The 65-year-old Hob McConville was on a mission: finish his second trip over the PCT. (His first trip had been back in 1976 when I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.) He had already hiked the Appalachian Trail twice, and the Continental Divide Trail once. He and his wife had walked across Europe three times. In other words, hiking long distances is pretty much what Hob does. He didn’t know whether he would do the Continental Divide again. Large bears, i.e. grizzlies, worry him.
“I’ve camped under this beautiful sugar pine,” he informed me, “because it is my tent’s last night and I want to give it a good experience.” Obviously he liked his tent. In fact, it was well-loved, like a child’s teddy bear after five years of hard loving. The tent was literally falling apart at the seams and Hob had been repairing it with Post Office packaging tape. “My wife is meeting me at Echo Summit with a new tent,” he sighed, more sad than excited. Hob deeply believes that anything you purchase should be used until it is beyond use, and then a little longer.
I hated to tell him that his beautiful sugar pine was a white pine. I’m not sure why I did, except older mountain men like the two of us enjoy knowing our trees. He wanted to debate until I pointed out the cones. And the tree was a beauty, regardless of the type of cones it produced. I am sure that his tent felt well-honored. I wondered if Hob would take it home and bury it in his Connecticut backyard, like a favorite pet. Hob’s pack was in similar condition, but apparently it had a lot of miles left.
The next morning, our discussion turned to the PCT and Hob’s philosophy on long-distance hiking. “It shouldn’t be a race,” he proclaimed fervently. His feeling was that it was becoming more and more like one. He could foresee the day when companies like Nike might sponsor races to see who could finish the trail in the shortest amount of time. I agreed. Just completing the trail in a season leaves little time to appreciate the beauty of the region. Jumping from the already long 20-25 mile days to 30 or 40-mile days would make such appreciation much more difficult. I see nothing wrong with the pride through-hikers feel in finishing the trail; it is a pride well earned. And Hob was quite proud of his accomplishments. But the ultimate value of the hiking the PCT— beyond personal satisfaction and growth— is in experiencing nature and developing a commitment to protecting wilderness areas. The PCT is not a race track.
While the conversation had been stimulating, Hob had miles to go to meet up with his new tent (and wife), and I had more nature to go appreciate. We parted company with Hob heading north and me heading south. Here are some of the things I saw along the way.
I passed a few more lakes and then the PCT did what the PCT always does.
I met a young woman who was talking on her cell-phone with her brother. “I just saw a bear up the trail,” she told me breathlessly. I didn’t see the bear, but I did see…
The last time I had hiked through this area, we had walked around the lakes. The night before, one of my long time trekkers, Nancy Pape, had choked on pills. My friend Ken Lake had jumped in with the Heimlich Maneuver and saved her life. The time before, we had hiked out from the lakes to the small town of Markleeville, California and happened upon the Clampers holding their sacred initiation rites. Men were walking around with toilet seats over their necks shouting obscenities. They were quite upset that we had women along who witnessed the ceremony. The women were amused.
NEXT POST: A walk down Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon and an exploration of the public art along the way. After that, I will do a post on Huichol art in PV and then another post on the PCT.