On this day, May 31, in 1996, I hiked up a snowy Mount Whitney with my hiking partner Pete. We were 767 miles into an attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and had no inkling how much snow lay ahead of us in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was our first time wielding an ice axe. At the end of the day I said into my micro-cassette recorder:
And coming down from the mountain, it seemed like a beautiful and hard life we’re living. And I think that’s what it is, beautiful and hard. In many different ways.— 1996 Dylan
That was the really the first day of the hard part. We hiked the next 400 miles on snow cups, crossing creeks raging with snowmelt, hiking terrain I now prefer to travel on a splitboard, never knowing when it would end.
The snow did ease up a bit when we reached Tahoe, just a short drive from my current home in Reno. We thought we were home free, but the mountains had taken a heavier toll on us than we realized. By the time we reached the Oregon border we were both struggling with injuries, and I was out of money.
We had to stop, but we didn’t want to give up. So we made a pact to finish the hike, together, in the distant future but before we reached twice our current age. It was my 24th birthday, and Pete was still a tender 23.
You see where this is going. I’ll be 47 years old this July. Pete’s birthday follows in October. It’s time.
My mind often goes back to that micro-cassette recorder. It was one of only two battery-powered devices I carried, the other being a headlamp. Of all the things in my pack, that recorder looms large as the most powerful symbol of change.
In 1996 the Pacific Crest Trail Association recorded 81 completed through-hikes. Last year was a record 1163. I’m sure at least ten times more start and do not finish, like us. I wonder how many of those people can even imagine hiking with only four double-As in a headlamp and a cassette recorder?
I’ve decided to help them by doing it again. I’ll record my conversations and mail the tapes home to Ann. It will not be a podcast, but I will share the results eventually. I think it will be fascinating.
I may or may not post more thoughts before we head out on August 17. There are many topics to explore. How do our spouses feel about this? What happened to that suit Pete was hiking in? Is there a wall at the border? We’ll see.