While Chris hiked, I got to know several of the hikers who crossed his path on the trail or in towns. I gave rides to and from the trail, had lunch and dinner with hikers, and sometimes camped with them or shared hotel rooms when they were ready for a break from the daily grind of hiking. I tried to interview a few of them to find out why they had carved out 5-6 months of their life in order to come live in nature and hike 2,660 miles.
I ran into Hermit a few times, including at Mammoth (we went to see a movie together) and again later in Shasta (we did laundry together). I asked him how he got his trail name, and he said it had something to do with his “wild west personality”. A Canadian, he was one of the few hikers who was hiking towards his house rather than away from it. This was his first long distance hike. When I asked him why he was hiking, he said that he saw a video about it a few years ago, and figured that if he didn’t do it now, then he never would. His mom is a big hiker too, so while he’s been out walking on the PCT, she’s been ‘competing’ with him running miles at home.
Hermit says his hiking style is to hike slowly all morning long, then take a midday stop. Then he hikes till evening, and averages about 25 miles a day. He’s thought about doing the Great Divide Trail in Canada, which is one of the most remote hikes a person can do. He was a teacher last year, but missed the end of the school year so that he could start his hike. He sent in a video from the trail for the end of the year ceremony- and reports that all his students think it’s “pretty cool” that he’s hiking this summer.
No stranger to long-distance trail hiking, Piñata’s trail name was given to her when she hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2002 and 2006. She carried a Hennessy hammock for that hike, which hikers like to call a “bear piñata”. Prior to this year’s section of the Pacific Crest Trail, Piñata had hiked parts of the PTC in past years- Mt Whitney, the Sierras, and more. With the stretch of this year behind her, she’s now completed 65% of the trail and is looking forward to hiking another section next year (Piñata is doing what some hikers call a MYTH, a multi-year through hike).
Piñata says her favorite thing about the trail is the ability to make every decision for herself. “It’s a stripped down way of living”, she says. It’s why she prefers to hike alone- although she does enjoy making trail friends and trail family (a “tramily”) for short stints along the way. I first met Piñata back in Tehachapi, then Walker’s Pass, and stayed in contact with her as she hiked towards Kennedy Meadows South. I picked her up at Kearsarge Pass, and we stayed together in Mammoth Lakes a few days. I dropped her off in Yosemite Valley, and happily, we wound up crossing paths again a few weeks later in Shasta, and shared a hotel room together and caught up on our adventures of the past month.
A flight attendant, Piñata was able to get some extended time off work due to the Covid restrictions impacting the air travel industry. She has hopes of completing the PTC, and is eyeing the Central Divide Trail- but not all at once. Her advice to hikers: “Don’t worry about the right way to do it- just go for it”.
Lifeguard and Zelda
I met Lifeguard and Zelda for the first time back in Kennedy Meadows South, and then kept running into them more than a dozen times as they stayed neck and neck with Chris as he hiked north. Somewhat of a rarity, they are a hiking couple- they started the trail May 4th and finished the trail together on September 18. Currently living in the Philadelphia area, they had previously started to hike the PCT in 2017. Zelda (also known as Cristina) got to Old Station, California, before leaving the trail due to an injury, and Lifeguard (also known as Sean), made it to the Washington border. They have both hiked the Camino Santiago as well.
When I asked them how they got their names, they said that Zelda was wearing a shirt that made her look like Zelda, from the video game. Sean, while hiking the PCT in 2017, saved a woman who was struggling in a creek crossing during a high snow-melt year, thus was given the name Lifeguard. They are both 31, and as they hiked their way into the final month, their conversations started to turn to other things besides hiking: they have a wedding planned for October, less than one month after they finish their hike. “As a team, we are only as the fast as the both of us”, they said, when I asked them about what it was like to hike as a married couple. They share the gear they carry, which can reduce a hikers’ base weight somewhat. To that end, their favorite piece of gear? Their Exped Synmat Duo double sleeping pad. When not hiking, Sean works as a freelance film maker, while Cristina is in academia.
As most of my readers know, Long Haul is also Chris, my husband. He got his trail name back in 2014, when he through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Younger hikers would note how he would wind slowly up a hill, crest the top, then blow past them at the rest stops, “like a long haul trucker”. Originally planning to hike the PTC in 2020, his plans had to be pushed back a year due to Covid last summer. He’s also hiked the Camino Santiago (2017) and the Annapurna Circuit (2018).
More of a solo hiker, Long Haul enjoys the camaraderie of trail friends at rest breaks, camping spots, and towns. When I asked him if he listens to music or podcasts along the way, he said no- he prefers his own thoughts, and he doesn’t want to wear down the battery on his phone. His favorite piece of equipment? The $6 piece of Tyvec that he uses under his sleeping mat when he cowboy camps at night, and sits on during his lunch breaks. 2nd favorite? A one liter plastic coke bottle- virtually indestructible, but ultimately disposable, and practically free.
Does Long Haul like to go on these hikes just as a way to get away from his wife, I asked him? No, he says; in fact, he prefers when his wife can be “trail adjacent” and help out him and other hikers and see him on his town days, and they can enjoy the scenery together. Why did he decide to do the PTC? Because he “likes to always have a new adventure around the corner”, rather than resting on his laurels from the last one.
What do you think of these hikers? Crazy good athletes- or just plain crazy? Would you spend 5 months out in nature hiking from one end of the country to another? Leave your comments below.