leaving camp. The air was brisk and cool, yet comfortable; a proper Autumn morning. As we descended to the monument we heard what sounded like a helicopter very close by. We had heard through the grapevine that there was a crew that had been choppered in to re-cement the base of Monument 78, the official border designation, a metal obelisk with the date of the US/Canada border treaty, years that it was surveyed, and the nation’s names on the appropriate sides. This is different from the wooden monument that designates the northern terminus of the PCT, although they are situated next to each other.
Regardless, this was the first thing that came to mind as we headed closer and closer towards Mile 2650, dreading the possibility of a disrupted end to our hike. Sure enough, though, we caught site of a glimpse of the monument through the clearing (Which turned out to be the border. The border is defined by a clear cut line through the trees.) and there was a helicopter landed there, but soon took off. We would find out later that someone had just gotten out of he chopper, took photos of all four sides of the monument, and flown off. Crazy!
It was less than a minute from watching the helicopter fly away that we arrived to the border. Greeted by a large group of 20 or so of people that we’ve been hiking around since Stehekin, some of which we met in the desert. They cheered and clapped for us as we took our final steps filled with relief and elation. For months I’ve been dreaming of being perched atop the northern terminus monument and in true Hoosier style, down a cold bottle of milk. So staying true to that, I put down my pack, climbed onto the wooden pillars, did my best Indy 500 impression by toasting my bottle of milk, chugging half a pint, dumped the rest on my head to the gasps of the assembled hikers, and with a loud roar first pumped the mostly empty bottle to the sky while accidentally spattering everyone with droplets of milk. Woops. Got a little too excited. Months of slowly sloughing along peppered with all sorts of interruptions, frustrations, trials, and hardship all came out at once.
Glowworm even had a localized celebration of her own by drinking real Ontario maple syrup that her parents had mailed to her in Stehekin (for the record it was so damn good). Afterwards we even shared a single shot of Makers Mark bourbon that I bought to take to the border in Skykomish.
One by one the others gathered at the border began their final nine miles to Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia to officially end their hikes. After many photos were taken and final PCT registers written we were left alone to soak it all in. We made our last trail breakfasts and thought about what we had just accomplished. In all reality, though, there really wasn’t all that much to think about. We still had half a day of hiking until we were done done and honestly I think it will be months until we fully realize that magnitude of what we have achieved. Since we’ve been almost exclusively around other hikers that are completing the same achievement, this doesn’t seem very weird. It’s not really out of place. In fact most of these people still did the Sierras, a section we opted to skip due to dangerous conditions. So for them, they really did walk from Mexico minus the fire closures which happen every year and aren’t optional. This makes me feel almost less accomplished than them despite knowing that we made the right choice. My point is, it hasn’t sunk in. And since we’ll continue to travel for a month around the United States and Canada visiting new places, family, and friends, it will still be some time until “normal” life resumes. And even then, returning to normality will be an adventure in itself now that I’ll be hopefully immigrating to Canada. I’m sure that in due time, though, the reality of what I’ve just done will hit me.
9/17 10:30 AM – After cleaning up breakfast and taking final photos, we also began the final nine mile trek through British Columbia to the Manning Park lodge. Despite unfavorable weather forecasts for the area calling for rain and/or snow, the hike was actually quite nice. It warmed up enough to hike in a short sleeved shirt (because my normal hiking shirt now smelled like sour milk) and shorts. If there was any real contemplation about our experience, it was here. Now that we were on the true final trek of our journey and the celebrations had already occurred, it gave me an opportunity to hit rewind in my mind as I had short glimpses of moments from celebrating at the border, to the beauty and misery of Washington, to skipping the fires of Oregon, to dealing with the heat of Northern California, to lying in the hospital after a failed attempt at the Sierras, to the blissfulness of the desert, and to all those days staring at the ceiling at work in wonder and where this adventure would take me. And in between all of those thoughts were moments of laughter, tears, fear, anger, confusion, wonder, awe, frustration, bewilderment, joy, and elation.
The last few miles to the lodge was spent on a double wide trail where Glowworm and I walked side by side and listened to Taylor Swift because why not? After an initial climb from the border, the rest was downhill or flat allowing us to thoroughly enjoy the last moments of our hike.
