Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pair make hasty work of PCT trek with nary a spat

By Ed Zieralski
August 24, 2008
One of the amazing things about Scott Williamson and Tattoo Joe Kisner's recent speed hiking record on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail is that they never had one disagreement. That's a record time of 71 days, 2 hours and 41 minutes treking together from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon and Washington, without so much as a, “Dude, will you please shut up about how sore your feet are,” or, “I'm hitting the buffet in town, see ya.”
Nothing, not one feud between two men who set off to break the PCT speed record, did that by more than eight days and also found a best friend along the way. “I'm really surprised because neither of us even got a little grumpy,” said Kisner, the 42-year-old father of two and marble mason from Huntington Beach who said he lost his huge gut and 50 pounds during the amazing trek. “We just really got along.”
These are veteran unsupported through-hikers, the term given to these driven adventurers who spend months, sometimes years of their lives, hiking the Continental Divide Trail, PCT, Appalachian Trail or lesser routes, nonstop without a support team.
Williamson, 36, of Truckee, has done the trail 11 times now, including an unprecedented second up-and-back hike in 2006 (his first yo-yo of the PCT was in 2004).
Kisner set the speed mark on the PCT in 2007 when he hiked it in 79 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes. It takes mere mortals four to six months to do it. For them to do it in just more than 71 days has the hiking community buzzing.
“Seventy-one days in the wilderness, without a stove, cranking 40 miles a day, amazing, truly amazing,” said Reinhold Metzger, the ex-Marine from Point Loma who once held the unsupported speed hiking record on the John Muir Trail. “They truly are two of America's premier backpackers.”
They started June 8, much later than usual, but they wanted to miss the snowpack in the Sierra, and they did. They started in the hot sun of Southern California and finished in rain at Manning Park, Canada, on Aug. 18.
It was hotter than either remember it being on the trail, and it was smokier than ever with the hundreds of lightning-ignited fires in Northern California in June.
“The big challenge for me was the continual heat and the smoke we were in from the time we hit the Tahoe area until we reached Crater Lake in Oregon,” Williamson said.
Both spoke of the many mental challenges. Kisner had one physical ailment, his knee, which started aching with about 400 miles to go. A trail angel gave him a knee brace and he was able to continue.
“Had that started in Southern California, I would have had to stop,” he said.
One of the things that kept them compatible is that Kisner went to bed earlier than Williamson, who spent an hour or more taking care of his feet each night. By morning, both were ready to roll.
Today, both are back to their lives, the one with responsibilities, jobs, families. Williamson returns to his wife and job as a tree climber and arborist; Kisner to his wife and two daughters and job as a marble mason.
Kisner finds himself drifting back often to the trail and the incredible journey he and Williamson completed.
“You figure you've just spent over 71 days averaging 40 miles a day, and the way you survive is to daydream,” Kisner said. “It's a bit hard to concentrate again.
“But I'm already committed to go back to work Monday,” Kisner added. “One of the things I'm really struggling with is that I miss my friend already. I never had a best friend like that, someone I could hike with. I'd say the thing I miss the most right now is hiking with my friend.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Modern Muir's split personalityBilly Goat is a hiking legend on the Pacific Crest Trail, but at home in 'civilization,' he's gruff

On the Pacific Crest Trail, Calif. -- In the southern Sierra Nevada, an old man with an untamed beard hikes a familiar trail, his sinewy legs pumping like pistons for mile after mile toward an ideal and away from civilization.
George Woodard is his name in the legal sense, but he no longer is that person. On the trail he is known by his nom de guerre: Billy Goat.
"George is the name my mother gave me," he said.
Billy Goat has hiked more than 32,000 miles - which would have taken him around the world and a third of the way again. He has walked across the South and the Southwest, the Northeast and the West. He has crossed the Rocky Mountains on four occasions, twice in each direction. He has conquered the so-called triple crown of American hiking - the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail - multiple times.
