In the first two days of my trip, I hiked south in the sweltering heat of the Bridge Creek valley. Returning to my car at Rainy Pass (highway 20 in Washington), I now loaded up for the hike north to the Canadian border. The soft, pine needle covered trail ascended up through alder turning to fir and cedar. I stepped across lightly flowing creeklets that still provided drinking water for late summer hikers. Making a big U-turn at the head of a valley, the switchbacks took me up to the open views of Cutthroat Pass. At 6800 feet, I was above the heat and the trees and in the wide open space of the mountaintops!
I'm not sure who gets to name some of these natural places. Cutthroat pass was anything but cut throat. Just 100 yards from the pass was a nice expanse of grass (grass! not dirt or rocks!) which made a fantastic tent site. In spite of the smoke from the huge forest fires on both sides of the border, the evening was one to remember as the stars came out and the evening breeze settled into a gentle stillness. That was one comfortable night's sleep!
Morning light comes earlier to the higher elevations and that agave me an extra hour to my day. This was a good thing, because I had miles to walk and I wanted to make sure I covered them.
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In September of 2016 I had attempted this very same hike and quickly failed. In my enthusiasm, I rushed from sitting at the office to hiking fast with a load. Just past this point at Cutthroat Pass, my left knee began to twinge. I ignored it. Down to Granite Pass, then across and back up to Methow Pass it hurt more and I slowed down, but entirely forgot about my brace in my pack. Even after a night's rest down at Methow River, the tendonitis would not let up. I could barely bend my knee. I slowly hobbled back to the car over the next two days.
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Fear and anxiety make terrible hiking companions. The memory of the year before sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. It was good that it slowed me down, but it also weighed me down. That nagging thought, "Can I make it this time?", was like this ever present, over bearing coach constantly cautioning me. Like the smoke in the sky, it was a vail over my heart dampening my joy.
But, praise be to God, the miles piled up behind me. Granite Pass, check. Methow Pass, check. Methow River and Brush Creek, check. Up the 22 switchbacks from Glacier Pass to the ridge to Grasshopper Pass, check!! I did not take many pictures due to the smoke, but I was happy nonetheless.
After an afternoon of winding around and along ridges near 7000 feet, I pulled into Harts Pass campground at dusk. My knees felt great, but my left foot did not. I was tolerating a blister on the end of one of my toes. Actually, I was barely tolerating an accidental cut into the blister beneath a callous I tried to trim to give my toe more room. I kept washing and bandaging it, but it kept filling with dust and refused to close up. This is the typical medical issue a backcountry hiker deals with, not lacerations from a bear's claw.
It was now Sabbath morning and only 30 miles remained between me and my goal--the Canadian border. However, I set no mileage goals for today. This was my day to commune with God, not to fight for big miles and wrestle with deadlines. I walk when I walk and stop when I stop. I sit down and write, or just take in the views. I spend more time talking to people, such as a special person I met that day.
You might remember the story from my trip around Glacier Peak when I met Nobody's Friend. Well, guess what?! I met Nobody. Yep, I talked to Nobody today, and his wife! They are a Native American couple in their 70's, but they look like they are in their 50's. They hike all the time and go on a long backpack trip every year. He told me, "Research shows a thru-hike adds five years to your life. So hike the PCT every five years and live forever!" What amazing people I meet on the trail!
Even with my ambling and stopping for pictures of birds, (there are quail everywhere!) I still caught up to Hockey Stick. At least, that is what I called him in my own mind. I met him the first day on my way south to High Bridge as he was going north. He used a full size hockey stick for a trekking pole and wore two pairs of sunglasses under a cap with unkempt hair. He talked slow and apathetically. I wasn't sure if he was suffering a hangover from an overindulgent stop in Stehekin or was on drugs. I also could not figure out why we he was out here, because he talked like getting to the border was something he had to do, but not something he wanted to do. Other hikers noted the same thing about him.
Hockey Stick was pleasant, but not in the mood for much talking, so I kept moving along the ridges and through the passes: Buffalo, Windy, Foggy, Jim, Holman, Rock, and finally, Woody. The ridges and scenery were greener than the rocky landscape the day before. The sky was also grayer. I set up my tent at the first site I could find below the top of Woody Pass. And just in time. For the next couple of hours the wind and rain both picked up and I was thankful I was not able to make it to the top where I would have taken the brunt of the brief storm.