9/17 2:00 PM – It’s over, done, finished! We made it to the Manning Park Lodge with overcast skies and scattered hikers all with big grins on their faces. We made our way to the restaurant where to our surprise and elation Dr. McDirty and Cougar were already seated. They had finished the day prior in an effort to avoid the forecasted weather and were going to stay at the park until the 19th. After joining them I ordered my very first plate of poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds, a Canadian staple). The four of us sat there both bewildered and overwhelmed by what had just taken place. We all had met each other for the first time 161 days ago and now we are all here together eating and drinking in celebration. The likelihood of such a friendship (and relationship for Glowworm and I) just isn’t comprehendible.
After lunch Glowworm and I got some ice cream and sat at the picnic table outside. A few women came up to ask if we had just completed the PCT and so of course we gave them the whole story. They chatted with us for a while and afterwards went into the gift shop behind us and when they came out, they said they wanted to pay for our dinner and gave us a gift card for $30! So nice. Even at the very end we were receiving trail magic. Totally unreal.
We spent the afternoon hanging out with Dr. McDirty and Cougar in their hotel room at the lodge while they let us use their shower and did our final load of laundry. It was great to just chill out without much in the way of worries. We had already booked our bus ticket and room for the first night so there was nothing else to do except lie there and enjoy the company of our close friends.
For dinner we went to the bar and ordered salmon burgers and beer with our gracious gift card. Other hikers that we knew like Dave, Judith, and Martin were there as well so we were all able to have a final drink together.
9/17 9:00 PM – We gathered our things and gave our last goodbye and hugs with promises of seeing each other again to Cougar and Dr. McDirty and walked downstairs where they let hikers sleep for free while they wait for their 2:00 AM Greyhound bus. It was a very weird feeling laying in the dark to the sounds of sleeping pads anxiously rustling around. You could tell there was a mixture of elation, relief, and anxiety in the air. Everyone was stoked, but at the same time dreading the short nap before hopping on a three hour bus ride after finishing a 2,650 journey.
9/18 1:30 AM – The dead of night slough begins. We began waking up about a half hour prior to the bus arriving and groggily put away our sleeping pads and bags before making our way up stairs. The bus was packed. I don’t think their was a single seat left and it was mostly hikers. There were two seats together at the very back that we sat in, but they were right on top of the engine and it was sweltering hot the whole way. On top of that, I had the most nauseating gas that even made me want to gag. Fortunately I was situated right next to the bathroom so I don’t think anyone made the connection that it was me. The rest of the ride was horrible, as I’m sure you can imagine. I never was able to get any meaningful sleep and kept getting cramps in my legs.
9/18 5:30 AM – We finally arrived at the bus terminal in Vancouver, BC. Many of the hikers dispersed to make a connecting bus or train while a few of us opted to make the one block walk over to Tim Hortons for breakfast. I had a Boston Cream doughnut, sausage, egg, and cheese on a jalapeño bagel, with a hot chocolate. So damn good.
9/18 7:00 AM – After milking as much as we could from Tim Hortons wifi we all said our goodbyes with the accompanying hikers and walked through downtown Vancouver to our hotel, the Metropolitan Hotel. We really wanted to treat ourselves after such a crazy adventure so we picked a place that offered room service. So it was way out of our price range, but for one night it was totally worth it.
This place is swanky, though. Like four stars swanky. We walked in to the lobby with our packs on and hiking clothes and were greeted by this amazing Asian temple carving art installation. It was a wall of intricately carved scenes of everyday life, war, and religious events and it was all carved by hand without any planning. It was beautiful, but the concierge definitely took notice of two homeless looking people getting rather close to the likely priceless art piece. Just as he was about to shoo us out, I went to ask him smugly, “where do we check in?” It was certainly one of my most proud moments. He directed is to the desk where we were able to check in immediately.
The room is insane. It’s far and away the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. It has a massive bathroom with a separate tub and shower, bathrobes, private bar (which we didn’t use due to the cost), the most comfy king size bed, a balcony, and the best wifi I have had since leaving my home in Indy.
We spent the rest of the morning shopping for clothes (all we have is our hiking gear) and exploring downtown Vancouver. For lunch we had the most delicious hot dogs at a street side hot dog stand and I tried Ketchup Chips for the first time in my life which are a Canadian staple apparently.
After our morning shopping spree where I bought a couple new shirts and a pair of jeans, we hunkered down in our room where we just relaxed, ordered room service, and just took a deep sigh of relief that it was all over.
It’s here that I’m going to officially end my daily blog for the PCT. It’s been a wild ride and I’m so glad I chose to go on this adventure. It has been completely life changing. In due time I’ll post some post-PCT updates after I’ve had some space to truly reflect on what I’ve just done and maybe give you some better insight as to what happened while I’ve been out here as well as give some more general life updates. Until then, it’s been real.