Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Moose

After a 2007 failed PCT attempt due to a vicious bout with salmonella, I went back to work in an outdoor leadership program in Montana. For 3 years, I aimed to get my wilderness skills better, to get my head straight, to prepare for another attempt at the PCT and a lifestyle I wanted to live. Up until 2007 I struggled to find the courage to live the life I craved. While the conflict of loving my job in Montana and the urge to go out on the PCT remained ever-present, the impetus to again attempt the PCT laid in the path of a severe injury and a moose. After the incident noted below, I was restricted to a neck brace for 3 months with fractured vertebrate in my neck. In the process of mending I began to reflect and ponder the life I had lived and the life I yearned. I kept thinking: "I don't want to be 40 saying I wish I would have."

The broken neck and the moose prodded me into the life I love today, into a life of wandering, of enormous goals and adventures, into freedom, into courage, into exploring the curiosity of life and self, into powerful relationships I am grateful for (including a wonderful wife), among other meaningful things. I cannot help but think of people I hear everyday afraid to live the life they dream of, afraid of what others will think of them. All I can hope for is that a 'moose' will come along and push them over the edge. Even as I write this, I am envious of the ones who did not need a 'moose.' Those are the people I truly admire. But I can tell you this: it is never too late.

Get out and live. Live bravely and true to yourself and your beliefs. 
Dream big, act big.
Below is the account of a close encounter with a moose during the Devil's Backbone 50m adventure race outside of Bozeman, MT in July of 2010. I wrote the race director to tell him of the event as he had heard of the crazy situation I was involved in from others. All along my neck was broken from a silly event the previous week. I have yet to recount this story in a blog entry mainly due to a little feeling of shame and embarrassment. However, lately in my life I have been thinking about how thankful I am for those events below solely for the fact of the path that I am now on is no one's but the path that I have chosen, that I will fight for the life I truly aimed to lead.

6 months later I ran a 50k when the neurosurgeon told me that I should never run again.
5 more months went by and I trekked the PCT.

"Hey Tom,
Yep, needless to say, I am pretty much in disbelief. I had a fall a week ago last Saturday and landed weird on my head, neck and shoulder area. I felt a crunch/tear but I figured it was a pulled or stretched muscle in my shoulder/neck area. I kept working out in the week and felt okay by Friday, though the mornings were and are the worst part. I'd thought I'd be okay to race but, boy, was I wrong. I was in pretty good pain--trouble breathing, numbed left arm, tingling arm, etc. I dropped halfway up the Hyalite snow wall and headed back. About 1.5 miles from the trailhead I ran into a bull moose. Big, young bull with 2-3 ft paddles on each side. We met on the trail about 20ft apart on a blind corner. I was in pain hiking quietly down the trail with my head down and my mind was completely out of sorts--frustration, pain, anger, etc. I backed away and he began charging and chasing me. I took off back down the trail towards Arch Falls. I stopped after running a 100yds or so. I checked to see if he was still there; he was and he charged me again. I wasn't quite scared yet, just trying to figure a way out of the threat.
I ran again--there wasn't any 'good' enough trees to climb up and I was starting to get  freaked out. I took a fisherman's trail towards the creek hoping to get to the other side to stay wide of the moose, thinking he was trying to scare me. WRONG! I crossed the creek, scoped him out and he was slowly making his way to the creek. He then saw me across the creek while poking his giant head through the willows and charged again. I tried scampering up one tree but it was too small for me to get up and the branches kept breaking. I tried another tree and the same thing happened. Plus, I lacked the strength enough to grapple hold from the neck pain.
Then, I noticed the bull was about 20ft from me in the creek coming at me fast. I booked it upstream through the thick forest. Now I was really, really scared. I ran for I don't know how long jumping over downed logs, up and down swales, and fighting brush until I saw a big snag with big limbs near a huge log spanning the creek. I could feel his presence behind me and the whole time I thought he was about to club me in the back of the head. He was that close! I reached the log and looked for the moose. He was coming up the creek right up the middle of it. I climb the big snag about 12ft in the air, the whole time feeling like my arm was going to pull off from the injury. The moose stopped underneath me and stayed there for about 20 minutes. Blood dripped from scrapes that I had gotten from attempting to climb the trees. He turned around and went back the way he came and went into the willows/brush. I scaled down the tree after a 45min. wait, then scouted for him on the log. Once I figured I was clear I headed back towards the trail. I was not going to go back down the trail where I met the bull. Keep in mind, I had no positive idea of where he went.
So, I looked around frantically trying to find a way back to the trailhead. By now I was in so much immense pain that I new it was important for me to get to a hospital. I spotted a cliff band high up and figured the moose wouldn't follow me up there. I also thought the moose was near the creek and wouldn't be able to hear me crunching through the woods so far above him.  So, I scampered up towards the cliffs and traversed above the trail and creek back towards the trailhead. I was so shaken up I ended up about 1/2mile past the trailhead in the brush above the road, my legs and arms scratched from the scaling and sliding down trees, and my neck and back wrenching in pain. I went to my vehicle, drove to Billings to the walk-in clinic and once they got the x-rays back they sent me to the ER to get a catscan. The results are a fractured c6 and c7 vertebrae. I see the neurosurgeon tomorrow who'll hopefully say I don't need surgery. For now, I think I have to put running on hold until I get better, which means dropping some races...