He has a wife, his third, and a home in Nevada. That is where George, the 69-year-old retired railroad worker, would live if Billy Goat cared to be George. Billy Goat lives more than 10 months of the year outdoors, drinking unfiltered water from streams, eating 8-ounce meals he prepares himself, sleeping under the stars without a tent. He carries what he needs in a backpack weighing less than 10 pounds.
"I'm not on vacation. I'm not out for a weekend," he said, settling in for the night under a fire-scarred tree next to a gurgling creek and surrounded by the rugged granite outcroppings of the Dome Land Wilderness east of Bakersfield. "This is where I live. When you do that, all the other trappings of life fade away."
For six months of the year, Billy Goat's home is the Pacific Crest Trail, the 2,650-mile uber-trail of the West that stretches from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington.
He is a legend in the small but growing fraternity of ultra-long-distance backpackers, renowned for his stamina and trail knowledge and envied for a single-minded devotion to living outdoors. First-timers on the PCT inevitably hear about Billy Goat. They spy his signature entry in trailhead logs - a red-ink stamp of a goat. Chance encounters are described in awed tones in Internet journals.
"He's the heart and soul of the PCT," said Monte Dodge, 50, who hiked the length of the trail when he was 19 and does a portion of it nearly every year. "It's his wisdom, his longevity - the whole package. He's a modern-day John Muir."
The resemblance goes beyond the hawkish nose, determined eyes and gray beard that Billy Goat hasn't tended in 13 years. Muir spent months at a time wandering the Sierra alone, carrying little more than a blanket, bread and tea as he developed his philosophy of the restorative power of nature on the human spirit.
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home," Muir wrote. On another occasion he observed: "Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts."
Billy Goat has never read any of Muir's prose. But more than any scholar, he understands through experience what Muir meant.
They head north each spring from a sun-baked wood marker in eastern San Diego County a few feet from a corrugated-metal wall along the Mexican border.
The writings contained in a log book at the PCT trail head glow with anticipation. "It's like my life is beginning," one hiker hoping to make it to Canada wrote. "Scary, new, awesome!"
Each year about 300 people attempt to hike the PCT in one season, generally April to September. Of those, about 60 percent make it - fewer people than scale Mount Everest in a year.
It's a grueling odyssey through the strata of the American West, from broiling deserts near sea level to snow fields above 14,000 feet, along rocky ridgelines and through rain forests, across swift, frigid streams and plunging canyons.
Planning a Pacific Crest expedition takes longer than the journey itself. Timing is everything: The desert must be crossed before it becomes dangerously hot, while the window for traversing the Sierra's snow is relatively narrow. A steady pace must be kept - 20- to 25-mile days are the norm. Daily life is rendered primeval: Food, water, shelter and miles are all that matter. Small-town post offices and other resupply spots constitute stations of the cross for weary hikers.
The challenge is so engrossing that hikers shed their identities and adopt trail names. Tattoo Joe and Mr. Wizard. Bad Pack and Thunder. Dirty Bird, Numskull and Good to Go.
"You're going to be hot, cold, hungry, dirty, tired, sore all the time. Once you get past that, you're gold," said Jackie "Yogi" McDonnell, a 43-year-old waitress who has hiked the triple crown and wrote a trail guidebook. "Your body can do it. The challenge is mental."
Because of that, McDonnell has learned it's impossible to predict a hiker's ability to complete the trail. An athletic college student on summer break may not have the mental toughness of a 45-year-old who takes on the PCT to exorcise a midlife crisis.
"You'll see Billy Goat and say, 'No way, he's 69 - he can't make it,' " said McDonnell, who has hiked with him numerous times.
Indeed, at first glance Billy Goat looks as if he might have just emerged from a homeless shelter. Twelve years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes.
But at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, there isn't an ounce of fat on him. His shoulders are as square as a sawhorse from carrying a pack. His legs, scarred by innumerable cuts in the wild, are as taut as wire rope.
"He's an amazing man. Ask him, 'Where do you live?' and he'll point to the ground and say, 'Here,' " McDonnell said. "He's so completely comfortable in his own skin. There's just an aura that surrounds him."
