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Caboose and Lewis!
As most know, I made it! 1100 miles!
The last 5 days ended up being the worst weather wise. Rain every day with the bonus of heavy fog, a snow storm and a hail storm. Perfect weather to hustle as fast as possible to get done quickly.
The first day out from Stehekin I run into a hiker getting on the bus who knew caboose and Lewis saying they were 30 min ahead of me on the trail. The afternoon goes by quickly as I try to catch up to them asking some day hikers how far ahead they were. As it turns out they were planning on staying at the campsite I got a permit for so we will be able to camp together! Happy day!
After setting up camp and digging into dinner we see another hiker wander in to camp. She is a flip-flopper meaning she started in campo, almost finished California but was running out of time before the nasty weather sets in in WA so flipped to head south. She mentions that she remembered me from the south and it all comes back. I don't know how she remembered me since we only met briefly. I was hoping I'd see someone from the start before I finished! It was great to reminisce, campo feels like a lifetime ago though.
The second day it is predicted to rain. The forecast was not wrong but as the day gets started I'm hopeful it will stay at just sprinkling. There is 12 miles of uphill the first part of the day and as I pass the trail head parking lot where caboose and Lewis are meeting their sister the weather gets more ominous. About an hour later it's raining fairly heavily and my legs and feet are soaked. Then it switches to snow that continues to get heavier as the elevation increases. I start thinking about hypothermia, that is one of my bigger fears. The combination of wet and cold is the most deadly. My breathing picks up from both climbing and panic as the snow is gathering on the ground. There are footprints I'm following from a thru hiker I see up ahead. If I can just catch up to him it will be ok, someone to help talk me down. I concentrate on slowing my breath and controlling my thoughts as I round a corner to see him pulling out his umbrella. Thank god! He says I should be fine as long as I have dry clothes (I do), and a dry sleeping bag (I do). Maybe a visual of this guy might help show my desperation for any reassurance. Light rain jacket, t-shirt, buff, shorts, socks, homemade sandals of rope and thin rubber soles, umbrella. Probably not the best guy to take hypothermia advice from since his next thought was that if it does start setting in you can just keep walking.... Yeah, I'd walk back the 10 miles to the road and quit... Obviously, I'm not a hard core thru hiker.
It is enjoyable to have someone to talk to though and he ends up walking with me till I stop to set up camp by which time it had stopped raining and snowing with my pant legs starting to dry out. The brief rain hiatus ends as soon as I'm in my tent so I have to decide tomorrow, if the weather is still awful, do I keep going 62 miles to finish, head for the smaller road in 22 miles or head back 10 miles to a bigger road.
Luckily, I do not get too cold that night but do wake up to rain and fog. I decide that I can push 22 miles and camp at the road or see if I can hitch if it gets worse. The day starts off in fits and spurts of rain which leaves me cautiously hopeful until I enter a valley of rain. Passing hikers mention how the weather is supposed to get better but it is not looking promising. At the top of the climb and heading over the ridge the weather breaks into a cold but partly sunny day with day hikers everywhere since it is labor day weekend with the trailhead coming up soon. In the midst of all these day hikers who do I see? Dal and Wes! What? How did I catch those speed demons?
Turns out they had rented mountain bikes at Stevens Pass and had a great time until the last run when Wes feel and needed to go to the hospital for stitches. Then by Stehekin he had a nasty rash so they took the ferry out and ended up staying 2 more days in the hospital. They don't end up camping with me, but they are one of the groups that aren't heading into Canada because they didn't get a permit. They will have to turn around at the boarder to hike back 30 miles to the road. I should see them on their way out!
I'm surprisingly dry as I set up camp and enjoy the evening cuddled in my little home. I can do 40 more miles. No need to quit. There is a limit of how long you can keep your stuff dry and most say it's about 3 days of rain, after that stuff is just wet. If I push I'll only have 2 more days so I'll be good.