Crazy day and a crazy story. I apologize for the long diatribe. I am happy to be walking and feel very lucky and at the same time mad...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gossamer Gear Blog Entry

A few months back while on the Pacific Crest Trail I did a guest post for the Gossamer Gear Blog entitled "Thoughts on Walking Straighter."

In my effort to gain more efficiency on trail I began investigating the way we walk. To read more about this topic click on the article link below.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Corsica, GR20: Part 2

Corsica is an island situated 100 miles long by 50 miles wide. From the sea to the watershed divide of the hulking mountains the elevation change is extremely dramatic. Overall, the GR20 loses and gains some 19000m in elevation in a little under 104m. The change baffles the mind. At times, I find myself a tad befuddled as to where exactly I am in the frame of reference of granite. More often than not the high mountains of Corsica resemble some high alpine terrain, a world of steely rock. In fact, the mountains here are in an alpine environment except about 6000-7000ft lower in elevation than the alpine area I am used to. To my point, the elevation change is so drastic from the sea to the mountains you forget you are on an island. Then, upon a cresting of a pass you can virtually have a vantage point of seeing both coasts of the island at the same time.

The island of Corsica is a place where weather is unpredictable, undetermined by what is currently in front of you, and is affected by the sea and mountains. Almost daily low lying clouds ooze into the steep valleys of the east coast. Then, up on the divide, a daily smattering of thick clouds that turn into wispy puffs dissipate as they slam into the divide. The winds up high on the ridgeline flow from the west while down on the Tyhrrean Sea side the wind crams its way from the east. It's a spectacle to behold actually and you feel to be in an unique situation in observing Mother Nature and all her quirks.

From our descent from the Refuge a Mori the mountains afforded us more panoramic views of open green valleys and further tall, spired peaks to the south. We rapidly dropped in elevation as we passed a slew of cascades that tumbled into pools of aqua-teal water. We even had an easy trek on a forested trail until we hit Castel di Verghio where we had a cafe au lait and some apples. After our break we scampered up some switchbacks lined with mossy crib-rock walls and from the high perch of another pass we set eyes on Lac de Nino. The oval lake is settled in a lush, flat and grassy valley between two giant peaks and is backdropped by the skyline of the Monte Rotundo massif. A little later we came upon some bergeries, or cottages that usually sell fresh goat's cheese and offer an affordable bivouac, tucked in a bulging rocky outcrop with tiny goats bleating as they stuck their heads through chicken wire. The main chimney fluttered up in smoke and the ubiquitous Moor's head, the iconic symbol on the Corsican flag, whipped in the wind. Across another small valley, up and over a small watershed depression, and we settled into another refuge, de Manganu.

Another epic climb and some superb scenery awaited us the next morning from Manganu. After nearly 650m up we wedged ourselves through a notch between two pointy turrets. Down in the other basin two alpine lakes, rather large and flanked all around by precipitous granite bluffs, glistened in the afternoon sun. We would eventually traverse the skirt of this massive basin along a knife arĂȘte. Little did we know that this was our truly last scrambling experience on the GR20. We had some minor scrambling situations later on but none so dramatic and exhilarating.

