“What does it mean to feel millions of dreams come real? A feelin’ in my soul I’d never felt before”- MMJ
The morning I finished the PCT, I woke up camped next to a lake 6 miles before the monument. It was a cold, foggy morning. Smiles and I packed up our things and ate breakfast, knowing it would be the last time we’d pack up camp on the PCT. It was bittersweet- I was pretty excited to not have to sleep on my leaky sleeping pad anymore, but I knew I’d be missing the simple lifestyle I had become accustomed to.
Smiles and I hiked together that morning, reminiscing on favorite memories of the PCT and talking about the things we’d miss most and the things we looked forward to the most. We didn’t see many people that morning, a lot of our friends had finished the trail just the day before but we were going slow because the weather was good and we were in no rush to be done. The fog burned off as we hiked across hillsides and through the forest. The miles went by quickly and soon we passed another hiker we didn’t know going southbound who told us the monument was just 5 or 6 minutes away. I hadn’t allowed myself to get too excited until right then but it was finally starting to sink in that I was just minutes away from completing the goal I had spent the entirety of the last five months exhausting my body and my funds towards. While in some ways I wasn’t ready to be done, my body was definitely done, the days were getting a lot shorter, and the weather wouldn’t hold out for much longer. I knew it was time to be done whether I liked it or not.
There’s a clear cut through the trees where the 49th parallel separates Canada and the United States, and the monument is next to the trail as it crosses the clear cut. All of the sudden as I was walking I noticed a clear cut in front of me, and down it a couple hundred feet I could see the monument! That’s the moment I knew it was actually real and that it wasn’t just another day on the the PCT. It felt like electricity was running through my body right then and it intensified as I followed a switchback in the trail back into the woods then popped out in front of the monument. I wasn’t sure if I would get emotional or not, but yeah, I definitely cried. It was the coolest and craziest moment as I found myself actually standing in front of what I had been walking towards all summer. Not that the monument is actually that cool, but it symbolized the completion of an insane goal that I had set for myself. It symbolized the end of what felt like a lifetime of experiences, stories, friends, and places.
Smiles and I hung out there for like three hours. We brought party hats and noisemakers and took some pictures with those, he exploded a bottle of champagne, we took about a million other pictures although the light kind of sucks in all of them, I ate a snickers bar I had saved, and we just spent our time taking it all in. Two other hikers that we didn’t know came and went during that time. I had always envisioned hanging out at the monument with a bunch of my trail friends, but I stayed true to the long-distance hiking motto of “hike your own hike” and didn’t go out of my way to stay close to my other friends in the last weeks on the trail, which is why they had finished the day before. But I didn’t care- I was just so happy to be at the northern terminus and with really good weather too.
From the monument, you can either turn around and head 30 miles south to the nearest road or if you have a Canada entry permit you can keep walking north for 8 miles to the Manning Park lodge in BC. I did the latter. A huge part of me was dreading the fact that I had finished the trail but still had to keep hiking- how lame is that? But another part of me was happy to be soaking in a final few hours of solitude in a place that made sense to me before I had to head back into the “real world”, a place that now seemed really foreign to me.
Smiles and I eventually showed up to the Manning Park Resort and talked with a big group of hikers that were there. We all congratulated each other and they told us there were free showers, a free pool, hot tub, wet and dry saunas, and even a voucher for a free drink! (Smiles is always stoked when I get a free beer because I always give it to him haha). So next thing I know, I’m all showered and clean and sitting in a hot tub feeling like royalty. An older couple joined us in the hot tub and asked us a bunch of questions about the trail, they were super nice. I knew that Manning Park would be the last time complete strangers would come up to me and ask “are you a PCT hiker?” then bombard me with questions and compliments, something I had gotten really used to.
There are two options to get from Manning Park to Vancouver- try your luck with hitching or take a bus at 2am. Since it was already 5pm by the time I showed up and everyone that was trying to hitch wasn’t having luck, I went with the 2am bus option. The people at Manning Park are super nice and turned a basement game room into a hiker hangout room with soft mats for us to sleep on while we wait for the bus. After hanging out in the hot tub, I went to the bar and hung out with all the other hikers, ate a salmon burger, stayed up way past my usual 8:30 bedtime, then crashed on one of the mats until the bus came. After a 3 and a half hour ride that I couldn’t fall asleep during, I was suddenly thrust back into the “real world” of downtown Vancouver, B.C.
I don’t know at what point I would consider myself actually done- the monument, Manning Park, Vancouver, or maybe that’s in the future still because I’m still traveling, or maybe never. All I know is it’s a step by step process- just like it was getting to the point of starting the trail, and just like it was once I was on the trail. I’m taking the re-acclimation process slowly by traveling a bit. There’s a lot more places out west I want to explore and I have a car but at this point things are dependent on the weather, and autumn is definitely settling in on the great northwest. All I know is that wherever I end up over the next few months and over my lifetime, I’m going to keep living a life without limits and full of plenty of adventure.