Son shares love of hikingToby Woodard says his father has diametrical personalities: On the trail, he is bursting with life - gregarious, charming, in total command of his domain. Off the trail, he is often stern and moody, an anxious recluse who struggles with depression.
"He is two different persons who has lived two different lives," said Woodard, 37, who lives in the former mill town of Gardiner, Maine. "The man has walked more than 32,000 miles purely for one reason: to escape from our culture."
Toby's parents divorced when he was 5, and for years he had little contact with his father. The two eventually bonded through a shared love of hiking. He calls his father BG; he is known as SOBG - Son of Billy Goat. "The only reason we have any relationship at all is because of the trail," he said.
George Woodard grew up in northern Maine surrounded by poverty and the infinite outdoors that would become a respite for a troubled soul.
Woodard left home at 17. A poor student, he had no interest in college and sought a railroad job because it was steady and paid well. Except for a stint in the Army, he would work for more than 30 years as a conductor and yard foreman for a number of railroads in the Northeast.
"When I was in my 40s, I was bound by my job," he said. "I would dream and fantasize about hiking all the time. And when I would finally go, I used every available moment. I would drive back just in time to go back to work."
The outdoors lifted his mood and silenced his anxieties. A roof over one's head was nothing more than a cage, he concluded. Woodard lived frugally, stockpiled money and, at 50, retired and escaped into the woods.
"We're only here for a short while. Time runs out on us," he said. "When we're in our 30s, we think we have lots of time. I'll do things later, we say. But now is later."
Mary Woodard, 63, a former chemist, met her husband in the mid-1990s when Billy Goat hiked through the Colorado town of Buena Vista, where she lived.
Today, they have a unique marriage: He hikes. She runs their home in Wellington, Nev., and provides support on the trail by mailing out resupplies of food, using Billy Goat's railroad pension. She also spends weeks every summer as a volunteer "trail angel," leaving out jugs of water for thirsty hikers and picking up garbage along the Pacific Crest Trail.
When Billy Goat comes home for a break, he prefers to sleep in the garage, which is equipped with a workshop where he prepares his meals. It doesn't take long indoors for his mood to darken, his wife said.
"He doesn't want anyone to know his real name because I think he knows that George isn't really likable. ... When he's off the trail, he's Billy Goat Gruff," she said, laughing. "He hikes because it makes him feel good. He's addicted to it."
Sights on 50,000 milesBilly Goat's first fix of the day begins at or before dawn. Once he gets going, he rarely stops. His steady, slightly bowlegged march propels him at 2 mph for hours on end. He stops only to eat a stew made from a mix of dried groats, beans and vegetables.
His day typically ends after dark. His goal is to cover ground, not to linger and drink in the grandeur of the outdoors.
"It's beautiful and all that," he said. "But it's the walking that I'm interested in. Doing it every day and the challenge of that. I've hiked in plenty of ugly places."
Over tens of thousands of miles, Billy Goat has developed a Zen-like asceticism in which life is reduced to one dimension, a straight line toward an ever-receding goal.
"The reason people fail is they start dreaming of home," he said. "They think about how nice a bed is. How nice a bathtub is. Wouldn't it be great to have hot water? Home is wind-free, dust-free, ant-free. You meet people on the trail who say, 'I haven't had a shower in days.' If that's so important, why are you out here?"
Billy Goat has learned a great many things living outdoors. How to find water where there seemingly is none. How to utilize a cluster of boulders to hang food overnight out of the reach of bears. How to navigate using a compass and map - a dying art in a world of global positioning devices, which Billy Goat would no sooner carry into the woods than he would a bowling ball.
He is obsessed with shedding every last unneeded ounce, a passion common among ultra-long-distance hikers. He carries one spoon; who needs a fork? Why lug a fancy Swiss Army knife when a simple paring knife will do? He has an expensive lightweight backpack and a high-quality down jacket and sleeping bag. He goes through four pairs of trail shoes a year - boots are too heavy. He doesn't bother carrying extra socks or underwear.