At Refuge de Petra Piana we made the decision of following the normal red and white waymarks down into the forested drainage of Manganello rather than take the high variante. The southern half of the GR20 high variantes become an option, at least 3, in which we took 2 lower ones, that I feel stay truer to the theme of the route and Fabrikant's original vision and intention. However, as I say this, venturing into a woodland domain only made us explore more of the island and culture. Within the forest we saw the edifices of shepherds, the cottages of fromageries, and walked along an actual path that was either an old mule cart path or an old 'transhumance' route.

At the hovel of Vizzavona we obtained a room for the night at the charming Hotel U Castellu. The place looked like a castle from the outside and was even more elegant on the inside. The hosts were wonderful and ensured us a very quiet and relaxing night. April and I both loved our stay there. Sadly, the next morning we had to leave out for trail, however, our hearts were content. From Vizzavona we ambled through beech and birch forests that all were in the garb of Autumn. Sprinkled in the mix, laricio pines stood tall on particular aspects of sun-facing slopes. We marveled at the dank woody hollows and the leaf riddled trail. The sun hung at a lower angle in the sky but with the warm temperatures we were fooled into thinking of the time of late summer.

More and more Fall foliage roused our spirits until we climbed up to the Bocca d'Oro. The scene changed back into alpine and upon ascending the pass early one morning we caught sight of something magical. On the eastern horizon, thousands of feet below, we could trace the Tyrrhean Coast of Corsica. The sun slowly rising and creeping up against a mirage of a defining line of sea and sky. Smeared grey clouds daubed the vast sky in feathered shapes. The occasional billow of smoke plumed up from vineyards and cornfields down below while the haze from a thick sea air settled in and around low lying hills. I sat mesmerized, inspired profoundly. I looked at April and said, "No matter what we ever say to each other I want us to think of this moment, of what we saw."

The next day, at a cross mounted atop Monte Alcudine, I could see the phantasmagoric shapes of Les Aiguilles de Bavella. We trudged down the domed peak and had lunch at Refuge Asinao. We continued to descend and entered a pine forest upon which I took a high variante of the GR20. The variante took me up into the hoodoo pillars of Les Aiguilles. Spackled and smeared like stucco-plaster the texture of the rock was frozen in a stone thaw. The rock resembled the stucco on some of the ancient buildings we would see in the interior villages. The wind was ferocious, blowing and whipping in all directions. The gusts would whistle through the porous rock that resembled reefs from the sea floor. In the distance, around a giant pillar, the wind would crash into another rock tower in which the sound would reverberate similar to the crashing of sea waves upon craggy bluffs. I imagined these eerie, warped rock formations were once of the sea. The intense noise at first made me shudder, the gusts would force me to lean into the heave and brace myself so I would not tumble over. Surrounded by the immense spooky rock towers, I spotted in the western horizon grey cumulus clouds forming and building and pushing their way towards me. The power of the sea and mountains, together, transfixed me; I was part of the rock, a breath of the sea-wind. Corsica's high mountains are truly sprouted out of the sea.

At the Col de Bavella, we had our last night on the GR20 at the l'Auberge. Before dinner, suddenly, everyone ran out of the restaurant. On the hillside a mouflon, or Corsica's version of the bighorn sheep, nibbled at the forest floor. A man, nudged me in the back and in a Corsican tongue said, "This is cool, yea?!" He said that it is a rare sight to see a mouflon so low as they usually stick to the high rocky terrain and alpine environments. We then sat down to a dinner of wild boar stew and a huge portion of lasagna. The photograph on the wall showed a large, round man, a rifle in his lap, looking like a traditional Corsican hunter; another large, rotund man sat at a table petting a hunting dog while eating a bowl of pasta. The barkeep looked just like the other two men but younger. The family lineage, a proud history, lined the walls and floors of this establishment, the food recipes held sacred, and the dog probably the same lineage as the previous hunting dogs. We were among pure tradition.

