Hiking the Bridge of the Gods

Just like that, it’s over. My PCT thru-hike did not go as planned this year. It was a combination of things – the cold weather and late season storms, all the snow in the Sierra, my ankle injury on Day 4, my overall slower hiking pace this year because of my injury, Bleeder needing to finish his hike before his Visa expires at the beginning of October and my dwindling bank account that made me decide to end my thru-hike early. It was a very tough decision to make, but I know it was the most responsible choice. Ugh. Sometimes being responsible sucks.

The question every hiker kept asking each other this year was, “What are you going to do about the Sierra? Hike through? Flip? Take time off?” By the time Bleeder and I made it to Tehachapi towards the end of May, it was still dumping snow in the Sierra. We kept hearing reports that there was even snow on trail just north of us, between Tehachapi and Walker Pass. Neither one of us felt comfortable heading out into the Sierra in all the snow and bad weather. Neither one of us have mountaineering experience and quite frankly, it wasn’t the type of hike neither one of us wanted to have going through the Sierra.

On our second Zero Day in Tehachapi, Bleeder and I had a serious discussion about what we were going to do. We were only 150 miles away from Kennedy Meadows South, Mile 702. We knew entering the Sierra wasn’t an option for us at this point. The snow wasn’t going to melt that fast. Our only other options were to either take some time off from trail and wait for the late seasons storms to pass, hoping some of the snow would melt OR skip the Sierra for now and hike a different section of the trail. But where? Everything on trail was pretty much covered in snow north of Kennedy Meadows.

After some research, we realized if we were going to leave the trail, Tehachapi would be the easiest place to leave from. We found a bus we could take to Lancaster. From Lancaster, we would have many more travel options for wherever we decided to go. Back in Agua Dulce, my Dad had insisted on us going on a Trailcation before entering the Sierra this year. He told us since he wasn’t able to hike the PCT, he wanted to live the adventure through us in some way. He gifted us money to take a Trailcation and gave us a list of places he wanted us to stop at along the way. I know! I have the best Dad ever.

After exploring all of our options, we decided to leave Tehachapi and take a two-week Trailcation. We’d spend one week on the road and one week in Seattle. From Tehachapi, we’d get on a bus to Lancaster. Then in Lancaster, rent a car. With the car, we’d drive through Death Valley on our way to Las Vegas. After staying in Vegas for a couple of days, we’d drive the rental car to the Grand Canyon and hike the Rim-to-Rim -Rim Hike as a way of properly exploring the canyon while keeping our trail legs. After visiting the Grand Canyon, we’d drive the car back to Lancaster, get on the Metrolink and head to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles, we’d hop on Amtrak and take the 33-hour train ride all the way up to Seattle. 

Why Seattle? Well for one, I have the home town advantage. In Seattle, we wouldn’t have to spend our money on renting a hotel or a car. It would also buy us more time to wait for the snow to melt. Once in Seattle, we could spend a week hanging out and planning our return back to trail without having to spend a lot of money. From here, we could section hike portions of the trail that were no longer covered in snow or go for gusto and head up to Harts Pass and hike SoBo for the rest of our hike. We both agreed on the plan and started making reservations for the car, hotel room in Vegas and the train ride to Seattle. The next morning, we were on the bus heading towards Lancaster.

After the first week of our Trailcation, we made our way up north to Seattle. We spent the next week meeting up with friends, seeing a few Seattle highlights, going on a couple day hikes, going to the movies, sleeping in and relaxing. It was the well-deserved rest we needed after being on the constant go over the last couple of months.

While there wasn’t nearly as much snow up here in Washington like there was in the Sierra, we heard reports that there was still more snow on the trail than we felt comfortably hiking in. Instead sitting around in Seattle for a second week, Bleeder and I decided to hop in the car, drive south to Timberline Lodge in Oregon and section hike the 130 miles north to Trout Lake in Washington. Once we’d get to Trout Lake, we would somehow hitch our way back to the car at Timberline Lodge. We knew this section would be relatively snow-free because it was fairly low in elevation, for the most part. We would more than likely hit some snow leaving Timberline and then on our way in towards Trout Lake.

