A Week Off
I take a full week off trail. My timing was a little off. If I were to continue at the pace I was going, I would make it to the Northern Terminus on the weekend of Trail Days. I have experienced Trails Days before and there was no way I was missing it this year. The event is hosted each year in Cascade Locks, Oregon on the third weekend of August. Generally it lines up with the bubble arriving at the end of Oregon. This festival is all about hiking, camping, backpacking & outdoor stewardship. With all the biggest brands in thru-hiking and backpacking joining in on the fun.
In order to make it this year, I was forced off trail at Steven’s Pass. With my family living not too far, they were able to come up and we could reunite there. Going further north past Steven’s Pass would make the journey back south much more difficult. The next place I could get off would be Stehekin. But in order to get in and out of Stehekin you must take a ferry. That would add an extra day of travel to get to highway 97, which would be a very long drive from where my family lives. Then to get back on trail I would have to do the exact same thing.
The next option would be to get to Mazama, but it would make no sense to turn back at Mazama, where I would be two days away from the Northern Terminus. The drive is extremely far as well. The amount of travel to get back to and from Mazama would be immense. It would be way too complicated. So my plan to get off at Steven’s Pass made the most amount of sense.
Luckily I would get a whole week with my family. It would be a perfect time to rest my body before finishing up one final week on trail. It was difficult to get off trail though. The friends I had made along the way decided to keep going. But I knew I would reunite with old friends made both on trail and off trail at Trail Days. I also knew that I would get to catch up with the sponsors I have worked with.
A nice week off was definitely nice to have. Every day I watched along on social media as more and more hikers made it to the terminus. As much as I wanted to be there too, the patience I had made the wait worth it. I would get my chance to tag the terminus soon. This time with family was more important. Leaving for trail for so long means putting a pause on your life and your personal relationships. The support my family has given me on trail is immense. I would have never been able to reach the final stretch of trail with out them.
The morning of the start of Trail Days was upon us. My family wants to come with, they’ve been just a part of this journey of mine as I have. We drive out early. There’s a bit of rain but the forecast shows that Oregon is clear. The hype for Trail Days has begun. All week hikers have poured into Cascade Locks, starting the party early. As expected the bubble is here. I haven’t hiked with the bubble, but I know many through conversations on social media.
Thunder Island Brewing hosts a huge party to kick off Trail Days the night before. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for it, but from what I was seeing, this years Trail Days was going to be the biggest and best ever. A lot of old friends were already there, and the excitement really started to kick in. Meanwhile on trail, I could see some weather complications starting up. Rainy Washington weather was coming. A little part of me was kind of glad I was not going to be in this storm.
Closer and closer now. The sky was clearing up. It looked like it was going to be a great weekend. Weather in this part of Oregon can be all over the place. Last year Trail Days had some overcast weather the entire weekend. Two weeks ago when I was in Cascade Locks, we were in a heat wave. That’s just summer time in the Pacific Northwest.
We cross the Columbia River and turn towards Cascade Locks. This is by far one of the best drives. It’s part of the reason I fell in love with Cascade Locks in the first place. The river flows between the Cascades with forest all around us. We pass the many beautiful waterfalls this area offers. Multnomah on our right, the tallest waterfall in the entire state.
Finally we make it. The town is full of hikers, so many more than there were when I had arrived in town just two weeks before. I start seeing faces I haven’t seen in months. That’s the beautiful thing about the trail. We can reunite with so many friends all throughout the trail. You can go weeks or months without seeing someone, and then all of a sudden you’re back together.
It’s the first day of a whole weekend full of festivities. One of the coolest parts of this event is getting to camp on Thunder Island, which is generally off limits, with hundreds of hikers. This year is expected to be the biggest year ever, with more hikers on trail than ever. I make my way down the main street, passing so many hikers, many of whom I have yet to meet. I get to the sign up table and there I reunite with AirDrop! We hadn’t seen each other since the Sierra. He had just finished days before and was able to make it down for Trail Days.
I setup my tent amongst the sea of so many hikers. I have never seen so many tents all in one place. The excitement is real, the festivities are about to begin. I run into more hikers I had previously been around on trail with. Mountain Goat, who I had last seen in Tuolumne Meadows had also finished. Blue! Who I last saw at Snoqualmie Pass had been able to finish before Trail Days.
Catching up with old friends really made getting off trail worth it. The gates open. With so many fun activities, raffles, and the whole community now together Trail Days has started. I immediately head to booths of companies I have connected with over the years and on trail. As a sponsored hiker I have been lucky enough to work with so many amazing people. Gossamer Gear, Trail Butter, Bedrocks, Enlightened Equipment were here ready to talk gear with everyone.
