Not Your Average Hike: Alex Detweiler’s Pacific Crest Trail Experience
The sunrise wakes you up with piercing rays and an orange sky, the refreshing air kissing your face. You sit up and arch your tired back, your spine popping. Before you is the Pacific Crest Trail, waiting for your sore feet to traverse it.
Alex Detweiler woke up every morning in a similar fashion on the PCT, completing 2,199.1 of the 2,650.1-mile trail. “I have a 303.3 mile hole between Dunsmuir and Sierra City (northern California) that I still need to finish up,” he says. Depending on the time of year and location, there are multiple areas to get around closed parts of the trail and to get to and from towns for supplies.
“I started hiking north from Mexico on April 20, and I got off the trail for the last time on October 20,” says Detweiler. “So it was a six month experience! I really enjoyed the feeling that there was nothing in the world I needed except what was on my back and I could take it anywhere. That is the truest sense of freedom I have ever felt.”
Though he notes the numerous positives to a thru hike, he also mentions the harsh realities of them as well. “You wake up every day, fresh air, nature sounds, pretty sunrise, real nice, but also smelly feet, no shower, you try and get up and your entire body is sore! The coffee sucks, you know you got so much work to do every day, eat some boring food, pack everything up into your backpack, and you load that sucker up on your shoulders and strap in and walk even on days you don’t want to.”
What begins as physical journey he says becomes mental, such as convincing yourself to continue walking and finish. The parts of the trail more in the desert, Detweiler says “there is a lot of local support. It comes in the form of easy hitching into town, locals (referred to as Trail Angels) who open up their homes, or post up near the trail to distribute Gatorade and beer, or even just leave a cooler full of treats. Some of them have even built out their properties to accommodate the huge wave of hikers that come through…It was the most social, in some ways the most comfortable. The naivety and newness made it fun and exciting. It was the section where you were meeting new people and learning trail etiquette and all that. And it was really gorgeous in its own right.”
From hiking through the familiar terrain of Southern Oregon to northern California’s rainy sections, Detweiler experienced the best and the worst nature has to offer. One of the most challenging components of the PCT didn’t happen on the trail, however, but after it. “There is a well documented phenomenon of ‘post trail depression’ as hikers struggle to cope with the loss of freedom, the loss of exercise, the loss of a sense of adventure,” says Detweiler. “The way I’ve put it is: I would love to thru hike again, but I really don’t want to come back from a thru hike again. It’s different for everyone, but it’s almost always really difficult.”
Among his most rewarding experiences are accomplishing 40 miles in one day twice. Ridge-walking,” he adds. “Those moments where you are on top of the world up in the clouds and you can see for miles and it’s so beautiful.”
While back at home, Detweiler is contemplating whether he’ll finish the 303.3 miles he has left or hike the entire trail again. He also hopes to take on other well-known trails, like the Continental Divide Trail, Idaho Centennial Trail, and the Te Ararora in New Zealand. Wherever the big trail he chooses to journey across next, he’s sure to experience nature in a way few get to in their lifetime.