Last week, my phone rang. It was Jones. He was at mile 421, he announced. Somewhere to the east, by point of reference, was Lancaster, Calif. It was sunset and he was ready to turn in. To get through the hot, unshaded portion of the PCT — roughly the first 700 miles — he reported that he was starting out every morning around 4:30 a.m. so he could rest during the heat of the day. Then he’d walk till dark.
“If you want to do the story, that’s fine. It looks like I’m staying out here,” he said after we exchanged hellos.
I asked him how hard it is.
“Harder than I thought,” he said. “On the third day out, I got dehydrated and thought I was done. But I’m still here.”
I asked him what’s the biggest challenge.
His answer, to sum it up: his age.
“I’d say the average age out here is probably late 20s,” he said. “For these kids it’s a piece of cake. Best I can tell I’m the oldest one. I just kinda shuffle up the hills.”
He’d already shuffled up three major mountain ranges in the Cleveland National Forest and the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains.
His favorite moment so far?
That would be the day his wife and some friends surprised him when he walked into the McDonald’s where the trail crosses the I-15 freeway at the Cajon Pass northwest of San Bernardino.
“That was wonderful. We had a nice meal,” he said in classic understatement.
Before he signed off, I had to ask him:
“So is it tougher than the ocean?”
“Much tougher,” he said. “If I were younger this would be easier. At 57 I was in my prime. I could just row all day long. I can’t walk up these hills all day long. Rowing the ocean was pretty boring. The scenery never changed. I had a lot of time to think about things. I can’t do that here because I have to pay real close attention to the trail. I have to be very careful where I place my feet.”
“But I’m glad I’m here,” he added, obviously proud about the 21 miles he’d knocked down that day. “You go around every corner and there’s new scenery and new challenges. It’s just fascinating to see what’s over the next horizon.”
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
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