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REFLECTIONS OF MY PCT ADVENTURE OF 2023


Sketch by Jack


My 23 year old son and I set out last April to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. From Mexico we hiked 700 miles north, then entered the Sierra Nevada Range. After eight days of crazy conditions a record snow year brought, we decided to skip ahead and hitched a ride 550 miles north to Chester, California. We continued northward about 1,400 miles to Canada and then returned back to the Sierra where conditions had improved, and finished the section we previously skipped.


Thanks go out to my dear wife, Cindy, for supporting Jack and me. Always encouraging, never doubting, holding down the fort, paying all the bills, and watering my bonsai. Thank you for putting all those re-supply packages together, sending them off to the next post office, making reservations and most of all thank you for being you.


Below are three photos of the beautiful day in 2023 where Jack and I began our journey. April 25th, was a monumental day for me as it was my 60th birthday and I had envisioned this day for a long time. Some 33 years prior, at age 60 my dad suddenly died and left me with pain and unfinished business to sort out. I would choose and get the opportunity to do it differently, to bring in the 60's with a plan, live life with intent, to bite the dog that bit me, and to set the trajectory of my life for years to come..... and, to top it off, a month before leaving, my son asked if he could join me. Jack would be with me, we would hike the trail together, father and son.



 

Fast forward five months and Jack and I were at the Canadian border, 2,650 miles from where we began. We still had to return to the Sierra and hike the section we skipped, but this was special because we made it to Canada. The buzz and excitement was palatable. Many of us touched the Northern Terminus that bluebird September afternoon, just as we had pictured doing so for months. We did it. We were there, and together we congratulated each other and celebrated.





Jack and I hitched a few rides to I-5 where Cindy picked us up and drove us to Portland. After two nights in a warm, comfortable bed, Jack and I drove to the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Range and began hiking the last 550 miles northbound that we had skipped in June.


 

STATS


19 pairs of socks - Jack and I went though

11 pairs of shoes - Jack 4, Troy 7

44.2 total pounds lost - Jack 14, Troy 30.2

23% - estimated PCTers that finish the trail in an average year

2,800 - 2,900 estimated miles hiked including off trail

11 - rattle snakes

4 - rattle snakes rattleled at us

1 - stepped over a rattle snake by accident

6 - bears including one cute cub

3 - close encounters with bears

Billions - deer

Gazillions - lizards

7,500 - estimated photos taken by Troy

13,000 - estimated photos taken by Jack

57 lbs - Jack's heaviest pack weight entering the Sierra wIth winter gear and food for nine days

47 lbs - Troy's heaviest pack weight

2 lbs - average weight of food for one day

2.2 lbs - weight of one liter of water

14,505' - highest elevation , Mt Whitney, California

151' - lowest elevation, Cascade Locks, Oregon

1 - too many questionable decisions made, but lived to tell about them

20 hours - record of consuming a 26oz jar of Nutella

9 days - longest period of Troy not taking a shower

 Unknown (or don't want to know) - Longest period of Jack not taking a shower

Countless - 26 oz jars of Nutella eaten


 

OTHER NOTABLE MOMENTS


Best decision - exiting the Sierra after eight days of difficult ice, snow, and swift river crossings.

Biggest Physical Challenge - eight days in the Sierra during a record snow year.

Biggest mental Challenge - five days of cold drizzly rain in Northern Washington when the herd had thinned, not knowing when the rain would stop, and we were on our own.

Scariest moment (s) - Jack watching his dad cross any river on a log.

Troy's scariest moment - being in a place I should not have been, traversing a steep, slushy slope, with poor footing and high exposure.

Biggest adrenaline rush - glassading down a snow chute where there once was 99 switchbacks (exiting Mt Whitney)

Best toilet paper - green moss hanging from Northern Washington trees.


 

THE BEAUTIFUL










 

THE DIRTY



 

SELFIES


The top left photo was taken about a week into the trail, and the bottom right five months later.


 

We have been home for about four months now. I miss the trail life, the challenges, the excitement, the people, and solitude. I miss hiking with Jack. Jack doesn't miss it as much. He is happy to eat "normal food" and sleep in a bed. I think about the trail every single day. And am envious of those that will be on the trail within a few months for the 2024 season. The simplicity of the trail is captivating. You walk, eat, drink, sleep, then do it all again the next day.