Fueled up for the next day we crushed our way through more spooky rock formations with exuberance and perpetual curiosity although we could taste the end. The sea kept getting closer and closer and at the Bocca d'Usciolu we wedged through a notch, a portal of sorts to the town of Conca, the end of the GR20. Down the steep trail we went until we hit the fontana symbolizing the end. After a short descent down a windy paved road we found a cafe with a sign praising our efforts. We sat down and smiled and cheered our accomplishment over a couple of Pietra's, Corsica's home beer. Job well done.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Corsica, GR20: Part 1

The train, sea-tarnished in a rusty blue and a dingy white, clanked along a narrow railway overlooking the teal blue sea. We swayed left and right, a contrast to the ferry's up and down motion. Spanish tiled homes and sheltered coves with beaches lazily rolled on by. Occasionally, I spotted a Corsican man, swarthy, stained from the sun, ambling along the coastline, his arms strung behind his back, hands in clasp; a cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth.

Upon arrival in Calvi, the appearance of a reticent lifestyle soothed a traveller's mind. We lingered about in Calvi taking care of last minute chores before hiring a taxi to take us to the quiet hovel of Calenzana, which is dwarfed beneath the massive spired peaks of the backbone of Corsica.

The start of the GR20 ambled up a short stairway and, then, meandered through alley ways until reaching a fontana that heralded the end of concrete and the start of a dirt foot path. Up the path went until a junction split the foot travel in two. On the top of the rocky outcrop a large cairn, say 5ft. tall, pointed the way, as well as the ubiquitous red and white waymarks, the slashes that would guide the whole way. The Gran Randonee 20 (GR20) continued straight up. The notion of a lazy Corsican life soon upended in our heads as we laboriously plodded up hill. Bocca a u Saltu signified the first of many passes that would not disappoint in the vista department. To the west we could see Calvi and its half moon gulf littered with a few sailboats, Ile de Rousse, where we arrived via ferry, lay further north arched in its cape, and Monte Grosso and Capo Dente shot straight up into the sky. The orange stained rock basked in the afternoon sun appearing to get more rusted while Calenzana, the start of the GR20, sunk in the valley below tucked neatly under a hill, seemed perpetually frozen in time.

Through the laricio pine forest, the trail descended the pass only to abruptly climb through fins of rock and spines of lumpy granite shooting straight down the mountainside. About halfway up we encountered our first set of chains, albeit a small set, that supported trekkers through potentially dangerous positions. After negotiating the tricky climb we attained another pass that afforded us views of the rugged interior of Corsica. From the pass it was a short traverse to the first refuge of the GR20.

The GR20 is roughly 170km and connected by 15 stages, or etapes, where at the end of a stage a refuge, or hut, awaits a weary trekker's arrival. The GR20 is the brainchild of Michel Fabrikant, who in the 1970s conceived the notion to create a precarious path across Corsica's rugged mountain spine and watershed. His vision puts the trekker  over severely exposed drop-offs and cliffs, traverses spiky ridge lines and loose debris in couloirs, and tests not only the trekker physically with the massive ascents and descents but holds the trekker at bay to the fear he/she can withstand, for the term 'trekker' on this trail should be dubbed 'climber' or 'scrambler.' The route is slow going and rather than leg out the stages in miles the guidebooks and Corsica's Parc Natural Regional set the stages in hours. For instance, the Cirque du Solitude is no more than a mile long distance-wise, however, the series of chains down an abyss of a couloir wedged between orange-stained and green lichen towers in which a hiker will utilize all fours including a butt slide here and there, only to boulder hop down loose scree, then climb immediately up a series of exposed ledges and shelves using more chains and even a ladder, will take a suggested 'clean run' of 90 minutes.

So with that in mind, we left our first refuge and suddenly plunged ourselves into the heart of the GR20. A 500m slog of a climb put us on top of Bocca Piccaia. I had gotten to the top before April did and took coverage from the wind behind some rocks. For about 20 minutes I sat in disbelief at the landscape in front of me. Dizzying cliffs fell straight down to deeply gouged chasms, spires of rock, granite towers and block monoliths, serrated ridge line after ridge line, and the Cinto massif dominated the horizon to the south. Intimidated by the views, I could not fathom where this route would take us. April finally clambered up and not seeing where I was sitting blurted out, "Oh my fucking God. Holy shit!" The scene was that dramatic, that insanely beautiful.

More great views and challenging obstacles ensued including a high traverse of an arĂȘte, more scrambling up and down steep shelves and outcrops, and a terrible crumbly descent on loose shale. Nevertheless, we made it to the next refuge, soaked up on water, and decided to push on up and over to Asco, a run down ski resort where we could get more food, some 700m up and a knee crunching 600m down.

