The beginning is always today. —Mary Shelley
Day 1, Harts Pass to Holman Creek Trail Junction, 13 miles
And so it begins.
I am not prepared for the PCT. I am prepared for the PCT. The PCT is not prepared for me. The PCT is prepared for me.
Which is most true?
As I wake up in a bed – maybe the last time for a while, Kurt and Holly lay out a huge spread for breakfast and I just gorge. I’m not as skinny as when I returned from New Zealand, but I know I’ll need calories today.
She has sandwich fixin’s too and we all pile into the car with a sack lunch, our axes crowded in a pile so as not to cut the fabric. Kurt and Holly are ‘trail angels,’ taking four of us in, feeding us, helping us buy fuel and food, and, maybe most important, getting us oriented. It’s incredibly generous and selfless.
I leave a little money, but they say it’s more important to pay it forward. Bellingham is a cool town, artsy with funky shops and restaurants. Sadly, it’s been ‘discovered’ so Seattle’s housing crunch has migrated here.
The mastermind of today’s shuttle is a woman named Premila. She’s invited nearly thirty hikers to camp on her lawn and pile into three rented vans for the half day’s drive to Hart’s Pass. It’s a massive hiker village packing up – American, Australian, Scottish, German, Italian, Indian – and herding cats to get us on our way.
I sit in front, Charlie the terrier on my lap and Kate driving, a thru-hiker herself who walked the PCT and the Te Araroa. We talk the entire drive, like two soldiers reliving some highlights, but more of the trauma of rough trail conditions and wild weather.
I realize I hadn’t spoken about that walk much at all. The shock when I got home drained all my energy, leaving me practically speechless, this epic life-changing trip shoved aside while life intervened.
Kate and I share so many details, I am taken straight back to knee-deep mud, sidling high above rivers, the straight up and straight down of unmaintained trails and also the incredible generosity we came across.
We take lots of stops along our drive today – one, a converted dairy farm/disc golf park where we exchange one van for something larger. It’s hot and I know I packed too many warm clothes thinking it’s going to be cold in the mountains. Most are dressed in shorts and tees. I’m in my long, thicker pants and a merino turtleneck. Ah well.
We stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center for a pee break. A volunteer talks about bears and I put my hands on the rough fur of a grizzly next to the soft fur of black bear. Off we go into the thrilling spires pushing up into the blue sky, barely a cloud in sight. Snow nestles in the bowls. The water below is a deep turquoise. I look for peeps my age and my speed wondering who will be my trail family.
We drive over Rainy Pass and see a sign for the PCT crossing I’ll make under a week.
Finally we arrive on the rutted dirt road up to Hart’s Pass, the highest – and most dangerous – road in Washington. I look warily over the side with no guardrail protecting a fall thousands of feet down. The views are spectacular as we finally arrive at a ranger station. Here is where we all leave our food, axes and spikes for the harder portion to our south. The US will not allow entry from Canada via the trail, so hikers have to walk thirty miles north to touch the terminus monument, then walk right back down.
But it’s absolutely glorious walking. A quick picture of this entire gang and we’re off, the ultralight crew practically running ahead. I begin walking with Vincenzo who laughs at my utter joy as we skip up onto a ridgeline, an enormous chasm separating us from Mount Baker and the crown of the Cascades.
“You will spend five months smiling!” he tells me. I am smiling, all the way up and down wildflower-filled meadows, banks of grasses dotted with orange, purple, yellow, white, mauve, flying down the mountainside. I am so blessed. I am here now because something awful happened that I did not want to happen. But it got me here amidst balsam-scented forests, glacier-smooth rock and views for miles. I hear the largo from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto as I walk on such beautiful trail, a super highway compared with the Te Araroa. My heart fills with gratitude.
The alicoop is up with a big noisy group next to me finally tucking in. I am exhausted, wrapped inside and thinking about tomorrow and all I am grateful for. I take with me to sleep now the question of what it will take to rise above my pain.
The answer catches me as my eyes close – walk.