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SavageLlama
10-26-2004, 09:37
This article seems a bit contentious.. http://www.lompocrecord.com/articles/2004/10/24/news/news10.txt





Completing her greatest goal, biggest dream
By Karlie Graham McCurdy

The Lompoc Record
10/24/04


I finished the trail. ... It's hard to believe that it's over, and I made it to Canada and completed my greatest goal and biggest dream.

I reached the Canadian border on Oct. 3, at 10:30 a.m., 160 days after I began hiking from the Mexican border.

Our final 10 days on the trail were incredible. The sky was blue again, the North Cascades were spectacular, the sun was shining brightly on us, and although the terrain was steep and quite difficult, I knew that I would make it to Canada, and that felt great.

When the weather changed from cold, wet and dreary to warm and sunny, there was also a noticeable change in the attitudes of everyone we met.

For the past two weeks we'd been told over and over again by Washington locals that we were not going to make it to Canada this year. Everyone said that they "hadn't seen an early winter like this in years, but now that it's here, it's here to stay." We kept hearing this same thing from local hikers and townsfolk alike, but of course we kept hiking north.

Once the sun came out and we had only 10 days left, suddenly everyone we met had the same message for us - congratulations! It was amazing to hear it said the first time, it was amazing to hear it said the second time, and it still feels great to hear "congratulations."

Those final 10 days were spectacular. They felt like a victory lap instead of 250 miles of grueling hiking. On the final three days I couldn't help from smiling. All day long I'd catch myself with a big smile on my face. I just felt so very lucky.

Our final sunrise was beautiful, as it lit up the peaks to the west, and a part of me wished it wasn't ending, this incredible adventure was almost over.

The border

I was met at the Canadian border by my husband, Scott, and my dog, Jake, and a bottle of champagne. I celebrated with my partners, Amber and Gizmo, and another hiker, Stormtrooper, who'd reached the border an hour earlier. We took photos and signed the final trail register before hiking the remaining seven miles to the nearest road.

And then it was over, this unique experience was over, and along with the joy and relief was a little bit of sadness. This amazing journey had come to an end, it had all happened so "fast" (five months and a week).

Reflections

During my final weeks on the trail I gave a great deal of thought to the question, "What does it take to complete the Pacific Crest Trail?"

What is the most important factor that will increase the odds of reaching Canada? Is it experience? No. Off the top of my head I can name 15 hikers who have through-hiked the Appalachian Trail; only two of them completed the PCT.

Is it pretrip training? No. Training would've made the first month more comfortable, but after that we're pretty much all in great shape.

Is it strength, body type, planning? No, no, no. Don't get me wrong, these things wouldn't hurt one's chances of hiking the PCT, but the single most important thing is heart.

Is your heart in it? This is what matters the most, and this is what will keep you going, through the persistent aches and pains, unyielding steeps, mind-blowing wind, unbearable heat, ongoing dehydration, miserable rain, freezing snow and the doubts within your own mind. I heard it far too many times, people quitting the trail because they just felt mentally done.

Very seldom was it an injury that took hikers off the trail. As a matter of fact, hikers battling injuries seemed to fight the hardest to get back on the trail.

Rhythm

The hiker with the most heart was Rhythm, who we met on Day 1. Rhythm was the only one who was hiking the PCT for a cause - to raise money for children in Zimbabwe.

By Big Bear he had a stress fracture in his left heel and was sidelined by his doctor for 6-8 weeks. He continued to support his hiking partner and as many hikers as he could, by traveling by vehicle from town to town, giving rides, filling water caches, leaving Gatorade at the trailheads, etc., while he healed.

As soon as he was cleared to get back on the trail he did just that and hiked pretty strong for several weeks, starting easy and slowly increasing his mileage. After about a month he'd developed pain in his right heel (tendonitis), and his left heel was still giving him trouble. After repeated attempts to return to the trail after rest, he realized that his body was not up to the hike this year.

So Rhythm got a bike and is currently riding from Canada to Mexico, expecting to reach Mexico late October. To check his progress, go to his Web site at www.zimwalk.org (http://www.zimwalk.org/). I found Rhythm's epic adventure so inspiring that even against those odds he found a way to cover the distance between Mexico and Canada. That takes a lot of heart.

The lesson

I've learned a valuable life lesson about attaining my goals: I can do anything that I put my heart into. My journey taught me this. I truly believe that the PCT was the most mentally and physically challenging thing that I will ever do. Hey, it's all downhill from here!

