My PCT race against death

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SEIAD VALLEY, Calif. — It is 100 degrees and, along with two dozen hikers roughly a third my age, I am sitting in the parking lot of the only cafe in this town of 300 people.

This isn’t how our trip was supposed to end. But a fire near he Oregon-California border has once again curtailed a Pacific Crest Trail hike.

And I’m OK with that.

Originally, my book about hiking the entire 2,650-mile, Mexico-to-Canada PCT was going to be called “Seven Summers.” Now I’ve changed it to “Seven Summers — And a Few Bummers.” Because my brother-in-law, Glenn Petersen, and I aren’t going to get it done in seven summers.
We’ve been knocked off the trail three of the last four years — by fire, the illness of Glenn’s mother and the death of a our brother-in-law, Greg Scandrett.

Life happens. Death happens. And the trail bats last.

This year we were two days away from the Oregon border — the end of a 190-mile length of trail from Dunsmuir, Calif., when a young hiker — they all seem to be young hikers –trail- named Hot Dog came up to us from behind with news of a likely closure up ahead because of fire.

I’m not one to play with fire. He mentioned the word and I quickly made up my mind: turn around. Others boldly headed north anyway. When you’re 25, you’re invulnerable. You’re impervious to death, injury, or anything else bad. When you’re 64, not so much.
That used to bother me. Now I count it as a blessing — that I have enough of a life to not want to put it at danger. A wife. Children. Grandchildren. Friends. A sort-of job. A church.

A young French girls decides she will join a group of others and press forward despite the fire warnings. She asks for my advice.

“Just remember,” I says, “that life is wider than a trail.”

She pushes north anyway, ignoring Father-Knows-Best Bob. At her age, I may have done the same.

I have no idea what happened to her. I do know that we wound up giving four other hikers — Hot Dog, a married couple from Brooklyn and a woman from Sequim, Washington — rides around the fire and up to Medford, courtesy of two wives who zipped down from Albany/Eugene to rescue us when we sent word about our turning around.

We got home about 2 a.m., tired but not defeated.

On Aug. 2 we leave for Chester, California, and a 210-mile swath from there south to Tahoe City, California.

Glenn and I have done about 1,245 miles thus far. We’re almost halfway to our goal of doing the entire PCT, which wasn’t the plan when we did 452-mile Oregon in 2011 but somehow became the goal somewhere along the trail.

“We are,” I tell people, “on a race with death.”

The young people pursue Canada as if on a hiking version of “The Amazing Race.” Always in a hurry. On my last night on the trail, I lowered myself into the Grider River after a 19-mile day in 100-degree heat, cleaned up and simply sat on a rock for 20 minutes, enjoying the serenity of having a river all to one’s self. Who gets to do that?

For me, Canada can wait. I’m too busy enjoying the getting there — fires and all.

  1. Lynn Leissler

    On July 22, my brother (up from Phoenix, AZ area) and I (Eagle Point, OR resident) wanted a hike. We did 4 miles on the PCT, a hike for me, a stroll for him. And no, he’s not younger, but older by 5 years and in far better shape. (Note, we both said yes to Social Security a while back.) We came across a couple from South Korea who took the detour around the fire area, and would continue north on their summer trek. (They travel the globe and hike major trails. Ahh, youth!)

    Happy Trails to you and Glenn.

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