A Blistered Kind of Love

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In 2000, GORP followed the trial by trail of two Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers, Duffy Ballard and Angela Walker. Well, they not only made it, but they also got hitched and wrote a book about their 2,655 miles of PCT together time. In celebration of love (and a sense of humor) over adversity, we bring you an exclusive four-part series from A Blistered Kind of Love , published by The Mountaineers Books.

ONE EVENING IN THE FALL OF 1998, while flipping through a popular men's "lifestyle" magazine, I came across a headline that captivated and taunted me—Be a Man of the World: The 10 Adventures of a Lifetime. The list included a voracious bite of everything macho—mountains and motorcycles, Cadillacs and kayaks, animals and air travel. The writer dared me to carry out one of these adventures and overcome years of pathetic suburban impotence. The challenge struck a cord. It was bad enough to be a prematurely balding and single twenty-something, but to be further mocked by a magazine that I depended on to unlock the secrets of female pheromones was too much.

"Dude," I thought to myself, "you can do this . . . just throw down a strong cojones elixir and scamper right up to the peak of K2. Or kayak your lazy ass down the 2,750-mile Mekong River in China. Or get your manliness in gear with a little help from man's best friend by dog-sledding 150 miles to the North Pole."

I pondered these options one by one. I'd recently read Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer, and a quick review of the story convinced me that I wanted no part of a 29,000-foot peak—especially not one described as "a mountaineer's mountain . . . high, technical, mean." And while I'd done some kayaking in the past, I recalled that it hadn't taken much more than a portly dragonfly to tip over my kayak. This sort of boating résumé didn't exactly qualify me to be the first ever to conquer the Mekong "from source to sea." How about dog-sledding? I sure did like dogs—but I didn't like the idea of minus twenty degree temperatures and a landscape so glaringly white that I couldn't remove my glacier goggles.

There was one choice, however, that maybe wasn't so impossible: hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. That might be feasible for a mere mortal. It sounded easy enough—strap on a backpack and put one foot in front of the other. After all, it was just walking.

A whole lot of walking; 2,655 miles of it, in fact. Some quick math indicated that this path to validating my Y chromosome would require hiking twenty miles a day for five months over some of the most isolated wilderness in the U.S. That sounded like a trip better suited to a descendant of Daniel Boone than someone actively invested in the amenities of modern life. Five months on the trail would require many sacrifices—twenty weeks without Direct TV, web surfing, or automated coffee makers. One hundred and fifty nights and none of them spent on the couch with chips, beer, and a ballgame. Over four hundred dried, dehydrated, and downright dour meals. Quite daunting, really.

Published: 29 Aug 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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