The sky cleared. The stars came out. The temperature dropped, and I listened to rock falls all night long across the ravine.
Sunday morning turned out to be grayer and warmer than I expected. More clouds had rolled in and the temp warmed into the 40's and would be in the upper 50's most of the day. Nice for hiking to the border!
Except for my problem toe, all systems checked out and I excitedly headed for my goal. I left the tent, sleeping gear, and a few other heavier items (but no food!!), and travelled light. Only 11 miles remained. I would eat lunch at the border, then walk the 11 miles back to camp in the same spot.
The first half of the day was spent high on the green, damp ridges. After circling around Hopkins Lake it was literally all downhill through the trees, back into alder, and finally into overgrown foliage. After a few switchbacks, there it was! God had brought me the whole way, and the only rain was a few minutes during lunch.
Highway and Chuck Chuck caught up and we ate lunch together. After half an hour we parted ways. Both of them had permits and passports to continue north to Manning Park where relatives would meet them. My tent was 11 miles south and my car was another 50 miles beyond that. But that did not bother me. I was making good time to be back to help with a Pathfinder campout and even if I broke my leg, I had reached the goal and that could not be taken away! The first time I failed, but this time I succeeded. It was now permanently etched in the history books.
In some ways, walking 160 miles just so I could check the border off my list and fill in a gap on the PCT is not a big deal. All I did was walk. I didn't preach a sermon, help the homeless, or save the world. However, it was God's will for me. It was part of a personal spiritual recovery and growth plan we had been working for several years. That made this walk an act of faith.
"Then they that feared the LORD spoke often one to another: and the LORD listened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name." (Malachi 3:16) Speaking with God, or walking with God, is remembered by God. Whether or not anyone knows or cares what good things we do, God cannot forget. The loving, faithful acts Christ prompts in our souls He then rewards as if we did them on our own! Every mile on the trail teaches me to keep going forward, to keep reaching out, to keep giving of self, in the great journey of life.
The reason we can keep giving is because God keeps giving to us directly with His presence and through others. The long walk back to the car contained perfect examples.
Four miles from the border, I returned to the large campsite at Castle Pass. There I found Hockey Stick and learned more of his story. With his hat and sunglasses off (both of them), he was now a 30ish, balding, regular looking guy. He struck me as looking like a college professor. He was more lucid and talkative as he told me of rough times growing up in Pennsylvania. I sensed there was more to the story that had taken something out of him that had not yet returned. He was wandering and completing the entire PCT from Mexico to Canada at the same time. Because he seemed comfortable with me, I offered him my real name and phone number, and encouraged him to use it if he needed anything. He was grateful and we parted ways with smiles.
I have not yet heard from him, but I still hope he is moving forward as best he can on the path of life. I also hope God can move other willing people into his path to share whatever is needed at the moment.
I returned to my tent, then returned to Harts Pass the next day. Tuesday morning I woke up and felt my toe was worsening. I was concerned that I was not able to keep it clean enough to prevent infection. I needed to make a decision to hitchhike or walk the remaing 30 miles. As I walked past the ranger station to where the trail met the road, I met the ranger walking her dog. As we talked I discovered she was from Chicago like me! Our conversation drawing to a close, she asked me where I was headed. I told her the decision I needed to make because of my foot. She then directed me to her husband who gave me a small bottle of liquid bandage and a half hour of pleasant conversation.
The decision to walk was a good one. The liquid bandage sealed and held together the opening at the end of my toe and the pain disappeared in a few hours. I was now totally free to enjoy walking without pain and without pressure to meet a deadline.
More than any other time I just focused on enjoying the unfolding scenery and walking at an unhurried pace. I practiced my small, but growing, repertoire of hymns and spiritual songs. I meditated and thanked God for the miles. I prayed for others. Most of all, I just relaxed and listened to whatever the Spirit might have to say or how He was moving my mind in various directions. I now know by experience my natural and realistic mileage expectations for planning future hikes. I know how to truly leave behind the manmade stresses and enjoy nature. I know how to walk with my Father as a contented child and enjoy it!
by Ed Lyons, 1/12/18