"Today is my last day," I said to myself as I shoved gear into my pack.
Actually, I think I said that more than once, as if I needed to convince myself.
This really was my last day hiking on the PCT, even if it was a little hard to believe. I had been looking forward to today for several days. I was ready to be done.
That's not to say I hadn't enjoyed my hike. In fact, I enjoyed it more than I could have imagined. Still, it was time to finish this hike and do something else.
|Date||Friday, October 25, 2019|
|Weather||Clear sky with temperatures from low 40s to near 70|
|Trail Conditions||Easy but long ups and downs|
Looking at the remaining miles, it appeared I would be going over easy terrain. With less than 22 miles to go, I figured I wouldn't have difficulty getting to the rest area at Interstate 80 today.
Still, I didn't want to take any chances of getting there late. I wanted to make sure I didn't keep Kim waiting for me.
She was flying into the Sacramento airport this afternoon. Then she would rent a car to pick me up. That was at the same rest area where Sunkist, Bluejay, and I had started hiking the Sierra section in late August.
Though I wanted to get an early start, I surprised myself by how quickly I was packed.
I left camp at 5 a.m. The moon was nearly full, and the sky was clear. I barely needed my headlamp to see the trail.
Leaving Mule Ears Creek, the trail climbed 800 feet in the first 2.5 miles. Most of this was along the top of a ridge.
The overnight temperature had been in the low 40s, which was pleasant for this time of year, especially at above 7,000 feet. When the sun rose at 7:24 a.m., it didn't need long to raise the temperature enough for me to take off my insulated jacket.
I was a little surprised to find patches of snow still on the ground. By now, the trail had climbed to just above 8,000 feet. That's why I found more snow here than anywhere else in the last few days.
Although the elevation was higher than any point it had been since I left Ashland with Bluejay on Day 145, the trail remained easy. The terrain was a series of rounded hills and ridges.
Several lakes were in this area. The trail didn't directly pass any, but Fordyce and Meadow lakes could be seen from a distance. Meadow Lake Hill stood between them.
Instead of going in the direction of those lakes, the trail veered to the east. It then descended from the ridgetop.
I stopped a couple of times early and attempted to call Kim before she boarded her flight. A cell signal wasn't available each time I tried.
When I was later able to get a signal, I received a message from her. She had boarded her first flight and was on her way.
I smiled when I read this. I was starting to feel like this was the end.
The trail curved around the side of an unnamed peak and passed Snowbank Spring. There was no wondering how it got its name. A lot of snow was piled along the trail. It was melting, of course, but I was still surprised to see how much was here.
The ground along this section of trail was saturated from the snowmelt. My shoes were soaking wet by the time I reached the end of the snow.
After climbing to about 8,100 feet, the trail crossed an exposed slope and began a descent with two switchbacks.
White Rock Creek was at the bottom. I collected some water there but decided to walk farther to see if I could find a better spot for lunch.
I found a large rock that was in the shade, which was ideal on this warm day.
Three mountain bikers rode by while I was eating, but I didn't bother telling them bicycles were prohibited on the PCT. I had done that enough already and was beginning to feel like an old man yelling, "You kids get off my lawn!"
While I was relaxing, I received another message from Kim. She said her flight from Dallas to Sacramento was delayed. Although it didn't appear to be a long delay, it was enough that I knew there was no need to hurry. I had plenty of time to get to the rest area.
Kim asked me to delay walking to the finish until she arrived there. She wanted to see me take my final steps as I reached the end of my hike.
The trail next went up and over a ridge, with some wide switchbacks on the way up.
On the second switchback, where I was walking in a southwesterly direction for a short distance, I could see Old Man Mountain standing straight ahead. This was a particularly recognizable peak because of a distinctive notch near the top. It resembled Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, though on a much smaller scale.
I tried to slow down my pace so I wouldn't arrive at the rest area too soon, but that was a challenge. The trail was too easy, so there wasn't a need to stop for a break.
Admittedly, I was also excited for being so near the finish.
The trail passed by Basin Peak and again climbed to above 8,000 feet. At this point, I was less than five miles away from finishing, and the time was only 2:15 p.m. The earliest I expected Kim to arrive was three hours from now.
After the trail descended from the ridge, it passed a side trail to Peter Grubb Hut. This was a cabin maintained by the Sierra Club. It is mainly used by backcountry skiers.
I thought about stopping there to kill some time, but I somehow failed to see the trail or any signs posted for it.
I knew I was nearing the end when Interstate 80 came into view. The highway was still far in the distance but unmistakable. On the other side of the highway stood Snow Mountain, which was 11 miles away. Its peak was about twice as far away as the highway.
The trail had one more short climb to go. It went over Castle Pass, which was on a shoulder of Castle Peak. From there was an easy glide to the end.
With only about a mile more to the rest area, I met a family from Nevada City. They were day hiking, and when they stopped to ask about my hike, I gladly took time to talk to them. At this point, I had a lot of time to spare.
When I got to within a tenth of a mile from the side trail to the rest area, I could see the building and parking lot. The time was 4:15 p.m., but too soon to keep walking. I wanted to respect Kim's wishes, so I found a large boulder and sat on it to wait.
Shortly after, I received another text message from her. She told me she had picked up the rental car and estimated she would arrive at 5:30.
I sat on the rock for nearly 90 minutes and listened to podcasts. During that time, the temperature turned chilly, and I had put my jacket back on.
I didn't mind the wait, however. After all, Kim had faithfully supported my hike from the beginning. She had put up with me being away from home for nearly six months and never complained. And she kept me resupplied with food, gear, and encouragement. The very least I could do was sit and wait a little longer for her to arrive.
When I finally received another text saying she was at the rest area, I walked the last tenth of a mile, then turned to take the final steps to where Kim was waiting.
She surprised me by handing me the same t-shirt she had given me when I finished the AT. She also gave me a PCT hat and U.S., Canadian, and Mexican flags.
At last, my walk of nearly 2,700 miles was done, and we were reunited. I didn't have to walk more miles tomorrow. It was finally time to relax and be together.
Now I could stop believing I had enough determination, endurance, and strength to hike all of the PCT. I had done it.
Just as that was sinking in, I turned to Kim and said, "Don't ever let me do something like that again."
No more time to tell how
This is the season of what now
Now is the time of returning
With our thought jewels polished and gleaming
Now is the time past believing
From "The Eleven" by Robert Hunter and Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead)
The child has relinquished the reign
Now is the test of the boomerang
Tossed in the night of redeeming