SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – May 2013

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

Can you walk off a war? A veteran who served in Iraq embarks on a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail to find out.

by: Brian Mockenhaupt

Rivera in Iraq in 2003 (John Rivera)
Rivera in Iraq in 2003 (John Rivera)
After the PCT. (Brian Mockenhaupt)
After the PCT. (Brian Mockenhaupt)
Approaching Mt. Rainier. (John Rivera)
Approaching Mt. Rainier. (John Rivera)
Rivera washes off trail dust. (John Rivera)
Rivera washes off trail dust. (John Rivera)
A shelter atop Mt. Whitney. (John Rivera)
A shelter atop Mt. Whitney. (John Rivera)
Breakfast on Fire Creek Pass. (John Rivera)
Breakfast on Fire Creek Pass. (John Rivera)
Getting the last resupply box. (Brian Mockenhaupt)
Getting the last resupply box. (Brian Mockenhaupt)
2,000-mile marker in Oregon. (John Rivera)
2,000-mile marker in Oregon. (John Rivera)


For his 2012 thru-hike, Rivera teamed up with a high-school friend and Marine, Tyler Blauvelt—Task Force PCT they called themselves. They walked together through much of California, but parted when Blauvelt slowed down to hike several days with his brother, who wasn’t accustomed to the high mileage. When I met up with Rivera, Blauvelt was still a week back.

But that’s the nature of the trail, everyone moving at his own pace and hiking for his own reasons, an endeavor both individual and communal. Take your time on the PCT and it might stretch to six months or more, but even a faster hiker needs about four months of sunrise-to-sundown walking.

“There’s no way to rush anything out here,” Rivera told me. “You can only go so fast. You’ve got to have patience to do this, and if you don’t, you are going to acquire it soon enough.

“Even when the trail seems determined to thwart you, you just have to accept it,” he says. “You can yell all you want, but there’s no one to argue with. Everything just is what it is. And if you finish the trail, you’ve put your mind through half a year of training at just accepting things as they are.”

He told me about one particularly frustrating week, leaving Cascade Locks in Oregon. With the next resupply a week away and a long, dry stretch in the immediate miles ahead, the extra food and water swelled his pack to 45 pounds. He hadn’t carried that much weight in six weeks and he was burned out from 30-mile days through Oregon. A heat wave pushed temperatures into the high 90s and the first miles presented a steep climb. “But the benefit of having done this long enough is that when I find myself cursing, I realize that’s just slowing me down,” he said. “I’m just losing my breath. So okay. Calm down. Just get it done.”

The trail soon gave me just such a lesson in patience and perspective.

In 2003, flooding knocked out the 265-foot Skyline Bridge over the Suiattle River. The Forest Service built a new bridge downriver, but that detour would add more than 5 miles. Instead, we could cross the river on one of the precarious-looking fallen trees and walk several miles of the now-disused section of the PCT.

When Rivera first told me about the reroute, on my first day on the trail with him, the extra miles didn’t seem so bad, and more prudent than a sketchy log crossing over a frothy, fast-moving river.

But by the third day, 75 miles in, I’d learned some simple trail math: Five miles is two hours, and two extra hours on the trail can be a very long time, when blisters rub raw and neck muscles seize, or my right big toe throbs so badly I’m sure it would be less painful to just cut it off.

We opted for fewer miles. We scouted a few crossing possibilities from the trail, then bushwhacked and slipped 50 feet down a steep embankment to Vista Creek, where two trees had fallen nearly side-by-side, creating a safe-looking bridge, which we crossed. After 200 more feet of bushwhacking, we found the trail and started down it, rather pleased with ourselves for having saved two hours.

But after the first mile, doubt crept in. This seemed to be the old PCT, but the map showed us gaining 1,500 feet, while we’d only climbed a couple hundred. Had we instead gotten onto one of the smaller local trails? Still second-guessing ourselves, we pushed on and soon heard whitewater.

The trail ended at the edge of a 200-yard-wide stretch of rock and sand. Here we saw the full destructive force of the 2003 flooding, with 100-foot trees pitched like cordwood and the embankment scoured away, leaving 100-foot drop-offs in places. We spotted the first of a half-dozen stone cairns marking a zigzag path across the sand and rocks. This must be the way. On the far side, the Suiattle River raged. We crossed on a fat log, stepping over strips of loose bark, and I pushed from my mind an image of falling 8 feet down to the water and being sucked under, weighted by my pack, bouncing off boulders.

We climbed into the forest and our optimism waned. For a half hour, we crawled over an endless tangle of fallen trees looking for the trail. If we went much farther, we could easily get lost. With the sun dipping behind the ridge, we finally turned back, recrossed the Suiattle, and backtracked 3 miles.

We made camp in the darkness, right where we’d started, next to Vista Creek. In trying to save 5 miles, we’d added an additional 6.



Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Keith Genter
Aug 06, 2013

As a retired G.I. and combat veteran, I want to applaud you for printing this story. The only thing that would have made this better was if you had mentioned it on the cover of the magazine. This article was so true to so many of us who have served, and gives those who have not served a little perspective on what service members go through to deal with the experience of deployments. Although I have a wonderful family, career and life, I have wandered all over the world healing my mind and soul. I call those times my mental vacations.
Thanks again for printing such a great story with a powerful message. I wish you a safe and pleasant day, Keith

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Blood in the streets of DC
Posted On: Jul 31, 2014
Submitted By: double cabin
Trailhead Register
Mile, Mile and a half
Posted On: Jul 31, 2014
Submitted By: GoBlueHiker
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions