Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Part 208 - PCT - Thanks For the Memories

Day 5 – September 25, 2013

I slept in this morning, and why not; there was not a big hurry to be on the trail; it was only six miles to the border.  I found OTC sitting in the doorway of his tent, boiling water for coffee and his morning gruel of thick, pasty oatmeal, laced with dehydrated fruit.  He offered me hot water and a packet of hot cocoa mix, which I gladly accepted.  The morning was crisp, and our breath was frosty, which made the hot beverage all that more satisfying.

We were both very cognizant that this was the last day of our epic journey, and for a moment we reflected on the magnitude of what we had accomplished.  We started in early spring from the Mexican border when the days were long, the mornings warm, and flowers were just beginning to bloom.  And over the months, as we steadily marched north, almost imperceptibly, the seasons had changed, until now, the full force of winter in the high mountains was just hours away.
I told OTC that I would be at the border about noon, and asked if he might be there around the same time, so that we could take pictures of each other.  He said that probably wouldn’t happen as he anticipated meeting his wife, Cora, at the border at four this afternoon; he said he was going to stay in his tent for a while, catching up on his journal writing, and probably taking a nap.  As a last interaction between us, he gave me a note to give to Cora when I saw her on the trail.

I pack up and bid him farewell, and told him that if he and Cora made it into Manning Park by ten tomorrow morning, breakfast will be on me.  My last memory of OTC was seeing him still sitting in the doorway of his tent drying his gloves with the heat of his Jetboil stove.

I’m not a wordsmith, and thus it’s difficult for me to put into words what I’ve experienced these last few days in the mountains of the North Cascades just prior to crossing into Canada.  I’ve seen pictures of these mountains in the springtime, when the grass is green, flowers are in full bloom, and the trail is brown as opposed to being white; suffice it to say, the area is unbelievably gorgeous in the springtime; but at the moment, I’m here at the other extreme of the season - the onslaught of winter, just moments away from the tipping point when the door to this vast wilderness will be slammed shut and hidden away for the duration of many months.

I’m seeing the mountains on the verge of hibernation, on the eve of slipping away into a winter wonderland that no one will be allowed to penetrate, until the guardians of the passes – the snow angels, once again grant their permission to enter.  The mountains are at their moment of transition, from the carefree days of sunshine and lollipops, to the solemn and austere days of cleansing and renewal, and OTC and I are brusquely being ushered out the door, as though the mountains are saying, “Closed for the season.”

It would have been difficult, but not impossible, for me to have traversed these mountains alone; after all, Cookie passed through two days before, and Swiss Army will come through two days later.  But I’m here, alone, at this specific moment in time when the snows are just beginning to cover the trail, and there was no one really in front of me breaking trail.  It’s not altogether impossible to lose the tread, especially in moments of whiteouts or when the clouds settle on the ground and obscure the landforms.

I do not believe that it was happenstance that OTC appeared on the trail at the precise moment he did.  I firmly believe that those who are beyond the veil and who have been diligent in watching over me during this trek knew I would need a companion, an escort with prior knowledge of the trail, to see me safely through the quickly deteriorating harshness of the fast- approaching winter.  Had it been anyone other than OTC, it might well have been a case of the blind leading the blind.  But, as it turned out, my jolly companion for the last three days was a carefree, bushy beard, wannabe Viking – OTC. 

Thanks, my friend; you performed a service that I’m sure you’re not even aware of.  And like the "thanks" we hikers express to all trail angels, it hardly suffices for the deep, profound gratitude we feel, but, at the moment, it’s the best we can offer.

Leaving OTC in his tent, I searched out the spur trail that came down to the lake, and would lead me back to the PCT.  Wet shoes punching through crusty snow uncovers twigs, branches, and stiff grass that only days before were enjoying the warming rays of sunlight, but are now resigned to receiving a crushing mantle of snow ten to twelve feet deep that will block the life-sustaining rays of the sun until next summer.