Up and up we went scrambling on and over polished granite shelves. Up high in the lofty canyon walls above the rock seemed crumbly. But down in the chasm the rock was smooth and tarnished where water would seep across shelves and spill into the gorge below. Because of this type of travel we gained elevation quickly. Before we knew it an enveloping cloud bank oozed its way into the canyon. Mist hung in the air, as the rock became crumbly. As the rock dampened a murky metallic green stained the cirques above. We scampered over rock and climbed steeply up a chute before we decided to hunker down in case water fell from the sky in an unpleasant fashion. At Lavu di a Muvrella, about 300ft shy of the pass, we set up our tarp and fell asleep. Mist pelted our tarp throughout the night.

After a well rested day at Asco, a day that eventually surprised us in its overpricing; we hiked swiftly up the abandoned ski run. The morning brought a cold wind coming down from the pass. No matter to us. Actually, I enjoyed the hike immensely as the scenery resembled a jaunt into the High Sierra. But we knew why we were excited: the Cirque du Solitude.

At Col Perdu, nearly 800m higher than Asco, we peered over the ledge and saw the upper portion of chains bolted into a pleated wall of rock. Looking back across the valley from whence we came an enormous block tower illuminated a purple-red in the morning sun. I assured April she could do this. The other side of the cirque at Bocca Minuta seemed so close that you should be able to leap across the gap. The rock that stood in between was a sheer face of a mountain pinnacle towering hundreds of feet above. The cirque plummeted 200m straight down. After tricky and careful negotiation of the sheer steep rock we made it to a jumble of rock, oven-sized boulders, still at the same precipitous level as the chains above. We hopped from one to the other, moving like a frog.

The other side of the cirque managed a route through exposed shelves and heart thumping ledges, however, the ascent went a little higher up. At Bocca Minuta we rested over some goat cheese, dried sausage, and French bread while admiring the interior of Corsica which now seemed to open up a bit. A long gradient down a ravine awaited us. The descent seemed never-ending, as the 800m or so, toiled on our knees, although the total time it took to negotiate was a lot quicker than it felt. After an hour's tame amble through a laricio pine forest we again had to go straight back up another 600m. We both began to tire after such a strenuous day. Then, the Bocca di Foggiale which is a long stone's throw from the mountain refuge Ciottulu a i Mori. At the pass, Paglia Orba, Corsica's third highest peak and most distinguishable due to an uncanny likeness to a shark's fin, and Capu Tafonatu, another extremely conical peak, backdropped the mountain hut amid peach sun rays from a mega-glowing sunset that flamed the dying day in supreme glory and tranquility. Superb scenery, some of the greatest I have witnessed. To make matters even more dreamy, the gardien of the hut was on duty and cooked us up macaroni di mori. The gardien cooked us up our meal with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and with a Che Guevara flag overhead. His eyes crinkled from years in the mountains; the sun and wind had hardened this man. What a treat to receive a meal from a spirit sprouted within these Corsican mountains. We lined our empty bellies with the delicious meal as the peach of the sunset dimmed through the refuge's tiny windows.

The hardest of the scrambling and the slowest of goings is behind us, though from the flank of Paglia Orba a sea of mountains awaits us ahead. I am baffled, astonished really, at how the outlines of ridges seem to layer with no end, at how elevation here is so distorted at how drastic the terrain changes in in so little time and distance. This ruggedness, this violently eroded terrain, is soothing and tranquil.

Monday, August 11, 2014


In Idyllwild, many moons and miles ago, I found that most hikers, newbies and veterans alike, jumped from Paradise Cafe to town completely avoiding the detour and road walk. One hiker paraphrased the waitress at the cafe as saying, "You stand out there with your thumb out and 15 minutes later you got yourself a hitch to Idyllwild. That's what all of you guys do!" Another said he 'did what everyone else was doing' and hitched into town under confusion. To me, it was obvious: walk the walk. The term and definition of 'thru hike' is an ambiguous one. It seems the definition has changed from the traditional sense of the word to a free-form meaning from a newer generation. The hikers I spoke to gave me the impression they would not have made that same 'hitch' decision if they had other information and/or knowledge. Already, within 150m of trail, hikers were faced with a dilemma. 

