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America’s Newest Long Trail

Don't have time to hike all 1,200 miles of the Pacific Northwest Trail? No worries: Our scout pinpointed the finest two-week stretch.

>> It’s packed with surprises.
On most trails, you wonder if you’ll see a bear or moose, if you’ll see a rainbow, if you’ll experience something magical. On the PNT, though, it’s not if, it’s when. At mile 64.5, I stand on a long flat surface and feel shivers up my spine. I’m a geek for forgotten history, and I’m on the abandoned Pasayten Airstrip. In World War II, a battalion of African-American paratroopers were trained to combat a Japanese secret weapon—incendiary balloon bombs floated across on the jet stream. The Triple Nickle battalion’s misson was to fight fires and defuse bombs. And here we are—on the spot where they flew out after fighting a fire on Bunker Hill, seven trail miles from here, in 1944.

Our rest break at mile 69 is cut short. “I have to get out of here now.” Jan’s sudden pronouncement gives us a start. Three pairs of eyes do a swift body scan. Where is she hurt? “I’m serious! I need to get out of here now!” She’s grasping something in her hands. “I just found six four-leaf clovers. Let’s hike out and buy lottery tickets!”

In late-afternoon shadows creeping ever longer from Frosty Pass at mile 74.5, two Goldilocks hikers yell to us in unison: “That mama bear and cubs just ran straight through our tents!” They’d set up camp, walked a few feet away, and their two tents became a chute for an ursine follow-the-leader. The mom and cubs are still just 200 yards uphill of us, cavorting and navigating the rocky slope as surely as mountain goats.

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