In moments, I’m back on the PCT and flying down the trail; I’m walking as fast as I can go, but still being vigilant and cautious, as the trail changes from deep snow, to slush, to ice, and then to mud.  I don’t want to end my long, hard-fought journey to a broken ankle two miles from the border, as did Gourmet in 2012.

Down the stretch I fly, and when the trees open up so that the mountains are open to my view, somewhere in the distance I know I’m seeing Canadian trees; I tell myself they have to look different than U.S. trees, but in reality, everything is green.  Three switchbacks, a short straightaway down a small hill, and then I’m there, standing in the small clearing beside the legendary and almost mythical Monument 78; time is noon, Wednesday, September 25, 2013.  Goal achieved; check that one off the bucket list and on to the next one – maybe trek the Great Wall of China, maybe another bike ride across America, or maybe a bike trip to the South Pole using a fat tire bike, or even ride a rocket sled to the moon as my father envisioned in his science-fiction short story titled: Rider in the Sky.

 Peter Bird, my friend the English ocean-rower, in an interview was once asked why he rowed the ocean. I don’t remember his precise answer, but it was along the lines of trying to explain to the questioner, what it means to live life at a level above the dull routine of everyday living.

I often get asked the same question with regards to my bike ride across America, my solo ocean crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, and my desire to hike 2665 miles across the mountains. It’s not an easy question to answer, because there is no one, clear-cut answer. Most often, I just reply, “Just because I can.” But that’s really quite superficial and doesn’t really answer the question.

 Having had a great deal of time on the trail, to ponder this question, these are some more in-depth reasons why I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, why I rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean, why I biked across America, and why I will continue with these activities as long as I’m physically able to so do.

Like Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, I choose the road less traveled because I dare to dream. I do not want to arrive at the end of my life having regrets about unfulfilled dreams.

I choose the road less traveled as a means of pushing myself to the limits, to gain a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses.

I choose the road less traveled because, at certain levels, I am afraid of things. Hiking, and navigating through the mountains, the open range lands, the forests, the ocean, builds my self-confidence.  At home, at work, at play, it enables me to say, “I can do this hard thing.”

I choose the road less traveled because it means I’m still alive, and my life has purpose. It means my life hasn’t become one of simply knowing the times of all the daytime TV shows.

 I choose the road less traveled to experience that which is unconventional, life events that few people will ever know or understand.

I choose the road less traveled to experience the splendor of this wonderful country I live in, to be fully immersed in all that God has created for my benefit.

I choose the road less traveled to gain an appreciation of the people who are different from me, to broaden my horizons; to gain a human perspective that I’m not acquainted with.

I choose the trail less traveled because I’m different; my family history genealogy shows that I share common ancestors with Lewis and Clark, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Amelia Earhart, Oliver Cromwell, Horatio (Lord) Nelson, Edgar Allen Poe, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Ulysses S. Grant, Butch Cassidy, Buffalo Bill Cody, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. (Relative)

I choose the road less traveled to add to my storehouse of experiences; after all is said and done, I am the sum total of my experiences.

I choose the road less traveled to interact with people, and to hear their stories.

I choose the road less traveled to see what I’m made of, what I’m capable of enduring. In a world of cushiness and softness, there’s not much opportunity to experience the harshness of life that generations past have endured. On the trail, or on the ocean, I can experience pain, and suffering, thirst and hunger, cold, heat, weariness and mind numbing fatigue, and still find the will to keep going.

I choose the road less traveled as a surrogate for those who physically may not be able to do so, or who lack the time; in order to share my experiences with them.

I choose the road less traveled to gain knowledge about me; like putting up a mirror and looking at my reflection, I seek feedback to make course corrections, in order to stay on the strait and narrow path.

I choose the road less traveled to learn how to prioritize the demands on my time; to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I choose the road less traveled knowing that I will encounter circumstances that will require my total reliance, and total faith in God for help and assistance.

