Day 171: (22.6 miles)
mile 2646.3 – 2660 The Monument – 2668.9 Manning Park
The patter of big fat rain drops continued throughout the night. Only the cadence would change. Thinking that I could take advantage of the non-stop rain, I had put my metal cup outside the rainfly to catch the run-off from the fly for additional water the next morning. As we had retired relatively late last night after having completed the better part of a marathon, no morning alarm was set. We awoke near 7am with the sound of rain still striking our tent. Grrrr! Once again, we muse, it could be snowing. Decision time. “Wait” out the rain and hope it doesn’t morph into snow, or pack it up and brave the cold and wet…one last time. Things you don’t want to do are best done, first and as quickly and efficiently as possible. With that, our decision is made. Pack it up. At minimum, we will be to the monument by 2pm, and Manning Park no later than 8pm. Again, this is not how we envisioned our last day on the trail, walking in another leaky cloud, but as always, it is what it is…nothing we can do about the weather.
The rain lets up in time for us to pack up our gear without getting drenched. I fill my 1/2 liter water bottle with the rain water from my cup I left out overnight, proud of my ingenuity. We skip coffee and throw down our last poptart.
A thick cold fog akin to wintertime in San Francisco settles upon us. The hunter returns to his camp, most likely unable to see his prey. We meander down the PCT with visibility not more than 20 ft. Boom! We hear a rifle shot from the valley below us. 30 seconds later, another Boom rings out followed closely by another. It is obvious that the first shot did not meet its target, and the next two shots most likely mean their prey is on the run. With this poor visibility, we are not surprised by the multiple shots, but also a little unnerved by the thought someone would think to take a poor visibility shot as we have now made it to Woods Pass and are beginning to drop down into a valley. My choice of an orange rain jacket provides a little comfort. We are passed on our descent by another hiker we do not recognize. Amazing to think how many people are hiking this trail, sharing similar experiences, but will never meet.
The hiker passes with a terse nod. We shrug and watch as he hurries through each switchback below us. By now we have worked up a bit of a thirst. I take a swig of my water bottle and promptly spit it out. What the heck? It is sharp tasting, with a sour flavor. How can that be? Acid rain? I didn’t think our rainfly was that dirty. Maybe we’ve relied on those flavor packets too heavily. In any event, this water is not drinkable, but I don’t pour it out just yet as we have yet to pass a single viable water source. We are now thankful for the current cold and wet conditions. We still have a liter from the day before. We drink sparingly, thinking we will need to make it last to within 2miles of the monument where there is a creek. The rain has stopped, but it is still cold… so much so that our pace does not invoke a sweat.
We level off a bit and the trail switches from a descent across steep rocky skree faces to a soft dirt and pine needle padded trail enveloped in trees. We stop to change out of our now unnecessary raingear and notice water flowing from a direct source spring four feet below the trail where we stopped. Giving ourselves ice cream headaches we quench our thirst and I dump the acrid water and refresh my water bottle. We are closing in on the border, our mood improves and we do our best to recall and recite every place we’ve camped along this 2650 mile route. Water oozes around each “corner” of the trail. Next, we list each town we’ve visited and ones we want to go back to. We drop further into a narrowing valley and wonder aloud what actually awaits us at the border. The miles tick down. We step over several creeks that are NOT on the map. Suddenly Paul stops and asks me, “You know what?” What?, I ask. Paul shouts at the top of his lungs, “2 MORE MILES”!!!!!! Unbeknownst to me, with phone in hand (tuned to Halfmile’s app) he has been watching the mileage click down, foot by foot to the exact point wherein we have 2moremiles till we set foot on Canadian soil. We listen as his voice echoes through the valley wondering if there will be a response. We chuckle and wish we would have had the forethought to have recorded this moment. We consider reenacting it, but it just wouldn’t be as genuine. The moment remains ours to savor. With one mile left, Paul startles me with a howl at the top of his lungs, “ONE MORE MILE”!!!! I laugh and shake my head. Five thousand two hundred and eighty feet left, roughly 1760 more steps to the monument and Canada! Will there be anyone there to share this with, or will we be by ourselves. Granted this is better than being solo, but we would both like to be in our finish picture and we have not perfected the art of “selfies” with our phone. We approach the opening to the monument, Paul follows behind me, this time in video mode on our phone, narrating as we walk. The air is perfectly still and forest sounds come to a halt. We have made it. Our quest fulfilled. We are for the most part healthy and without injury, our marriage is intact and we are each nearly 30lbs lighter…all good things. We have looked so forward to this moment and now it has arrived. We are simultaneously elated and melancholy. Paul snaps a few pictures.
