I wake up this morning and make a cup of coffee , ‘this will be my last PCT coffee!’ I sigh . I start to break down my tent , ‘this will be the last time i break down my tent on the PCT’ i think . This process continues all morning until i catch myself thinking ‘this will be the last time i dig a poo hole in the woods on the PCT !’ . I confront myself and tell myself ‘ah..have a spoonful of cement and toughen up !’ .
Im still squeezing the air out of my sleeping mat when Eric comes around the path. I suprise him . He’s happy to stop and talk after such a long time on trail . The last time we talked was after the forest fire incident over a month ago . We catch up , and he tells me i should see other hikers this morning . As we talk a deer comes and watches us , we both enjoy her curiosity a while before Eric pushes on towards Canada . I wish him the very very best .
Its only about 10miles to Beldon town this morning , and i know its going to be pretty easy going . So i set off without much ado . Im enjoying the water here , lots of small rivers to cross . Balancing on stepping stones and fallen logs is one of the highlights of this section . But also the frog-lilly-greeness of it all . Watery mosses , overgrown brier , high lime grass and weeds , crowd the pathway that sometimes flows with the river spill.
I make a turn in the path and spy up ahead Sam . I sneak to within a couple of feet of him before shouting a loud “BOO!” . I laugh as he takes off a couple of feet in the air . ‘Wing-it’ is not long around the corner . He throws up his arms and shouts when he sees me . Then comes the ‘man hug’ . Its a perfect way for me to be finishing . In the company of a man who saw me through the biggest challenges . We swap a couple of laughs before we go our own ways . I leave him with a Starburst and a chorus of ‘Youll never walk alone’ . As soon as he’s gone i think about walking a couple of miles with him , just for the heck of it , but i know thats just the poet in me . I take a spoon of my own medicene , and ‘Walk on!’
I turn off the GPS , the path is clear, i dont need a map . I have no plan for the rest of the day , only the promise of a burger in Belden .
I bounce into a couple of day hikers , brothers, who ask me all about my journey . They ask me what I enjoyed most on my adventure . I cant answer . Im really not too sure . They see my camera and ask if im a proffesional . I feel myself wishing I was , and that i could stay out here and still earn enough to live . I tell them a few of my wildlife encounters , and they share their morning encounter with a pair of garter snakes a little way down the path .
I cross the paths of no less than six snakes in the short stretch to the trail head , each time i think that i am not going to be suprised again , along to prove me wrong comes another wriggle of colour from the wayside to show that I still have a lot to learn about tracking .
I come around a bend and can see a wide river below me . On its bank sits the little town of Belden . My mouth is watering .
Im coming down off the trail , and four hikers are at the trail head ,when i spot another snake . I tell them to hold on whilst we wait for it to clear off. I fist bump the group of hikers going onto the trail .This is their first day , this is my last day . A good hand over of the batton .
Moments later and i have crossed the old wooden bridge into tiny Belden , and am greeted by an unexpected and excellent sight. A stone monument has been erected there , by the river , amongst a grove of oak trees , it is carved with the following words : ” The preservation of this trail and the absoloute character of the wilderness, may help encourage people to return from our far too artificial world to an appreciation of the natural “. I thank the spirit of this pathway for delivering me here on solstice day , in the brightness of being and the blessings of Brigit.
Im sat on the back porch of Belden cafe , other hikers are also enjoying the menu . I have a cold cider , a burger and some chips . The other hikers introduce themselves as Rhonda and Rocketman, and I fall into my trail tales . Their trail angel offers me a ride to Quincy , and i ask for two minutes as i sign the trail register and quickly grab my pack . We chat about the trail in the car , and i wonder if i can catch a bus tonight to Fresno , the next stop on my way to the Sequoia National Park . I have planned for a few days of rest and relaxation there before my flight back to Britain.
I jump out at Quincy and am looking at the bus timetable , when i realise to my horror that I am not carring my camera . I remain so ridiculously calm that I know that i am close to vomiting . I try and try to remember where i last had it , and all i can see is it sat on the table of the Belden cafe . I walk to the petrol station for directions , and ask a passing stranger (who happens to be deaf) if he is going past Belden ? He nods and then tells me in pigeon English ( he happens to be Vietnamese) that he doesnt know where it is . My heart is still racing as we hit the highway with my phones map as a guide ( he happens to be the maddest driver ive ever met ) . His wonky and battered pick up skids around hair pin bends as he tells me about Jesus and living alone in America . All the while he is trying to juggle making eye contact with me and keeping an eye on the road . Im grinding my teeth and staring at the road , hoping he will get the hint and do likewise . Forty minutes of wheel squeaking terror later , i am deposited at the Beldon cafe , where my camera is not to be found .
Im slightly gutted to say the least . OK loosing a camera is one thing , but on my last day . I dont believe that irony comes in that shade of bad timing.I have no idea what to do next .I look at the local campsite by the river , but follow my intuition and go and sit at the wide porch outside the cafe for some attempted calm .Where , within minutes i meet Jenni . Jenni looked a bit like Julie Andrews and Julie Walters with a dash of fairy godmother thrown in when i first saw her. Not only did she buy me a beer and let me win at pool , but she also drove me to Chico and let me sleep in her garden .( i suprised the maid in the morning , who opened her curtains without a stitch on , but thats another story) . Jenni offered me gentle sympathy and loving kindness when nothing else would do . So what if she happened to be the second maddest driver in California, and skidded all over the road when a young deer ran out of the woods .
So my last day on the PCT ends here. Summer solstice . Longest (very definitely) day of the year . Lying in a friendly strangers back yard ,under the full moon , pumped adrenalin from two white-knuckle-wacky-race car drives , mind wizzing around about my missing 40gigabytes of film and photography from the last 90 days , and not really sure where I will be tommorow . Maybe this all has some deeper cosmic significance , but im blown if I can tell you what it is !