Europe N to S: Nine Years Ago (9/30/16)

Today’s Miles: 28.9

Total Miles: 1,997.5

Past Kölingared – September 30, 2016

We camped in the snow that last night, two of us squeezed into a one man tent for warmth, buried in sleeping bags and jackets, hoping the trail wouldn’t disappear while we slept. In the morning we followed footprints until we reached our friends, then we walked together, strung out in a long line, nine of us to the border.

The miles slipped by, our joy rising with each step. The end felt so close. We left the snow behind as we dropped over the last high point and there was no doubt anymore. A twisted ankle, a broken leg, we would have crawled if we had to. I let anticipation flood through me. 

When I heard shouts ahead of me in the woods, I knew we were almost there, that the front of our line had arrived. Joy and cheer and relief echoed through the trees. The cut of cleared land along the border rose in the distance. I turned a corner and there it was, monument 78, the Canadian border, the end of the Pacific Crest Trail.

We laughed, we cried, we drank Canadian whiskey. We shouted and sang, waved flags in the air, and hugged each other over and over. We signed the register and read off the names of friends. We kissed the wooden monument and danced like fools. We took picture after picture. Pictures alone, pictures together, goofy pictures, happy pictures, pictures with hand written signs, pictures of us jumping around, pictures to hang on walls back home, to frame and set on office desks, pictures to remember that moment together nine years ago.

That night we camped just beyond the monument. We set the tents close together so we could talk from one to the next and share stories.

The nine of us didn’t hike all the miles together. We didn’t even hike most of them. Some of us only hiked together a couple of days. But we all knew the stories, even if we’d never heard them before. We knew them like they were our own because they were. We knew what Washington’s freezing rain felt like as it fell on our faces and turned to snow. We knew how the rocks on the Golden Staircase felt under our feet as the Sierras rose around us. We knew how to cross the seven hundred miles of desert that wrung us dry near the Mexican border. We felt the triumph of walking across the Bridge of the Gods into the last state, the smell of the Stehekin bakery as we neared the end, and the bittersweet moment at monument 78. We knew every step and shared them all together even when we were miles apart.

I feel that connection still, nine years later to the day, and I miss it here on this lonely trail. I can tell story after story, day after day, but no one understands like another hiker who has walked the same steps. No one can relate with a simple smile and nod.

So I carry them with me. Little things, little changes in my gear I can trace back to friends, food I eat that I once shared with them, little songs I hum as I walk, little moments that remind me of other little moments and make me smile.

I miss you all, I miss you dearly. What a gift you have gave me nine years ago. Thank you.

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5 thoughts on “Europe N to S: Nine Years Ago (9/30/16)

  1. Oh, man! I hear you…both your joy of connection and the aloneness of your present Journey. I remember the treacherous weather and trail conditions on that last section of trail in Washington at that time. I had to turn beck and leave it to younger and more adept hikers. In my heart, however, I celebrated the end of that journey for you. What sweet memory for you to hold with your comrades!

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