I'm not a purist and I feel there are not many more of them. But I don't look at them any differently than someone who flips, skips, or whatever. I do not think there is a right way or a wrong way; only my own way. I used to separate 'thrus' and 'skippers' in different lights, as if one was better than the other. Even farther apart were the section hikers. I recognize the experience, or the miles, one has, and the conviction and integrity one exhibits during a connective hike. What I do hold against hikers is not being up-front about one's hike and the blatant disrespect of the trail.

Before this thru hike I considered a 'thru' one who walks steps continuously, a connection along the particular long distance trail within a set time frame. I still do. I have pondered the term 'thru hike' deeply and often on this year's hike. The main reason is not to reformulate my own definition. I've witnessed Bearclaw develop her own through her own experience, my influence and experience, others' actions, and the environmental concerns, namely fires. I have felt a bigger sense of responsibility as a thru-hiker in helping her develop her own. I want her to gather her own convictions and beliefs while instilling an ethic from my perspective, which I believe is held within the same light as reputable and esteemed thru-hikers. 

Why have I pondered this term often? Because people are out here doing all types of stuff: skipping, flipping, lying, hiking a complete thru, etc. And there has been fires. Major fires at that. They've occurred in inopportune places with a huge number of hikers affected. I'm not the only one this year with questions. I imagine it is even tougher as a first-timer. Believe you, me, there are a vast number of new hikers to the small thru-hiking community and most are looking for guidance. In fact, this year I've given more advice on the term thru-hike in regards to what the hiker is doing. Almost everyone is afraid what other hikers will say about them. It's like they're never concerned about what they're doing, however, the result of their actions in others' eyes matter.

The obvious question occurs: how many hikers are actually 'thru-hiking' the PCT this year? The Appalachian Trail Conference defines an AT thru-hike as having completed the entire trail in one calendar year. The PCTA holds a thru hike as completing every single mile in a single season. Does 'thru-hiking' imply connectivity in one fail swoop? ALDHA West recognizes a Triple Crown hiker as a deserving recipient who has hiked all the Big 3 major U.S. trails in no specific time frame, 3 years or 30 years, whether thru-hiking or flipping, no matter the age, color, or gender. The recognition is based on the honor system and I highly doubt they would accept a hiker who has skipped yet claims a 'thru-hike.'

This year is not the exception that hikers have chosen to piece together the trail their own way. Sometimes the year chooses the path for you. In 2011 I 'thru-hiked' the PCT. Skipping and flipping were rampant because of the tremendous amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada. I remember getting to Kennedy Meadows and about 150 hikers were waiting for the snow to melt. Some had already jumped ahead with intentions of completing the Sierra Nevada later (flipping) in the season, while others quit or skipped ahead with no intentions of completing what they missed. This year I've looked back at 2011 trail register entries and cringe at what I wrote. In fact, I've only read about 3 because I know the rest are in the same light. I made a point to write that I was an 'every-stepper.' The phrase was like a badge of honor back then but as I reread the entries I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Arrogant actually. I don't think I've a right to gloat about my hike compared to someone else. On each of my thru-hikes I developed a deeper sense of place and philosophy of trail life, a higher ethic and standard. My ethic transpires into my 'normal' life. I hold my working life the way I hold my hiking life because of my hiking life.

The CDT altered my standard even more so than the PCT when you're free to choose the route based on your mood, stressors, weather, scenery, experience level, alternates, towns, etc. The PCT is a 'cookie-cutter' route confined within the constrains that everyone walks the same path with the same beginning and ending points. On the CDT YOU define YOUR thru-hike. My Vagabond Loop took my ethic even a mile further. I created a connection between 3 established routes, thru-hiking the HDT, GET and AZT, paving my own damn way while looping around the Southwest. I focused on connectivity, scenic attraction, and a challenging aspect in defining my route. Most importantly, I used my 'thru-hike' ethic. So, on the PCT this year what has mattered to me most is connection and how it solely effects Bearclaw and I. 