 

CRAZY



Back in the Sierra, Jack and I crossed paths with trail buddy, Larry, whom we had spent a fair amount of time hiking northbound in Oregon. He was finishing his adventure and heading home. Larry blurted out "you know we are crazy don't you?" We shook hands, swapped some stories, laughed, congratulated each other and said goodbye. Jack and I continued north, up to the 13,200' Forester Pass where we met a sparkling clean weekender going south who was curious about our story, notably our unkempt hair, soiled clothes, and dirty packs. After a few minutes he said "you guys are crazy!" Before leaving for the trail I heard statements like that often, but on Forester Pass, for the first time, I realized there was some truth in what Larry and the weekender said. You have to be a little off center to put your house on your back and be nomadic for six months, not to mention the physical challenges.


 

People ask us if encounters with wildlife and bears scared us. Black bears are no problem, no big deal. Rattle snakes are a little more concerning when they rattle (just ask "Venom" who was airlifted out). What frightened me the most were encounters with dogs that were not on leashes.



It wasn't easy and at times I wondered what the heck I was doing. The blazing hot week in Northern California, the record snow in the Sierra, fording ice cold rivers, passing by wildfires, the five straight days of rain in Washington. Wearing the same dirty clothes and socks that I had worn the previous 5-9 days, 24/7. Rolling off my sleeping mat in the cold dark mornings, to put on dirty, sometimes wet, or worse yet, frozen shoes, digging cat holes to poop in, opening up a plastic container of cold-soaked oatmeal morning after morning. All of it was nothing short of spectacular and I wouldn't trade one mile for anything. It was that fun. It was that epic.


 

BIGGEST IMPACT


The biggest impact occurred months after I met "Oklahomie", a Southbounder, in Cascade Locks, Oregon. It was a two part sequence of events that opened my eyes and changed me. "Okalahomie" (below) had just finished the very difficult 750 mile Oregon Desert Trail and I was impressed. As he got into a Trail Angel's truck, I shouted out that he was my "hero" for being one of only two to date in 2023 that had completed the ODC. Months later we crossed paths again in the Sierra as he was still heading south and we were northbound with about 350 miles to go. We recognized each other immediately and I blurted out a hearty "Oklahomie! My hero!" He stopped, gave me a serious look directly in my eyes, gave me a fist bump and said, "No, you are my hero. Well done, Dad. I can only hope my son will do something like this with me when he grows up." Then he looked at Jack with the same intensity and said "Way to go, Son." That spoke deep into my heart. It was a special moment that I will never forget. After 2,000 and something miles, Oklahomie's comment seemed to slice through everything and summarize why I was on the trail. The second part to the "biggest impact" happened only a short time later. I had been feeling a subtle nudge that I would encounter a bear. At that time, in my mind I heard a gentle voice say "look to your left". I looked. Again I heard "look to your left". I looked more intensely and again, with a stronger voice I heard, "Your left! Look to your left!". This went on for several minutes and I never saw the bear. Why wouldn't I see the bear that I felt was surely being put before me? Time passed and I realized I had not been looking to my left, but I had been scanning the landscape to my right...I had been looking in the wrong place. I was looking to the right and not my left. Then it came to me... I have been looking in the wrong place for much of my life, with too much intensity, wanting something big to happen, an "end result", but God's simple pleasures in life have always been there, right in front of me, I've just been looking in the wrong places. The pleasures of life, the gifts from God, are not in the big things or events, but small moments, all over the place, every single day, right in front of me. I only have to be looking in the right place.



 

SIMPLE PLEASURES WITH PEOPLE


Below is a sample of a few "simple pleasures" we experienced during the first 600 miles on the trail.

Trail Angels are kind, curious, helpful, and giving people. They were a wonderful part of the PCT experience and gave me continued faith in humanity.

Two women from San Diego showed Jack and I how to smell the sweet "maple syrup" bark on the pine trees in Southern California. We smelled a lot of bark north of there.


"Mike's Place" - we never met Mike (below), but he opened his place to PCTers and created a communal hiker haven, including three towers of water in the desert.



A jovial Cory and Jim (below) approached us late Sunday evening when we were eating In and Out burgers. It had been a long day coming off San Jacinto, hitting the desert floor, and hitching a ride into town for a re-supply. We were exhausted and didn't know how we were going to get back to the trailhead that evening. Corey and Jim were more than happy to give us a ride 20 minutes in the opposite direction they were traveling. They made us laugh. They were fun, friendly and kind. Corey and Jim most likely never knew that they made our day.



We met Tina (below) on the John Muir Trail in 2017. Tina and her dog, Topo, came in from LA and brought us lunch and goodies, hiked with us into town, drove us to In-and-Out, brought us supplies and a new pair of shoes!



Meeting Trail Angels "Nope" and "Detour" at the Walker Pass campground (below). I can still hear their infectious, hearty, laughs while serving drinks and weed to a group of drenched PCTers. "Nope" laughed at everything, then "Detour", enjoying the carefree moment with his new found friend, laughed along with him. "Detour" has started the trail many times but hasn't made it past go... hence his is trail name.



