What is the appeal in carrying survival necessities on your back, walking twenty miles or more a day, eating food from pouches, and sleeping on the ground for months on end? After spending time hiking with Texas Time, I received a bit of insight. While reasons vary per hiker, some reasons include an escape from deadlines, back-biting co-workers, and impossible-to-please clients. The trail is an escape from traffic congestion, drivers who cut you off or refuse to allow you to change lanes, and the honking and obscene flipping of hand gestures. And then there is the beauty and solitude of nature on the trail. When Courtney hiked the Appalachian Trail, it was a much-needed break from the rigors of eight and a half years of higher education. After completing her PHD degree, she desired to get back to nature, relax her mind, and challenge her body.
The hiker community offers a beautiful comradery. The trail is not a competition, it is a group challenge. They encourage each other to succeed. Hikers coming from the opposite direction share situations to keep an eye out for, beautiful and dangerous. If something happens and one of the hikers loses a necessary item, other hikers share and help him out until he has a chance to replace it. I love the idea of it, just not carrying all my belongings on my back or sleeping on the ground.
Courtney chose her return to the PCT, based on an estimate to start at Seiad Valley three days ahead of her friends hiking from the Sierras. She needed to rebuild her backpack carrying endurance before reuniting. Estimating the number of miles a hiker will travel in a day is difficult due to unforeseen trail conditions, including weather.
On June 24, Texas Time arrived at a trailhead close to Ashland, Oregon—3 hours from our home. Her friends had not caught up yet. Thunderstorms had delayed their progress. Hiking solo was not as fun. She met new hikers and could have joined another group, but she chose to wait and reunite with her original friends.
I picked her up, at the trailhead near Mt. Ashland, drove to Medford, Oregon, where she resupplied, showered, and washed all her clothes. Then we enjoyed the movie, No Hard Feelings, ate Italian food, and spent the night in a hotel. The next morning, we ate a birthday breakfast in Ashland before I drove her back to the trailhead where I joined her hiking for a mile. We saw horse hoof prints and other evidence that horses frequent this portion of the trail. Per Courtney, the PCT is graded for horses, although she has never passed a horse and rider on the trail.
After I left her and walked back to the car, I passed four individual hikers. They were all polite, moving to the side so I could easily pass. We exchanged a short conversation, and Courtney later reported that they wished her a happy birthday and told her they had met her mother on the trail. A little lonely as she hiked solo on her birthday, she enjoyed the greetings from passing hikers.
Until this experience with Courtney, I mostly worried about her safety on the trail from humans. While there could always be a one off, your typical through hiker is a kind, grateful person. The trails are too remote for the typical assailant to make the effort to mess with hikers on the trail. More profitable victims are plentiful close to bustling metropolis's. Besides, hikers carry very little money and while everything a hiker carries is valuable for hikers’ survival, it isn’t desirable to anyone else. The easiest time to attack a hiker would be when they hitch a ride from the trail into a town but again, they aren’t carrying valuable items, and they generally smell pretty ripe until they shower and launder their clothes.
The fact the hikers easily find rides into town, amazes me. I would never! Often, I feel bad passing a hitchhiker (not a through hiker) on the highway. But I’ve seen the movies, the hitchhiker is always a murderer. Always. Courtney says people who live around hiker towns are good about picking them up. The kind drivers are usually older (older to Courtney and friends, peers to Jay and I). Hikers offer payment for their rides. Sometimes the driver accepts a small amount to cover gas, and other times they decline. The people who pick them up seem to enjoy their company. Maybe if I lived near a hiker town, I would give them a ride. But most of the hikers have an ice axe strapped to their packs, and then there are all those movies …