Day 111: The Decision to Go Home

August 21, 2018

Lyman Lake to Holden Village, then on to Leavenworth.

I didn’t sleep well last night. Both of my legs were spasming and in severe pain all night long, waking me often as I fought for a comfortable position. 4:30am couldn’t come fast enough, and when my alarm went off I gladly deflated my air mat. My tent was sprinkled with bits of ash. I had my hot protein-infused coffee and my almond butter biscuit, put my disgusting hiking shirt back on, packed up my stuff, and was out of camp by 6:30am. I bid Anne and Jessica farewell and said I’d see them in Holden Village. 

The 8-mile hike to Holden Village was very pleasant, it didn’t seem as smokey, and though there was a smattering of ash on all the foliage there was none in the air, which I took as a good sign. As usual, I clacked my trekking poles together every once in a while to let any nearby bears, cougars, or deer know I was heading their way, so as not to startle them and risk a Sarah-esque reaction (violently attacking the would-be startling offender with language or blows both swift and accurate). I don’t react well to being snuck up on.

When I finally reached the edges of Holden Village, it was a little strange. There were a couple of really fancy-looking yurts, then a mile-long dirt road leading to the village that was dotted with old building foundations, stairs going nowhere, an abandoned car straight out of the Depression, and other spooky paraphernalia. I hiked quickly. The village itself was adorable. I wish I’d been able to spend more time exploring, but alas, the shuttle down to the ferry only left once a day, and I only had an hour to get myself sorted before it was time to depart. 

Holden Village seems to be a Christian campground of sorts, accessible only by boat, ferry, or on my case, foot. There are several large buildings that are either dorms, a small library, various private accommodations, a dining hall, pool hall, post office (outgoing mail only), and more. It was adorable. 

When I first entered the main building, I was met by a group of thru-hikers in a hallway by a big announcement board. “Are you a PCT hiker?” One of them asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh. Have you heard the news? The PCT is closed all the way to the monument. There are reroutes, though.” It sounded more like resignation than optimism to me. But I understood. They had probably hiked the whole trail up to this point. They had to hike those smokey reroutes to finish, but I already knew I wasn’t going to. I wasn’t going to keep pushing myself closer to a forest fire just to touch a monument that I haven’t earned the right to touch. I don’t want to touch it until it signified completion of the trail. So, yeah. That’s where my head was at when they broke the news to me that the monument was now inaccessible.

“Yeah, I heard that from a SoBo a few days ago.” I think they expected me to be more disappointed, but the trail closure wasn’t news to me. I couldn’t pretend to be crushed by something I’d already accepted.

I went to speak to someone who worked at the campground and quickly learned that there was, of course, no cell service or WiFi and that the landline was for emergency use only, but the library had one laptop that people could use to get on the internet. I quickly hoofed it over there and got on Facebook to message Ghosthiker. I felt like a college kid again, rushing to the computer lab to get on this new-fangled social media outlet, in the days before smartphones and instant access to WiFi. 

Sparky and Ghosthiker are still in Leavenworth, so rather than go to Stehekin and wait for them, I’m going to head their way. The lady at the registration desk was immeasurably helpful, even printing out directions and explaining the various busses I’d have to take to get there. Anne and Jessica arrived then, so we sat together in the dining hall and had lunch together (sandwich fixings, cold leftover pizza, hard-boiled eggs…continental style, if you will). We then rushed back to the registration building and boarded the shuttle (a big yellow school bus) that took us down the long and winding dirt road to the ferry landing. It was still really smokey. I bid my new friends farewell as they boarded the first ferry headed toward Stehekin, then waited for the second “express” ferry at 12:30. After that, it was two buses to Leavenworth and I was finally reunited with my trail parents at the Evergreen Inn! I was just walking up to the hotel when I heard the familiar whistle of my trail dad, Sparky! 

The ferry landing. So smokey, we couldn’t even see the lake!
On the ferry.
Arriving in Leavenworth.

I had already broken the news to Ghosthiker that I won’t be hiking on, but apparently, she didn’t share it with Sparky. He was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t going to be hiking with them anymore. I confessed that even if I wasn’t getting off here, I’d have most likely gotten off after reaching Canada with them. I had so been looking forward to hiking to the monument with them, and now that we couldn’t, I just didn’t see how I could possibly finish the trail this year. They had a lot of little missed sections to hit, and I have over half the trail to complete. And it’s almost September.

We spent the rest of the day and the evening together, dining out and cruising the town. I stayed with them at the hotel and saw them off at the train station the next morning as they headed west toward Seattle. They’d be renting a car and heading south to get back on trail away from the fires.