We remove the pyramid cap of “monument #78” and survey its contents. A tattered registry and an assortment of “party favors” lay at the bottom. We remove our sit pads, take a seat facing the monument and in silence we crack our beers, lift them to each other and eat our remaining food from our food bags, each quietly hoping another hiker will come along and share this moment with us. Paul reads from the registry, noting the hikers whose names we recognize. A bold chipmunk makes advances on our bags. With our beers nearly finished, we hear a, “thank God”, from the forest. A solo hiker, McButters appears. He is relieved to not have to finish alone. Paul begins to hoot and holler, McButters and I join in. Finally a celebration of sorts.
We trade cameras (phones) and snap each other’s pictures next to, or in McButters case “planking” whilst on top of the wooden structure,
and a “respectable” picture he says his mom can share at ‘book club’. We share trail “small talk”. We are thankful to be done, but we know we are not done, just yet. 8.9 miles separates us from a hot shower and warm bed that is Manning Park.
We sling our packs back on readying for the truly last leg. We for some reason, envisioned a relatively flat almost “city park” like stroll from the monument to ManningPark. By now, we should know better. We pass through a large campsite just the other side of the border which is defined by a wide, treeless and barren ribbon that cuts through the rugged, dense forest. Often thru-hikers, depending on when they reach the monument, or family and friends that hike into the monument to meet their hiker(s), will camp here. Instinctively we are not surprised that the trail begins to climb, and laugh at our ridiculousness in thinking this would be a “stroll in the park”. We can not recall any of the blogs we have read in the past having cataloged this part of their PCT experience. The climb reaches Windy Joe Gap and now intersects with a well groomed dirt road that winds its way down to the paved road that will take us to Manning Park. Near the “bottom” we run into a man who is there to meet his daughters who were supposed to have finished by now. We ask if he knows their trail names. He does not, but knows they are with a group of “kids”. We ask if this is the group with the 6 man tent. “Yes”, he laughs. His accent matches up with two sisters we met in that group, that had joined us during our “beverage” stop with Larry the previous day…they are from Wisconsin. We tell him that we had passed them early this morning as their group was gathered in their tent, laughing and watching videos on their phone,most likely reliving some of their adventures, and that McButters had mentioned that this group was about an hour or so behind him by the time he got to the monument. We assured him that his daughters were safe, and most likely at the monument celebrating. They did not appear to be in any hurry. Sadly, their father’s intended surprise meeting on the trail will have to wait. This group of five, with the exception of the sisters, had all started alone from Campo. None of them had a tent and had cowboy camped, often together, all the way up to Kennedy Meadows. As they all seemed to end up camping together at the end of the day, “got along so well”, and each had been talking about switching to a tent once they get to Kennedy Meadow, they said they began to joke, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we got one big tent?”. The “joke” morphed into reality, and they have been with each other since Kennedy Meadows with each member of the group carrying an essential piece of the tent. With a little more than 2moremiles remaining, the trail forked off the road as it approached the bottom of the valley.
When we arrive at the foyer of Manning Lodge we are greeted by cheers of CONGRATULATIONS, by Sugar, Double Stuff, Rorchart, OOzle and Thistle who have already “cleaned up” and are lounging in the lobby hooked to WiFi. Sugar is awaiting the arrival of her boyfriend, and the others are waiting for their “to-go” orders to be ready at the restaurant across the way. They tell us we should “hurry” and check in if we are to make it for food at the restaurant or access the store. For some odd reason they close at 800pm. It is nearly 8pm. We check in, drop our gear in our room, switch out to “less smelly” shirts and toddle over to the restaurant. Prior to heading over, we run into Fresh. We thought he was days ahead. We make sure to give him our contact info as he will be flipping and heading SOBO from the Sierras to complete the rest of the PCT. We knew we were hungry, but were actually surprised when Paul finished his enormous Philly Steak sandwich and I liquidated, down to the bone, an entire rack of St. Louis style ribs. Remarkably NOT overfull, carrying an order of Nachos to-go, we wander back to the Lodge with a bottle of Captain Morgans, and liter of Coke for “color”. We had expected to do laundry tonight, but forego that in favor of a shower, and a beverage or two. We run into Ballhawk in the lobby, who asks us if we will be on the Greyhound bus tomorrow morning to Vancouver. We tell him that’s our plan. “Excellent”, he responds. “See you in the morning”, and scurries off to the “Boys” room with two pizzas in hand. While back in our room, the sheer magnitude of what we have accomplished has begun to set in. We think about making a few phone calls. We have no service. That’s okay as we are not sure how to describe or process how and what we are feeling, or how to relate it to other accomplishments. This one, somehow is different, and I gander will stand alone by itself as it is, in its entirety, different from anything we’ve ever done physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This one gets its own cabinet, tucked neatly in the room, that stores our memories and experiences…in our brains.