We stuffed our packs with food, got in the car and headed south towards Timberline Lodge to complete our first section hike on trail. Once again, we were back on the trail. We hit snow immediately as soon as we left Timberline Lodge. People were still skiing on the mountain. There were sections of the trail where we literally had to look both ways before crossing so we didn’t get mowed down by a downhill skier. Crazy! 

For the first eight or nine miles out of Timberline, we hiked over snow patches and snow fields. Bleeder had no problem navigating over the snow. I, on the other hand, struggled. Neither one of us put our microspikes on. Spikes wouldn’t have been much help anyways because the snow was super slushy and slippery. I slipped and slid everywhere. At one point, I even managed to slide down into a tree. I didn’t get hurt and it wasn’t even that long of a slide, but it was enough to freak me out and make me extra cautious. I was already slow with my ankle injury. The snow made me even slower. I could tell Bleeder was getting frustrated with me not being able to keep up with him. All he could think about was all the time we’d taken off trail and calculating the numbers of the miles he’d have to do each day in order to complete the trail before his Visa ran out in October. 

After stopping for lunch at a pretty epic lookout spot, Bleeder and I got back on trail and hiked the next few miles at our own paces. He hiked way ahead of me and I was far behind. During those few miles, I started thinking about our upcoming SoBo hike. If I was already having this much trouble traveling in snow, how would I be able to handle hiking up north in the Cascades where there’d be even more snow and on much steeper passes?

I thought about the stress Bleeder must be under to finish his hike. I live here in the United States. I can come back and hike this trail whenever I want to. Bleeder had to fly all the way across the world to get here.

I thought about my stupid ankle and how it always hurts after hiking on it for five or six miles without a rest. I was really pissed off about how much this injury had slowed me down this year. I was still out here hiking the miles on it, but a lot of the times it was downright painful to do it.

Then there was my money situation. I had over a year to plan and save for my first PCT thru-hike in 2018. For my hike in 2019, I literally had less than six months to plan and save. Even though I worked my ass off during those six months, I wasn’t able to save up nearly as much money as I had for my hike the year before. Not having the budget I wanted to have on trail this year really added a lot of stress to my hike before I started hiking this year.

With all of these thoughts running through my head, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Then came the tears. I knew in my gut I had to end my hike. I needed to let Bleeder pick up the pace and hike the trail faster on his own. I needed to let my ankle heal. I needed to start looking for a job. I was even worried about finding a hitch from Trout Lake after our section hike, all the way back to my car at Timberline Lodge. Over the next few miles as I hiked to catch up to Bleeder, I came up with a plan.

Right before we reached the Sandy River, I ran into Bleeder taking a break on the side of the trail. As soon as I saw him, I told him I had come up with a new plan. Instead of hiking to Trout Lake, I proposed that we finish our section hike at The Bridge of Gods. It would be here where I’d end my thru-hike for this year. Ironically, it’s also where Cheryl Strayed ended her PCT hike over twenty years ago. 

From Cascade Locks, we could take a bus back to Timberline Lodge to get my car instead of having to worry about getting a super hard hitch out Trout Lake. After getting in the car, we would drive back up to Seattle where I’d help Bleeder resupply and gear up for his SoBo hike. I’d let him use my tent and bear canister so he wouldn’t have to buy one. Then I’d drive Bleeder up to Harts Pass and see him off for his first stretch on trail alone.

Instead of hiking SoBo with Bleeder throughout Washington, I’d be Bleeder’s personal trail angel/support car, following him along trail with all of his food and supplies. I’d meet him at all the major trailheads and give him a ride into town where he could shower, do laundry, eat a warm meal, resupply and then quickly get back on trail. I’d do everything in my power to help him hike through Washington faster while I conducted my job search from the road using WIFI along the way and making pit stops into Seattle for interviews. 

On the days I’d meet him at a trailhead, I’d day hike out to him on trail, getting to see some of Washington’s PCT highlights along the way like Cutthroat Pass, Lake Valhalla, Lake Josephine, Kendall Katwalk and Cispus Pass. Then once Bleeder would reach Cascade Locks, I’d give him a ride to Timberline Lodge (since we already hiked those 50 miles) and say goodbye to him for the rest of his SoBo hike as he continued hiking on his own. I’d then return to Seattle and continue my job search.

