September 16 (~08:10 – ~19:50)
After Gomez Meadow – Kennedy Meadows (25.7 mi / Total: 702.2 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2653.1
Weather: Mostly overcast and chilly.
It’s day 165. It’s a little less cold this morning but the wind is crazy, and I start the day wearing most of my layers. I move into the low light and towards the spacious valley. The views are widespread, empty, the views simple, serene, perhaps even boring. But I don’t feel bored. I walk and I feel sad. It’s my last day on trail. Now and again tears well up, despite everything that’s happened these last months – the cold, the snow, the tiredness, I don’t want this life to end.
I move through the sparse landscape, and try to take in everything around me. The meadows, the romantic hills flowing into the distance, the effortlessness of today’s walk. The overcast sky, the chill in the air. It’s all about to be behind me. I know I will miss the crickets jump away as I move along the path, that sudden bustle, the noise, the fluttering to safety. I will miss the wind in my face, the smell of the heat. I will miss not knowing where I’ll end up at the end of the day, I will miss the constant movement – the one thing that remains the same.
I have a languid lunch at South Fork Kern River. I sit in between all the ants and watch them gather around me. I continue without taking any extra water, and run low before I get close to Crag Creek. I’m in a old burn area now. All the trees blackened, heaving in the wind. Suddenly a tree crashes in the distance and I think of when this happened before, and how just weeks ago a hiker was killed by a falling tree. It happens so fast, I know there’s nowhere to run. So I keep an eye out, move quickly, and pass by the water I’ve been craving, not wanting to dwindle for too long, not realising this stream will run dry further on and I have to wait for water even longer.
The heat comes back. I take off my layers too late and run around a corner and then I’m in the desert again. All those early PCT memories rush back. That pink flower, the yellow ones, the cacti growing from the sand, the dry mountains in the distance. I’m back, and I’m getting close now. I continue my way towards the town I left months ago and pass a lonely car campsite, where I find a trail register and read it. I find Red Feather in it, all the way down on another page. She past through five days ago. I sign it, my last register, then follow the trail across the dry dirt patch and keep going, not sure how to feel about these last moments.
Then suddenly, that’s it. It’s pitch black dark, the moon hidden behind the silent whirlwind clouds. The trail ends temporarily and a narrow road meets me. This is where the desert officially starts, this is the road to Kennedy Meadows. I walked the Pacific Crest Trail.
It’s too dark to take a good picture to mark this moment, so I walk back into the field I came from and find a spot to camp in the faint light of my headlamp, not sure if it’s protected, from the elements, from the road. But I can’t see, there’s not enough light and it’s too cold. I squeeze into a spot too small. I saw so many good spots on the way out but for some reason this is all I can find. Setting up is messy. It takes too long. Nothing is in the right order, it’s not smooth as usual. Then at night I listen to the crickets sing their song, and this is it. It’s dark, the wind howls, the milky way shines bright. I finally manage to take the one perfect picture of the night sky. It’s my last night on trail.
The next day I pack up for the last time. I find my way back to the road into Kennedy Meadows, and I find the town’s sign where I take my final pictures. I’m not at the official northern or southern terminal, but this is my monument. My last walk into town feels bittersweet. I walk to the general store and buy a celebratory Snickers ice cream. My first Snickers on trail, if you can believe it. Melancholy has set in already. I meet a few people who congratulate me on finishing and I’m jubilant and I’m heartbroken and I’m everything in between. I get a ride to Grumpy Bear’s and go to Triple Crown Outfitters where I chat with the owners and another hiker and we’re the only people there and I buy all the bandanas that say ‘PCT Class of 2019’ because now I can. I did it.
And then it’s really over. The two car campers who drove me the few miles across town offer to take me to Ridgecrest, where I spend an anticlimactic afternoon in town. Out of all the trail towns, this is not a good one. The next day I take two local buses and a Greyhound and I’m back in LA. I’m back with my friend Dana where suddenly the whole trail seems so far removed from me, and then I’m on a plane and I’m out of the country. Pacific Crest Trail, you were quite something.
The final stats:
Start date + point: 25 March 2019, Mexican border
Finish date + point: 16 September 2019, Kennedy Meadows (flipflop via Canadian border)
Total distance walked: 2,653.1 mi / 4,269.8 km (+ 62.7+ bonus miles)
Total days: 165
Walking days: 147
Nero days (less than 11 miles): 27
Zero days: 18
(Of which, Travel/Flipflop days: 8; Mt Whitney: 1)
Average distance per day (excl zeros): 18.0 mi / 29.0 km
Average distance per day (excl zeros and neros): 20.6 mi / 33.2 km
Longest hiking day: 38.9 mi / 62.6 km
Nr of times flipped: 8 (4 northbound, 4 southbound)
Nr of days with snow: 36
Nr of trail breaks: 1, to wait for the snow to melt (11 days, May 28 – June 7, not part of final count)
Nr of bear sighting: 5 on trail, and 1 from the Stehekin shuttle bus
Nr of coyotes: 2, and lots of late night howling
Nr of rattlesnakes: ~6
Nr of times I was attacked on trail: 2, by a tick and a Joshua tree that speared me
Cutest animals on trail: Marmots and pikas
Nr of times I cowboy camped (camping without a tent): 16
Nr of hitches to get into towns/flip up or down the trail: 41 (Of which, 27 solo)
Nr of nights in a hotel/motel/hostel: 24
Nr of trail magic occasions (in the shape of food or a ride): 13
Nr of Star Trek episodes watched on trail: 422
What I will miss: The beauty in everything, the lifestyle
What I won’t miss: The snow
Things I lost on the trail: Countless Injinji socks due to holes, two thumb nails, one toe nail, the push-pull cap of my new Sawyer filter, my eye-sight for about a day, my trail family