This post is from August 3, 2003.
Ray and I reached the Northern Terminus of the PCT today at 12:30 noon. We still had to walk an additional 8 miles to hike out to Manning Park in British Columbia.
These are photos of Ray and me at the end of the hike, in Manning Park, BC:
It was very emotional for Ray, and indeed even for me. Hiking 263 miles in 7 days was probably the most grueling 7-day endurance test of my entire life. I never would have done this if it was not for trying to keep Ray company on his amazing feat/feet!
Ray’s feet at the end:
Ray’s trail shoes, bronzed:
The following is an excerpt covering this day taken from the 2018 edition of “The Pacific Crest Trail: Its Fastest Hike” [click here to view book] (note that at that time Ray had given me the trail name SUPERMAN. I have used TARman since my 2013 Total Ankle Replacement)”:
After the alarms rang and had gotten shut off, Paul and I had trouble moving. How long had the alarms been ringing? How would Paul feel this morning? My body ached. I’d struggled with the cold for most of the night. In my run-down condition, my ruined bag couldn’t keep me warm at this altitude. Had I eaten enough yesterday?
“Ray, I shivered violently all night. Didn’t sleep at all.”
“Oh, fuck! Sorry.”
Paul no longer slurred his speech. He’d recovered mentally. How had he recovered physically?
“I fared a bit better. Very tired though.”
Paul’s eyes had huge bags beneath them. And, there would be no hot coffee, since we didn’t have a stove with us. I needed to encourage him. I would have to will him forward. Another hard day of hiking fueled only by willpower faced us. He no longer had any reserves.
“I feel like I’ve got the worst hangover ever.”
“You’re Swedish. That’s nothing. You’re just getting started.”
Paul managed a small smile.
“Paul, we’re just 21 miles from the Canadian border!”
Despite our pitiful condition, an overwhelming sensation of joy filled me. Today the journey of my lifetime would be successfully completed. But, how would Paul manage? I couldn’t do much for him.
“I’m with you, Ray. Let’s get this done!”
“Thanks, Paul. Okay, let’s do this. The final push.”
“Yeah! I’ve no idea how you made it this far, Ray. But, given what you’ve been through already, I’m sure as hell not going to let you down now.”
I held Paul’s shoulder.
“All right. Let’s get moving!”
Superman emerged from the tarptent first. He crawled out on all fours.
“I can see my breath.”
“Just like Maine, eh?”
“No, much warmer than our summers.”
“Chilly tarn, Baby!”
Superman smiled. He may have even broken into a small laugh. I felt encouraged. Each morning, as we’d moved farther north, Paul had spent more time bandaging and treating his feet. He’d developed a great appreciation for the amount of foot pain that I’d suffered as well. For the final time that summer, doing what had become habit, I repacked my gear and moved it outside the Squall.
Today marked the last morning that I would pack the tarptent into its fraying stuff sack. My home for the summer was being put away forever. The Squall had been a reliable, lightweight shelter. I made a mental note to write and thank Henry Shires for sending me one. I wanted to do the same thing for Glenn van Peski, who’d designed the G4 to be a great backpack. Superman’s morning packing went well. While taking a number of deep breaths in the cold mountain air, I blew on my hands.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Yeah, all packed up.”
“Let’s go. To Canada-A.”
Superman and I began hiking before 5:30 AM. Within a minute off to the right-hand side, we saw a beautiful camping spot. It was the one that we’d been seeking. The groomed site was huge, flat, and even had a bench. I consoled myself by saying that I would have missed the site in total darkness, as it was set a small distance away from the trail. Late last night my eyes had been pointed almost exclusively at my feet, as I tried to avoid falling. I swiped at a bush. What could we do? We pushed north, eagerly anticipating the Canadian border.
The weather remained perfect and the scenery spectacular. Grizzly bears roamed in this area. Wild management actually relocated grizzlies to this area. Were these problem bears? If something in the woods moved, Superman and I did a double take. We didn’t talk much, as we both reflected internally. Exhaustion played a big factor in our behaviors. Periodically, I would drift behind Superman.
“I’ll catch you in a minute,” I said.
I’m sure that it was obvious to Paul that I needed a few moments alone. I wept openly while singing verses from the summer’s songs. When I’d my emotions somewhat under control, I would catch back up to him.
“You okay, Ray?”
