I always imagined finishing California and Oregon before crossing the Bridge of the Gods into Washington for the final stretch of the PCT. As I have described before, this year has been unique and not always gone as planned. In my last post, I was halfway through the 500-mile-long state of Washington, and over the last ten days or so I finished my first entire state on the PCT!
Washington was a watershed moment type of state for me. Early on I struggled with getting back into the routine after a week off trail. I was just starting to get used to the comforts of everyday life like a shower, a bed, real food, and communication with people at home regularly.
The terrain right at the start in northern Washington was tough. There were several days with lots of elevation gain and many miles of overgrown unmaintained trail with downed trees. I also started to develop shin splints that got very painful in the second half of each day.
Mentally and physically I wasn’t enjoying the trail anymore. Near the halfway point I got split up from my hiking buds, For Sale and Big Papa, which in a way ended up being good for me for a little while. It’s nice to have people to hike with or even just meet up with at the end of the day. Because of how I was feeling, I needed that time alone. I hit my low point after a 30-mile day that was very hot and had a lot of elevation gain. I was missing home badly and I ended up limping the last couple of miles because of my shin pain on top of everything. When I got to camp I sat in the dirt and cried as I got swarmed with mosquitoes. The trail wasn’t fun that day and I wasn't sure that I should continue if I wasn’t having fun.
The next morning I took a while to think about why I felt the way I did and what I could do to help my pain. Not every day at home is a good day and not every day out here is a good day. It’s okay if I need to cry or if a certain portion of the trail sucks. I will never not miss the people I love at home, but I know they love me and are cheering me on. I know I want to finish the trail and I do enjoy it when I’m feeling good physically and mentally.
As far as my pain went, I took ibuprofen, rolled my shin out with my trekking pole, and stretched. I eventually got compression sleeves which completely helped the pain (at least for now). The problem with shin splints is the only way to really get rid of them is to take a few weeks of rest. I can’t take a couple weeks in a town to rest and spend all of my money nor do I want to add all that extra time to being away from home. All I can do for now is manage the pain the best I can to continue on for the next couple of months.
After the day that I hit my low, I somehow felt a breakthrough. Reaching a point where I felt like quitting somehow also made me realize I don’t want to quit. Even in my mentally and physically worst moment, I still felt something in me fighting to continue on.
The second half of Washington seemed to mellow out a lot. The trail was better maintained and the climbs were more gradual. I spent a lot more time hiking through the forests than in wide-open areas. In a way, it made the few times I did get a good view more special.
Once I felt better mentally and physically I also noticed a shift in my hiking. I felt strong and capable of hiking close to 30 miles every day. In the final 148 miles of Washington, I reached the highest point on the PCT in the state, and then dropped into a really cool rainforest-type of area. I decided to try this stretch to Oregon in one push which would require four 30-ish mile days if I wanted to get to the town on the Oregon/Washington border early in the day.
I planned to leave White Pass, my last Resupply stop in Washington, around noon. However, I noticed that there was fraud on both my debit card and credit card. This led to me having to cancel both cards and figure out a way to get new ones from all the way across the country. With $40 in cash and a couple-hour delay, I set out for a week in the wilderness. I felt stressed for the few hours I hiked that night, but I finally set up camp at an area overlooking a valley and Mount Rainier. I felt more relaxed as I watched the sunset. Having your accounts hacked especially while traveling is really stressful and frustrating, but it would all work out eventually.
The next morning I hiked through the “Goat Rocks” which is the highest point in Washington on the PCT and a lot of hikers favorite section of the entire trail. It was a really beautiful area, but pretty steep hiking in some parts. After the “Goat Rocks,” the trail wraps around through an open area and you get a view of Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens. It then goes along a bowl with waterfalls flowing across the trail up to Cispus Pass and then descends to mosquito hell. The mosquitoes were so bad after Goat Rocks. There was no escape from them even while hiking fast.
On my second to last full day in Washington I stopped to camp at an area that had a good view of Mount Hood in Oregon. I couldn’t believe I could already see into another state! I watched the sunset and enjoyed a mostly mosquito-free campsite. The next morning I got started at 7 am with a goal to do my biggest day on trail yet. There were two more big climbs left in Washington. They were long and a couple thousand feet up. It was going to be a big day, but a good way to end the state after how I felt at the start.
The day began with an eight-mile descent to a river from my campsite overlooking Mount Hood. The trail turned from forest to being covered with ferns and mossy trees. It looked like a jungle or rainforest and I expected a monkey or panther to jump out of a tree at any second. It was really different from any other part of Washington. I also ended up seeing my fifth bear in the state. I had seen several before, but they always ran away before I got a good picture or video. This one didn’t see me and it was so cool to watch.
I stopped for lunch after 18 miles and when I started hiking again my feet and legs were stiff. The second half of the day was definitely tiring. I finally reached camp around 7 pm after 34 miles. The next day I only had 10 miles left in Washington and it was all downhill. I was proud of my final week. I felt strong mentally and physically and it showed after I did a 15.5, a 30, a 30.8, a 28.5, and a 34 mile day.
In 25 days I completed the Washington section of the PCT. I did 535 miles (including the 30 mile backtrack to the border from Harts Pass) in just over three weeks. This included a late start on June 24 when I only did 4 miles, a zero-day in Leavenworth to rest my shin, and the few hours I hiked the last 10 miles to the Oregon Border. Washington was a really beautiful state. The trail was remote and rugged on most days. The mosquitoes often felt like specialized killer assassins. It was not easy by any means, but man was it amazing.