Do Your Best on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails
“I’m 65 and can’t do the whole thing,” a lady recently responded on my Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) blog. Point well taken. Although I met a man on the PCT whose trail name was ‘Two Weeks and Three Days’. When he had retired as a civil servant that spring, he had announced to (rather than discussed with) his wife that he would now be thru-hiking the 2,663 mile PCT from Mexico to Canada. His wife, who had never even heard of this national scenic trail, was dumbfounded.
She began calling all of her friends and ridiculing her husband’s plans–“I’m telling you. Mark my words, he will be back here in two weeks and three days.” Thus, he picked up his trail name. Well, ‘Two Weeks and Three Days’ passed me one morning in the desert about 7:00. I never saw him again. But I did see his name in alot of the trail registers, all the way to Canada, although he kept getting further and further ahead of me. It took me 168 days to arrive in Canada and I lost 43 pounds. He did it in significantly less, although he was out there alot more than two weeks and three days.
The point is that there are all sorts of overachievers out there on our national scenic trails. And a person does not have to do the entire trail to have a game-changing journey. A group of 10 married, middle-aged women named the Mountain Marchin’ Mamas set off in 1978 to do 100 miles per year on the Appalachian Trail. In 1999, after 21 years of consecutive section hikes, nine of the ten ladies arrived at Mount Katahdin in northern Maine, having done every step of the Appalachian Trail.
Many people have read Wild–From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. It has captured peoples’ imaginations for many reasons, not the least because she was such an underdog, going out at age 26 after the death of her mother and divorce with a man she still loved, and fighting heroin addiction. She was alone most of her trek, and not very well prepared. She did not attempt to do the entire trail, but did decide to walk from the southern California desert all the way to the Columbia River, dividing Oregon and Washington. Along the way, she was able to dig deep and discover the very ground of her being. What a great story.
I have been pleasantly surprised at the sales of my two books, Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail and Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. I had never even spent the night outside before attempting to thru-hike the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail in 2005. Many have remarked on just how unprepared I was (see Amazon book reviews); others have even halfway joked that the books are as much about what NOT to do, as what to do. But that’s important also! Because so many hiking narratives are written by experts for other experts, I wanted to tell a story of someone who was anything but an expert. But I can honestly say I did my very best. I lost 33 pounds on the AT and 43 pounds on the PCT. Yes, I did my best. And you can too, whatever section you carve out for yourself.
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, as well as Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. His latest book is The Best way–El Camino de Santiago. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.