Like I said, the decision to flip and skip has been popular this year. Each one with a different reason: skill, illness, plain laziness, apathy, group-think. But mainly fire. From closures down in SoCal, to NorCal, and a vast stretch in Oregon, this PCT season has proven tough to walk the whole actual PCT, although you can still connect your steps via road alternates around the fire closures. Some hikers refuse to walk a road whether dirt or paved. So, does a closure make it free to skip a section? I've seen others who walked the alternate. What is clear to me is the difference in goals and the definition of 'thru-hike.' I believe that if an alternate is provided it is part of the journey and the PCT for that season. There lies a difference between someone blatantly skipping an alternate and a hiker who gets information later or someone who flips the section. To me, a flipper has the intention and will follow through on that particular alternate. A skipper doesn't. But that is not the only problem. One hiker told me as he left a re-supply point before a major fire closure the alternate changed 4 different times, so when he got to the trail head of the alternate he did not know where to go. He decided to hitch because he felt he did not know where to go. I do not blame him at all. The way a hiker receives information has a definite effect on determining a thru-hike.

There are ways to avoid such closures as well. I am not cutting everyone scott-free on how the season plays out for them. I can say the ones who are done already and have a complete 'thru-hike' prepared the most, took the utmost concern on logistics, had weather awareness, had clearer goals, got lucky, and stayed healthy. I might also add, they stayed away from a group. To hike the PCT, or any other long distant trail, weather windows play a major part in completing the trail consecutively. Fire has been a huge concern this year, even early on in the season, especially coming off 3 drought years. Out here in the West, fire season needs to be watched just as importantly as the snows up North in the Cascades. From most hikers I talked to fire was not a concern. Most people dilly-dallied with groups soaking up the good times. Only a few handled their business. There were some, including ourselves, that had different circumstances. Above all, I noticed the group-think mentality shift and influence hiker's decisions. The best quote I read in any register was of a couple who broke away from a big group: 'make haste, not friends.' And to my knowledge, they made it through without any fire detour.

We flipped. From Willamette Pass to Cascade Locks. We had our reasons (getting married, flight issues, Giardia, among others) and they make sense to us and with our timing. Also, in no way was the decision influenced by anyone else. I always thought if I did something like a flip it would be of a natural disaster of something crazy and/or a death. I can now say I'd add circumstances. Each thru-hike is different and circumstances arise one may never foresee.

PCT hikers leave at different times, have different goals, take different steps using different gear, yet the individual's 'path' leads to the same place. It should be the experience that matters. Yet I find this topic an interesting one. I find that blame needs not always be placed on the hikers themselves. I feel some snobbery is being exhibited by some 'old-timers.' Change is hard to swallow and within this new age upon us many are finding it even more challenging to relate to hikers who may do things differently. Social media relates the expressions of nearly the whole planet, books and movies are coming out and exposing an otherwise little known community, hikers and runners are breaking records, gear is getting more technological, smarter, and lighter, and a younger bunch are infiltrating the trails and blogospheres. What gets to me is the lack of mentoring and programs that can have a positive influence on the newer hikers. Bearclaw mentions to me all the time the need for Leave No trace kiosks at every trail head. To a lot of newcomers definitions may be unclear and, to the contrary, their intentions may be unclear to the veterans. Am I alone in seeing a need that needs to be filled? Would this help with switchback cutting, leaving water caches clean, hiker etiquette, etc.? Most of the snobbery I have seen is in the social media realm. Time after time, people are calling out people in social forums. I've been guilty of it too in calling out the filth and trash hikers have left. I would love to see the PCTA have more mentoring programs for aspiring thru-hikers like MyYAMAadventure led by qualified and experienced thru-hikers with a reputable background. I know for a fact that most of the reputable thru-hiking community would volunteer to help. I believe that past thru-hikers would want the best experience for aspiring thru-hikers, as well as preserving our history and care of the land.

In the end, I think one's honesty and realness to oneself and what their goals are factor into their own definition. But the consensus of an overall term is too general with too many personalities. The journey is long and arduous and ultimately wears on people. It's like work, a job. They're ones who take short cuts, ones who work overtime, ones who do what is supposed to be done, etc., yet they are all just workers. Some get paid more than others, some do just enough to get by. This may be a reach on a metaphor but I kind of see a connection.

This community we're in is always evolving, especially the more miles one walks. The number of thru-hikers will continue to grow. If a solid, well-defined definition cannot be determined then let hikers be hikers, solely hikers. Rather than bash people, let's help them, empower them to be more responsible ambassadors for the trail community. Like I said, my own ethics have changed and this particular thru-hike has shone me a different light, one that opened a new perspective, a better viewpoint.