PCT Washington: Following in Russ’s Footsteps... Literally
After following Russ’s PCT hike for months, I finally got a chance to get a little taste of the adventure by joining him for the final 500 miles. I consider this an honor because I get to cross the finish line with a man whom, based on his ability to stoically endure my company over the past 200 miles, has shown extraordinary powers of self control at par with those of a Shaolin Monk.
I started the hike by closely following him along the trail while belting out over and over:
“Russ just hiked 500 miles
And Russ will hike 500 more…”
To the tune of the 80s hit I’m Gonna Be by The Proclaimers. As Russ hiked along the trail, I'd track closely behind, switching from one side to the other to make sure I was getting his good ear. Unfortunately I was only able to keep this up for the first 15 minutes or so because Russ seemed to speed up enough to leave me too winded to sing.
Unable to sing I was left alone with my thoughts. I was feeling pretty good as we progressed along the trail and for a few moments I found myself almost skipping about like I did when I was a kid. I wondered whether anyone had attempted to set a PCT hike world record on anything other than speed. Like skipping for the whole thing, for example. I could do that. I decided to pose the question to a group of hikers during one of our stops. Everyone had a story — there was the one about the guy who attempted to do it barefoot, the guy who wanted to do it with no outside support, and the guy who wanted to do the whole thing while walking backwards. Then this girl piped in, “I'm doing it without making an environmental impact,” she proclaimed proudly, “without leaving a trace.” Everyone was like, whoa, until I asked, “So what, you carrying your shit out? Is it in your pack? What do you do about the smell?” These were honest questions, but she seemed offended and just got up and walked away while saying something along the lines of “crude” or “asshole” or “crude asshole.”
The first couple hundred miles have exceeded my expectations in beauty and difficulty. Like a Whitman Sampler, the Washington portion of the PCT has plenty to offer to all hiker types — tough terrain, unparalleled beauty, and capricious weather.
We've been averaging 18 miles per day, with some days exceeding 20 miles on the promise of a hot meal. My feet have faired as well as can be expected after so much walking with a pack on my back. Blisters began to form by the second day and now there's hardly any surface left on them that does not cause me excruciating pain. My right pinky toe looks like it might fall off at any moment.
In terms of nutrition, I've followed Russ’s high carb diet with mixed results. While I've lost noticeable muscle mass about my shoulders, arms, chest, and legs, the girth about my torso has actually increased, leaving me in a shape that can only be described as an olive with toothpicks for arms and legs. Another negative side effect of nutrition is the subsequent digestion. That's because I cannot stand the thought of going to the bathroom in the woods, so the whole eating process has become an exercise akin to packing a musket. I know this probably makes me sound like a girl and that's totally ok. Not all guys relish at the thought of taking a dump in the woods, just like not all girls shy away from it. The other night I overheard a girl say that she had switched to wearing a skirt on the trail as it allows her to pee while standing up against a tree or drop a deuce — her words, not mine — by squatting on the spot.
As for speed, I'm still unable to keep up with Russ, so he's having to periodically wait for me at trail junctions, lest I take off in the wrong direction and trigger a whole new set of unfortunate events. “The search, notifying next of kin, the paperwork,” Russ said when I asked him about it, “it’d just be too much.” I'm having particular difficulty with climbs, steep downhills, and flat ground. Basically anything that requires actual hiking. I have, however, mastered camp setup, but my morning tear down and pack up still needs work.
As tired as I am by the end of each day, I still find it difficult to sleep; averaging, at most, 3 to 4 hours per night. There's the extreme cold, the extreme BO, and the extreme anxiety of potential bear encounters that keep me up at night. Russ has none of these problems and sleeps soundly. I can hear him. The other night I went to kick his tent while he slept, just because, but instead tripped on one of the stakes and landed on a bush that had me itching the rest of the night. Russ woke up fresh as ever the next morning, completely unaware of what might have happened had I been just a little more coordinated.
So why am I doing this if it's so painful? Because I love adventure, even when it takes me to uncomfortable places. And because I love spending time with my best friend. But primarily because despite my age I still suffer from a juvenile misguided urge to impress Karie. Not unlike the third grader who pulls on the girl’s hair and runs to the monkey bars as fast as he can, I find myself metaphorically pulling on Karie’s hair and running off to jump out of a plane, ride to the tip of South America, jump off of a bridge, or simply to take a dump in the woods. I know my impulses are misguided and that I don't need to do this to impress her, but, I guess, to this day I still find it unfathomable when I think about how fortunate I am to have Karie in my life.
She's a rock when I'm beat down and need help getting up, compassionate in my moments of grief and pain, and patient beyond what I could possibly deserve. Come to think of it, the most painful part of this whole thing has been being apart from her.