Coincidence, a thirty-nine-year-old health-care professional from California, arrived at Rainy Pass on October 2, 2013, a few days after the first major snowstorm of the season had shut down the trail for most PCT hikers. He and his small group of five camped at the pass, and were joined the next morning by a larger group of fellow hikers who had tried to continue on from Rainy Pass the day before but had been turned back by the deep snow. They had retreated to the trail town of Winthrop for resupplies and the acquisition of additional winter clothing and snowshoes and were back for a second attempt.
The newly arrived group was actually two smaller groups, one that was going to make another attempt up the PCT from Rainy Pass, while the second group had elected to proceed to the border via the East Bank Trail along Ross Lake.
After the initial attempt the day before by everyone to ascend the mountain passes north of Rainy Pass and having to retreat, the smaller of the two groups that arrived this morning felt that their best effort would be to roadwalk twenty miles west to the East Bank Trailhead, then proceed thirty-two miles north, along the east side of Ross Lake, until reaching the border.
When the two groups split to go their separate ways, Coincidence was left standing alone in the parking lot; he said he was undecided as to which group he should go with. He wanted very much to continue on up the trail to Hart’s Pass and beyond, but his gut feeling told him not to go. He was wise and listened to the whisperings of the spirit, and fell in behind the group beginning the twenty-mile road walk to Ross Lake, accompanied only by female hiker Horney Toad, who had hiked with him to Rainy Pass the day before.
Arriving at the East Bank Trailhead late in the afternoon, he saw other hikers engaged in conversation with National Park Rangers. It was then that he learned that the trailhead and the trail itself fell under National Park Service jurisdiction and was therefore closed to the public because of the government shutdown, which began on October 1 and would last until October 16, 2013.
Coincidence was in shock at what he was hearing; how could his own government deny him, as well as the other hikers, access to what they felt was public property, indeed their property, as citizens of the United States. No amount of arguing with the rangers produced any positive results; they were adamant about their orders from their superiors that no one was to have access to any property administered by the federal government, and were threatening to ticket, arrest, and jail anyone who dared to do otherwise. This was as true for the Ross Lake National Recreation Area as for Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks.
Across the nation, the American public was outraged by the closure of these national treasures, and as an example of their anger and frustration, veterans, in an act of civil disobedience, removed the metal barriers surrounding the open-air World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., a monument that normally had no park service personnel present.
It was widely reported in the media that the National Park Service had been ordered to make the government shutdown as painful as possible for the American public, orders originating from top levels of government, to highlight the Obama administration’s disagreement with congress about funding for Obamacare and being denied congressional permission to raise the national debt.
Coincidence and the others knew nothing about what was happening on a national scale; they only knew that their little section of the world had suddenly crumbled, and they were being asked to vacate the premises – the parking lot of the East Bank Trailhead that was administered by National Park Service, but belonged to all Americans.
One by one, the dejected hikers returned to their vehicles, if they had one, or accepted rides from others, if they did not. Only Coincidence refused a ride, and finally, he was the only one left standing in the parking lot, besides the rangers, who had retreated to their vehicles.
Confused, bewildered, in shock and with no plan in mind, Coincidence began walking towards the trail; he passed the NPS rangers sitting in their vehicles, and kept on moving. They put their SUV in gear and pulled up alongside of him.
“Where you going, buddy?” they asked.
Coincidence politely replied,
“I’ve just hiked 2,630 miles, all the way from Mexico, and I’m thirty miles from completing my once-in-a-lifetime journey, and you’re telling me I can’t continue; to be honest, I’m in total shock, and I just want to keep walking."
“We understand," said the rangers, "and we’re sympathetic with your predicament, but we have orders not to let anyone proceed. Let us give you a ride to the nearest town.”
Coincidence accepted their offer, climbed into the back seat of the SUV, and was driven to the small town of Marblemount, six miles west of Ross Lake. He settled in for the night at the Buffalo Run Inn, but he did not sleep. He was frustrated and angry, and from these agitated emotions, he developed a plan. He wasn’t quitting; he hadn’t come this far in his long journey from Mexico, now on the threshold of victory, only to be denied the accomplishment of his goal by some fat dude in Washington, who had no concept of what it meant to labor physically for a goal; no, he would not be denied his just rewards. He would go forward, even if it meant going to jail.
Early the next morning, October 4, 2013, Coincidence hitched a ride back to the trailhead with a hunter. Fearing that the rangers would be there when he arrived, and they were, he asked the hunter to let him out a little past the trailhead parking lot. Once he was out of the pickup truck, Coincidence scrambled down the embankment where he hid for the remainder of the day, until the rangers left.
Late in the afternoon, with heart pounding, he climbed to the top of the embankment, and seeing no NPS Rangers or vehicles in the parking lot, bolted across Highway 20, into the parking lot, and up the trail. He kept moving at a quick pace, fearful that tracking dogs and mounted police were right on his trail. It wasn’t until seven miles later that he finally stopped for the evening and made camp.
Coincidence was elated and euphoric at his accomplishment. He had outwitted his adversaries, and was now seven miles closer to his goal. He slept well that night.
On the trail early the next morning, Coincidence kept moving at a brisk pace; the trail, which followed along the edge of the lake, eventually turned to dirt roads as it neared the Canadian border, and then, there it was – a large sign that read, “International Border,” and adjacent to it was Monument 72, a silver obelisk marking the US-Canadian border. He had made it; he had walked all the way from Mexico to Canada, even if it wasn’t the official ending point of the journey, and his only regret was that his friends could not be there with him to enjoy this delicious moment of celebration.
Farther up the road on the Canadian side was a campground that was shuttered for the season. There were several cabins scattered around a central common area, and upon trying the door of one cabin, he found it was open, and like Goldilocks from the story of The Three Bears, he went in and made himself right at home, which included building a roaring fire in the custom stone fireplace.
Kudos to Coincidence for pursuing his dream and not letting any obstacle deter him from achieving the goal he set out to accomplish. While all others in the face of adversity turned back, Coincidence alone, in the true spirit of Amundsen and Shackleton, plowed ahead, not letting the hardship of an early winter snowstorm or the might of the United States government stop him.
But, the "fat lady hadn’t sung yet," and as Earl Nightingale would say, “And now for the rest of the story.”
On the third day of his caper, having escaped the long tentacles of the CIA, the NSA, the IRS, the CSI, and the NPS, Coincidence, from the cabin door, stepped out onto the Canadian road and again began walking north. He was still a long way from civilization, the town of Hope being the nearest center of transportation, which meant either a long road walk or hopefully a ride with a local camper or fisherman.
Not far from the border, he spotted the vehicle of a Canadian Conservation Officer, whose occupant was interrogating a group of First Nation (local Indians) individuals who were clustered on the ground in front of the officer. Coincidence, not sure of what to make of the situation, walked on by, and waved to the group as he passed.
“Do I need to be concerned,” he thought. “No, I have my Canadian PCT entry papers, the ones I’ve been carrying and protecting from damage all the way from Mexico; I’m good to go.”
Moments later, the car carrying the Indians sped down the road, dust and gravel flying everywhere, and were quickly out of sight. And then, the vehicle belonging to the Canadian Conservation Officer slowly pulled alongside of him, and the officer politely asked him about his activities – where’d he come from, where he was going, etc.
Coincidence explained to him about being a PCT thru-hiker, and having been thwarted in his attempt to cross into Canada because of the snowstorm, and then produced his Canadian entry permit. The officer examined the permit and said he needed to make a couple of phone calls.