Monday, October 20, 2014

The Art Of War

I've been home for about a week now. While I'm still struggling with getting used to civilization again, I thought it'd be worthwhile to inform you of the things that happened in the final stretch of my journey. From guerrilla warfare through Forests of Gold to the near-loss of several hundred bucks of camera equipment, this section included quite some vivid experiences. And, of course, a glorious and happy ending in Canada!

The two Zeros I took (one at The Dinsmores and another one in Skykomish) before heading back to Stevens Pass were as refreshing as they were rainy. With a distinct intention of spending a maximum of one day in town I arrived at The Dinsmores; for northbound hikers the last Trail Angels before reaching Canada. But the weather turned into something that could most accurately be described as the worst downpour since the Deluge. With the sincere hope that the rain would end soon I spent another night in town, but I left when I came to realize that if my plan was to wait for the return of the sun, I would still be sitting there next spring. So after two days I put on my rain gear and faced the inevitable.

Luckily, the sun returned the very next day and stuck with us most of the way to Stehekin. It was only until the day before we made it to town that dark clouds rolled in again. During these days I was mostly hiking alone and decided to get this section done as fast as I could. In spite of facing a total elevation change of 17,900 ft (~ 5,450 m; this includes both up- and downhill) in just one day, I still hiked 26,3 miles (42,3 km) the day I made it to Stehekin. I guess I must've been really eager to get there.

Being wet and weary we arrived at the trailhead to wait for the bus that would take us to Stehekin, only to learn from the bus driver that the only hotel in town has been completely booked out that night by a group of senior citizens. The only option left (which then turned out not to be an actual option) was to stay at Stehekin Valley Ranch. They had one log cabin available without heat or electricity. That thing didn't even have a real roof, but was covered with canvas; yet they wanted to charge us $100 per person (that's right: per person, not per cabin!) We all agreed that this would basically be the same as camping, so we turned the offer down and proceeded on the bus to Stehekin to find a place to set up our wet tents. When we arrived at the legendary Stehekin Bakery to buy some of what turned out to be the best pastries on the entire trail, we met a lady who owned two cabins next to the bakery. They have been booked out every night for the last two months, but just as we arrived there they happened to have one cabin available. A two-story cabin (with a proper roof instead of canvas!) with electricity, a kitchen, TV and DVD, hot showers, comfortable beds and a large backyard to dry out our soaked gear for only $220 (per cabin, in this case!) Our mood jumped from below zero to 102 %. They even gave us the keys to their van to drive around town!

The next day we enjoyed a very last Zero on the PCT and spent a night in the Stehekin Lodge (the hotel that was booked out the night before). One more stop at the bakery on our way back to the trailhead, then 3-D, Cracker Jack, V, Polar Bear, Goosebumps, Think Fast and I set out for the last 87 miles. Believe it or not, but we actually got through the rest of the trail without getting wet again. The day we finished our thru-hike could not have been any better: sunny and warm without a single cloud in the sky.

It was around that area when, for the first time, I ran into trouble with the local mouse population. Until that day our relationship could've been described as a peaceful coexistence. As long as they would stay away from my supplies there was no need for me to engage in any kind of hostility or even measures of warfare. Two days before I made it to Stehekin, when I went to sleep, I heard them bustling around the campsite and the backpack in my tent's vestibule. Confident as I was, I thought they wouldn't be able to sneak into my pack. This confidence – along with our peace treaty – lasted until the next morning, when, very much to my astonishment, I found out that they must've discovered a loophole somewhere in my backpack and immediately embarked on the task of chewing holes in my food bag in order to get through to what would've been my next day's dinner.

Now, imagine the Zombie Apocalypse. Imagine a horde of raging, brain-eating savages killing everyone you have ever known, everyone you have ever loved. Imagine they would find the only thing you had ever cared about and violently take it away from you.

That is how I felt about my rice. That is how these disease-spreading rodents drew my attention on themselves. That is how the door to the darkest chamber of my consciousness – until now hidden deep in the concealed crevasses of my mind – had been unlocked.

You just messed with the wrong guy! Do you remember when Hitler was stupid enough to disregard the peace treaty with the Soviet Union and German troops first set foot on Russian soil in 1941? That's exactly what these little bastards just did. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Now, if history taught us anything, it is the first two rules of warfare:

1. Do not mess with the Russians.

In case you didn't know, this also applies to backpacking; only that the first two rules here are:

1. Do not mess with the Cheeseburger.
2. DO. NOT. MESS. WITH. THE. CHEESEBURGER. (especially not with his food)

It wasn't me who crossed the line and decided to invade a sovereign country. From my point of view this was not a war of aggression, but clearly an act of defense. Instead of holding a state of peaceful coexistence upright, these mice determined it would be smart to set foot on my territory. You know what they say: desperate times call for desperate measures. These rodents just brought the furious anger of Soviet warfare upon themselves. Well then, bring it on! Let the games begin!

The next nights I spent on killing as many of them as I could. There shall be no more peace. There shall be no more mercy. And most certainly there shall be no forgiveness! You may think now I'm joking or that this is supposed to be some kind of metaphor. It is not. I am a man of my words:

Let this be a warning to the rest of your kind
However, just after leaving Stehekin we started to notice all these yellow trees along the trail. Most conifers are commonly Evergreens, but just like deciduous trees, these tamarack larches (Larix laricina) turn yellow in the fall, which transforms the landscape into a most picturesque Land of Gold.

Two days before I arrived at the PCT's northern terminus I did something so utterly stupid that my heart stopped for a few seconds. Hiking along a steep mountainside with rock scrambles on either side of the trail, I had to stop for a minute to mind my business. When I unclipped the chest strap of my backpack to take off the case that contained my camera's wide-angle lens, it slipped out of my hand and embarked on its own journey. Rolling down at first, it didn't take too long until it started bouncing down the mountain. Paralyzed, I just stood there and watched my favorite lens leaping downhill. Hitting every single rock it could possibly hit, it gained momentum and proceeded to bounce in ever growing jumps which were, in the end, up to 6 ft high. After about 500 ft it finally came to an abrupt end when it rushed into a patch of young saplings.

At this point I was in such a state of sheer terror that I even lacked the ability of being mad at myself. Slowly I started climbing down the mountain to pick up € 400 worth of shattered glass. But when I got there and opened the case I found out, very much to my delight, that the lens was completely unscathed. No broken or scratched glass, and even the hyper sonic motor was still intact like nothing ever happened. I think I've never been so stupid and lucky at the same time in my life. Thanks to Sigma not only for building great lenses, but also for first-class cushioning in their lens cases!

On the fifth of October the day we all longed for finally arrived. After over five months of hiking, our journey that traversed nearly 2,700 miles (~ 4,300 km) through all but one of North America's seven ecozones, through three states and from elevations of near sea-level to over 13,000 ft (~ 4,000 m) came to an end.

We spent our last night on the trail at a campsite close to the monument near the U.S.-Canada border and hiked the remaining nine miles the next morning. Our arrival in Manning Park marked a worthy ending of this trip, as we enjoyed a fine lunch and dinner in the park's only restaurant, went for a swim and slept in most comfortable beds that night. The thought of sleeping in real beds regularly from now on, instead of lying in a tent on uneven forest floor seemed strange to me. In fact, the whole concept of acquainting myself with civilization again felt so bizarre. Soon I would go home, back to everyday life. Soon everything would be just as it was before.

Or would it?

Back: Cracker Jack, Polar Bear, Cheeseburger, V; Front: 3-D, Think Fast, Goosebumps

Happy Trails,


  1. Hallo Cheeseburger,
    Glückwunsch zum erfolgreichen Abschluss. Wir haben deinenn Hike verfolgt und freuen uns, dass du es geschafft hast (haben wir natürlich nie dran gezeifelt; ))
    Wir sind sind sicher, dass du über kurz oder lang den dritten Trail planst!
    Wir starten im Februar mit dem AT, diesmal hoffentlich ganz!
    Liebe Grüße aus Monschau , keep the trail inside,
    Birgit und Jonathan

    P.S. Dass deine Bilder gigantisch und deine Texte fantastisch sind sagte ich ja schon : )
    Du solltest schreiben, egal ob auf Englisch (woher kannst du das so gut???) oder auf Deutsch!

  2. Ach so, das mit den Mäusen war allerdings gemein.

  3. Meine Hochachtung für Diese Leistung!
    Tolle Bilder!