Pacific Crest Trail - Tales of a Through-Hiker

 

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By Meg Atteberry

Meg is a freelance writer, photographer, climber and she-mountaineer. You can find her scrambling up a challenging peak, working on her sport climbing game and spending time outside with loved ones. As a life-long explorer, she’s committed to empowering others to get out there and have an adventure. She’d rather be dirty than done up. To learn more about Meg, check out her website.
 

My body surged with excitement, it was hour 18 of the three-day drive and I couldn’t wait to meet my friend, Callie and hear about all of their adventures along the Pacific Crest Trail. As I climbed higher and higher up towards Sonora Pass (9,623 feet) I thought about what it must feel like to walk here from Campo, California (over 1,000 miles). Here’s a glimpse into the life of a solo thru-hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail.

 

 

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Meet Callie AKA Bookworm

Callie (trail name Bookworm) is a queer, non-binary (uses they/their pronouns) wilderness aficionado. Like their Instagram handle indicates (@calliehikes), Callie loves to hike. This past March, Callie embarked on a six-month journey along the Pacific Crest Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail or PCT is a winding, long-distance thru-hike that makes its way 2,659 miles from the US-Mexican border all the way to Canada.

 

Like all modern outdoor friendships, Callie and I met on Instagram. We both had a passion for the outdoors and agreed to go on a small hike to feel out each other’s skill levels. Since then we’ve spent time chasing unknown peaks in Colorado, winding our way through slot canyons in Utah and suffering up high alpine passes simply for the fun of it. When I found out Callie was going to take on the PCT, I knew that I had to be a part of their journey.

 

 

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Why the Long Trail?

Callie was inspired to hike the PCT because they simply couldn’t stay still. After spending a little over two years living in Denver, Callie needed a change of scenery and what better way to do that than to sign up for a six-month hike-a-thon through the pristine wilderness of California, Oregon and Washington.

 

Unlike the typical stories you hear about long-distance hikers, Callie wasn’t interested in a transformative experience. They weren’t out “to find themselves” or “slay the trail.” Callie simply lives to be out in nature exploring. When they first set out, Callie informed me that it wasn’t about making it to Canada, but about exploring the natural beauty of the West Coast one step at a time.

 

 

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It’s All About the Food

The first thing I learned about trail life are the eats. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, since most wilderness enthusiasts get excited about that post-adventure feast, but thru-hiking brews up a fierce hunger.

 

When Callie and I were finally reunited after 18 hours on the road, the first thing I was offered was a chocolate chip cookie from a trial angel (someone who takes care of thru-hikers free of charge). For three days out of the year, this trail angel hauls up a smorgasbord of food to the Sonora Pass Trail Junction and gives out free tasty treats to hikers.

 

Almost every story I heard about the PCT involved food and how there wasn’t enough. Here’s the thing about backpacking, you burn upwards of 6,000 calories a day, but it is only feasible to take 2,000 calories of food per day, since you need to carry around five days of food at a time. This means you’re constantly underfeeding yourself. When I picked up Callie on Sonora Pass, about 1,016 miles into the trail, it was obvious that Callie had lost weight, but still looked healthy and happy.

 

Have You Thought About Your Vehicle?

Imagine for a moment that you’re deep in the wilderness. You’re running low on food and you need to resupply. First, you’ll need to leave the PCT and hike out to a road, sometimes this walk can be tens of miles long.

 

Now you’ve arrived near the road, you’re surrounded by cars, something that you haven’t seen days. Although you’ve made it to the trailhead, your journey is far from over. It’s another 20 miles to the nearest town and you have to hope that a friendly day hiker will give you a ride.

 

Hopefully, you don’t encounter any strange behavior on your ride into town (about 20% of all hitched rides involve someone who is not sober, grabby or plain rude). Once you’re in town, you hope to find a hiker-friendly establishment that sells resupply food. This usually involves using a public bus (if you’re lucky) or walking several miles to the nearest grocer. By this point, your trip is still only half complete, you need to catch a ride back to the trailhead. I bet you’ll never take your Subaru for granted ever again.

 

“It Feels as if This is the First Day I’m Out Here, but I’ve Been Doing This My Whole Life”

Listening to Callie tell tales of 11-miles of post holing across a slushy pass or accidentally catching a ride with someone who was high on drugs I often thought, could I ever endure a situation like that? In short, I don’t believe I have what it takes, but Callie reminded me that when you’re in a tough situation, you have no other choice but to see it through to the other side.

 

Despite the inevitable sketchy situation, there is no better way to truly experience a landscape than to walk through it. Each transition from the low-lying deserts to snowy mountain passes happen slowly. The day-to-day experience on the trail, the community that it brings and strikingly beautiful landscape keep Callie moving forward.

 

Callie often feels as if they are skirting two realities, one of the wild and one of civilization. When in the wild, life exists in rhythm sleeping and rising with the sun, losing track of the dates and other various constructs of human society. You simply wake up and walk. The towns bring sets of unknown rhythms and rules not found in nature. However, when Callie returns to the trail, it feels like it’s the first day they are out there, but they have been walking their whole life.

 

Overall, the Pacific Crest Trail is a simple yet complicated space. Schedules revolve around food and re-supply stations. You are forced to rely on the goodwill of others. The trail reveals places that the average weekend warrior can’t access. Callie thrives on the thru-hiker lifestyle. Their journey towards Canada is full of beauty and challenge around every bend.


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