Of course I could be dead wrong and it may seem naive of me to think I've mastered the crux of my life at age 33, but let me believe this, as I'm sure it will give me the strength and confidence to help me through what lies ahead.

Commonly-asked questions

I want to take a moment to answer some commonly-asked questions and to follow up on some of the expectations I had going into the trail:

How many rest days did I take? Twenty-six.

How many miles did I average per day? About 20.

Have I completed the miles I missed? I hiked the 33 miles in southern Oregon on Oct. 7. I will hike the 42 miles in Southern California Oct. 25-26.

Did I ever get a trail name? No, I'm proud to say I managed to remain "Karlie" throughout the trip.

Did Jake (my dog) get to hike with me much? No, after the repeated rattlesnake encounters I was afraid to bring him along for fear that he'd be bitten. Also the amount of miles I was hiking day after day would have likely been quite hard on any dog.

How much weight did I lose? I weighed 112 pounds at the end, so I lost about 26 pounds. I had to gain some weight because I'm very skinny.

How many books did I read? Zero! I carried a few chapters of a book for a few hundred miles and never read a page, so I finally sent them home. I anticipated I'd read before bed each night, but I could barely find the energy to write in my journal before conking out to sleep.

How are my aches and pains healing? I still have shin splints and knee pain, but since I'm currently not exercising I'm sure they are trying to heal. After my remaining 42 miles they will have all winter to heal, before I begin hiking next summer (day hiking and weekend backpacking trips only next summer).

Who was the most interesting character I met? Probably "Rocky Top." Everyone was drawn to him. When he spoke, everyone listened. He took the time to meet everybody and make them feel important. Rocky Top was always positive - we decided he was like the PCT team captain.

What were my highs and lows? The low was absolutely my birthday (July 23), when I couldn't really remember why I was out there hiking. The highs ... there were so many! Reaching Oregon was huge, because California was the neverending state. Leaving the Mexican border was the closest I came to tears because I was actually putting this grand goal into motion and it felt so overwhelmingly great. The entire Sierra was a highlight, because every morning I woke up feeling like the luckiest girl in the world to get to experience the magical beauty of the mountains again today. The final two days, when I couldn't stop smiling, were so special. I was realizing a dream.

What is my next big adventure? Honestly I don't have any plans. I'm just looking forward to getting back to my home and job in Colorado.

What was I most looking forward to when I was approaching resupply towns along the trail? Shower, laundry, bed, motel room, telephone, but most of all ... town food!

What was the longest stretch I went without a shower? 15 days.

How heavy was my backpack? I'm not sure; I never weighed my pack, but I would guess it was between 30-40 pounds depending on how much food and water I had.

What will I miss the most about the trail? Two things: (1) the whole culture of the trail, the camaraderie was absolutely amazing. (2) daydreaming, all day every day.

Was the PCT experience what I expected? Not exactly. I really believed it would be relaxing, but it wasn't. Once we got up to speed and were doing big miles, we'd get up before it was light, hike all day long, often 'til dark. It wasn't miserable, but it wasn't relaxing. It was hard work. Also, I had hoped we'd have the luxury of camping wherever we pleased and not be too mileage-driven. But we kept falling behind schedule, so we needed to be mileage-driven because we didn't want to fall so far behind that we got closed out by winter weather in Washington. Another unexpected aspect of the trail was how civilized it was.

I envisioned going longer stretches of time without town stops and then spending less time in towns. It turned out that town stops were a big part of the trail and I have great memories from towns. So although there were times when I felt almost too pampered when we'd stay in a motel two nights in a row, I can't say I didn't enjoy it.

And finally, I never expected the trail to be as social as it was, and this was one of my favorite things about the trail, the people were all so special to each other. We shared a strong bond.

So, the final question:

Would I ever do the Pacific Crest Trail again? Absolutely not! But, if I could go back in time to April, would I still choose to hike the PCT in 2004? Absolutely! Without a doubt! This was a fabulous experience that I will remember fondly forever.

Karlie Graham McCurdy, a Lompoc native, chronicled her five-plus months on the Pacific Crest Trail with monthly reports. They appeared on May 23, June 27, July 25, Aug. 29, and Sept. 26 after a preliminary story April 25.

Peaks
10-26-2004, 09:57
One thing that is in common with the AT: The major reason for dropping off both trails is mental.

chris
10-26-2004, 10:07
A nice, pat-me-on-the-back article, complete with an assertion that she would not hike the trail again. My my, what fun the PCT must be to drive her away.

MOWGLI
10-26-2004, 10:49
This article is not contentious - it simply represents one persons opinion.