When traveling between trailheads, he'd rather sleep in his car - a battered 1990 Toyota Tercel dubbed the Goatmobile - than a motel.
"The more you hike, the less you need," he said. "You find out you don't need a big first aid kit. I carry just some moleskin and a bandanna. ... People always say, 'What if? What if? What if?' I don't think we should be too consumed with what-ifs. ... I'd be more afraid of what I'd encounter on the streets of L.A."
It's a philosophy he freely shares with younger hikers. Given his age, almost all of them are.
Claire Porter, a 26-year-old from Minnesota, started out on the Pacific Crest Trail in early April with a friend who was forced to drop out because of a back injury. She pushed on and intends to finish her first hike-through before the snow flies.
She ran into Billy Goat near a mountain pass where the trail transitions from the desert into the high country. The two hiked together and shared a camp near a stream.
As the sun set, they talked strategy: the merits of crampons versus an ice ax in the snow up ahead; whether a tent was needed at points up the trail; how much equipment was necessary.
Porter pulled out a satellite beacon that e-mails her parents with her exact location at the push of a button. In an emergency, she could send out a call for help.
"It's worth the weight for the peace of mind my parents get," she said. "I'm kind of a gear nerd."
"I'm not," Billy Goat mumbled to himself.
He got up and demonstrated how one piece of gear - a tarp - could be used both as a tent and a rain poncho.
"You look like a wise sage," Porter said as Billy Goat modeled the poncho. "A guru with your cloak on."
Soon, a nearly full moon lit up the night sky, and the only sound was the gurgle of the stream.
Early the next morning, the two parted company. Time is of the essence on the trail, especially when one is 69. Billy Goat needs to keep moving.
His goal is "50 by 80" - 50,000 miles by the age of 80, more than 1,600 miles a year.
"The only thing he lives for is to be on the trail," his son said. "When the point comes when he can't go out and walk a couple thousand miles - he's scared to death of it."
But today is not that day. The sun is barely up and Billy Goat is adding to his internal pedometer, legs pumping like pistons up and over a ridgeline, each step taking him farther away from a man named George.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


The Amazon Outdoor Store
By Troy HeieIt took four years — 100 or so miles every summer — but Medford Oregon's T.J. Harvey and his son finally conquered the Pacific Crest Trail through Oregon.T.J. was 67 and his son, Shaun, was 39 when they embarked on their trek near the Oregon-California border, fulfilling a long-held dream for both men that would rely on Shaun's periodic time off from work to complete the mission.Four years, 430 milesThe Harveys' itinerary for the Pacific Crest Trail was broken into four trips. Their first leg was cut short by forest fires, and they had to wait for Shaun to get time off from work to complete the final three legs.The trip brought them past Soda Mountain and Pilot Rock and through the Hyatt Lake area in Southern Oregon, into the lava fields off Highway 140 near Lake of the Woods, to the rim of Crater Lake and past 7,000-foot Diamond Peak en route to the Willamette Pass. They saw Obsidian Falls, went through the Santiam Pass and skirted Ollalie Lake on their way to Timberline Lodge, elevation 6,000 feet. Finally, father and son stood atop the Benson Plateau with a view of Mount Hood and their final goal in the distance, the Columbia River Gorge.The adventure started in July 2002 in the Seiad Valley off Highway 96 in Northern California, and the Harveys spent the next several years marking off territory as they "thru-hiked" over mountain passes, streams, rivers and color-dappled meadows.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sand everywhere on first leg of Pacific Coast Trail

"It was a light mist all morning, which made the hiking rather pleasant. Not the 100 degrees I have read about. After hours of walking I have had enough ... I am completely exhausted so I will sleep good tonight."
Stick's journal
Hot. Windy. Waterless.
Those three words pretty much sum up Brian Miller's experience the first month of his hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663-mile trek from Mexico to Canada.
"It was dirty and sandy," the 36-year-old said. "It seemed like sand was everywhere."

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