I choose the road less traveled just for the fun of it.

The U.S.-Canadian border is just a straight line of trees that have been cut down, approximately fifty feet wide, that extends from ocean to ocean.  There are no Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in red coats and wide-brim hats to check my papers that I’ve been protecting for 2,665 miles, fearful that if I didn’t have them, I might be turned away from crossing into Canada; in fact, there’s no one here at all.  I do a little "happy dance," sign the trail register hidden inside the bronze obelisk, take a selfie, and then with no other celebration or antics to perform, put my pack back on and begin the eight-mile trek to Manning Park where I will meet my wife ,Jodie, and friends, Ken and Lois Cutler, at the Manning Park Lodge.

The only euphoria I feel at the completion of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, is the knowledge that I can soon get off my feet, which I can no longer feel, and without the weight of my pack on my back, once again be able to stand up straight.

Many miles from the monument, I meet beautiful Cora, OTC’s wife, valiantly trooping up the trail with a fully loaded backpack, intent on making it to the border, but now, obviously way late.  We stop in the middle of the trail, and I tell her that I have a note to give to her from OTC.  After reading it, she says she’s bringing cookies to OTC, and would I like some?

Does the sun come up in the morning?

Is the Pope Catholic?

She drops her pack and extracts a medium-size plastic Tupperware container filled with little cookies.  Cora tells me to take all I want.  If she only knew what dangerous words she’s just spoken.  My fingers tremble as I limit myself to three; the urge is to flee with the whole container.

In the late afternoon, the eight-mile section of the Canadian trail ends at a paved road, adjacent to a flowing stream that leads into Manning Park.  As I set foot on the road, a vehicle approaches with three eager faces peering out of the windows.  It is my wife and friends.  

Our jubilation at reconnecting with one another is electrifying; there is so much joy and happiness.  It would have been a real downer and total letdown not to have had a cheering section waiting at the finish line.

Jodie and the Cutlers flew into Seattle, rented an SUV and drove to Manning Park, arriving at the lodge just a few minutes before I exited the forest onto the paved road.  Brownie was in the lodge, and he gave them information on how to find the trail where I would exit.  What great timing we all had.

That night in the lodge, after a shower, shave, dinner, and numerous desserts, I sat in front of the communal fireplace visiting with Brownie, Laptop, Biers and Ranch, the only trail hikers in the lodge at the time.  We reminisced about our experiences for a long time, as the four of them passed the bottle around.  Finally, it was time to say “Good-bye,” which we did with heavy hearts; we truly are comrades in arms, and we share a link that will bind us together forever, a link that is 2,665 miles long, affectionately known simply as the PCT.

Now, as the saga of this long adventure comes to a close, as well as bringing closure to so many of the other adventures I’ve been privileged to participate in, I pass along a couple of quotes from three, well-known historical figures that are pertinent to the stories and essays contained in this memoir.

First – from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right."

And from Walt Disney who said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.  Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.”

And finally, from the signature song that the famous comedian Bob Hope would sing at the close of his weekly television comedy show, and which seems most appropriate to end this adventurous tale: 

 “Thanks for the Memories.”

As I descend in elevation to the Canadian border, I encountered Yabba Dabba and his wife Hot Wings and their well-behaved dogs. They have been to the border, signed the register and are now heading back to Hart's Pass where they'll exit the trail. It was pleasing to get to know these good people.

And there it is, the US/Canadian border. It's just a wide swath of trees cut in a straight line from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.

This is the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. It looks much like its cousin the southern terminus.

Beside the terminus is Monument 78, the marker delineating the border. There are three parts to the monument and they can be pulled apart. In the bottom is the hallowed register. No one leaves without signing this important document. It attests to all that the long-distant hiker who started at the Mexican/US border five plus months ago, has accomplished the near impossible.

Just like at the southern terminus, there was no one around, so I had to take a selfie as a testament that I had arrived at the end of the trail. 

The beginning and the end.

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