Editor’s note: Throughout October, our #hikeOctober guest writers share what hiking means in their lives. Today, on the 50th anniversary of the National Trail Systems Act, our guest is Mark Larabee, the associate director of communications and marketing for the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA). The PCTA and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) are joining forces today to celebrate the milestone anniversary.
My wife, Carol, and I had been dating for less than a month when we took our first hike together on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was late August or early September; despite the waning summer, the day was long and warm, and the sky was a clear deep blue.
We left from the Frog Lake trailhead on Oregon’s Mount Hood and climbed up dusty trail through towering forest. We veered off the PCT after a time to see the beautiful Twin Lakes, a pair of small lakes nestled in the trees. We marveled at this peaceful place along the trail, shared some food, then continued to climb until the trail broke out of the woods.
There, we sat together on a rock and stared at the snow-covered summit of Mount Hood, a volcano rising high above tree line. I’ll never forget that moment. We were tired but filled with joy and emotion, both for nature’s beauty and our newfound friendship. It was magical.
Back on the PCT, the long hike back to the trailhead will be forever imprinted in our minds. We often joke about it. I don’t remember who said it first, but “where’s the car,” in a whiney voice, comes up nearly every time we head out on a trail somewhere. It reminds us of that day when we discovered one another’s deep need to be outdoors.
Since that first hike, we’ve taken many trips on the PCT over the last 15 years. We walked a 50-mile loop in the Sierra country to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday. Backpacking trips in Oregon’s Three Sisters and Mount Hood wilderness areas, or Washington’s Indian Heaven Wilderness, are just a short drive from home. We got engaged on the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge, on the last day of my 2005 Oregon PCT section hike.
The thing is, while we joke about the exertion and the exhaustion that hiking can bring, there’s no place either of us feels more at peace. We both spend our working days at the keyboard, so time outside is always precious, no matter how arduous. Whenever life’s daily grind becomes overwhelming, a walk in the woods is typically the cure.
The trail brings peace. On the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,650 miles through Washington, Oregon and California, there are so many magical places in which you can lose yourself. Deep in the backcountry wilderness, there’s beauty around every bend. Endless stars light up the night. Clean air fills your lungs as you walk through vast open spaces that fill your heart.
At the Pacific Crest Trail Association, we work to maintain the trail while protecting that precious experience. The trail crosses a patchwork of mostly protected public land. There’s always more work to do. And we always need your help.
Open spaces and trails across the country are for everyone’s enjoyment. These public lands are not just a gift to us, they are a gift to the world and those who will come after us. In them, I find true happiness.
– Mark Larabee
Click here to learn more about #hikeOctober, an annual program to raise awareness of the challenges of mental illness, fund mental health research and conserve wilderness trails. #hikeOctober is free to join, open to hikers with all experience levels, and an easy way to have your walk in the woods, or around the block, make an impact!