At the risk of stating the obvious, 2013 was a really amazing year for me. Transformative may be a good word for it. It has been a year spent challenging my limits and comfort zones, and making some mistakes while growing ever more mindful of who I am in the process. It has been frightening, empowering, humbling, confusing, heartbreaking, and insightful, and I have little doubt that the events of this past year will directly impact the events of the next. There will be more on this in the very near future, but suffice to say this impact is already being felt and put to work. In other news, year-end inspired housekeeping led to a host of website updates to the homepage, scrapbook and photography collections, and a handful of project case studies. The PCT time-lapse movie is coming along and should be done shortly. It’s a heck of a lot harder than I thought to edit and notate 2650 images. So, while you’re waiting on me to finish that up, please check out a few videos from the past year that have surprised, delighted and/or inspired me in some way.
I was visiting dad and Sue in Honeoye Falls, NY, for the last few days, before heading back to my new home in Chicago. Whenever I come here, which in itself is rare, I am often reminded of a time long since past—a parallel place where everything seems to stand still as I flit about the planet. When I come here, I am also reminded of what a good marriage can look like. Dad did just enough right in his life to deserve Sue.
Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail already seems like a distant memory—an achievement that I have still not properly reflected on and celebrated. I’m doing my best to wade through and organize all the photos and editing a movie about the trek. Two days after I got off the trail in October I was in Switzerland starting work for SpotMe. I am now based in their Chicago office and doing my best to settle into my new life here. It’s definitely winter now. When not working, I’ve been spending time making photographs, playing a little tennis and trying to stay warm. I’m looking forward to some travel in January to Lausanne and London, and over the holidays will drop in on my dad for a few days in upstate New York. I will be updating my website over the next week or so, but in the mean time you can get a little glimpse into my first winter in Chicago here.
As I walk along the Columbia River on 97 North, through a seemingly endless orchard of apples, cherries, peaches, and other fruits, my thoughts are with all the brave, determined PCT hikers reaching the Northern Terminus through snow, cold and innumerable dangers. I’m missing the trail, but the final road walk to Canada has provided its own unique challenge. I’m fighting the boredom and severe pain in my feet and legs.
By the time I finish on Saturday, I will have walked nine straight days of 25-30 miles from Snoqualmie Pass, WA to the Canadian border near Osoyoos, BC. I will have completed a 2632 mile “continuous footstep” thru-hike from the Mexico border to Canada. 2402 miles of it on the PCT, and the last 230 by road.
I am in Okanogan tonight, just 50 miles away from the most challenging, and rewarding, thing I’ve ever done.
My friend, Matt, is flying up from LA to pick me up Saturday afternoon. I’m looking forward to celebrating over a burger and good Canadian beer in Osoyoos, before driving back to Seattle. I need to be on a plane to Switzerland on Tuesday morning to start a three month long work project. Somewhere in there I will get the chance to more thoroughly reflect on this adventure and my accomplishment. But for now, I still have some walking to do.
Bad snow storms hit the North Cascades last week, stranding PCT hikers from Oregon to the Canadian border. In several cases, hikers went missing and were eventually rescued. I made it to Snoqualmie Pass, mile 2402, almost two weeks ago now. After returning from my unexpected trip back east, I decided to set out in the face of oncoming storms last Friday, hoping to make it to Stevens Pass and closer to my goal. After hiking 25 miles in a steady downpour and small accumulations of snow, I camped for the night. Conditions on trail got worse over night. When I woke I was totally soaked and it was clear that all the creeks and rivers, and even the trail, had been overcome by rising waters. This made hiking ever more dangerous. The winds had picked up quite a bit as well and actually knocked me down twice. I made the difficult decision to turn around, as I was all alone out there, feeling ill-equipped and vulnerable. The moment I turned back was horrible. It felt as though this was the moment I quit the trail, only 250 miles from completing it.
