A story about my friends

About 6 years ago, Angel and I were living a generally sedentary life, watching tv, blogging a lot more, and basically doing all of the things every day that I want to do now, two days after finishing the PCT.

We started running a bit to try to get ourselves into shape when we turned thirty, and towards the end of our second year of exercising regularly, we took up trail running and fell into some group runs with people doing ultras. 

When you hang around people doing amazing things, you start to think that maybe you're capable of doing them too, and after a few months we'd completed a 50k, and then a 50 miler. And In short order after the 50 miler, I agreed to pace a guy I barely knew (Adam Gaston) at the Cascade Crest 100, which eventually led to Angel and I signing up for the race. 

Thing was, we'd already made plans with some other friends to hike El Camino de Santiago during the heart of our training peak. So, we did some research and found out that it was possible - logistically simple even - to run the Camino. Perfect 100 training. So, in the course of about three years, we moved from a sedentary lifestyle to having run across Spain, and then completed the 100 mile race (paced by my now great friend Adam Gaston).

Flip forward a couple more years, and we'd been persuaded, largely by the influence of more trail running friends, to quit our lives and attempt a through hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. We weren't that into hiking, but 5 months outside, on trail, seeing the country sounded like an amazing adventure. And again, people who'd done amazing things persuaded us that maybe we could too.

A month before the trip was set to start my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Three months into it he passed away, much sooner than anyone had hoped or expected. Six months that we'd intended to be some of the best of our lives turned into the worst, and the most difficult physically, mentally, and emotionally.

A through hike, if you've never done one, may seem like it would be an exercise in independence. 2650 miles in the wilderness on your own, with no one to rely on but yourself. Even some hikers present the experience in that way, but that narrative is a delusion. 

During a through hike, you are more reliant on the goodwill of others than at perhaps any other moment of your adult life: to send your resupply boxes on time, to pick up your mail when you're away, to give you a hitch into town, to let you crash at their house when the hotels sell out during a snowstorm...

In our case, because of the difficult circumstances of my fathers death, our reliance on other people was even more pronounced. We had last minute urgent transportation needs, emotional crises, and logistical challenges above and beyond those of the average hiker.

And coming out of the experience I can say that there might have been people who hiked faster or had more fun on the PCT than we did, but there was no one I know of that had anything close to the level of support from friends and family that Angel and I did.

To give you an idea, here's a rough rundown of friends involvement, in which I'll almost definitely forget lots of you ( for which I apologize in advance). Julie Cassata, Julie and Matt Urbanski, and Seth Wolpin met with us before for last minute advice. Julie Cassata drove us to the airport when we left Seattle. Greg Manciagli volunteered to ship our resupply boxes. Eric Hultengren and Erica Soelling got our mail for us and let us keep our car at their place. Jan and Rick Mathis dropped us at the southern terminus. Tony Sandoval and Michelle  Saumur met us on day two with a ton of food to kick off our trip. Mom, Dad, and my niece and nephew met us in Big Bear. Angel's sister Emily sent us a care package to Wrightwood. James Carter met us in Yosemite with s car full of food and shuttled us around. Linda Dougherty met us at Sonora Pass and shuttled us around a fire.  Chrissie and Farrukh Mushtaq met us in Tahoe.  Kiera Criss and Lillie Cridland sent us a bunch of pop culture magazines in Tahoe. Chris Schultheiss, Kara and Talia visited in Truckee to regale us with Western States stories, Melissa Christiansen and Kari Vigerstol met us at Quincy with food and shoes and slack packed us to Belden. A million people sent love, prayers and gifts when my dad passed. Mom, Boots Jordan, and Debbie Baugher drove us from Vegas back to the trail when we got back on. Adam Gaston and Broeck Jones met us in Dunsmuir to hike for five days. And we're not even out of California yet...

In Oregon, Susie Van Den Ameele drove from Seattle to Medford to get us to the trail and hike a bit after my dads memorial in Ohio. Ben Mayberry let us crash in his cabin during a rainstorm. Our friend Six2 drove several hours to give us a ride that we didn't end up needing. My Cousins Shawn and Paul Graham drove several hours on dirt roads so we could avoid skipping a section. Jordan Maki-Richards bought us a beer in advance at Cascade Locks.

When we actually got to our home state of Washington, where most of our friends live, people seemed to meet us at every opportunity. Sharon Hendricks met us (twice) in Trout Lake. Brandon Williams met us at White Pass. George Orozco surprised us in the woods at Stampede Pass, slack packed us, drove us to our friend Cassie Gavin's house to crash, then hiked with us for a day. At Snoqualmie Pass so many friends popped out of the woods and met us that other hikers couldn't believe what was happening. The list, if I can remember them all: Wendy Abbey, Callista Salazar, Craig Foster, Brad Dutkiewicz, Cassie Gavin on Friday. Van Phan, Tracy Brown, Eric Hultengren, Brandon Sack and Jun, Adam Gaston, Broeck Jones, and Jon Karlen on Saturday. At Stevens Pass Jessica Kelley brought donuts and drove us to Leavenworth and back. At Rainy Pass Kari Vigerstol and Aaron VanderWaal met us and drive us to Winthrop. 

By my count, that's 48 people who physically showed up to help us get to the border. And that doesn't include all of the people who sent packages along the way, or wanted to meet up but couldn't for whatever reason, or sent us out in style (PBMU! Wilson!). (It also doesn't include the dozens of random strangers who helped us at one point or another.)

Behind the scenes, while we were walking the second half of the trail, our friends (particular thanks to Julie and Matt Urbanski) were working to make one of the coolest moments of our lives happen, providing advice, gear, and expert consultation for my 62 year old mom so she could go on the first backpacking trip of her life to meet us at the northern terminus with my uncle Steve, so we could spread dad's ashes and achieve some sort of closure on this whole terrible, amazing six months.

People see the pictures of mountain scenery, or hear stories about 30 mile days or wildlife encounters, but I'm being completely sincere when I say that the most remarkable part of this trip, from my perspective, was the support we received from friends and family. Our social circle has inspired us and allowed us to have some amazing experiences in the last few years, but this trip, for me, felt like something that you guys accomplished as much as something we did. So thank you, for getting us through the last few months, and for inspiring us to do things we never thought we could do!


You two bring out the best in us - your friends and family. Just one of the many reasons we love being around you. Lovely write up. One question: what is slackpacking?
Adventure Mom said…
I've been wondering what slackpacking is, also. I don't think I did any of it!
Anonymous said…
I don't think I have told you often enough but you inspire me. From your work, to your book, to your travels, to your care. Keep rocking life. Rebecca K., youth minister with you back in the day