I have the very good fortune to have spent the formative summers of my childhood and youth at almost precisely the midpoint of the Pacific Crest Trail. That would be in the Warner Valley, the southern gateway into Lassen National Park in California. In 1964 my parents rented an acre of land (sic! We were able to buy that ground a decade or so later) bordered on two sides by the park.
Three or four miles up the road (mostly dirt) from our place there’s the Warner Valley Campground. The PCT cuts through it, heading a half a mile’s walk pretty straight up to the top of Flatiron Ridge and cutting through the park just east of Lassen Peak itself.
That’s the view from where the PCT cuts through Lower Kings Creek Meadow just before it hits the main park road.
It’s glorious country, and I’ve walked pretty much all of the trail in the park, and odds and ends in the Sierra. But ever since I first heard of through hikers walking from Mexico to Canada, I’ve been intrigued, and over the years I’ve met plenty of people who stop for a swim and beer and a cooked meal at the little dude ranch just past the campground–kind of a ritual celebration for making it (just past) the half way point.
I’ve chatted with some of the geezers among those folks, and have toyed with the idea of trying the hike myself in retirement. That said, I haven’t backpacked seriously since my 20s, and I’m aware of my limitations. What I really hope to do is hit several of the most wonderful sections of the trail in roughly week long jaunts, and see where I go from there–and I’ll need to find a hiking buddy as neither my spouse nor son have shown any interest in more than day hikes.
All that’s by way of preamble for this outburst of glorious madness:
In June 2019, hiker Rue McKenrick left his home in Bend, Oregon, and headed into the Three Sisters Wilderness to then walk south along the Pacific Crest Trail. When he hit the end of the Sierras, he turned east, walking across the Mojave Desert in California through Death Valley. He’s kept walking and, in the last year, has averaged 20 to 30 miles a day, notching more than 8,000 miles total.
20 to 30 miles a day, most days, for more than a year, with, I’m guessing, 20 or 30 kilos on his back, across terrain that includes freaking Death Valley and the mountains around it? I couldn’t do that in my teens, and it ain’t going to happen in my seventh or eighth decade. Just no.
There’s more. This odyssey is in service of a larger goal:
But McKenrick isn’t on a casual cross-country hike: He’s scouting and mapping the American Perimeter Trail, informally considered the newest and longest hiking route in the country. Conveniently, he also created it…[The project came to him] after through-hiking the “Triple Crown” of the Appalachian (2,190 miles), Pacific Crest (2,650 miles), and Continental Divide (3,100 miles) Trails. When he couldn’t find any other similar long trails to hike, he sketched out one that connected the Pacific Crest Trail to the Appalachian Trail via the states in between, and the 12,000-mile American Perimeter Trail was born.
I love the idea. I love the fact that I’ll get to read tales and see photographs of stronger and/or more driven folks than I chasing sunsets through a hike that will hold them for years. I love travel. I love the high country. I love the quiet and–especially in times like the ones we’re living through now–I require the solace that connection to a world vastly larger than and indifferent to my own sorry self brings with it. And yeah, I’ll hold your coat while you put 12,000 miles beneath your boots.
So: what bucket list goals do you have–and what ones will you enjoy vicariously?