The next several days were agonizing. Do I wait and hope the weather improves? Call it quits and go home? I was running out of time as I had work commitments beginning on October 15th. The snow conditions were serious, with legitimate avalanche dangers. I had no prior experience navigating in, hiking or camping in such weather. I started to gear up in preparation for a return to the trail, but I grew increasingly uneasy with the danger. Realistically, even if I did hike, I wouldn’t have time to make it all that way in the snow. Quitting or dying just did not seem like very good options to me.
After much consideration, I came up with a third option… road walk the rest of the way to Canada. At least I would have the satisfaction of a continuous footstep thru-hike from Mexico to Canada, even if not all of it was on the PCT. So, this past Friday, myself and another hiker, Cream Tea, left Snoqualmie Pass by road instead.
After four days and 100 miles of good weather and reasonably pleasant road hiking, I am right now outside Wenatchee, WA just 130 miles from Canada. I will be done on Saturday.
From White Pass, my approach to the remaining sections of the hike was: 4 days + 3 days + 4 days + 3 days = Canada. Well, I just completed the initial 4 day, 100 mile trip from White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass on Sunday evening. Despite the poor weather, I was starting to feel strong and motivated again, getting up some good momentum for the finish.
Sunday was an especially difficult 26 miles through a persistent downpour over craggy trails, mud, overgrowth and creeks run amok. By the end of it, descending the Snoqualmie Pass ski resort, I was spent and ready for the warmth of town. Two miles shy of Sunday’s finish, huddled under a tree to escape the rain, I turned on my phone and received a message that I had hoped not to receive. My dear Aunt Sally had lost her battle with leukemia.
Sally, my mother’s deep hearted and fun loving sister, was always such a huge fan and supporter of mine. Always quick to laugh, be it at me or something surprisingly hip and aware. The day I was due to fly to LA to begin this trek back in April, she called me. Initially concerned that I was going off the deep end, she challenged me in the most positive and genuinely interested way possible. We had a very personal and lengthy conversation about my motivations for doing it. She thought I was being too hard on myself, but beyond that, she understood. Sally encouraged me and seemed excited about the challenge and potential reward for me and my life. This was tremendously helpful in clarifying my reasons and a resolve that I would need to draw upon later. Though I am so sad to lose her and for my cousins Chris, Brenda and uncle Paul, I know that she will be following me closely on these last miles and doing her best to bring me some sunshine. And if I start feeling sorry for myself again, I will think of what she would likely tell me. “Suck it up and get it done. You can do this.”
I will be flying to NY on Tuesday to celebrate her life with family, before returning Thursday night. No matter rain, snow, sleet or splendid sun, I will be back on the trail early Friday morning to complete the remaining 260 miles to Canada. Stay tuned.
I love you, Sally.
Bears… done that. Night hiking… done that. Mountain lions… where? Rattlesnakes… done that. 2600 miles… no problem. Rain… my worst nightmare.
I arrived White Pass, mile 2303, last night and now heading out to begin four day, 100 mile trip to Snoqualmie Pass. Two weeks and counting until Canada. I hope the weather holds out. I will update this blog a bit more in a few days.
A recent Facebook post:
Okay, so I’m officially worried about being able to finish. I’ve lost my mojo a bit and I need to get it back quick. The weather is turning in a big way and I feel this tremendous pressure to finish as quickly as possible, before the snow storms and incessant rain. Trouble is, my body can’t take too many big mileage days in a row. My joints are making clicking noises and I’m starting to sense that something isn’t right. That said, I’m generally fine, but trying to do 35-40 miles a day to make up time and get the most out of good weather days, may be a bad idea. I’m soft. The rain sucks and I just want to be clean and in a warm bed. If I can suck it up enough to hike everyday, then finishing by Oct. 1-3 sometime should work. It was supposed to be Sept. 29, before Wes and my time in Portland happened. Forgive me if I’m whining a bit. One thing I’ve been constantly reminded about on this trip, is that if all you do is keep putting one foot after another, everything will get better. It’s getting harder, but I will continue to do that.