Yogi (AT '99) dropped off the PCT on her first attempt due to injury, and then hiked it twice more afterwards. Does Yogi's experience represent the norm? I have no idea if there is such a thing as a "norm" when talking about long distance hiking.

My friend & co-worker Ed has hiked the PCT twice, and been rained on a total of two times during those hikes. He has walked all 8 National Scenic Trails and characterizes the PCT as "easy" compared to the AT & CDT.

Bottom line - 10 hikers will have 10 different opinions about the same trail. I hope to hike the PCT by the time I turn 50. I suppose I'll have an opinion by then too.

Bjorkin
10-26-2004, 11:01
"Off the top of my head I can name 15 hikers who have through-hiked the Appalachian Trail; only two of them completed the PCT."

It doesn't say of those 15 how many even attempted the PCT. Maybe only those 2 that completed it tried it. I don't get "AT thru-hikers can't handle the PCT" as you did out of that.

Lone Wolf
10-26-2004, 11:05
There ain't enough towns, roads, shelters, motels, hostels, slackpacking ops, "trail angel" feeds or people for most AT hikers. AT hikers are way too pampered. :)

steve hiker
10-26-2004, 11:51
Would I ever do the Pacific Crest Trail again? Absolutely not!
I hear this over and over again from LD hikers, whether its the AT or PCT. It's like the experience stomps the love of hiking out of them.

rocket04
10-26-2004, 11:57
I hear this over and over again from LD hikers, whether its the AT or PCT. It's like the experience stomps the love of hiking out of them.
I'm not sure they lose the love of hiking (although some probably do), maybe just long distance hiking, or maybe even just long distance hiking the same trail. I don't think I'd want to do another thru-hike of the AT, at least not for another 30 years or something. I'd rather go and hike other trails, or even try something completely different like biking across the country. I'll go back on the AT, of course, just won't do the whole thing again.

A-Train
10-26-2004, 12:30
I found that to be particularly intriguing after I finished the AT. My hiking buddies went under one of two categories. There were the folks like myself, itching to get back out and hike more trails, using the AT to open up a world of possibilities. Desiring to get back to that way of living.

Then there was the other side of the coin; the folks who viewed the AT as a chapter in their life that had come to an end, ready to start moving on with "life". Those folks seemed to say 'great experience, but I'm done with this kind of life'.

Guess that is the beauty of long distance hiking-it affects everyone differently.

I'll be one of those AT hikers trying their hand out west in the next yr or two

A-Train
10-26-2004, 12:37
The reality is that a LARGE number of AT thru-hikers would never be able to hack it on the PCT. The same is true for PCT hikers on the AT, though I think that percentage would be less. The reasons would be different. A lot of PCT hikers would probably be turned off by the social aspect or lose interest in the "lack" of scenary. I don't think I need to explain why AT hikers would falter, seems fairly obvious.

All in all, an interesting topic

U-BOLT
10-26-2004, 12:59
The WSJ ran a series of editorials a few years ago debating which was the "tougher" trail. The editors did not weigh in with a final decision, but most of the editorials concluded the Eastern trail (AT) was tougher than the more laid-back west coast counterpart. After all, the East is always tougher than the hippie coast, right?

chris
10-26-2004, 13:13
The same is true for PCT hikers on the AT, though I think that percentage would be less.

I suspect that more PCT hikers would fall off the AT, for the reasons you cite. This year, there were three 2003 PCT hikers (that I know of) on the AT. Apple Pie (off somewhere in VA), Pony Express (finished), and myself (out for a section, 48 days). By the time PA rolled around, I was ready to get off the trail. It just wasn't my cup of tea anymore.

In terms of difficulty, contemplate the fact that both Pony Express and myself (over the first 48 days on the PCT) averaged more miles per day on the AT than on the PCT.

A-Train
10-26-2004, 13:37
Yes true, but you both hiked the PCT first. Don't you think you applied what you learned on the PCT as far as walking all day and the cooking and moving on practice, to the AT? PCT hikers are used to walking lots of miles and walking all day. I think anyone coming from that practice would naturally crank em out more than folks on the AT who come from the couch and want to break at any possible moment. Something to ponder....Not disagreeing with you though

mdionne
10-26-2004, 13:38
i can think of three former AT hikers that completed th PCT this year. sasquatch, rocky top, and wicked. all 2002 AT thru-hikers

SavageLlama
10-26-2004, 14:49
The AT is considered toughest of the Triple Crown, mile for mile, based on vertical rise.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0406/excerpt2.html

chris
10-26-2004, 15:06
A-Train's point is valid, but I tended to hike fewer hours on the AT as opposed to the PCT. On the AT, I tended to start hiking sometime around 6:30 and would usually stop by 7. So, about 1-3 hours less than on the PCT. Rain, lack of scenic campsites (if I saw something nice, I'd stop), and the draw of shelters all contributed.

