Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

PCT Brethren

May 22, 2000

Two weeks into our thru-hike it is still common for us to share campsites (or motels) with other hikers. This has been one of the many surprises that the PCT has provided. I expected a rather remote and lonely trail, in contrast to descriptions of the "party atmosphere" of its sister trail, the AT. And while many hours of the trekking day will go by without encountering other hikers, we have yet to go an entire day without seeing other PCTers. Certainly the frequency of our encounters will diminish as we get farther along and some drop out while discrepancies in pace spread out those who remain. As they do, I will miss the trail interactions, even though they are mostly brief, breathless affairs that follow a predictable script: "Thru-hiker?"


"When'd ya start?"

(This is an inevitable question with a poorly disguised competitve intent.)

"May 8th, and you?"

"May 11."Christ, I think, this guy sure is fast, he must be averaging 25 miles a day."Where are you guys from?"

"Philly, you?"

"Near Spokane. You could say that I am walking home. Why are you guys hiking the PCT? why not the AT since you're from the east?"

At this point we would launch into our well-practiced response: the AT is too crowded, we don't really care for summer humidity in the east, the Sierra range is incredibly beautiful, the PCT offers so many more open vistas.

From here the turns to itinerary lengths, water purification techniques, type and weight of stove, and other topics that a normal pedestrian would find numbingly esoteric.

There is a comfort in the routine, though—a validation of the trip and all the months of planning. It is gratifying to know that there are others out there who have considered the delicate pros and cons of carrying a water filter versus iodine for water treatment. And those who gain pleasure out of spending an afternoon trying to design an alcohol stove out of two soda cans.

After covering the set of basic issues, we will discuss the people and the stories of the trail. We might discuss Doug Gates and his 60-pound pack with laptop computer and his long layover at Lake Morena, 20 miles in. Or we might discuss the homeless guy who got on the trail at Warner Springs, without a backpack, food, or water and is wandering the trail to escape something, relying on the kindness of other hikers to survive. Marge's name might also come up—known as the "Old Gal," she is a hiker in her 70s whose recent fall and resulting ankle fracture in the San Jacinto Mountains left her immobile for two days waiting for help.

We probably will also discuss Ray Jardine, a name unfamiliar to those with no interest in long-distance hiking, but a pioneer of lightweight hiking in whose philosophy every self-respecting thru-hiker must be versed.

And, of course, people will mention the Pink Motel. It was Meadow Ed back at Kamp-Anza Kampground who initially mentioned it to us and encouraged us to mark it on our guidebook map. Meadow Ed had lots of nuggets of knowledge and insight to share—he absolutely loves to talk PCT. And he is not afraid to make predictions, either. This is something that we have encountered with a number of people with vastly more hiking experience than us. Meadow Ed somberly states that there is a lot of pain on the trail and that we will both shed tears before the trip is over. Karen Berger tells us that we will lose muscle mass in the upper body while we gain it in the legs—she even has us doing before-and-after bicep and quad measurements to prove it. Many people have told us that our feet will swell, busting out of our previously perfect fitting boots like hatching eggs. Many more people predict potentially rocky relations on the trail—"I really hope you two get along" they might say. Bob Reiss tells us that we will see rattlesnakes.

Well, Bob was right. We have seen rattlesnakes, three of them so far. As for the other predictions, we will have to wait and see. I enjoy the challenge of proving others wrong. I will make it a point to elevate my feet at night to keep them from swelling and do pack-ups (push ups with the pack on) to keep what there is of my upper body bulk. I will try very hard not to cry on the trail even if a bear eats our last Snickers bar, and even if I do break down, I don't plan on admitting to it later. And certainly, I am not going to let the circulating horror stories of relationships gone sour on the trail lessen my confidence in Angela and I.

With that said, it may be time to do the daily pack-up routine—fighting atrophy is a tough job.


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