Thursday, October 9, 2014

Day 184- Last day on the PCT

Day 184, 10/9/14
1499 to 1506 (I-5/ Castle Craigs)
7 miles

Last day on the PCT for this year.  I can't believe this is ending!

Just like a normal morning, I was up at 5 AM, eating granola and jerky in my hammock, and hiking by 5:20.   I savored the night hiking, trying to tuck the experience into my heart.  The sparkle of headlamp reflected in spiders' eyes.  Sounds of crickets.  Moon shadows.  The rhythm of footsteps, crunch of leaves and pine needles underfoot.  All of this so familiar because it's been part of my mornings for so long. 

After a long while, the glow on the horizon appears.  Slowly, it brightens enough to turn off my headlamp.  Finally, morning light shines through the canopy and warms up the yellowish bark of the ponderosa.   Before the PCT, I used to rely on caffeine to wake me up in the mornings.  But now I just start walking and my senses come awake and my mind gets sharp as I watch the sunrise.  No need for anything else, I've got it all here.  But that's ending now and I wonder what I will do.
Ponderosa pine bark.
I passed through a burn area and it looks like I am back in Southern California, back on my first week on the PCT with a full moon casting shadows on the skeleton trees.  But then I see the peak of Shasta, unlike anything I've ever seen- so huge and shadowed.  I long to climb it.  
The light.
At the spring, I fill up my bottles.   OMG this is my last water source on the PCT!   I keep hiking but spend more time looking at the changing leaves, taking a few extra photos of plants I don't know so I can look them up when I get internet or to a guidebook.

Before I know it, I am down to a road, crossing the train tracks that I've heard in the far off distance but which, all if the sudden, are right here.  Then I am over the Sacramento River and to the I5 overpass.  This is where I stop hiking.  For now.  Dang how did I get to the end so fast? 
It's not Canada, but I'm proud of my 1500 miles.
I have cell reception and call my parents.  They are only a few minutes away.  I stand by the road and as I am waiting for them, and a truck drives up and asks me if I need a ride into town. I say no I already have a ride, but thank him for stopping.  Gotta love it.  And soon enough, my parents pull up and I hop in.

I am torn about getting off the trail here.  When I planned this weeks ago with my parents, it seemed like a good stopping point.   I know I can't finish the trail this year, that the snows will come, or have already come at the higher elevations.  So I-5 seemed like a good place to stop hiking because it is easy to access and it is right before a series of fire closures and some active fires.  And 1500 is a nice round number and today is exactly six months since I set out from the Mexico border.  But I don't feel like stopping.  The trail is still captivating and endlessly interesting, still challenging.  I've adapted to the solitude, love being out in the fall.   I feel strong and happy.  I want to keep going, keep hiking on and on.  But I need to stop somewhere, and hope I am leaving myself with a good PCT trip for later.
I made it!
I still don't know what I will do next, besides the first week- a few days with my parents in Sierra City, then saying goodby to Steph and thanking her for helping me get back in trail. Then driving east, stopping in Colorado on the way to visit Still Waters.

I thought I'd know more of what's next.  More hiking somewhere?   Get a job?  Thought I'd have it figured out once I finished but I don't.  What I do know is that I can't go back to how things were before I started.  My priorities have shifted.   I know I want to do something meaningful, something different.

It hasn't sunk in yet that I won't be getting back on the PCT tomorrow.


  1. I'll miss the read !! I find it hard to believe that someone can walk so far but am amazed at your achievements. Congrats . You will start up again after Winter won't you ?

    1. Thanks so much for all your comments- always been great hearing from you! Yes, my plan is to start back on the PCT sometime next summer so I can hike Oregon and Washington, and the little bit in California I haven't done yet.

  2. Congratulations on your 1500 miles. I guess this means you can finish it up next year and miss most of the snow and ice. Hope you can make it back to Athens and join us on a few Rambles before we shut down for the winter! Don

    1. Definitely can choose to miss the snow and ice this time! Yep lots of advantages to doing this in two years. If I'm in Athens, I'll certainly join the Rambles- always enjoy your photos and reports. Right now, my parents and I are finding there are lots of things to see in Nevada and are on are way through Utah too...

  3. So very proud of you for setting a goal and following the dream. You had some challenges along the way but those unknowns have required you to dig a little deeper and learn more about yourself. This summer will give you endless opportunities to ponder, reflect and remember. ~Stacy

  4. I've got go catch up on your posts, but congratulations on what you have accomplished! I know it wasn't what you imagined in the beginning, but you'll finish it someday soon! I'll be thinking of ya as you navigate life off trail again!

  5. Congratulations on reaching 1500!! Thanks for taking us along on your great adventure. I'll miss the PCT but I know there are other hikes to come.

  6. Congratulations! Perhaps I will see you next year. Happy trails dear lady!

  7. Congrats and I will miss your good storytelling. Perhaps a blog about RH OFF the PCT might be in order?

  8. Congratulations on reaching 1500 miles!!! I so enjoyed reading your blog. You are a great writer and I can see a book in your future!! Wish you the very best in whatever you decide to do.

  9. Well done Hemlock! Thanks for sharing with us. I am home now, but for the last few weeks I have been anxious to read your blog when you post because when I read it I am there, on the trail again, senses on, in the moment, full attention. For all the dirt, sweat, and pain the PCT is a magnificent adventure and you have conveyed that so well. If you're near San Antonio over the next few months drop me a line. Maybe do the Guadalupe Mtns!?

  10. I quit my hike at the same spot as you and returned the following year to hike the rest. I did spend a few weeks hiking some of the trail before the Castle Crags trailhead over again, and cleaning up spots I had missed. But once I got to Castle Crags it was a straight shot to Canada. I highly recommend it. You can start a little early and not feel rushed. Lots of insane mosquitoes in Oregon in July though.

  11. Congrats on the 1500! I've loved following your journey :-)

  12. Hey Joan,
    I love to read about your adventures. The way you tell it is just beautiful.
    "Finally, morning light shines through the canopy and warms up the yellowish bark of the ponderosa."
    That's poetry.
    I'm so glad you got over the knee issue and were able to continue.
    Good luck getting back and finishing it up.