AT NH Day 3: I Live in the Wilderness, I Just Vacation in the Real World

Trapper John Shelter – NH 25A
16.8 miles
We noticed a very distinct difference between the PCT and AT when we got up this morning: we were the first ones up. On the PCT we were some of the later risers, but this morning no one else in camp was stirring yet when we started packing up. We hiked out at exactly 6:30 and did see Tadpole and Survivor packing up as we left. We started the day with a quick climb up from the shelter, and then had a nice descent to a road. The morning was super misty which looked really cool, but I hoped it would clear before we got to the first view points.

We debated eating breakfast at a parking area, but then I decided we should climb up to the first lookout and eat there. Of course, as soon as I started climbing my stomach began growling angrily, unhappy with me for passing up a chance to eat. It was well worth it when we got to the view point though. We got to sit on a slab of rock to eat with a sweeping view of mountains all around.

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AT NH Day 2: Gummies and Glowworm Go Home

Hanover – Trapper John Shelter
16.1 miles
I slept like a rock in our comfy Airbnb bed last night, and woke up feeling rested and ready to hit the trail. Before leaving, we had breakfast with our host Jeff and got to meet some of the other Airbnb guests, which was really nice. We dropped our car off at a lot in town, walked maybe about a mile on the road to get to the place where the trail leaves town, and started hiking.

Gummies and Glowworm back in action!

As we were headed out of town, we met some more thru hikers named Survivor and Tadpole who we leapfrogged with a bit. There was some climbing to start off (the rule that there’s always a climb out of town still holds), but after that the trail was super chill for a while, which was quite nice to get us warmed up and back into the swing of things.

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AT NH Day 1: Terra incognita

VT/NH border – Mile 1750.4
~1.4 miles
Well, this trip started out in possibly the most classic way possible – with grief caused by the United States Postal System.
Our original plan had been to leave home early Saturday morning and drive most of the way to our starting point in Hanover, New Hampshire, stopping just an hour short for the night at an Airbnb, and continuing on to Hanover early Sunday morning. However, while getting ready for work on Thursday morning, I was suddenly struck by a thought. We had packages at the Hanover post office. And we would be arriving in town on a Sunday. The post office closes up for the weekend at 12:30 on Saturday.
We scrambled to come up with a new plan, which had us leaving after work on Friday and driving into the night, stopping at a rest area somewhere in Maine a little after midnight. We initially parked our car directly in front of a “no camping or overnight parking” sign, but then moved to a spot farther from the sign, but where overnight parking was definitely no more allowed. However, my logic was that since it was already early Saturday morning by the time we arrived, it was just a long break where we happened to nap.

Our ability to adapt to the sudden changing of plans brought me right back to the PCT. I definitely have my journey there to thank for the way I can now go with the flow with relatively small amounts of worry. Changing plans, jumping into new things, exploring new places… Terra incognita.

I got some surprisingly high quality sleep in the leaned back passenger seat of our hatchback, waking up at 5am to make the rest of the drive. We made fantastic time and ended up arriving in Hanover at 10am, with plenty of time to spare before the post office closed.

First meal on trail : breakfast at Lou’s! They also have thru-hiker-worthy sized pancakes.

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THE CAFFEINATED HIKER RETURNS

Greetings blog followers! I apologize for my almost year and a half of silence. Life after the PCT has been weird and exciting and amazing and really, really hard.

Here’s the Sparknotes update: After a long and difficult 7 months of long-distance, Gummies finally moved to Canada with me at the end of May 2018. We got married on July 21, 2018, and about one month afterwards, relocated from Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Gummies is currently pursuing his masters degree in urban planning. About one year after he moved here, we received the exciting news that he had been approved to become a permanent resident of Canada!

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Wedding photo by the amazing and lovely SN Photography.

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Life Update: 4 Weeks Off Trail

It’s been exactly four weeks since the day I arrived at the Canadian border, officially completing my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and I think I’m finally ready to break my post-trail silence. I originally wanted to have come out with at least a couple post-trail blogs by this point, but it took me longer than I expected to really start processing my feelings after finishing the trail. But before I dive into all the feelings and shit, I guess I’ll give you guys a quick update on what I’ve been up to since I arrived in Vancouver after finishing the hike.

After our night in the swanky hotel room, we spent a couple more nights in Vancouver at the home of a friend I went to high school with. It turns out that even off the trail, people are still good and generous and kind. The city itself quickly became overwhelming. We spent an afternoon exploring the downtown waterfront area, which was really cool, but things quickly became stressful once real life entered into the picture. As I’m sure many of you deduced (although I never explicitly mentioned it in any blog posts), Gummies and I became a couple during our hike, and we would one day maybe like to relocate to British Columbia. So, with that in mind, we tried to spend a day scoping out potential jobs and places to live, but ended up returning to my friend’s house after a couple of hours where Gummies had a nap and I baked cookies (my own personal form of therapy). It was just too much, too quickly.

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PCT Day 160: CANADA!!! 

