When I finally finished writing about my Pacific Crest Trail adventure in my book The Last Englishman, I received the first of many emails. The title was straight to the point.
What the Hell Happened to Pockets?!
Confused, I re-read the last couple of chapters and suddenly realised I’d left my hiking buddy in the middle of nowhere, both narratively and geographically.
The emails kept coming. Now, six years after writing the book, and hundreds of emails later, I figured I’d better do something about it!
I last I heard from Pockets was as I prepared to leave Stehekin, the last trail town before the Canadian border. I was finishing off the Washington stretch with Trooper, and we had to leave quickly to beat an imminent storm.
Pockets was in a motel in Chelan, on the other side of Lake Chelan, waiting to get a ferry.
That’s the last I wrote about him. Until now. . .
Pockets – Doing what he does best. See his photos HERE
A revised edition of The Last Englishman is due to hit the virtual book shelves this October. Pockets kindly told me all about what happened to him from Chelan, and indeed after his thru-hike (where he nearly died from an illness picked up on the trail). I’ve compiled all this into a new, final chapter for the book that will be included in the new edition.
Feel free to read it below.
If you’d rather squidge on the sofa, snuggled up with Pockets, then download this short chapter to your preferred device to read at your leisure. Just click for a download link here:
Or, read the last chapter here:
What the Hell Happened to Rockets?
It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us.
After I wrote this book, I realised that I’d overlooked something important. A month after publication I received the first of hundreds of emails asking the same question. The subject line varied but went something like this:
What the hell happened to Rockets?
Initially it confused me, but when I read the last chapters, I realised I’d left him stranded in the middle of nowhere – both narratively and geographically.
The emails kept coming until, finally, I decided to write an extra chapter. I’ll now hand you over to the man himself to fill you in.
I took a bus to Chelan, on the southern edge of Lake Chelan, where a ferry service ran to Stehekin. I arrived late, resupplied, and got a room for the night. The weather reports forecast severe storms and the local rangers suggested I’d be foolish to carry on. In particular, the higher elevations between 6,500 and 7,100 feet would get hit hard.
Well, as I always say, you can’t keep Pockets down!
I knew I could make it. Having honed my winter skills over several years, I was confident and never contemplated quitting. I had just 70 miles to finish the trail and become a PCT thru-hiker. Dropping out never entered my mind.
The ferry dropped me off in Stehekin the following morning, and I was hiking by 11am. A few miles in and I hit snow. Although I’d expected this, I wasn’t looking forward to the harsher conditions, but snow did have one advantage: I found what looked like Fozzie’s footprints, and what I guessed were Trooper’s as well. Those prints guided me, spurring me on. Alas, fresh snowfall had covered them by the time I hit Rainy Pass.
I took a break under a restroom awning, figuring out my next move while eating a snack. Everything above me was white, and the conditions were worsening. I watched two guys on snowshoes approach.
“You hiking the PCT?” one said.
“Yup,” I replied. “What’s it like up there?”
“Brutal,” the other said. “You shouldn’t carry on, there’s way too much snow.”
“I haven’t hiked 2,579 miles to quit now. Did you see any footprints? Any other thru-hikers?”
“No, there’s nobody up there,” came the adamant reply. “No prints, fresh snow, and it’s still falling.”
I trudged on through wet, heavy snow for a further two hours, covering just two miles, way off my normal pace. It was cold, and I needed to warm up. I found a flat spot, cleared the snow and pitched my tent, then crawled inside my bag until slowly my core temperature rose.
I got up at five the following morning. It was darker than a tunnel, and the chill hit me after a warm night in my bag. I packed my gear away, turned on my head torch and peered out. Sparkles of snow cascaded down. A fierce wind howled, ripping across the mountains. The storm had arrived.
It took six long, difficult days to reach the northern terminus. Under normal circumstances it would need a mammoth effort, and my condition was far from normal – I was sick and deteriorating, but I had to finish. What’s the point of getting off trail a few days before finishing? It made no sense. Just six days, six more days.
Sometimes I managed no more than a mile every hour because of the snow. At the end of that hour, exhausted, I had to stop, pull out my ground cloth to sit on, and rest. I sobbed more times than I care to admit. I cried at the pain and battled the desire to quit; but, after I reached halfway, I had the same distance ahead as behind, which made the decision to push on easy. I’d never hiked in harsher conditions, and probably won’t again.
Perhaps in reward, the conditions improved as, finally, I descended to monument 78, the northern terminus of the PCT, and the end of my thru-hike. I collapsed in a heap of exhausted emotions, my body hurting so much because I’d asked too much of it. As far as I know, I was the last thru-hiker that year.
The last American!
After the PCT, I lived in Washington DC for a brief time but grew sick of city life. Months in the woods teach you that cities are not nice places to be. DC was claustrophobic, noisy, and smelly. Everyone thought I was weird because I didn’t have a high-powered job and my beard was too big. If those around me judged me by my beard, then it was time to leave. I needed to return to the outdoors, or at least find somewhere to live near it.
I flipped a quarter; heads Idaho, tails Washington State. I packed my car and a few days later landed in Victor, Idaho, right on the backside of the incredible Teton mountain range. The first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it: towering rock pillars screaming from the plains below, talk about making a show!
It felt like home, the fresh start I needed, but then my symptoms returned. I kept losing fluids and masses of blood, and I didn’t know why. I decided to sit it out for a few months in the foolish hope it would sort itself. It didn’t. I got weaker until I couldn’t stand for more than a couple of seconds without passing out. My weight plummeted to 130 pounds.
One day I managed to go out, and bumped into a friend. She looked at me in disbelief. Stubborn to a fault, I refused to acknowledge my condition, despite my clothes hanging off my stringy frame. She screamed at me to see a doctor, and, aware of my stubbornness, she then called my parents.
Next thing I knew my mom arrived in Idaho and drove me to Michigan to get help. I think if I’d left it any longer I would’ve died.
The hospital admitted me straight away. I thought of asking how bad things were, but the look on the doctor’s face told me everything. They kept me in for a month running test after test. Eventually they diagnosed severe / extreme ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the colon and the rectum. Since then, I’ve had multiple flare-ups and hospitalisations, but have been in remission for over a year. I have an infusion of Remicade every six weeks, which controls it, but I’m battling the insurance company who want to drop me. The treatment costs $14,000 every time.
Now I’m back in Victor, Idaho. It’s 25 miles from where I work as a photographic guide and instructor in the Grand Teton National Park; I also work in Yellowstone National Park, and all over the world specialising in wildlife and landscape. My skills as a professional photographer are still in demand by many news sources, magazines, books, and companies.
I have a wonderful and supportive girlfriend, Kristi, and a daughter, Emerson, born three years ago. She’s a new and beautiful challenge in my life. We live in the country with stunning views of the Teton Range.
Am I done hiking? Heck no! I’ve finished the AT and the PCT, and I plan on getting my Triple Crown by doing the CDT as well.
You can’t keep Pockets down!