Monday, September 19, 2011

Mexico -> Canada: Where To Begin?...or...How To End?...

Pardon our delay, but here we are once again. Bert and Ernie have made it to CANADA hand in hand....somehow without killing each other. In fact, we are still friends. We have been lost in a cyclone of emotions since we hit the border, and we are struggling with comprehending and expressing ourselves back in society. As if people hadn't been staring at us all summer, we have been getting some odd responses as we wander through towns grunting, pointing, and digging the occasional emergency cathole in the neighbors back yard. It is going to take awhile, but we will eventually fall back into the swing of things.

After a late night of blogging and watching movies in the hiker lounge, we woke to a hazy, dewy morning. We packed up our food for the next leg and headed over to the Baring Store for a fantastic, hearty breakfast from Steve. We dried out our gear as the sun finally popped through a cloud and slowly packed up before saying our goodbyes to Jerry and Andrea. A huge thank-you goes out to you both for providing one of the most relaxed town stops all summer. Jerry dumped us off at the Steven's Pass trailhead and we took off in the thick, damp afternoon. A quick 9 miles brought us to a refreshing cascade where we hydrated and snacked. Another 9 miles of running from mosquitoes, and we arrived at the beautiful Pear Lake within its towering granite cirque. With PB+Js and a No-bake cheesecake waiting for us, we hurried into our dwelling for dinner and an early night to sleep.
18 PCT miles, 2494 S->N
Honey Buzz....

The Wonderful Dinsmores

We were awake at 6:30 to a warm morning. After a quick, hot ascent we found a ridge that we would ride for most of the day. Passing the 2500 mile mark, we climbed to Lake Sally Ann for a break. She was a beautiful tarn, set amongst a steep cirque surrounded by rolling green hills above the tree-line, glacial scoured valleys, and countless species of wildflowers. Throughout the morning, we had stunning views of giant Glacier Peak, our next hurdle before Canada. The PCT through Glacier Peak Wilderness is officially closed but rather than detouring, thru-hikers usually take the closed route, saving 20 miles but subjecting themselves to steep climbs, overgrown trails, broken bridges, and incredibly wild and beautiful country. As we descended into Glacier Peak Wilderness, a place so wild it made adrenaline rush through our bodies, we let out a yell of excitement. After a lunch near White Pass, we ascended to Red Pass and caught amazing views as we traversed down a glacier cut bowl. Descending from 6000 feet to 3700 feet, we crossed Kennedy Creek on a broken bridge, then started a strenuous climb to end the day. Reaching alder-choked Glacier Creek near 7:30, we decided to call it a night, and a good day, and made camp with HoneyBuzz near the gurgling creek.
31 PCT miles, 2525 S->N

Glacier Peak
Glacier Peak Wilderness

Rory in his Bug Suit

View from Red Pass
Kennedy Creek

We slept in until 6, barely able to get out of our tent because we were so comfortable next to the creek. Once out, we ascended the first 5 miles, leaving the dark, ominous forest and entering the high alpine wildflower meadows. Topping out at Fire Creek Pass, we were presented with stunning views of the steep, rugged, and WILD North Cascades. We descended into a glacier scoured valley and hit the low point of the day at 3700 feet, crossing Milk Creek. There we ran into Bob, a thru-hiker from Rochester, MN, whom we haven't seen for over 2300 miles! It is always great to see a familiar face. Next, we faced a hot, extremely steep climb, ascending 2000 feet in just over 2 miles. Because this section should be officially detoured, the trail was an overgrown mess, and we constantly tripped because we couldn't even see our feet! Finally leaving the mess, we lunched around 6000 feet into a high alpine meadow once again before dropping once more into Vista Creek Canyon. This descent had given thru-hikers problems in the past because of hundreds of 8 foot diameter deadfalls to climb over, but we found no such problems, as crews had been out to clear the trail. This section of Washington's old-growth forest was definitely a highlight for two wandering, botany-mined souls and we marveled at the 6-700 year old Red Cedar and Douglas Fir trees that surrounded us. We eventually got to the feared, glacier fed Suiattle River, but crossed easily on a log and decided to call it an early day at 6:30 PM.

