Surprise! We quit!
We walked over 2100 miles from the Mexican border into Washington and then did something no one does: stopped hiking with less than 500 miles to go from the Canadian border.
Fear not, faithful readers. Don't be disappointed. We're not. In fact, we are thrilled to be done. Overjoyed, really. Free will, for the win.
We were stuck in a timequake and now we are free at last.
There were several reasons for making this executive decision. The PCT has proved to be much more of an emotional excursion than anticipated. I've mentioned this before, but doing the same thing all day every day for five months is tedious.
"When you're sick of all this repetition, won't you come see me Queen Jane?"
We've spent a lot of time on the trail daydreaming of doing other things that we enjoy, from rock climbing to playing hockey to eating lavish brunches and practicing walking on our stilts. You don't realize how many hobbies you have until you're restricted to just doing one thing day in and day out on a regimented schedule.
But most importantly, Andy's foot pain has escalated from a dull and bothersome ache to more of a debilitating degree. It's very likely a stress fracture and all the Vitamin I
(ibrueprofen) in the world isn't going to cure that. A doctor might recommend that one stop hiking twenty five miles a day as a remedy, but until we really threw in the towel that wasn't an option.
We hiked a whole lot. And most of it was really great, but five months of hiking was just enough for us. Hike your own hike, they say. And at this point, making it to Canada felt arbitrary if we weren't actually enjoying ourselves. And the days were getting shorter and "winter is coming." We spent one and a half days hiking in the cold rain in Washington, realizing that the rest of our hike may turn into this. Weather paranoia, fire paranoia, the challenge to keep hiking the big mile days that we'd been doing in Oregon in the significantly more challenging landscape of the Cascades through September with shorter days on the horizon... I'm exhausted just recapping our reasons (excuses?) for you.
There is also a threshold, physically speaking, where you become fit, you become strong and then you begin to deteriorate. Working our way through the desert and up into the Sierras, we gained strength, lost body fat, built muscles and confidence. Somewhere along the line, perhaps just around the halfway mark, things started to fall apart a bit. Whatever had been working fine so far needed readjusting, tweaking, reevaluating. The gear, the joints, the feet. Overuse and abuse of our bodies was beginning to take a toll that became hard to ignore. One "zero" day per week was just enough to tease your body into thinking it was recovering.
All this hiking began to make me strangely depressed. I became desensitized to this over abundance of fresh air and beautiful nature and spent a majority of my days staring at my shoes and longing for the day to end. The camping portion of the day was always the best part, and it was so fleeting. We would often only have about an hour or so of daylight at camp, which we would spend cooking dinner and socializing with our hiking buddies and decompressing from all the hiking. Then back to sleep, then back to hiking, and repeat.
"All hiking and no play makes Dilly a dull girl."
Over all, hiking over two thousand miles over the course of five months has been an insane experience. It was almost harder to quit than it may have been to finish. We invested so much energy into this thing. Would it be throwing it all away to stop just shy of our goal? Nah. Was it all for nothing? No way.
It's easy to get so caught up in the flow of the thru hike. Everyone, no matter how beaten or bruised, just keeps trucking towards Canada. Rain or shine or snow, thru hikers are like the freaking mailmen. Nothing can stop them, except themselves.
Andy described it best when he said that we basically have Stockholm syndrome, only we've kidnapped ourselves. We were stuck in a loop, so fixed on finishing this damn hike because the only real reason to do a thru hike in the first place is because you want that sense of total accomplishment, of having done the whole thing. Bragging rights. Achievement.
But you know what? In the end, we are still the champions. Masters of our own domain. We hiked the shit outta that hike. And maybe someday we will hike the remainder of the Washington PCT, when there's more time and autumn isn't nipping at our heels. Or maybe we won't. Who knows!
We can do whatever we want. And I think that's the moral of the story. "Paddle your own canoe. Hi ho."