It is hard to put into words the 6 months of my life that I spent walking every day to Canada. There are so many sights I saw on my trek that deserve pages to describe their beauty. There are so many people I met on trail that also deserve pages to describe their personality and the lessons they taught me.
On March 9th, 2019 I touched the border wall of Mexico and the United states at 17 years old. I read the monument that said “2653 miles to Canada.” Never during all my planning for the Pacific Crest did I expect it to turn out the way it did. I set out on my journey with the intention of being completely alone, so I could reflect on my past and move on to the next chapter; adulthood. At the time I had imagined that in my journey I would be like the cowboys back in the wild west who would spend days out in the country. Then soon, return to town filthy and rough, feeling tough amongst the townspeople. While the filthy part was right, the trail ended up being quite different than I anticipated.
Throughout the desert section, I met so many friends that I would hike with and share laughs. When I would split apart from my friends to continue my journey again alone, I would soon crosspaths with another fellow thru-hiker and start walking with them. If I were to have given myself my own trail name it would’ve probably been “magnet,” because I never spent more than 24 hours alone in the desert. However, I received the trail name “Sunkist” from a very nice woman who explained to me that to her I was “kissed by the sun.” Which I believe was the nice way of saying I was very sunburnt.
The first 700 miles flew by. It gave me time to figure out how I liked organizing my backpack, gain my hiker feet, as well as just truly feel comfortable sleeping outside every night. Yes, I did endure some pain from blisters the size of golf balls in the desert section. However it was nothing compared to the struggle I would go through next in Sierra Nevada.
I entered the Eastern Sierra Mountain Range on May 11th, with three other thruhikers. One I had hiked with in the desert (Gaper) and the other two I had barely just met (Everest and Flo). Long story short, my friend Gaper forgot to reprint his hiking permit and we were stopped by a ranger in the Sierra who was checking them. They asked our friend to turn around on the first day we were out there. That’s when the snow began. With our 60 pound bags, Everest, Flo, and I exhaustingly marched and tried navigating through the snow. And on the next day when I had arrived at our campsite earlier, they never ended up arriving at the same one. I was confident I could do the journey alone so I continued on the next morning. By day 6 in the Sierra everything fell apart. I was about to go over Forester Pass (13800ft in elevation) the following day, but on my descent to my campsite, my crampon broke. I stupidly didn’t bring any extra gear to fix it because I was “worried about weight.” As I tried calming myself down and solving the problem, I received an inreach on my satellite phone warning me of the massive storm that was coming in the next day. On day 7, I started the morning with the intention of still going over the pass, however when I was at the approach the wind was overpowering. I felt like I was going to tip over every second. I had to make one of the hardest decisions of the trail and turn back around and exit at Cottonwood Pass (32 miles back).
I was distraught until I reunited with Everest and Flo as well as some other hikers. I warned the others of the inclement weather and we began to retreat out of the mountains. We woke up the next morning buried in snow. Our group tried keeping the spirit alive but it was hard when we where hiking into a white abyss away from our final destination. We didn’t make it to the road until midnight that night.
I wouldn’t have had to go through all that pain and frustration if I had just brought spare brackets and extra food for the storm. I learned my lesson and prepared to re-enter with all the weight of the world on my back and a great group of 4 hikers. We triumphed pass over pass, storm after storm. Yes, there were hard days. We gained and descended 6000ft+ of elevation in 10 feet of snow everyday for 12 days straight. There were days when one of us would struggle mentally but we were able to laugh through the hardship. Despite all the trouble, I wouldn’t change a thing.
With the Sierra Nevada behind me, I had the confidence I was going to make it to Canada. I began picking up my miles, from averaging 20 a day to 33. Thru hiking requires you to set daily goals to meet your timeline, otherwise you might not make it before winter comes back around. Just to give you a picture: it took me 4 ½ months for the first half of the trail and 1 ½ months for the second.
I knew how much finishing meant to me and I’d spent a lot of time dreaming of walking up to Monument 78 at the Canadian border. The thought sent chills down my spine. Every morning, I woke up excited for what lay ahead.
I trekked through Lassen National Park, up to the Trinity Alps by Mount Shasta, and finally through a group of towns trying to emancipate themselves from California called “State of Jefferson.” I had made it to the Oregon border.
Oregon had some beautiful moments. The trail takes you through Crater Lake National park, Three Sisters Wilderness, lava rocks, and Mt. Hood National Forest. Everyone one of those smaller sections I would highly recommend someone to spend a number of days in. Otherwise, Oregon could be monotonous.
Tree, lake, mosquitos, repeat. One night I found myself running from swarms of mosquitoes to a lake resort. During the run I had to pee so badly that I finally gave up and went. Worst mistake ever. I easily had 20 mosquitos on my butt alone. I kept pacing all the way until I almost ran out in front of a car to be saved from the nightmare I was in. I went to sleep that night with aches in my legs. As I started up on my trek the next day I got to experience my first shin splints.
I now know why they’re called “shin splints.” It feels like your shin is a piece of wood that can’t move. Just the impact from your foot touching the ground sends shocks of pain through your whole leg. I met kind people who helped me by giving me food and a tennis ball to roll it out. But the pain was only going to get worse. I tried my best to tough it out and get to the Oregon/Washington border but I knew I couldn’t keep going until I gave it time to heal. Thankfully my uncles lived close and were able to come rescue me from the side of a highway. Sometimes even though you have a plan, you have to realize your body just can’t handle some of the things you are doing to it. Sometimes rest and recovery is the best medicine.
It all worked out. I reunited with some of my buddies when I recovered and hiked to the last town in Oregon, Cascade Locks. In order to get into Washington you have to walk over “The Bridge of the Gods” which stands over the Hood River. What an epic entrance to an epic state.
Everything in Washington was what I had imagined and more. I hiked with friends for a little section, but I got to end the trail alone which gave me the solitude I’d been searching for when I began. The lakes in Washington were pristine aqua marine. Every climb ended with ripe blueberry bushes, which somehow were a distraction and motivation at the same time. I’d just pick, hike, eat, and love my life. I walked most of Washington butt naked (and alone) because the chaffing had gotten so bad. I didn’t realize sweating could bring you so much pain. I still have scars from where my backpack rubbed the top of my butt. As I got closer to Canada, the pain became an afterthought, and so did my dignity.
I never hiked less than 33 miles a day in Washington. I didn’t even stop in towns for a day. I would just pick up the packages I sent to a gas station or post office and get back on the road. I had Canada Fever. Nothing was stopping me from getting to that monument. After 2400 miles I packed my bag one last time for the remaining 253. It was an epic finish to my very very very long hike.
I cried, not out of sadness but because of bittersweet feeling of approaching the end of my hike.
I woke up on September 1st with 3 miles left to go. The forest was quiet and the sun rose gently over the mountains. The hike to the border felt like a dream. When Monument 78 popped out from beneath the trees my whole heart felt complete. I sat there and wrote my last words in the trail register. I enjoyed the oddly perfect clearing cut out of the forest in each direction that signified the line between the US and Canada.
Soon I was reunited with my mom, who drove all the way from Arizona just to camp out by the border and wait for me. I never heard someone scream so loud in my entire life. After six months I finally got to see a familiar face which made the end even better.
I will never regret taking a year off after high school to live my dream. The PCT taught me how powerful one's mind can be. If you want something badly enough you can achieve it no matter the cost. Knowing how strong my mentality was proved to me I could achieve anything. My experience on the trail will always be a part of who I am and for that I am grateful. Time to find the next great endeavor.