23 PCT miles, 2548 S->N
Crossing a Snow Bridge

High Alpine Garden

658 Year Old Douglas Fir

Crossing the Suiattle River

After a beautiful evening of sleep along Miner Creek and the Suiattle River, we marched on for a 3000 foot climb to Suiattle Pass. From here, it was all downhill to Stehekin. With spectacular views of the towering, glaciated Cascades, we dropped down into the Agnes Creek Valley where enormous old growth cedars and firs once again shaded us all afternoon. Momentum carried us all the way down to the Stehekin River where we snacked and caught the red bus to the town of Stehekin at 6:30 PM. Surprised to see our friends Wrongturn, Redneck, Shortcut, Mathias, and Don't Panic, we all sat down at the lodge on 50 mile long Lake Chelan. After a massive plate of steak nachos, burgers, fries, chocolate cake, and ice cream, we sickly crawled into our tent only to flop around in discomfort from overeating and hot weather.
26 PCT miles, 2574 S->N

Hugging an Old Growth Red Cedar along Agnes Creek

What a Mistake....

After a terrible night of sweating and digesting our monster meals, we woke and caught the first bus to the amazing Stehekin Bakery. We decided to do most of our resupply for our last leg out of the bakery, so we bought them out of scones, cookies, croissants, cinnamon buns, etc... We are eating like kings these last 89 miles! On our walk back to the Stehekin Landing, we stopped at an organic farm and bought some garlic and dill goat cheese that we figured would go well with our highly anticipated package from Wisconsin. Little Jim Jenkins, in a very thoughtful gesture, sent us some celebratory smoked salmon (from our jobs in Alaska), with the message "Happy Trails." We are probably the first thru-hikers to carry goat cheese, smoked salmon, and fresh blueberry scones into the bush. At the Post Office, we noticed that our friend Shortcut, a Danish thru-hiker had left his passport near the register! In a town only accessible by ferry or plane, we decided to take it with us, hopefully catching him before the border! Catching the 11:15 bus, HoneyBuzz, Bert, and Ernie headed back to High Bridge and hit the scorching, dusty trail again by 12:30 PM. The trail helped us cope with the heat by supplying us with handfuls of ripe thimbleberries on our gentle climb. We decided to just go 15 today, and it was hard to keep the laughs at bay and the smiles off our faces. Canada's magnetic border was pulling harder than ever as we climbed into our tent near Fireweed Camp (Bridge Creek), just 74 miles form Manning Park...
15 PCT miles, 2589 S->N
Neck Deep in Thimbleberries

Stehekin Organic Garden
Red Cedar

We slept in hard today, making up for the sleep we lost last night. Ascending 1200 feet over 5 miles, we hit Rainy Pass and there saw the Danes frantically running for us, hoping we had the lost passport. The look of relief was incredible as both could barely stand. They were so happy! Man-hugs abounded after saving them 40 extra miles of walking. Climbing to Cutthroat Pass at 6900 feet, we peaked over the top to find dry, desolate, and absolutely beautiful country. After a brief lunch, we descended back to 4200 feet, flying now as the Canada magnet pulled hard and started one of our last major climbs of the trip. Climbing 2600 feet over 5 miles through thimbleberry bushes and way too many switchbacks, we reached Alpine Garden Pass, where we snacked on smoked salmon, soaked up the views, and eventually found camp a mile away on a chilly, beautiful night.
30 PCT miles, 2619 S->N

The Danes Full of Smiles with Shortcut's Passport in Hand

Cutthroat Pass

Our last full day on the trail.... Rising with a crimson sunrise over the Cascades, we slowly got packed up and continued our journey toward the nearing Canada. Today was a day full of ridge walks and spectacular views. Our literature described how each of the passes in this section match their names quite well. We crossed Harts, Buffalo, Windy, Foggy, and Jim Passes before lunch. Harts had a pit toilet, Buffalo was lacking a buffalo, Windy was slightly breezy, Foggy Pass was clear, and we did see Forest's Dad on Jim Pass.  In summary, we have had unexpectedly gorgeous, sunny weather in Washington. After a relaxing lunch on the Devil's Backbone, we dropped down to Holman Pass and then climbed up to a trickling spring where we took a break in the sun and laughed with our teenage buddy HoneyBuzz. We then tackled our last climb in the United States and summited at 7,126 feet, the Washington high point. To celebrate a bit, we enjoyed some smoked salmon and goat cheese with a phenomenal sunset dipping behind the snow-capped Cascades. A steep descent took us to crystal clear, Hopkins Lake for our final night in the tent. Bert and Ernie will miss the cozy nights in the half-dome. To sleep with a mule deer munching away outside our tent and the smell of Canada in the breeze....
30 PCT miles, 2649 S->N

