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Pacific Crest Trail: 2,663 miles, 169 days

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Special to the Daily/Bethany HughesThe Pacific Crest Trail spans 2,663 miles from Mexico to Washington. Summit County newcomer Bethany Hughes walked it in 169 days.
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When you’re hiking 2,663 miles of trail in 169 days, you develop a different sense of time and family.

So said Bethany Hughes in her recent presentation, “Truths from the Trail,” a talk about her conquest of the Pacific Crest Trail in the western portion of the country. She is new to Summit County, having landed here after her trek and after saying goodbye to her family in Kansas City.

It was in Washington, eating a plethora of berries along the trail, that Hughes’ connection to nature became completely clear. She’d felt it before, but when her eyes connected with those of a bear, sitting on a hillside, munching on berries, she realized she had more in common with that bear at that moment than anyone else in the world.

“We were just two young women eating off the same dinner plate and enjoying the same beautiful area. It’s moments like that that alter you forever,” she said.

That moment was just one of many lessons Hughes had as one of roughly 75 to complete the trail in a nonstop trek that summer of 2010. She said roughly 300 attempt it, and many complete it with stops along the way. She was a “NoBo” hiker, or northbound, the goal of which is to hit spring weather in the southern California deserts and then “blitz” Oregon and Washington before fall and winter weather hit.

At the start of the trail, just after Hughes reached through the border fence to touch Mexican soil and her trail angel (who’d let her and others gear up at his house) snapped a photo of the latest hikers to take off, Hughes leapt from the group, eager to start the long road ahead.

She quickly ended up stumbling into a ditch, 50-pound pack and all (the pack was later reduced to about 30 pounds).

“Riff Raff,” a man who was also in that Day 1 photo, wandered up to Hughes and reached out his hand to help her up. They ended up hiking 2,000 miles together, splitting up and rejoining as the trail and their different paces allowed.

“Little did I knew when we took this photo that some of these people would end up bandaging my bloody feet (and) would save my life when I slipped,” Hughes said. “I went out for the trail, but it was the people” who became her trail family.

With names like “Grapefruit” for the hiker who carried grapefruit for breakfast, the 70-some-year-old “Billy Goat,” “Frog” the Frenchman, hikers on the trail looked out for each other, particularly in difficult spots.

The one Hughes recalls best was when she postholed over her head in a snow bridge and wound up waist-deep in frigid water in the High Sierras. Those individuals with the unique trail names stayed with her, talking to her to help her keep her bearings as they dug with ice axes toward her. They handed her a headlamp and helped her dig holds to get herself out of the snow and back on the trail.

There were 40-mile waterless stretches, treks over long snowfields, night hikes through the Mohave Desert, the sense of vertigo and sense of nowhereness while hiking through fog, creative river crossings and more for the girl who started the trail at about 200 pounds and lost roughly 40 on the way.

She took in 6,000 calories daily, finding herself putting olive oil on everything, and slipped about a month of “zero” days (remaining at camp next to a lake and swimming all day or flipping through the channels on a hotel television) into her five-and-a-half months of hiking.

“We took the hard things one at a time,” she said. “Sometimes, I couldn’t fathom 2,663 miles… or getting to camp, or my next Snickers break. But I could take one more step, and after that one more step.”

Another time, a trail companion postholed up to his neck, only to look up and announce that he was standing in a stream.

“Anybody need a water bottle filled?” he said before clambering out.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do it alone,” Hughes said, though she admitted she was eager to tackle the task independently at first. “Not a chance. And that is what trail family is.”

They took in beautiful views together. They provided safety together. They were secure together.

“I still can’t even wrap my mind around the distances we were able to cover,” Hughes said. “You do it and you still can’t quite understand it.”

“It happened,” she added. “It wasn’t about finishing the trail. It was about the moments in between.”


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