Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

Bob Riess, Trail Angel

In 1999 Bob hosted 15 hikers. This year, he was already up to 30 by the time we arrived and more were on the way. We had stayed up too late that last Saturday night in the City of Brotherly Love, and the sunrise found me frantically fighting nerves, nausea, and packing panic. On the plane, I realized I'd left laundry in both the washing machine and dryer, forgotten my two books of postcard stamps in my wallet, and misplaced the first chapter of my one luxury item—a sliced and diced copy of Irving Stone's "The Agony and the Ecstasy," which my mother gave me years ago and I just hadn't found time to read. (Mom, you'll have to tell me what happens in the first 62 pages.) I also realized that before I could lace up my Merrells I needed to catch up on H2O, unpack and repack the my Shasta at least twice, and maybe just maybe take a moment to reflect on what this thruhike is really all about.

Spending the day with Bob, talkin' trail, finally gave me a chance to focus and begin thinking like a thruhiker. Over dinner at Jack in the Box and a soak in the hot tub, Bob regaled us with stories about the many trekkers he's met and heard about.

There was Doug with the 60-pound pack including a cell phone, GPS, and 6lb bullet-proof rubberized laptop that can supposedly survive a 6-foot drop onto concrete—let alone crossfire. We met Doug at Lake Morena our first night out. He was resting a bum knee and sending home the super computer.

Peter's story was more inspiring. Sixtysomething, Peter has had Parkinson's disease for at least 15 years. Over time, the efficacy of his medicine has diminished and will continue to do so. To give the drug more longevity, he's only taking it twice a day. This allows him an hour and a half in the morning to break camp, put on his pack, and get going before the tremors start, and later an hour and a half to set up camp, cook, and get to bed. Recently we heard from Meadow Ed (another trail angel who fed us pizza and hot chocolate at Kamp Anza, a three-day hike from Julian) that Peter has completed 212 miles of the PCT, reaching Cabazon, California.

After the pizza was eaten and the stories were swapped, scratching his beard and peering over his spectacles, Meadow Ed got serious. "You'll cry," he said. He motioned to Duffy pitching our tent in the yard of Pat and Paul's Hikers' Oasis at Kamp Anza. "He'll cry too." Now with 144 miles under my heels, I believe him, and I'm frightened and anxious to move on at the same time.


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