Watching the Rory Shannon Show

The Last Night in the Tent

Bert woke Ernie around 6 AM with a fat Houzner finger in the ear. The rude awakening was welcomed with a smile and a big hug. Only 6 miles from the U.S./Canada Border, we quickly packed up and scrambled into the woods for our morning business and were ready to hit the trail. Of course, our little friend Honey Buzz wanted to put on one more episode of the Rory Shannon Show, featuring high school gossip and BS. Packs on, we watched the kid pack up his gear and rub the fairy dust out of his eyes while he told us another story about the high school prom and his athletic glory days. Finally, we began our sprint to the border! Flying at about 5 mph, we passed by some other thru-hikers that decided to hike back to Harts Pass for a ride rather than enter Canada. The walk was quite silent on the misty, cloudy September morning. Emotions and adrenaline rushed through our bodies. We have been anticipating this moment for years and for the last 2663 miles, but it has always just been a dream. As we caught sight of the border clearcut, where Monument 78 and the Northern Terminus PCT Monument stand, Ernie reached back for Bert's hand, and reality hit us hard. We crossed the border with shouts of excitement and relief and then we melted with shock. After the best hugs of the trip, the three of us sat at the monument for a couple hours confused, numb, excited, and nearly speechless. We had a lengthy photo shoot and signed off our last official  PCT log with random, lost thoughts. We all had thought of what to write in the book before we arrived, but, of course, we all froze and just wrote whatever we could pull out of our lost minds. After some smoked salmon and other snacks, we moved on into Canada with scrambled emotions to take our final 8 mile walk to the Manning Park Lodge. As we walked our last mile, sprinkles fell from the sky and glittered our faces. This was just a little reminder as to how lucky we were to escape the normally rainy state of Washington with only a few drops of precipitation. In fact, we were only rained on a total of a couple hours over the last 19 weeks! We rolled into the lodge parking lot to be welcomed by a personalized sign hanging from a camper decorated with U.S. and Canada flags. Then, our true welcome walked out of the camper door. Grizz, the giant of a man that clearly resembles Santa Claus, engulfed us all with hugs and congratulated us. We signed the book at the lodge and hit up the restaurant with the gentle giant. We all piled into Santa's comfortable sleigh and headed down HWY 3 to Hope, BC, to grab a motel room and relax for the evening. Not quite ready for society, we hid in the room with delivery pizzas, laughed, and tried to comprehend the end to our journey.
14 PCT miles, 2663 S->N

Welcome to Canada!

A Little Smoked Salmon on the Border

5 Months of Starvation....

Bert and Ernie at the Border

Ohhh....Those Poor Feet
The Boys

140 Days Later....

Our Last Steps....How We Will Miss You PCT!

No Date with the Queen....Just Santa!

Talk about Royal Treatment

Over the last few days, we have been trying to acclimate to society on Vancouver Island. Grizz has been an amazing host and tour guide. We think we can call him a personal sponsor because everyone in town knew of our adventure and supported our mission. We stayed in Grizz's camper in Langford for a couple nights, where we were able to relax, listen to music, use the Internet, and hide from the busy life around us. Grizz took us on a road trip to Chamainus, an old, revived logging town that is famous for its murals that describe the town's history. We had a nice lunch there and over-indulged at the local candy shop, while getting introduced to everyone (EVERYONE) that Grizz knew. That same evening, we headed over to Grizz and Janice's daughters place for an outstanding feast. Debbie and Chris put out one of the most amazing spreads we have ever encountered. The table was covered with smoked salmon, mussels, stuffed pork loins, a brat/sauerkraut dish, squash, beans, and desserts, including banana cream pie, coconut cream pie, apple pie, and ice cream. Simply, it was just jaw dropping! We moved to the living room with FULL bellies to laugh hysterically for hours. Thank-you Chris and Debbie for a wonderful evening and for being incredibly gracious hosts!
After another night in the camper, Grizz took us to Victoria, BC, where we reluctantly said our goodbyes and hopped on a ferry for Port Angeles. Grizz, we cannot thank you enough for the warm welcome, the tours, the hospitality, and most of all, your kind heart. It was an amazing cap to this journey and we will never forget it!