​September 17, 2017 
Castle Pass – Manning Park, BC (2646.42-2658.91)

12.48 miles 

The feeling in camp this morning was akin to that felt by small children on Christmas morning. We slept in, although due to the excitement we didn’t actually sleep much into the morning, and instead laid around for a bit reflecting on the trip. One by one, our campmates headed out to walk the last few miles to the monument, and eventually we did as well, the last ones to leave the campsite. Leading up to this moment, I had anticipated a rather quiet and contemplative mood in these last few miles, but instead Gummies and I listened to a playlist of songs that have influenced the hike in some way, which included such timeless classics as Baby Got Back, Get Low, and Space Jam. So yeah, not quite the sombre reflection I had been imagining, but much more fun. 

As we approached the monument, my excitement grew. Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a helicopter landing nearby. We were only about a quarter mile from the monument at this point, and I was sure that must be where the helicopter was landing. As we rounded a switchback, we realized we could see the monument and the border through the trees, and the helicopter was there! I was a bit disappointed, thinking that they were there to do work on the Canada/US border monument (we had heard rumours of people having their finishing pictures ruined a few days before by a construction crew on site), but as we stood there we realized the helicopter was already taking off again! 

We hurried down the last few steps to the monument, and were greeted with cheers and hugs by the hikers who were already there. The people we had camped with (Dave, Judith, Chewie, Red, and Nigel) were all there, along with all the people who had gotten to the monument the night before and camped there, so it was quite a party. It was a bit surreal seeingmonument, but with all the excitement going on I don’t think the full realization of the moment was able to hit me. We got our finishing photos, I drank my maple syrup to celebrate my return to the homeland, and Gummies had his bottle of milk which he drank/dumped on his head/sprayed all over everyone (because winners of the Indy 500 drink milk). We also shared a tiny little bottle of Maker’s Mark, before making breakfast to enjoy at the monument. 

Slowly, the other hikers all headed on into Canada, and we eventually got a few moments alone at the monument to soak it all in. Still, I don’t think any of it really sunk in for me. Not the magnitude of what I had just done, and not the fact that it was all coming to an end now. Of course, we still had to hike 9 more miles into Canada to get to Manning Park, but our time on the Pacific Crest Trail proper was officially over. I think we spent around an hour and a half at the monument, but we did eventually hike on into Canada. The weather forecast had been calling for rain or even snow starting today, but we lucked out and the weather was beautiful. Sunny, and the perfect temperature for hiking. The Canadian trail into Manning Park was also really nice. Not too much in the way of elevation gain, and sometimes it was even wide enough for us to walk side by side. I was probably imagining it, but being back in Canada felt different and nice, like coming home. 

Eventually, we arrived at the Manning Park Lodge, and obviously headed straight to the restaurant to get lunch. When we walked in, we noticed Cougar and Dr. McDirty were there, so we joined them at their table. They finished the day before us, but I’m really glad we at least got to meet up with them at the end and reflect on everything that had happened over the past five months. After lunch, we attempted to book tickets on the Greyhound bus to Vancouver, but the WiFi at the lodge was terrible and the desktop computer in the lobby also wouldn’t work. There was a brief panic, but I was eventually able to contact my dad who booked the tickets for us. 

Cougar and Dr. McDirty had booked a room for the night, and they let us use their shower so that we didn’t have to shower in the pool shower that the lodge lets hikers use. Once we were all cleaned up and our laundry was in the machine, we headed over to the pub for one last meal together before parting ways. It’s so strange saying goodbye to people after this hike. You forge such strong bonds with the people you meet out in the wilderness, but there’s also a kind of detachment behind it, since you never know when someone might hike off never to be seen again. Still, it was definitely sad saying goodbye to Cougar and Dr. McDirty after all that we’d been through together. 

Gummies and I headed down to the basement of the lodge, where they let hikers crash on the floor while waiting for the bus to show up (for some reason, the only time the bus stops at Manning Park is 2am). All the hikers in the room slowly drifted off, but I couldn’t fall asleep for a long while. My mind was racing with the feelings of being finished and the excitement of heading to Vancouver. I scrolled through every single photo I’ve taken on the hike. The desert feels like a lifetime ago, and almost like it was an entirely different person who experienced it. It’s crazy to look back on the past five months and everything that’s happened since that fateful day I left home and flew alone to San Diego. I’ve grown so much in the past five months, and learned things that I never know about myself. I knew exactly where the trail went when I set out, but it still managed to bring me to places I never expected. 

Everyone began packing up to catch the bus shortly after 1am, so I think I only got an hour or two of sleep. The bus already had some people on it when it arrived, and the rest of the seats were totally filled by hikers. It was about 3 and a half hours to Vancouver, and I might have drifted off a few times but I definitely didn’t get any good sleep. We were dropped off at the bus station at 5:30am in the pitch blackness, and so of course immediately descended upon the nearest Tim Hortons for breakfast. Walking into a Timmies made the feeling of home so much more real. We sat there for a couple of hours waiting for the sun to rise, and then walked across town to the hotel we had booked for the night. 

