Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

One Thousand Miles
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July 12, 2000

On July 7, day 61 on the PCT, we crossed over a steel bridge on the West Fork West Walker River Trail and continued several miles to Kennedy Canyon. This was just another small stretch in a 13-hour hiking day, but over the course of it we reached an important landmark on our summer quest: one thousand trail miles, Campo to Kennedy Canyon.

Now granted, 1,000 miles does not signify even half of our trek, but it does have a nice ring to it, and it does entitle me to many trail renditions of the Proclaimers' "But I would walk 500 miles. . . ."

Joy on the Trail
When you spend virtually all day, every day, on a 16-inch-wide dirt path, the things that bring you satisfaction and pleasant surprise are a little different than in the civilized world. Here are some of the highlights of my days on the trail and in town. These are some of the little things that bring moments of joy. There are, of course, also greater rewards—spectacular scenery, the sense of near peak physical condition, unspoiled wilderness, and memories of a lifetime shared with Angela, but for now I'd like to stick with the minutiae.

Cutting an unnecessary switchback: Yes, I know that cutting switchbacks violates trail ethics. Switchback cuts can cause erosion, and thus more work for trail maintenance personnel. But there are some occasions when the trail makes exceptionally lazy switchbacks and the ground in between is not easily eroded (for example, a slab of granite). At these times choosing the direct route feels really good. Sure, I get an itch of guilt, but the fact is that the PCT is a 2,600-mile trail that only covers a north-south distance of approximately 900 miles. There is both a psychological and physical incentive for cutting the occasional corner.

The fortuitously missed landmark: We often hike with minor goals set for ourselves. Two and a third miles to the pipe gate, or 3.5 to the seasonal creekbed ford, or something like that. Every so often, we have unwittingly cruised by these landmarks (pipe gates and seasonal creekbeds are quite common along some sections of trail). To discover this neglect in observation some distance down the trail is cause for celebration. "Look at this, Angela, we've done an extra 0.8 since the seasonal creek!!"

The Komperdell Collapse: This is the name I have given to my trail rest position. Legs splayed wide apart and bent nearly 90 degrees at the waist, the collapse depends on bracing with my Komperdell trekking poles. A well-executed Komperdell Collapse takes the pressure of my pack off my shoulders and hips and rejuvenates my hiking will. (And it allows me to speak to Angela at eye level.)

The easy campsite: Finding a nice, flat, soft campsite, especially if it is away from an established locale, just fills me with joy. And if the soil is rich yet firm, without sand, rocks and roots, and the tent stakes push in securely without the use of brute force, well, then I am just about in heaven.

Getting to the high point: The phrase "It's all downhill from here" has never entered my mind with such relief as when we reach the day's high point in elevation. Often this moment has been preceded by several hours of sweat, huffs, puffs, and mindless trudge. Sometimes we have been too tired to fully appreciate the view from the apex, but we are never too tired to appreciate our downhill destiny.

Jon Miller: Within the last couple hundred miles, when we elevate high enough, we have reached the range of KNBR ("The Sports Leader") and the voice of the San Francisco Giants, Jon Miller. Nothing makes the tough evening miles pass quickly like listening to Jon play-by-play the Giants—especially if they are sweeping a doubleheader from the hated Colorado Rockies (as they did on July 4th).

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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