Only 11 miles to the border this morning. I spent a good amount of time during those miles imagining various injury scenarios. I’ve heard of someone falling and breaking their ankle 6 miles from the border. Perhaps I could still hike with injured arms or a broken face? Or maybe crawl along with injured feet? Other hikers will help, surely? Thankfully none of my scenarios played out, and my contingency plans were not required.
We passed Foxtrot heading southbound early on, and I assumed he had reached the border yesterday and camped nearby, wanting to prolong the moment of completion. Other than that it was an uneventful hike. We passed the Oregon brothers Shades and Pogo early, as well as Papa Smurf and Chia Pet. A nice group to run into at Journey’s End.
Descending the final hill, I caught sight of the clear cut in the trees that marks the US-Canadian border. It comes down the mountain in a very artificial way, and is wide enough to be very obvious even across the valley. It was so close to being opposite us, even behind us, that I knew the trail must switchback down the hill to the terminus, a fitting end to the trail which has fooled me so often. It also gave us the opportunity to take in the last of the US forest and prepare for the first glimpse of the monument marking the northern terminus of the trail.
Rounding the final bend, I could see the wooden posts that mirrored those I’d left five months earlier, the noticeable difference being the presence of US and Canadian flags. And several cheering hikers! Doc and Colin had already arrived, about to get cracking on the champagne they had been carrying for the 60 miles since Winthrop.
It was an odd moment of both celebration and reflection. I don’t think any of us quite comprehend the scale of the adventure yet, having been consumed by the detail of each day. The grandeur of each sweeping view, the exhaustion of each steep climb at the end of a day, the joy of meeting each new friend, the pain of each heavy backpack after a particularly large resupply, or the paralysing fear at each step into a raging river. For 2,660 miles I have wondered what is important, and why. And I have so many answers, and yet no answer at all. All of the minutiae are important because the journey would have been different if it had been missing just one thing. And the places are all important because they mark progress on a journey which wouldn’t have continued without them. The people especially, both on and off the trail, have made the experience unique. And yet, perhaps confusingly, I’ve learned that there is so little that is vital. Everything else is a luxury to be appreciated. The small stuff isn’t worth sweating and the big stuff is mostly small anyway. I’ve also reflected on the reflections, and recognised that recognising these things doesn’t necessarily mean I can act on them without some practice and the inevitable failure that goes along with that. And that’s ok. I’ll keep trying.
Some other lessons have been slightly easier to get a handle on. That people are good. That I can be strong. That no matter what you think is worthwhile, the courage to make it happen is just as important. But even these thoughts seem incomplete. I might not have found one single answer to life, the universe and everything, but I feel like I’m asking better questions.
Maybe the greatest lessons will come after the journey is over.
Miles: 11 + 8