I lied. I simply had given my standard answer to that question, but I really wasn’t okay. Once I took the time to recuperate after the hike, I could see that I would be fine. My mental struggles had been brought on by extreme conditions. Once I freed myself from this challenge and the risk-taking, my mind and emotions would stabilize.
Superman and I made consistent progress. Two hikers approached us walking southbound. We chatted. I somewhat expected to encounter flip-floppers in Washington State, and these two were the first. The Asian man’s name was George, and he lived in New York City. His buddy Pedro was from New Mexico. Paul told them his name and that my name was Wall.
George and Pedro had flown from San Francisco up to Vancouver. They’d left Manning Park the day before with plans to hike all the way south to the point where they’d gotten off the trail in California. Paul and I updated them on what to expect in terms of trail conditions. As a group, we spoke of hikers whom we’d met. I got caught up on a few friends and their progress. The information made me smile. Superman and I told them about some of the people whom they could expect to meet in the upcoming few days.
“Wall, you’re flying,” George said.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Appreciate your thoughts on what we’ll encounter,” Pedro said.
“Yeah, thanks for the water warning,” George added.
“He’s too modest to tell you, but Wall here is about to set the record for the fastest hike of the PCT ever,” Superman said.
Superman smiled proudly.
“Wow! That’s incredible!” Pedro said.
“Really?” George asked.
George looked me over and shook his head in disbelief.
“Yeah, 83 days!” Superman beamed.
“You look to be in crazy shape,” George said.
“That’s fucking amazing, amigo!” Pedro said.
Pedro reached out to shake my hand.
“Congratulations!” George said.
George and I firmly shook hands.
“Wall, you’re an incredible hiker! You’ll be a legend. I just shook hands with a legend, Pedro. Ha-ha,” George said.
“Thanks very much! It’s very humbling,” I said.
I could feel that I was blushing beneath my beard.
“Great job! Truly awesome achievement,” George said.
“Good luck, George and Pedro! Hope you don’t encounter much snow later this fall. Thanks for your kind words,” I said.
“Have a cold one for us!” Pedro said.
“How about a few margaritas? Would that work?” I said.
“Oh, yes,” Pedro said.
“Okay, you’ve got it. Bye,” Superman said.
“Good-bye,” George said.
“Adiós, amigos,” Pedro said.
“Good-bye, friends,” I said.
Superman and I continued north to the border. He hiked well. We could both smell the barn. The miles ticked off. I ran through my favorite memories over the summer. Time flew. My feet didn’t hurt. Sometimes I paused, tilted my head up, looked at the sky, and closed my eyes. I reopened my eyes, took a few deeps breaths, and then caught up to Superman. He’d found a seventh wind.
Superman and I made good time. We were getting close to completing my epic journey. This day would be my last day on the PCT this summer. I felt a great sense of joy and relief. To share this section of trail with Paul had been a wonderful experience.
“You’d better go ahead on this part,” Paul said.
Paul made his comment out-of-the-blue, stepped aside, and motioned for me to pass. I figured that he’d seen a grizzly. Looking up though, I saw that we stood just 100 feet from the border. Paul’s kind and thoughtful gesture brought me to tears. What a great person and friend. When I reached the border just in front of Superman, I threw my poles up in the air and raised my arms in a victory salute.
“Yeah, baby! We did it! We did it!”
Paul and I reached Monument 78 at 12:30 PM. We embraced in a long bear hug. We enjoyed a lot of back slapping. Tears flowed freely from my eyes. Paul understood my feelings. He shed a tear or two. This time I didn’t bother to wipe at my tears. They were tears of relief and joy.
“Yeah Ray, congratulations! You should be very proud! I’m proud of you!”
“Thanks. Thanks so much, Paul! Feels great!”
“Congratulations, Wall! You’re the man! New PCT record holder! Wow! I honestly can’t believe everything that you’ve been through and overcome this summer. I’ve been out here only a week, and I’m trashed. Badly trashed. Probably did permanent nerve damage to my feet. You were right. I should’ve gone in trail runners. These boots killed me.”
I gathered myself. I took a few deep breaths.
“Thanks, Paul. Your being here for this week has meant the world to me. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Although my voice quivered, I got the words out.
“Look at the border,” Paul said.