The AT has a steeper grade, yes indeed. Its climbs are also short. I can think of only one 3000 ft climb south of Damascus (Roan). Even Cheoah can be topped in little more than an hour of work. On the PCT, the climbs (with a few exceptions) are more gentle. But they can go up forever. Nobody on the PCT would care about a 500 ft climb, no matter how steep. But, this would be considered long on the AT (think of Stecoah).

But, this is mostly personal preferance. In my opinion, the PCT is more difficult physically, the AT more difficulty mentally. Others might find this situation reversed, depending on their own abilities and interests. I'll note that the NG article is utter rubbish. I don't think there are too many triple crowners who would assert the AT is a more difficult hike than the CDT. Perhaps someone should ask Yogi this, but she is still on the CDT (check out her trailjournal for what might be in store for a CDT hiker).

bearbait2k4
10-26-2004, 16:32
We need some triple crowners in here to actually give an experienced opinion.

I'd honestly like to know how the 3 compare to each other.

Spirit Walker
10-26-2004, 17:18
I thought the article was a good one, and expressed a lot of what I felt when I hiked the PCT. One thing, at the end of that hike I also said, "never again" but already we are planning to go back, after we hike the CDT again. Amazing what a few years of trail amnesia can do.

As to comparing the trails - the CDT was definitely the most consistently challenging of the trails. The AT was my first long trail and it seemed difficult at the time. Part of the challenge was physical - steep ups and downs that damaged my knees, rock climbs that challenged my nerve, constant rain that made the tread eroded and hard to walk - and part of the challenge was mental as I learned the realities of long distance hiking - living with pain, day after day exhaustion, PUDs, etc. But I also learned the rewards - the happiness of living in nature, surrounded by beauty, frequent encounters with wildlife, a warm trail community, the joy of meeting challenges, the simplicity of the long distance lifestyle, etc. I loved long distance hiking, despite the difficulties.

The PCT was easy in the sense that the tread is wide, gently graded "wheel chair trail" for most of the way. Washington was the only place that had really good climbs. We would climb 3000' and barely notice the climb. But you had to deal with 20-30 mile stretches with no water, constant heat, being utterly filthy and unable to clean up for lack of water, endless winding through chapparal (another version of the long green tunnel), and long long miles every day. (On the AT I averaged 12 mpd, on the PCT 19.) In the Sierras or a high snow year there is the challenge of dealing with snowy passes and dangerous river crossings for about 3 weeks. There was much less of a trail community, though the AT culture is making its mark out there. The mental issues are not unlike the AT mental issues, but compounded by the need to do big miles, constantly. For people who hike the PCT before the AT, the lack of wide open spaces can be an issue when they do hike the AT, and the rain and the constant people. (Though we saw a lot of people on the PCT, in some areas much more than on the AT, most of them were weekenders, not thruhikers.) For people who hike the AT first, the less frequent town stops, the lack of trail community (no shelters, fewer towns, few common camp spots, very fast paced hikers who don't have time to talk to other hikers) can be an issue when they hike the PCT. Again, there is a lot of beauty on the PCT but it is a different kind of beauty than on the AT. There is a lot less wildlife, except for snakes and lizards.

For me the PCT was not that challenging, once I was out of the Sierras. It was just long easy hiking day after day dawn to dusk. The AT was more of a challenge, because of the rock climbs and the weather and because it was my first long hike. When I hiked it, I didn't know whether or not I would finish the trail. On the PCT there was no question. It was doable, the only question was whether I really wanted to go all the way. The answer, ultimately, was yes. For one thing, I looked forward to seeing the beauty of Washington that I had seen in friends' slide shows and photos. (I forgot about the others who had nothing but rain in Washington.) Sometimes the rewards are harder to find. In the article that started this discussion, she talks about the joys of having sunshine at the end of her hike. Implicit in that is the understanding that she probably had nonstop rain or clouds for most of the rest of Washington. That can be very discouraging. Those who hiked the AT in 2003 know about that!