Now I’m really home. 

We decided to treat ourselves for our first real night off trail, and got a room at a pretty nice place in downtown Vancouver. The concierge definitely gave us a hard look when we walked in with our backpacks and dirty hiking clothes, but quickly turned friendly when we asked where we could check in for our reservation. The lady at the check-in desk was pretty impressed when we told her we’d walked there from Mexico, and she had our room ready right away, even though it was only 8am and nowhere near official check-in time. 

The room is soooo nice. I feel a bit guilty about spending so much, but I think we definitely deserve this. After relaxing for a bit, we headed out into the city with a plan to buy some non-hiking clothes. We ran into Acorn and Bin Chicken inside the nearby H&M store trying to do the same thing, which was kind of funny. We were able to pick up a few items of street clothes, as well as some toiletries and even a bubble bath bar from Lush (yep, I really decided to treat myself). After we had finished shopping, as we were sitting on the street side eating lunch from a hot dog cart, we saw Adam and Baton walking on the opposite side of the street! They came over and talked to us for a bit, and it felt so strange seeing other hikers in the setting of the downtown of a major city. So crazy that we’re still randomly running into each other, even here. 

We had a totally luxurious evening of ordering room service and lying in bed, and of course having my bubble bath which felt incredible. I had the best sleep I’ve had in a while. I don’t think I woke up once in the night. I really wanted this blog post to include some kind of deep reflection on my post-hike feelings, but honestly I don’t think the true feelings of being done have hit me yet. We still have a week of playing tourist in Vancouver and Seattle, and then Gummies and I will spend a couple weeks visiting at each of our hometowns, so the adventure doesn’t really feel over yet. I’m definitely going to be posting a few post-trail updates as life unfolds and the reality of being done the hike truly sets in. 

In the end, the trail was everything I thought it would be, but also so much more. You really can’t comprehend the things that happen to you on a trip of this magnitude until you go out and do it. I knew it was going to be hard, but it was so much harder than I thought it would be. The trail humbled me. It brought me to my knees, but also lifted me up. It showed me that I can’t do everything, but I can do some pretty badass stuff. I can hike over 2000 miles. I can live in the wilderness for 5 months. I can climb mountains and trek through the snow and forge bonds with total strangers. I am so much stronger than I ever knew, but I also learned that it’s okay to be weak sometimes. I am not invincible, and that’s okay. I’m leaving the trail, but I’m taking a part of it with me that will stay with me forever. In the things that it has taught me, the ways that it has changed me, the love that it has given me. I hiked the PCT in the year of fire and ice, and life will never be the same. 

PCT Day 159: Last Full Day 

​September 16, 2017 

Mile 2625.28 – Castle Pass (2625.28-2646.42)

21.14 miles 

There was ice in our water bottles this morning. I actually managed to stay pretty toasty in my quilt, but getting out in the morning was not super enjoyable. I probably looked ridiculous hiking out of camp bundled up like I was going on an Arctic expedition, but at least I was warm. We had a small climb in the morning and then a lot of down hill, so I was able to keep most of my warm layers on for quite a while. We sat in a sunny spot on a ridge to have breakfast, which felt amazing, before continuing down into the shade. 

View from our final PCT lunch break 

Near the end of the morning, we began the climb up to Rock Pass, which is when things really started getting beautiful. We ate lunch in a wide open grassy area with an amazing view of the mountains, just below the pass itself. When we came over the crest, we could see the trail winding for miles along the ridge side splashed with beautiful autumn colours. We climbed up and over Woody Pass, wound along the ridge for a while, and then began the last climb of the PCT. Seriously. The last 8 or so miles of the trail to the border are all downhill. There were a ton of people at the top, including Stephanie, Acorn, Jackie, Bin Chicken, and a lot of others whose names I don’t know. We all sat at the top taking in the view for a few minutes. Someone started playing O Canada on their phone. It was a pretty strange feeling.

Heading down Rock Pass 

We began the downhill to camp. Everyone else in the big group was heading for the border tonight, but we decided to camp a few miles before and hit it first thing in the morning tomorrow. We’re camped with a bunch of other people who are doing the same thing, most of whom we’ve been hiking around for the past several days. We all sat together to make and eat dinner, and reflected on our time on the trail. It was a really enjoyable evening to close out the hike. 

I can’t believe this is the last night. Today was a day of doing things for the last time. We set up the tent for the last time. I blew up my sleeping pad for the last time. I made dinner on my little stove for the last time. I maybe/hopefully dug my last cat hole. And now I’ll go to sleep in my warm quilt for the last time, and tomorrow we’ll break camp for the last time and walk 3 and a half miles to Canada. It still hasn’t sunk in that it’s all coming to an end so soon. I’m still full of excitement about getting to the monument and getting celebratory photos and walking to Manning Park to eat a warm meal and drink a beer and shower. But in the end I do think it’ll feel somewhat bittersweet saying goodbye to the simple life of the trail. I’ll reflect more on it tomorrow. From Canada…