Two Happy Fellas with Chris and the Peanut

Ohhh Banana Cream Pie!

Bert and Ernie on Santa's Lap

Our next stop was Port Townsend, WA, to visit Ernie's Aunt for a few days. After a relaxing ferry ride to Port Angeles, WA, we were welcomed back into the states by Aunt Cathy. We have been enjoying our down time and trying to wind down from our journey. We enjoyed another feast full of laughter last night put on by Cathy and her friend Les! One of the best meals on the trip was followed by gelato with freshly picked blackberries and white peaches. Cathy showed us a couple of spectacular videos from her treks in the Himalayas and we soon passed out in our comfortable apartment downstairs. We are looking forward to our down time in this beautiful ocean town, before returning back to Wisconsin. We anticipate spending a great deal of time eating and roaming the beaches with good company. We cannot thank you enough, Cathy, for all you have done to help us out on our journey.

So now what? We have both been repeatedly asked this question since we have completed our journey. Throughout our walkabout, people continuously told us that we would have it all figured out by Canada. Well, simply, we don't have it figured out. We are quite content not having the answers right now. We both are experiencing quite the culture shock and are just focusing on acclimating to the "real" world and reflecting on the last 5 months. As of right now, the trip is a big blur and our wandering souls are a bit lost. With time, it will all soak in and we may have a little better understanding of our jaunt from Mexico to Canada.

Some interesting stats for you:

Southern California:
Miles - 702
Walking Days - 40
Walking Average - 17.6 miles/day
Zeros - 8

Central California (including the Sierras):
Miles - 576
Walking Days - 26
Walking Average - 22.2
Zeros - 11

Northern California:
Miles - 421
Walking Days - 16
Walking Average - 26.3
Zeros - 0

Miles - 456
Walking Days - 17
Walking Average - 26.8
Zeros - 2

Miles - 508
Walking Days - 19
Walking Average - 26.7
Zeros - 1

Days > 30 miles - 28 days
Days > 35 miles - 8 days
Biggest Day - 39 miles
Highest point on PCT - 13,100 feet
Lowest point on PCT - 140 feet

We climbed around 60 major mountain passes, descended into 19 major canyons, passed over 1000 lakes and tarns, traversed 3 national monuments, 7 national parks, 24 national forests, and 33 federally mandated wilderness areas. We passed the three deepest lakes in the nation and climbed the highest peak (Mt. Whitney) in the contiguous U.S. We crossed the San Andreas Fault three times, nearly dying of dehydration once. Our longest stretch without a shower was about 200 miles and we ate instant potatoes/ramen/bacon bits every night for 7 weeks... We slept in the tent together for over 100 days and Burt only puked twice from the smell of Ernie's feet...And yes, we are still talking...

Suggestions are welcome as to how to deal with the END. How do we close this huge chapter in our lives? How do we come to terms with not exercising 14 hours a day in bright, beautiful sunlight and fresh air? How do we deal with seemingly monotonous chores when we were able to experience something new every second of the past 5 months...? How do we wake without the Pacific Crest Trail silently saying, "come on boys, follow me...?" How long before we need the mountains again? What will be the next adventure for Bert and Ernie? We feel that these questions are part of the END and finding the answers are a journey in itself...

We cannot say enough about the amazing souls we met along the way. Completely shocked with the random acts of kindness from trail angels and the incredible company of like-minded hikers, we have learned from the Karma and generosity that has humbled our souls from the beginning. We will pay it forward as best we can. Congrats, Class of 2011, and thank-you for everything!

Now, for all of you that have been a part of this journey since April 23rd... We are quite speechless. It has been absolutely incredible to receive so much interest and support throughout this walk. You all made it impossible to quit (not that those thoughts ever crossed our minds) and made this blog an enjoyment for us as well. A massive thank-you is in order!

We will keep accepting donations through October, and we will be in touch with all the generous donors out there as soon as possible.

We will be in touch!

Much Love,

Walking Across America for AmeriKids