Monday, December 28, 2020

Day 90: The Sky is Falling.... err, I mean the End Is Here!

September 7: I woke up to--shockingly--a clear and sunny morning! It was the first morning along this entire coast walk that actually started with clear, blue skies. It seemed fitting for what was expected to be my last day on the trail. So I definitely woke up in a good mood! =)

The morning had clear skies! What an auspicious start to my last day on the trail!

I hit the trail early as well. Again, I needed low tides, but I was sure I could get by even if I slept in for an extra hour or two. I got an early-morning start mostly because I was anxious to finish up this trail. 

After leaving Yellow Bank, the coast became rocky, slippery and difficult. I didn't travel quickly along this section, but it didn't last long before I reached a nice, sandy beach that lasted several miles to South Point. This beach seemed crowded with perhaps hundreds of campers! It was insane the number of people camped out here, but the location was just a few easy miles from the trailhead and it was Labor Day so I wasn't surprised about the crowds. It just felt weird to see so many people camped along this particular stretch.

Amanda, I knew, should have been camped somewhere at South Point two nights ago. She wouldn't be there now, though, so I didn't look for her. She was supposed to have camped at Wedding Rocks another mile or two up the coast last night. If she was still in camp, that's where I would find her.

After passing South Point, the sandy beach faded out and turned into the rocky mess that was difficult to navigate once again. If Amanda wasn't still in camp and sleeping, I figured I'd probably catch up with her somewhere along the hike to the trailhead. I knew she wouldn't be moving quickly over this rocky terrain.

I pushed onward, eventually reaching the Wedding Rocks camp. I saw one couple camped nearby, but there was no sign of Amanda. It wasn't particularly late in the morning when I arrived, but she must have already broke down camp and started hiking. Amanda must have gotten an early-morning start as well.

The next couple of miles continued to be slow-going--a rocky, slippery minefield that was impossible to travel quickly on. It actually wasn't as bad as the terrain yesterday or even that first day I hiked on the coast, but it definitely wasn't fast or easy either.

I watched my GPS as Cape Alava, the official end of the Pacific Northwest Trail, crept closer and closer to my location. First it was a mile away. Then a half mile. Then a quarter mile.

In the distance, I could see a point of land jutting out into the ocean, as if pointing to an island just offshore. That must be it: Cape Alava. The end of the trail. Cape Alava is the westernmost point of land that is part of the contiguous United States. Never before have I ever traveled so far west in the contiguous United States.

I saw a hiker ahead of me, but I couldn't tell if it was Amanda or not from this distance. But I was closing in on the distance between us and eventually realized that no, it wasn't her. Amanda was still MIA. 

I also passed a family of four, the mom, dad and two kids, and the mom asked me if a reddish pile of poop was bear poop. "Yes," I answered, "I believe it is." You could still berries and such in the poop, and I knew bears often visited the beach. "I even saw a bear on the beach yesterday," I told her. "They're definitely out here!"

I finally reached a small trail leading into the woods marked with the symbol to mark inland trails. I'd have missed the trail completely if it wasn't for the symbol. It kind of sneaked up on me, and I suddenly realized that this was it! This was the end of the trail!

There's no sign or marker to mark the end the western terminus of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail. Just an empty, rocky beach. I sat down on a large piece of driftwood just to soak in the moment. I made it. I finally finished this trail. It took me two years. And technically, I wasn't a thru-hiker anymore. I was a section hiker. Or specifically, a "LASH"-er. A "Long-Ass Section Hiker." (It's a real term! You'll hear people use it!)

It was a quiet ending. A cool wind blew over the beach. The offshore waves were broken by the rocky shoreline far in the distance so I didn't even really hear the crashing of waves. A few people, I could see were camped further up the beach, but at the official end of the trail, I had arrived alone.

I stand at the end of the Pacific Northwest Trail, and the westernmost point of the contiguous United States at Cape Alava. From the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean, this trail is done!

About 5 minutes later, the family of 4 caught up with me and they were about to blow by when they asked about how much further Cape Alava was. They had camped at Wedding Rocks the night before which didn't have a water source and they were low on water, but knew there was supposed to be water at Cape Alava. I told them that I wasn't sure--I hadn't seen the water source, but it was certainly nearby somewhere.

They had not realized they had already made it to Cape Alava, and the mom was surprised when I pointed to the trail behind them. "That goes to the Ozette trailhead?"

"Yes," I replied. "I believe so. At least that's the direction I intend to go to get to the trailhead."

The whole family seemed excited that the rocky beach was done--and surprised that they had already reached Cape Alava. "We thought we still had another mile or two to hike! We could have kept on walking along the coast and would have had to backtrack!"

They seemed very happy that I was there to keep them from going astray, but it led me to worry about Amanda. What if Amanda missed the turn and kept hiking up the coast too? Was my ride home wandering around in the wrong direction and lost on the beach or already back at the trailhead and waiting for me at the car? I had kind of expected to catch up to her by this point. Maybe she didn't end up making the entire loop at all for some reason? She could have decided that this rocky beach was hell and turned back and went back the way she originally came? (Amanda's route would have covered a roughly triangular shape with about 3 miles on each side of the triangle.) Or maybe she slipped, fell, hurt herself and had been evacuated out yesterday? Or something.... I had no way of knowing where Amanda was without a cell phone signal.