Then there's the CDT. I really recommend hiking the other two trails before you hike the CDT. You will already know about snow travel, long miles, water management, long distances between resupply, etc. Add to that navigation issues, the need to create your own route in some places, a wide variety of trail types -- from bushwhacking to jeep track to paved highway walking -- long distances off trail to towns, few other hikers, dealing with cold and serious snow falls, etc. But the CDT is also the most beautiful of the three trails, the most remote, the most wild, with a lot of wildlife. Everything I love about hiking was out there. I loved the challenge and the sense of freedom that comes with choosing my own route. It was hard, sometimes really hard, but most worthwhile. It seems like people either love or hate the CDT. I am one who loves it. We are going back in 2006 to do it again. I can't wait.

A-Train
10-26-2004, 18:32
Great post, Spirit Walker-thanks for the insight.

To those wondering which is the toughest of the Triple Crown, try doing a search on here. There was a rather heated and interesting argument a couple months ago, I think around june..

steve hiker
10-26-2004, 19:01
In my opinion, the PCT is more difficult physically, the AT more difficulty mentally.
What makes the AT more difficult mentally?

Pencil Pusher
10-27-2004, 01:08
Maybe she can think of other things to spend four or five months doing. This was a big article with an ever-so-slight mention of the AT.

chris
10-27-2004, 10:52
What makes the AT more difficult mentally?

EDIT: I should have explicitly stated that these are my reflections for what I want out of a hike. Other people want other things and so might find the AT easier mentally.

Briefly, the PCT rewards highly, all the time. At least, I thought it did, although some don't really like SoCal or NorCal. The trail goes up and down for a purpose (something scenic) rather than simply to make you sweat. You have a lot of solitude and wildness at hand. It isn't crowded. Not everyone in town asks you if you are a thruhiker. Having all these benefits helps you mentally. Why get up and hike 30 miles? Because those will be 30 gorgeous miles. Because there is a diversity of terrain that makes each day unique and special. Although blazingly hot, the weather is usually good. Of course, the main PCT hikers got shat on most of the way through Oregon and Washington, so this doesn't always happen.

On the AT, there isn't much that I've seen (south of VT, some of the Whites) that I would put in the same category. Scenically, the AT doesn't compare with some interstate rest stops in Utah, let alone the PCT. I've seen some nice pictures of Maine, though. The AT is crowded, not only with other hikers, but because it passes through mostly urban (comparitively) land. I can't think of too many vistas that did not look into towns. I've come up with three, in fact. Again, I haven't done much north of Manchester, VT, so maybe things are different in Maine. It rains alot. It is humid alot. You are never out of earshot of a road (ok, there are a few places). Wildlife means tame bears and plastic deer. There is a lot of trail snobbery (this happens on the PCT too, but the fewer number of hikers make it seem prevalent). For example, Brian Robinson seemed to catch a lot of flak from hikers in the shelter registers. Why? His entries were neither boastful nor disparaging. But, he wasn't hiking like others, and this seemed to arose their ire. So, in short, the AT is more difficult mentally because it lacks the rewards that the PCT does. Working hard for scant reward is not much fun.

So, for me the AT felt like work. The PCT felt like pleasure.

SavageLlama
10-27-2004, 12:50
As to comparing the trails - the CDT was definitely the most consistently challenging of the trails. The AT was my first long trail and it seemed difficult at the time. Part of the challenge was physical - steep ups and downs that damaged my knees, rock climbs that challenged my nerve, constant rain that made the tread eroded and hard to walk - and part of the challenge was mental as I learned the realities of long distance hiking - living with pain, day after day exhaustion, PUDs, etc.

For me the PCT was not that challenging, once I was out of the Sierras. It was just long easy hiking day after day dawn to dusk. The AT was more of a challenge, because of the rock climbs and the weather and because it was my first long hike.

Then there's the CDT. I really recommend hiking the other two trails before you hike the CDT. You will already know about snow travel, long miles, water management, long distances between resupply, etc. Add to that navigation issues, the need to create your own route in some places, a wide variety of trail types -- from bushwhacking to jeep track to paved highway walking -- long distances off trail to towns, few other hikers, dealing with cold and serious snow falls, etc. But the CDT is also the most beautiful of the three trails, the most remote, the most wild, with a lot of wildlife.
Great post. Thanks for the insight.

Tater
10-27-2004, 20:20
I'd rather carry the extra H2O than put up with the cold rains of the AT. It's all a series of tradeoffs and depends on your own makeup as a hiker. Good thing there's more than one LD trail in this country.

U-BOLT
10-28-2004, 03:01
That's easy to fix. Tighten a screw here, torque down a bolt there, and the PCT hiker is as fit as any AT hiker. ;)