I plopped down on the bench outside the church, taking it all in. The air was fresh and cool, yet comfortable. Only the lightest breeze was blowing in off the lake. I knocked the sand off my boots. As a final, cruel joke Mother Nature decided to put a desert in the last stretches of the Chilkoot Trail, forcing hikers to slog through the loose terrain at a painfully slow pace.
In all my planning, I had seen plenty of photos of St. Andrew’s Church. As the only remaining structure in Bennett from the Gold Rush days, it holds a special historical significance and I was looking forward to seeing it long before we even started out on the trail. But I had no idea just how meaningful the sight of that church would be.
It was so much more than an interesting historical artifact. It was visual confirmation that it was over, that we had done it!
I felt content and relaxed when seemingly out of nowhere I felt a lump rising in my throat.
Oh for the love of god, Laura, enough with the crying already!
I guess it was fitting. With all the emotional ups and downs of the past 5 days it just seemed inevitable that I would end the hike with at least a few more tears. But this time it wasn’t fear or self-doubt causing me to choke up. It was pride and relief. It was realising that I had done something that 5 days ago I didn’t know if I could do.
That last day on the trail I felt so good, and part of me wasn’t ready for it to be over. You’d think, with how challenging it had been for me, that I’d be so ready to get the hell out of there. But I wasn’t. It was like things were going in reverse. Instead of getting increasingly sore and tired, I was feeling stronger than I had on day one. I was getting my trail legs and I wanted to keep going.
I also wanted a shower.
So I can’t say there wasn’t at least a small part of me that was ready to get back to civilization.
When the train arrived, we climbed on board one of the designated “hiker cars,” where they sequester the dirty, smelly hikers, keeping us from offending the senses of the freshly-bathed tourists in the other cars. After five minutes, it was obvious that this was a complete necessity. I could hardly stand the stench, and I was one of the dirty, smelly hikers! That shower was looking better by the minute.
Views from the train
Arriving in Skagway, 2.5 hours after leaving Bennett, we made our way back to the cabin we had rented. I peeled off the layers of 5-day-old clothes I was wearing and had the most amazing, wonderful, refreshing shower that I have ever had in my life.
And then it was time to eat. When we asked for restaurant recommendations from our hosts they asked what type of food we were in the mood for. My only request was that it not be rehydrated and come in a bag. They suggested the Skagway Brewing Co. where we celebrated our accomplishment with their signature Spruce Tip Blonde Ale (delicious) and huge burgers (also delicious).
With all the research I had done prior to the trip I thought I had a pretty good idea of what we were in for. But I was so wrong. If I had known what it would really be like for me, especially the part where I was hanging off the side of a mountain having a panic attack, I would have talked myself out of it. I would have told myself that I wasn’t capable, that I didn’t have the physical or emotional strength to get through it. I would have planned a different trip or found something else to do in Alaska.
But I’m so glad it didn’t turn out that way.
The Chilkoot Trail challenged me physically, mentally, and emotionally every single day. It forced me to redefine my perceived limits. And what a shame it would have been, if I had robbed myself of that opportunity.
Day 5 Trail Stats:
Date: August 13, 2016
Trail Section: Bare Loon Lake to Bennett
Total Distance: 6.4 km/4 miles
Total Time: 2 hrs; 8:25 am to 10:35 am
If you are interested in hiking the Chilkoot Trail yourself, check out my resources page, where you’ll find links and information to help plan your trip.
Or, check out my ebook – the complete guide to hiking the trail.