Not only can you buy new gear here from the reps themselves, but also get your gear fixed, and some will just give you a free replacement if you ask nicely. Some of my gear definitely needed to get some fixing before I went off for one final week. There are also plenty of chances of winning free gear. With raffles being conducted all day, there is so much to do.
With a full day 1 complete, the party now moves over to Thunder Island. Hiker midnight is generally 9pm. Safe to say we are all up passed our bedtime. I choose to have a more low key night and catch up with old friends. There’s still one full day left and I don’t want to use up all my energy on night 1. No one is a stranger here, the community of hikers is the most welcoming and open minded groups. We’re all sharing a similar experience, with the same goal, get to Canada.
I awake early. I had been off my trail schedule having taken the week off. But it was like I had never been off trail. I was up bright and early, ready for another day of fun festivities. It’s Day 2! Slowly but surely everyone starts to wake up after a long night. Some hikers prep to leave. It’s their turn to cross the Bridge of the Gods and head into Washington. After a quick breakfast it’s time to start the day, there’s lots of fun things planned today.
Day 2 of Trail Days is pretty much the same as day 1, but there are even more raffles all day. With more speakers and fun games at every booth, the day is filled with positivity all around. More hikers arrive from trail. More familiar faces! Yo-Yo who was going SOBO, Ninja who had also paused his NOBO hike for Trail Days, and the Daley family! Catching up with everyone has been my favorite part of the weekend.
There was still the stress of finishing the trail on my mind. I couldn’t let myself forget my primary goal. The distraction of Trail Days is nice, but with one last week remaining, I was focused. Originally even before getting on the trail, the plan was to finish before this weekend. Trail Days is a perfect way to end. But with injuries and other factors slowing me down, I was going to finish a month later than expected. It was okay though, trail life suited me and the longer I could be on trail the better.
It was raffle time! The big raffle each year is always something that hikers look forward to. Prizes can include entirely new setups, backpacks, tents, shoes, you name it. All day each booth ran their own raffles, and now the bigger main event was happening. Hundreds of hikers came together. There were more hikers at Trail Days than any other year. The excitement of the trail community was growing.
One final night with this amazing community of hikers. If you’re ever wondering if the PCT is something you would like to do, I always recommend going to Trail Days. This event will make you excited about hiking from Mexico to Canada. Getting familiar with the community is the first step to falling in love with this trail. Without these amazing people, the trail would not be the same.
Back to Trail
With a whole week off, it was finally time to get back on trail. I spend one last morning with old friends that I had experienced the trail with. This weekend was exactly what I needed to get the motivation to finish strong. I knew that I would be getting back on trail without any clue who was around me. My friends who I had last seen at Steven’s Pass had just finished this weekend, and I was unsure where exactly anyone else was. There was no worry though, part of the experience of the trail is meeting and hiking with new people.
The long drive back to Steven’s Pass was starting. With a quick resupply in Hood River, Oregon, we were off. The forecast for my final week on trail was looking good. Taking a week off was actually a good thing. Everyone who had finished during the weekend, which was when I was forecasted to be done, had spent the entire week in rain. I don’t mind hiking in rain, but I would personally not want to be at the terminus in downpour.
Before heading back on trail, my family and I stop in Leavenworth. The German themed trail town is one of the last stops on the PCT. It’s a bit of a hitch from Steven’s Pass but it’s totally worth it. A quick lunch and walk around town. I spotted a few hikers, none of whom I knew. Then a hiker I hadn’t seen since Bishop, and I hadn’t hiked with since week 1 appeared. It’s Gazelle! Having taken time off for an ultra marathon, she was back on trail. After a quick catch up, I was excited to have the opportunity to finish with a friend, she would just be one day behind me.
With one last errand to run, I was off to the trail head. I quickly prepped my gear. Gazelle had given me some insight on who was around me on trail. I was excited to get back on, and potentially reunite with my friends. As we got closer to Steven’s Pass, I knew what was coming, I was ready to complete this trail. The final week. A month ago I dreaded the idea of finishing, now I was finally mentally ready for it.
I was off. With the last stretch in front of me there was nothing that was going to stop me from completing my dream. As I got back on trail though, reports of fires close to trail were coming through. Nothing was closed just yet. I couldn’t focus on that now. I was so close to the finish. With nothing but optimism I continued north one final time.