Installment #20 - September 6, 1999 - Final Musings

I thought that the passage of time would give me more perspective on my PCT hike, enabling me to draw conclusions about its meaning and its early ending, but it hasn’t happened yet. Nearly two months have passed since I left the trail and I’m still relatively clueless. Since I am unable to adequately describe the forest, let me at least attempt to describe some of the trees.

I started from Campo on the 17th of April, and ended near Lake Tahoe on the 12th of July, hiking 968 miles of the trail during that 87 day period, for an average of 11 plus miles per day. Of the 87 days, 32 were spent off the trail, leaving 55 days during which I actually hiked, for an average of 17.5 miles per hiking day.

If I had continued averaging 11 miles per day, I would not have finished until December, which means that I would not have finished; the weather window typically closes in early October. If I had improved my daily average (it is reasonable to think I could do that with my feet well broken in, and the high Sierra behind me), and had taken less time off, I might have been able to finish before the end of September.

But this speculation is fruitless because there were two show-stoppers. The first was information from my landlord that our lease would not be renewed or extended, making it necessary for us to plan to move at or before the end of September. The time required to find a new place, pack, and move would have required leaving the trail in early September and would not have left enough time to complete the hike after moving, and before bad weather set in. But this problem would not have prevented me from completing California, and perhaps Oregon as well.

The second show-stopper was the fall that injured my left arm when I attempted to climb over a tree that was down across the trail. Recent X-rays show that there is a piece broken from my upper arm bone (humerus) near the shoulder joint that will prevent me from using the arm normally for several months. It would not have been sensible to continue. Period.

I stopped because I hurt my arm, but I was not a happy camper before that happened and was considering leaving the trail at my next resupply point anyway. It is possible, however, that by the time I reached the next resupply point my spirits would have improved. I might have holed up in a motel for a few days to rest my knee and shake off my cold, and then continued. Possible, but unlikely.

I can (and in Installments 18 and 19 I did) list the things that were bothering me, but they were not big things and, with the right attitude, could have been overcome. The fact that they affected me so much indicates to me a crumbling of the inner drive which had kept me going through previous adversities along the trail. I believe I simply took on more than I could handle with my level of motivation. Despite the reading I had done, and the long period of preparation I had experienced, I still had not come to understand what it would mean to me to hike full time for five months or more. I will have much greater respect for someone who does complete the trail now that I have a better idea of what is required to succeed.

But I do take away many fond memories of the trail and of the people I met along the way. Some of my most unforgettable memories of the trail include:

I always looked forward to my phone calls to Dave Pratt because through him I had the opportunity to talk to everyone who has been following my trip by way of email and the internet. When some memorable event occurred on the trail, I always looked forward to being able to share it with my friends through Dave. Thank you, friends, for following along with me.

I’ve been home for a while now, making the transition from "thru-hiker" back to "firmware engineer".  It has turned out (after all the upset it caused) that we will not have to move after all, and I will be returning to work soon.  My arm is recovering gradually, the large calluses on my feet are disappearing, and my suntan is fading.  My hiking gear has been put away, and I’m eating and giving away the last of my hiking food.  I’ve regained all of the weight I lost on the trail and I’m still gaining!  I’m continuing to read the internet journals of other thru-hikers who are still out there and I’m hiking vicariously through them.

The authors of The Pacific Crest Trail guidebook are quoted in Six-Moon Trail as saying "The Pacific Crest Trail ... is a process for individual change and growth. Although the trail’s end is a desirable goal, it is not a necessary one, for the traveler is enriched in a nonmaterial sense with every step he takes along the way."  My life has certainly been enriched by my experience, and I will carry many happy memories of my journey on the Pacific Crest Trail with me always.  And sometime I WILL return to the trail!


Allen's final sets of slides (rolls 8 and 9) have arrived, of course.  You can check them out below, and they're also linked back in where they belong.

Added from scans of Allen's slides on September 6:
Allen at the top of Forester Pass
Looking back at Forester Pass
Bullfrog Lake, on trail to Kersarge Pass
Bullfrog Lake again, on the way back
Allen at Muir Hut, a stone building at the top of Muir Pass
A pretty mountain and lake
Allen at the top of Seldin Pass
Looking down at the Marie Lakes from Seldin Pass
"Anybody seen a trail marker recently"
Hikers in snow descending from Forester Pass
Sun cups
Looking upstream at Fish Creek
Stream between the first and second Ray Lakes
An easier crossing, with a wooden bridge
A golfer attempting to avoid a two-stroke penalty
Jim Fording Evolution Creek
Allen in front of the Vermilion Valley Resort
Nick and Whitney preparing dinner
A group of us eating supper at Red's Meadow
Devil's Postpile National Monument
Lyell Canyon from the bottom

It has been my pleasure and honor to have assembled these humble web pages over the past several months, but the real honor goes, of course, to Mr. Downs, who did all of the, uh, legwork.  Allen's hike of nearly 1000 miles took him as low as the southern California Desert at sea level, and as high as mountain passes of over 13,000 feet, so he has certainly followed proudly in the footsteps of his great-great-great-grandfather, the adventurous but unheralded American pioneer explorer and mountaineer, Upson Downs.  With each installment, I felt closer and closer to actually being out there hiking the PCT with Allen, until one day I woke up and found that it had actually happened!

So until Allen decides to get back on the PCT, so long!


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