Then hopefully, if all goes to plan, Bleeder could do his 30-mile days in Oregon and complete his hike all the way back to Tehachapi before the end of September. Once he’s finished, he would find his way back to Seattle. We would then both drive back up to Harts Pass together, hike the last 30 miles together to the Northern Terminus, tag the monument and then hike the victory lap back to Harts Pass, officially completing his hike for the year together.

As I told Bleeder about the new plan, I couldn’t help but start crying again. He liked the plan and I immediately felt the tension between us lift. We both knew it was a good plan. We both knew it could work. We both knew it had to happen. Good plan aside, I still gave myself plenty of space to be sad about my thru-hike being over.

Part of what made coming up with this plan fairly easy was my original reason for coming back to hike the PCT again this year. Last year, I hiked the PCT for me. 2018 was my hike. I faced my fears, challenged myself in ways I never knew I could be challenged, lived the adventure of a lifetime, met people from all over the world and enjoyed every single step along the way. This year, I came back to trail to hike for love. Not only my love for the PCT, but my love for Bleeder. He was coming back to complete his hike and I wanted to do it with him. When I realized I was starting to hold him back from finishing his hike, I knew I had to put my selfish thoughts aside and let him go Hike His Own Hike, even if that meant him hiking without me.

From that point on, after presenting the new plan to Bleeder, our section hike became much more enjoyable. Bleeder slowed down his pace. I started taking more photos and video. We laughed more. We talked to each other more often. Bleeder’s smile came back. We had more fun, especially when we decided to camp by the lake instead of pushing on another five miles up towards the burn section. I knew this would be the last time we’d get to thru-hike together so I made sure to enjoy every single moment of it, all the way to Cascade Locks.

The day we hiked down into Cascade Locks, we put off eating and setting up camp for a bit and headed straight for The Bridge of Gods. Together, we walked across the bridge towards Washington and back. I had a good cry as I looked down over the Columbia River. It was the perfect ending for my hike. 

After heading back across the bridge into Cascade Locks, we walked to the Thunder Island Brewery to have dinner and celebrate the completion of our section hike. As we waited in line, a former PCT hiker came up to us, told us he hiked the trail in 2016 and gave us a $20 bill to buy our first round of drinks. I couldn’t believe it. I even got one last dose of trail magic.

My PCT thru-hike may not have gone as planned this year, but it happened exactly the way it was supposed to be.

 

8 comments on “Why I Ended My PCT Thru-Hike Early This Year”

  1. Kathleen,
    Sorry your hike ended early. Sounds like you had a great time while you were on trail! I know about the snow in the Sierra 🙁 we are heading there next week to hike SoBo and I hope more of the snow is melted! Take care,
    Kristina

    • I had an amazing time out on the PCT this year, even on the hard days. This trail so incredibly special to me on so many levels. Good luck out there on your SoBo hike. Stay safe. Happy Trails!

  2. Sorry to see it end this way but this year is going to be super hard for a lot of people to complete, and your priorities seem straight-on helping Bleeder! 😊💪

    • Super hard year indeed! It will be interesting to see where the “bubble” of hikers ends up being because so many people are flipping here and there and everywhere.

      I’ll do everything in my power to make sure Bleeder gets to finish his hike in an efficient (and safe!) manner this year. He’s going to have the time of his life out there. I can’t wait to here the stories each time I meet up with him on trail.

  3. Kathleen – Never stop journey. Ever forward with only joyful memories of where you have been.

    Can’t wait to see what your next adventure entails and always keep writing – you have the gift.

    Best Wishes,
    Jim

    • Thank you so much! The PCT has fueled a fire for travel that I’ve never had before. It’s only a matter of time before I find myself on yet another adventure. For now, I’ll be doing several “mini” adventures near home as I conduct my job search. And I always keep writing. In fact writing this post, I was reminded yet again how much I enjoy putting my thoughts down on paper/on the computer screen. 😊

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