The friendly, hesitant, new Trail Angel, Sheila, slowly approaching us at the side of the road in her sparkling clean Mercedes while we were walking to town in the rain, asking if we needed a ride. After hopping in her car she noticed a small infected cut on my hand and pulled out a tube of Neosporin for me to take on the trail.


My college buddy Steve, that moved to LA 30ish years ago. Steve met us at Hiker Town, brought us some supplies and served us drinks, fresh vegetables, and huge steaks that he grilled up on his Hibachi (below).



 

FACES - FRIENDS - TRAMILY


Here are some of the faces and people we met along the way. I'm so happy we took lots of photos, but wish we would have taken even more photos of people, friends, tramily, Trail Angels.











 

MOST MEMORABLE DAYS


Meeting my wife and daughter in Southern Oregon for the first time since we began the trail. Cindy was quick to help coordinate food drops, arrange lodging, was flexible and patient with an unknown schedule and two stinky hikers.


PCT Days in Cascade Locks, Oregon where PCTers convene in the small town on the Columbia River for two days, to catch up, re-supply, repair gear and eat.


Reaching the Northern Terminus on the Canadian border. For most, this was the end of the trail. Jack and I headed back to the Sierra to finish the remaining 550 miles. By far, the majority of hikers skipped the treacherous pass covered in snow and ice, and avoided the high and swift run-off of melted snow. In a normal year 23% of those who begin the trail, walk the entire trail. I wouldn't doubt if this year, the completion rate was around 15%.


Hiking at night to reach the rim of Crater Lake and continuing to Watchman's Tower to view the display of stars and waking up hours later to the sun rising above the east rim over the massive lake.


Putting frozen shoes on our feet at 2AM and beginning the exit out of the Sierra after eight days in treacherous conditions, fording rivers, hiking through miles of suncups and steep grades, before ascending the 14,505' Mt Whitney. Then glissading a steep 1,200', descending another 10 miles, and hitching a ride into Lone Pine. That week was brutal, the toughest physical and mentally challenging week I have ever had (evidenced by the photo below and no, I wasn't crying, it was that brutal).




Arriving at the iconic Timberline Lodge and having the best breakfast on the trail with my wife, daughter, parents, adopted parents, Jack and Jack's friend.


On October 22nd, after hiking 2,900ish miles, Jack and I had another 15 or so miles to Chester, CA. Reaching Chester would complete the entire Pacific Crest Trail; what we set out to do six months prior. Feeling accomplished, but terribly sad that the adventure & time with my son was coming to an end.


 

TRAIL NAMES


"No Filter" - said what was on his mind

"Growler" - constant need for food

"Slim Jim" - he ate Slim Jims

"Jersey Boy" - you know who you are

"Snake Charmer" - scared by 4 snakes on the 1st day

"Splinter" - got a splinter in his bum from a bench

"Trip" - he tripped

"Smiles Before Miles" - enjoyed the ride

"Monkey" - she was a goat

"Big Smiles" - she had lots of big smiles

"Larry" - his name was "Larry"

"Turtle" - couldn't get up after falling w/backpack on

"Slappy Cakes" - we didn't care for his old name "Slap Happy"

"Nope" - his usual response

"Island Time" - she had her own schedule

"Bubbles", "Giggles, "Bones", "Pac-Man", "Ranger", "Mac", "Rood", "True Grit", "Mac", "Post Holone".

Troy's trail name - "Jack's Dad"

Jack's trail name - "Manamana" (see below)

  


My favorite trial name was "Coney". Coney told us a story one evening while waiting out a snow storm at the Vamillion Valley Ranch with a few too many drinks. He told us how several years ago he hiked the John Muir Trail. After finishing the JMT he felt something wasn't quite right so he went to his doctor. His Doctor told him to bend over, and then proceeded to pull out a large pine cone sliver from where the sun doesn't shine. On the trail you use what you can for toilet paper and on one of Coney's breaks he used a pine cone and ended up taking part of that pine cone with him.... all the way to his doctor's office.



 

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA









 

SIERRA NEVADA RANGE

BEFORE THE MELT - JUNE









SIERRA NEVADA RANGE

AFTER THE MELT - OCTOBER




 

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA








 

OREGON











 

WASHINGTON








 

LAST MILE OF THE TRAIL - CHESTER CALIFORNIA




The end of the trail was a little anticlimactic and without fanfair, but it felt great to cross the finish line and know we had the time of our lives.


Thank you all for hiking with Jack and me on our journey. If you have the hiking bug, or want to know more about the PCT, make sure to give us a call and we can dream with you, maybe help answer some questions, or even become your Trail Angel.

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