Paul and I stared at the 20-foot-wide swath of trees that had been cut to distinguish the United States from Canada. Paul pulled out his disposable camera. One shot remained. He’d saved this final picture, so that he could capture my moment of glory at the northern terminus of the PCT. This plan was another in a series of thoughtful gestures that he’d made. I positioned myself near the monument, which looked identical to the one 2,659 miles south of here.
“Just a moment,” I said.
I combed my beard with my fingers.
Paul framed me in his view finder, and depressed the button on the camera. To our great surprise, nothing happened. We heard no click.
“Nope, it’s history. I’m snapping. Sorry!”
It turned out that when the camera read ‘1,’ there actually weren’t any pictures remaining. Paul had expected it to read ‘0.’ The film had run out. I briefly held out hope that another hiker would come by heading south and that the person would be willing to take our picture. This scenario didn’t materialize though, so there would be no picture of us at the northern terminus.
As I imagined that all thru-hikers did, I climbed up on the end marker and left a pebble on top. A penny filled a crack in the wood atop the monument. Who’d left it there? We ate and drank, and savored this time. The sun warmed my smiling face. I thought of family and friends, and I hoped that all my thru-hiking friends would make it safely. My Mom had been an incredible source of strength for me, and I felt sure that she would be very proud to hear my news. I couldn’t wait to tell her. I felt sad that my Dad wouldn’t be with her when I delivered the news. I looked up toward the sky. I felt blessed and fulfilled. A huge burden had been lifted.
I took the remaining cork out of my pocket. I held it in front of my face, and twirled it around several times between my fingers. Near a small
healthy spruce, I found a nice place to set down the cork on the border. I stood back, stared at the cork, scratched the back of my neck, and smiled. I’d lived my life on the border this summer. Some memories would be best left behind. When I walked back over to Paul, I now felt ready to depart. We headed for Manning Park Lodge, where many cold beers and margaritas awaited us. I’d my emotions better under control. Along the way we chatted.
“The PCT is one hell of an amazing trail,” Paul said.
“Yeah, it sure is. What a national resource. Do you think you’ll ever come out and thru-hike it? I’d be glad to support you.”
“Ha-ha. Maybe I’ll section-hike it. After this week’s experience I don’t think I’d be up to a thru-hike. Not doing these mileages anyway. I need some time off.”
“Let me know if you do decide to section-hike.”
“Sure.” Paul paused. “Ray, someday your record will be broken.”
“Yeah, I’ve thought about that. Maybe Flyin’ Brian or Fiddlehead will come out here and kick my ass.”
“Yeah, or some young ultra-runner.”
“Horton is going to try to break the record next year, but he’ll be supported. He’s not going to be carrying a pack.”
“That doesn’t count, though. You did it basically unsupported. Carrying your pack the entire way. No slackpacking. And, you did it honorably. You wouldn’t even cut a damn switchback. You didn’t miss any trail.”
“Thanks. I feel really good about the hike.”
“I think it’s going to be a long time before your unsupported Master’s record falls. I can’t see a guy over forty beating your record. At least not anytime soon.”
“Right now, I don’t really care. It was a lot of fun. I did what I could, under the circumstances. What a great time and adventure. I’m just glad that we got it done safely. You gave me a real scare last night.”
“Yeah, that was rough. So, what’s next?”
“I want to complete the Triple Crown. Fiddlehead always said that the CDT was his favorite trail. So, I’ll do the CDT. Maybe finish the seven summits. Ever heard of a bicycle race called RAAM? They bill it as ‘The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race.’ ”
“You’ve got a full plate. Fiddlehead is going to be amazed, when he learns you broke the record! I’m amazed!”
“Yeah, he’ll owe me a six-pack.”
“Cheers to that, Ray. Let’s go celebrate!”
Paul and I entered Manning Park Lodge at 3:30 PM. I phoned my mother, and told her that I’d finished the PCT. She was exceptionally happy for me. I felt relieved to deliver this good news, and my Mom was moved by what her youngest son had accomplished. Her epic was over, too, as her worries and concerns over my hike came to an end. I called Jimbo, who missed my call for only the second time all summer, and left a message for him that I’d completed the trail. I’m sure that he would be relieved to hear my voice-mail message and feel excited for me. Shortly after he’d retrieved my message, the hundreds of people who’d been tracking my adventure through the Web also found out that I’d finished, when Jimbo posted the following message on his website.