The family went up the trail a bit and came back to tell me that they found the water source. Awesome.

I took a few photos of the area, then headed up the trail myself. Although the PNT was now officially done, my hiking was not since the trailhead was located about 3 miles away.

Those last three miles were extremely flat and easy, though, and almost entirely boardwalk. Mile after mile of boardwalk. The most challenging part of the hike were the wet areas on the boardwalk that caused the boards to be slippery, but I moved very rapidly. My pack was essentially empty of food now, and therefore very light.

It took me less than an hour to reach the trailhead, where I found Amanda taking a nap in the driver's seat of her car. "Knock, knock!" I told her. "The trail is DONE!" I reported. =)

I took off my shoes and jumped into the car, ready for the long drive home. Goodbye, PNT!

Along the drive, Amanda and I shared our adventures with each other. The last time I had spoken with her was when I was in Forks, before I had started any of the coast walk so I had plenty of stories to share. And she had spent the last two nights, as planned, camped at Sand Point and Wedding Rocks and had her own adventures to share. She even had a ranger check her permit at Sand Point, and I felt a little cheated that I never did have a ranger check my permit. On the other hand, I also never camped at such a busy and accessible location as Sand Point.

The rocky beach--especially the section between Wedding Rocks and Cape Alava--she hated. It was hard she informed me. "Yeah, I know!" I told her. "I just did it too!"

She had also seen a bear on the beach as well, but only from a far distance. It was a tiny dot perhaps a quarter-mile away, but still, a bear sighting is a bear sighting! And at least she got a photo of the dot. I didn't get any photo at all of my bear on the beach. (At least I got a better view of it, though!) You can read about Amanda's adventures on her blog.

I thought we were leaving the trail, but I recognized many of the names and places on the drive out. We drove through Sequim--the same trail town we had stayed in for two nights a couple of weeks earlier. We crossed the Elwha River--which I had hiked alongside of for about 30 miles. We crossed the Dungeness River--my access point into Olympic National Park. And at Discovery Bay, we even drove on the PNT for several miles where it followed Highway 101. It seemed almost impossible to avoid the PNT on the Olympic Peninsula--not that I wanted to.

We took the Southworth ferry back to Seattle. Since they preferred people in vehicles to stay in their cars rather than wander around the ship, I ended up watching the scenery go by while standing next to the car at the side of the boat. There was a faint tinge of smoke on the horizon--little did I know at the time how much worse the smoke from distant forest fires would be just the next day. In hindsight, I got off the trail just in time to miss the truly horrific smoke that would plague the area starting the next day.

My view from the Southworth ferry. Notice the hint of smoke on the horizon? It would become a lot worse starting tomorrow!

And then finally, we arrived back at the house where I took my first shower since Forks and could begin resettling back into my normal routines. The PNT was now officially behind me. =)

But it's never far away. Every clear day, I can see the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, or Mount Baker to the northeast--daily reminders of my adventures on the Pacific Northwest Trail. Those areas seemed so remote when I walked through them, yet there are they in plain view from home in Seattle on any clear day.

But now I have a new problem to figure out.... what will I hike next? Hmm..... =)

In other news.... I did carry a GPS the entire distance which tracked my every move. After stripping out pee breaks, side trips (towns, mountain peaks, campsites, water, etc.) and other rest breaks, these are some of the cumulative stats my GPS recorded about the entire PNT: 

Distance: 1,228 miles

Elapsed time: 90 days, 12 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds

Moving time: 19 days, 9 hours, 7 minutes and 6 seconds

Average moving speed: 2.6 mph

Max speed: 34 mph (that must have been when I road the ferry across Puget Sound because I certainly didn't walk that fast anywhere!)

Max elevation: 7,523 feet above sea level

Min elevation: 47 feet below sea level. (Clearly not a super precise measurement!)

Ascended: 205,853 feet (Approximately 7 times from sea level to the top of Mount Everest)

Descended: 211,718 feet (5,865 feet more than I ascended--which makes sense since I hiked from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean)

In other news.... if you have any interest in virtually walking this trail, it is available for walking on Walking 4 Fun!

If you are interested in hiking the trail in real life, I'm providing my actual PNT GPS tracks for free to download. You'll want more than this for navigation purposes, but it could be useful at times. =)

I didn't see anymore bears on the shore today, but I did catch these two deer out here!

This terrain is terribly difficult to navigate!

The three miles from Cape Alava to the trailhead were almost entirely boardwalks like this. Super easy to hike!

Even the areas that weren't boardwalk were still super easy to hike!

Ozette River

The Cape Alava trailhead and, although it's not the end of the trail, it is the end of my hiking!

My GPS recorded this startling elevation during the ferry crossing of Puget Sound. It's never a good sign when you're 197 feet below sea level and on a boat....

What the heck happened at home while I was gone?!!!! A water heater in an apartment above broke and sprung a leak. I knew this had happened before I arrived, but it was the first time I'd be seeing the damage myself.


KuKu said...

Wonderful! And it wasn't your fault you are a LASHer. When you got so sick, I was really worried.

I also wanted to thank you for always taking pictures for I so appreciate you doing that for us. I remember on your earlier adventures that you often hiked in the dark.

I can't wait to see what you'll hike next.

As usual, thank you for your adventures!


kellbell said...
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