Sept 18, 2013
12:00 midnight- awoke to the sound of light rain on my miniscule silicone coated nylon tent. Nothing unusual. It often rains a bit at night, then passes. Felt cold at the edges of my goose down sleeping bag. Fell back asleep.
1:30 AM Awoke to harder rain. Groped around for my headlamp, with a headband stretched so badly it slides down over my eyes. Water is on the floor of the tent, migrating in from seams that were sealed just before the hike, but are now worn from 150 nights of folding, unfolding, and being subject to the harsh sun. My tent vestibule is ripped and the zipper is broken- my backpack sits out there sheathed in a waterproof trash bag. Everything I have is torn, worn, or at the end of its realistic trail life. Even the gear is limping to the finish line.
4:00 AM- I slept fitfully the rest of the night- my air mattress needs more pumps, it’s my last line of defense- fully inflated, the Exped mat lifts me up 3-4″ above the cold water that has pooled up all around me. What was laying in the floor is now drenched.
7:00 AM- I can see light outside. What sounds like freezing rain on the tent is worse- it’s snow. I call out to Wizard- he tells me that it is 36 degrees inside his tent. We are shocked silent. I stare out at where I don’t want to go. What natural majesty that will surround me, I won’t notice if this keeps up. At best, the walk today will be about survival and avoidance of hypothermia. I don’t want to be here, I want to be done.
8:00 AM- I wear thin wool base layers, tops and bottoms, under my Patagonia Specter jacket and my ULA rain skirt. I will get wet, but may stay warm. I pulled up the hoodie from my Backpacking Light merino wool long sleeve. Rain jacket on.
This setup worked.
What didn’t fare too well were my hands and feet. I started off with light Manzilla gloves that were saturated quickly. My hands were painfully cold, all day long. At times, I was so cold I was not able to use my fingers to open a snack wrapper, and had to ask Wizard to do it for me. I even got stressed about if I would be able to zip and unbutton/ button when I had to pee. I was not about to ask for that kind of help.
And my feet- quickly and completely saturated with 42 degree water. These are not feet that can take much more abuse. Many foot points hurt, and the addition of gravel and sand sifting down inside the boots and settling like sandpaper over the soles of my feet was particularly uncomfortable.
For hours, the discomfort in my both feet and hands ground me down.
I kept telling myself, “It will be done today.” Thinking like that was a good thing for me to do.
So was the constant walking. It’s how we survived the day. We decided to walk in 4 segments. The first was to a Patrol Cabin, almost 5 miles. Then another couple hours to the Goat Haunt Ranger station, at the base of Waterton Lake where the Ranger there actually checked out our backcountry permit.
This was when it got interesting. The terminus of the CDT was 3.6 miles away and the three of us moved so fast through “segment three” that we were practically running. We communicated none of this beforehand. It was just what we knew to do. Wizard and I had done this twice before, and knew the drill. Train was there at the end of the PCT, and he actually set the rapid pace.
I was sure I would see the monument from a distance. Nope. It seemed to just appear there- two small miniature Washington-Monument-shaped-pylons close to the Lake on a little rise.
I shouted out to Wizard, “O my God! There it is! ”
The intensity of happiness that I experienced at that moment was delicious. I didn’t know much right then, but did know that me standing there was an event that I will be percolating for some time. I don’t fully understand where the door ahead of me will lead me to, but I believe it will be a good road.
The town of Waterton was still 4.2 miles away. I was done with the CDT but still had more than four miles of hiking to complete. As soon as we got back on that last section of trail, we were right back at it, churning out miles.
Nothing had changed.
Or did it?
My 5 months of continual backpacking is over. It was often really hard to keep moving. I plan to write a bit more about what happened to me out there, and where this series of magnificent experiences takes me. Right now, I am really, really tired. I look forward to going home to those who love me. It’s what I missed so much, and yet that love might have become even bigger while I was learning how to stay present in the massive American wilderness.