I sat in our hotel room until it was time to check out, then hung around Leavenworth until the train took me to Spokane and my sister-in-law picked me up and brought me back home to Coeur d’Alene.

This was my Facebook announcement that I was ending my hike:

“I can’t begin to thank everyone enough for all the love, prayers, and support that has been sent my way as I embarked on this great hiking adventure. Your encouragement and well-wishes truly meant the world to me. After a week back on trail hiking through beautiful and rugged northern Washington, I have decided to end my hike just south of the Canadian border (also there’s a fire closure blocking my way, my lungs hurt from the smoke, and ash is literally falling from the sky, so there’s that). 

“During this last stretch, I realized that I was hiking under a weight of expectation and self-inflicted obligation. I HAD to finish this hike. I HAD to be a thru-hiker. I HAD to have my name on the 2,600-miler list. But six days completely alone in the wilderness gives one a lot of time to evaluate their priorities, and I slowly realized that there are far more compelling reasons for me to get off trail than there are to stay; that I’d be pushing myself across 1,300 miles just so I can call myself a thru-hiker (whether I enjoyed the process or not). 

“The truth is that I’m just not that interested in hiking under that kind of pressure anymore. I would rather come back next year and hike when the skies are clear and smoke-free, when the fire danger isn’t so high and I don’t have to hitch around fire closures, when my health is really back to 100%, when I don’t feel the need to push my body to the breaking point in order to “get it done” before the seasons change, and when I don’t have other things I’d really rather be doing, like getting back to audiobook work and cuddling with my dog. 

“I said goodbye to my wonderful trail family, Sparky and Ghosthiker, as they headed south to jump around fire closures and pick up missed miles. Hard as that was, I know I’m making the right decision for me and I have a complete peace in my spirit about it. It’s like a weight (other than my pack) has been lifted from my shoulders. I’ve given myself permission to NOT finish the trail, and it’s a relief I haven’t felt in a long, long time. 

“I’m headed back to the Front Country (aka civilization) and looking forward to whatever comes next. Will I miss the trail? Absolutely. And all my new hiker friends? Of course! And seeing how long I can go without showering or eating normal food? Well, no. I won’t miss that so much. 

“Thanks again for all your love and support! Stay tuned for my next big adventure!”

And this was my social media post a week later…

“A few days ago I decided to start going through all my hiking photos and, for the first time since leaving the trail, I found myself struck by an immeasurable sadness. 

“I wasn’t regretting my decision. Leaving the trail early left me with the financial cushion I needed to repair my car (which wasn’t broken when I left), and being back in the Front Country presented me with a few other exciting travel opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten had I been cut off up in the mountains (more on that tomorrow). But…

“But. 

“But a big part of me is still sad that I didn’t finish, that I didn’t hike it all in a year. I look at the photos and I can hardly believe what I’ve done, the places I’ve seen and people I’ve come to know and love like family. “We’re All In This Together” took on an entirely new meaning as things like food and water were shared so we’d all make it to the next town, where paces were adjusted so we’d all stay together through the risky, snow-covered passes, where strangers watch and wait at sketchy river crossings to make sure other strangers make it across safely, and where someone would literally walk ahead of you to point out upcoming poison oak and PDB (Poodle Dog Bush) because you yourself cannot see it (Thanks, Lil’ Bro!). 

“There were times when I literally felt like the weakest link on the trail, and others when I was literally the strongest I’ve ever been, both mentally and physically, and was ready to take on the world. 

“I miss that feeling. I hope I can find ways to reach that feeling of accomplishment and strength here, in “real life”, in the everyday that is at once painful in it’s monotony and beautiful in its simplicity (and it’s creature comforts, lets be honest). My hike came with a lot of random setbacks and physical issues that most other thru-hikers don’t experience (according to most other thru-hikers), but I still miss it. I knew I would. It’s like a little part of my soul got stranded out there in the wilderness when I suddenly had to get off trail, and when I came back to recapture it…I couldn’t. The trail and the people and the whole experience were different and felt “off” somehow, and I knew it wasn’t where I was supposed to be anymore. That was probably more painful than the physical act of getting off trail for good – feeling disconnected from it. 

“Right now I’m taking time to focus on my physical and mental health, but the sadness that I didn’t finish the trail creeps up on me without warning and I have to remind myself that I made the right choice for me even as I watch all my friends post their PCT completion photos on Facebook. 

“And I take a few deep breaths, pray for God’s protection for all my friends still out there hiking, then go for a 3 mile walk to a yoga session and namaste that stuff outta my system.

Published by rogerssj23

I'm a long-distance hiker, an audiobook producer, and an amateur writer. I live in the woods in a renovated 1972 Airstream with my Golden Retriever Zoe. Read more about my hiking adventures at sarahhikes.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: