Norwegian Memorial Camp (1207.1) to Cape Alava (1217.0)
When I left my tent early in the morning at 6 am it wasn’t only misty, it was drizzling and everything was wet. It looked like I would never see the sun today! I went back into my sleeping bag and decided to pack up most of my stuff inside the tent. I had to start early again because of the tide. It was ten miles to Cape Alava – no big deal on a good trail but with the coastal conditions it was something.
How would my last day on the Pacific Northwest Trail be? Would I get over all the rocky shores and make it all the way? The drizzling made all the rocks wet and it would be slippery as hell.
When I finally got out of my tent it had stopped drizzling and a breeze was going. I said goodbye to my fellow campers and started hiking towards Yellow Banks. My way along the coast was rocky, yes. But soon it changed from loose rocks to grown rocks which were easier to travel on. It was around 9:30 when I checked my position. Would I be at Yellow Banks at ten? What I saw on the GPS was disappointing: I was only halfway and the last two miles had taken me nearly two hours!
I decided to look around less and speed up. And so it was more a lucky (?) coincidence that I saw the dead Sea Lion my camping neighbours had told me about. As it was already rotting the dead body looked more like a peace of driftwood. I took a couple of photos as it would probably be the only time I would see a sea lion around here.
Hiking on the situation improved and the rocks got smaller until I eventually reached Yellow Banks – another sandy beach. I only stopped short to fill up my water bottle at a stream and headed on towards Sand Point. It was 10:30 and we were approaching low tide. Could I make it to Cape Alava in time?
As soon as I left the beach with South Sand Point Camp I started to run into day hikers which was a good sign. Day hikers meant an easy trail. And indeed after crossing a small rocky section I entered a huge sandy beach that led me towards Sand Point. On this beach I found another Dead Sea Lion. He must have died not too long ago. Where are the living ones? I wondered. I hiked on. Another two bays and two potential overland crossings and I would be at the Cape.
From Sand Point I had only three miles left. The last three miles of 1200. The Pacific Northwest Trail hasn’t been easy. It was America’s youngest National Scenic Trail known as being rugged, wild and remote. I am not so sure about the remote but it’s definitely rugged! I thought about the day I had started at Chief Mountain at the Canadian border, about Sage the girl that made me stay in Waterton and change my plans early on. It has been a good decision.
Good as mostly all the decisions and detours I had taken along the trail. I haven’t hiked all of it. For some dangerous roads I said yes to the rides offered by strangers and a couple of times I got even driven up the mountain! But I hiked a lot more than I had to in Glacier National Park, I took detours and extra miles to see some stuff along the way, e.g. the Mt Wam fire Lookout.
All in all it has been my unique hike and journey all the way from Chief Mountain to Cape Alava. From crown to coast – against the grain. The PNT was a hard trail with his mostly undeveloped sections, route-finding challenges and serious bushwhacks. On this trail – other than on the Pacific Crest Trail – I often thought about giving up. But I kept going. Why? Because there was a reason!
For now it is time to finish and yes, I am ready for it. I am ready to go home, turn the page and start a new chapter in my life. Since a while I know in what direction I want to head next and it is mainly the encouragement of my American friends and strangers along the way who helped me making a final decision.
I am approaching the last mile. Cape Alava and the end of my epic journey is in sight. The beach I am walking on right now is a mixed bag: big stones, small stones and some stinky and slushy sea grass. It was like the PNT: a little bit of everything.
I was good on time, the tide was still low and I had done all tidal crossings along the coast without using the overland option. And I wasn’t hiking alone. A mama deer was out with her little one. They were not afraid at all and I thought it was nice to have some company. After a while they stopped at a bush with especially tasty leaves. I stopped and watched them for a while. For the first time in a long while I could afford the luxury of taking my time.
After a while I went on. Step by step I got closer to Cape Alava which didn’t look special at all from the distance. Still I wasn’t alone. It felt like I was leading a long line of people hiking behind me: my family, friends, people I met along the trail, people who have become friends. Everyone was there to be with me in this one very special moment.
It was a moment of silence. There’s no sign or monument at the Cape and there were no other PNT hikers who made a big party.
We are standing there alone looking out into the ocean. It’s beautiful. The sun came out just as I had left Sand Point and the scenery is illuminated in the right light.
I take a step back and look at the long line of people standing beside me. With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes I turn towards the ocean again.
After a while I turn around again and the only words that come to my mind are
I couldn’t have done it without you!