The third day brings fog. We have been waking through clouds for most of this section. The thought, "I'm sure this is beautiful" goes through my head multiple times a day even though there is a charm to walking through the fog. Everything is quiet, magically forming as you get closer. You can feel like you are the only one around for miles... Oh wait, you always feel like that out here;)
As the trail falls into a valley you can see some rain clouds in the distance. Climbing to the ridge those clouds are just on the other side. It's a lovely sunny day with puffy clouds on this side and as you get to the crest it's hailing on the other side. What a crazy view. Behind is sunny, to the west and straight ahead is hail, then further north in the valley you can see the sun again. Well, nothing to do but head into the hail. It stings as it hits but at least it doesn't soak you as it bounces off. The rainbow comes out due to the sun shinning over the ridge as it continues to hail. I thought hail didn't last long! I need to fill up water as I try to remain as dry as possible and end up soaking my gloves. Then the choice which happens every night: campsite in 2 miles right under the ridge line, site in 3 miles at the top of the ridge or in 6 miles protected further down by a lake? I'm at 18 miles for the day already and with this weather the ridge would be a terrible idea. So 2 miles it is. There are a few trees that I huddle my tent to as close as possible. Dal and Wes pass by to head to the lake, we will see each other tomorrow again as they head back out. Warming up in my tent I hear what sounds like thunder but the rain is barely sprinkling. It's a rock slide. Thankful to be safe I my tent I hear a few more rock slides through the night as I struggle to keep warm. I'm below the ridge but the wind is whipping by. By 5:30 I give up the fight and head out on my last day on the trail. Any kind of ambivalence about being done was killed quickly in the weather as I hustle to the finish line looking for Dal and Wes as I get closer. By the time I'm a mile away I'm starting to get worried where they are and where the end is. Are those Canadian mountains over there? Where are the group of trees I always see in the pictures?
I round a corner to see the monument with Wes and Dal sitting nearby. How awesome to end with people I know! We congratulate each other as we take pics and eat snacks. It turns out they have been slow due to Dals knees hurting and they are worried about food so I give them my extra day of food I always carry just in case. Dal visibly relaxes as he feels less pressured to push his knees. It is sad to bid farewell but I push off to Canada hoping mom and dad are somewhere or there is a hostel I can stay at if they don't show up. If the trail teaches anything it's that things will work themselves out in their own time.
Walking up my last 1500' climb I'm thinking about stopping for a snack as it starts to sprinkle, again, of course. The Canadian connector trail is certainly rougher and not as well maintained as the PCT and I look up to see some SoBo day hikers... Who look an awful lot like my parents. "MOM???" She whips her head up with shock as we hurry to meet each other with hugs all around. We are all shocked to run into each other 5 miles from the end. Me because that was the last thing I'd expect, them because they had been asking hikers along the way if they knew Care Bear. The ones who did hadn't seen me for awhile and warned that I might be delayed due to weather. They were just thinking of turning around soon when I showed up. What a joy to finish the trail with them.
We hike the last 5 miles in happy conversation and they even carry my pack (much lighter with no food or water) the last 3 miles. What a trip for them though. 10 miles is a long hike for anyone. I show mom the trick of laying down and elevating your feet to drain the blood allowing her to walk more comfortably.
They ask if I want to camp... Um no. Plus all my stuff is now damp. Warner Springs ends up offering free showers and beers to hikers! What? Awesome. Other hikers join us for dinner as we discuss the funny parts of trail life and the end of our journeys. My parents get a glimpse of hiker hunger as a hiker went for his second full meal as we departed.
Road trip! We start off to Yellowstone. Mom had brought me my list of requested items one of which was a new set of shoes. Mine were soaked and had been soaked for most of 5 days. Driving through Montana mom starts to mention how the smell of manure was getting stronger, ironically with no cows around. Hm, is that my shoes? Um yep. She starts backtracking saying she just meant it was earthy... SURE! They do stink something awful. After trying to wash them dad ends up tying them to the bike rack to get them out of the car. Surprisingly that works and by the end of the day they don't even smell.
Yellowstone is a must see for everyone. Just wow! Bison, elk, sheep, bears, geysers, mud pots and more! Then a couple days with my family in MN, cooking to my hearts content with my culinary sister. Ah, fresh food! Now just a plane and train and I'll be back in Kzoo. What a whirlwind since getting off trail. I'm looking forward to just being.
So, 1100 miles, 125,000' gain, 124,000' lost, 2 road trips, 5 months, 4 pairs of shoes, 21 resupply boxes, 45 books read, and 1300 pictures later I can't even believe it happened. I couldn't have done it without everyone's support and encouragement and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. What an amazing community of people both on and off the trail that I will never be able to repay but have been eternally blessed for having had around me.
Best wishes from MN!