North Park, well before the sun is up, Texaspoo and Grams are waiting intently out in front of some small row houses. Texaspoo shows a four-day beard and wears running gear. Grams is rigged out in quick-dry greenish walking shorts, boots with fancy blue coverlets, and layers. Prescription glasses. Both are lean as greyhounds. Texaspoo polishes off a smoke, claims the Jeep’s front seat and immediately goes to texting. Grams studies the best possibilities to secure a two-foot store-wrapped stick of French bread onto his pack. These are men who think nothing of gathering up a jug of water and some granola bars and leaving civilization on a walkabout for days, even months, at a stretch. On this morning, their attention to the mission at hand is so unwavering that one fears whatever questions are sure to sound stupid.
But — that bread stick.
“That’s some trail food,” Texaspoo answers. He puts weight on the words trail and food. “Dude, you’re always hungry out there.” The glow from his phone screen up lights the mantle of his considerable brow. “With some sharp cheddar, bread like that keeps you going.” He does not look up from whatever message while he talks. “You hike hungry,” he says, “because you burn up about 6000 calories a day.”
He repeats the phrase “out there” again.
Grams says nothing.
‘Out there’ in this case is the Pacific Crest Trail — 2650 miles of bushwhacked footpath that traverses all three western states. The trail links So Cal with Canada, and it is where the Jeep will deposit Grams in another hour, give or take, at the southern terminus trailhead marker lodged into the hard earth not 50 paces from the U.S./Mexico border.
“What people don’t realize is that 2500 to 3500 people travel to San Diego April through May to hike the PCT.” Grams, Texaspoo says, is one of the many. The April — May launch is about waiting out the bad weather on the Pacfic Crest Trail to the north, meaning, the relative condition of the snow pack and the amount of it still on the ground at the higher elevations in Central and Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.
Talk of having such a trail dates back to the 1920s, but it was Pasadena Playhouse founder Clinton Clarke who got the ball rolling in 1932 by organizing the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference. Thanks to the efforts of dozens of hiking clubs, trail was more or less blazed (or connected using existing roads and trails) between 1935 and 1938 such that today, the Pacfic Crest Trail wanders through desert climes in Southern California to ice and snow all the way up in the Cascade Mountains.
Talk quickly returns to the main two uncertainties in the thru-hiker’s trail experience: burning calories, and the amount of food needed to replace them. “At the most,” says Texaspoo, “you can only carry about 4500 calories to replace the 6000 you burn. You’re always in a deficit. You hike hungry,” he says again. He should know; he’s walked that same walk. “I pack,” Grams offers, finally, pensive and tightly wrapped in his own thoughts, “things with a lot of protein. Things I can eat while I walk.”
Grams is Rick Rozands from Houma, Louisiana. He is 26. He flew in to San Diego for the hike the night before. Texaspoo is Patrick Seibt, 42, a self-employed artist originally from Lubbock. Grams and Texaspoo are trail names; all thru-hikers have them. Thru-hikers carry backpacks and often set up small camps for the night, but the sport is about hiking a long-distance trail from start to finish. Traveling light is mandatory; Rozands is called Grams on the trail because of his routine of weighing every single little thing before it goes in his backpack. Seibt’s trail name came after he took too low of a crouch while snowboarding down the face of a snowpack. As Texaspoo, he has successfully hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide, and the Appalachian Trail — the thru-hiker’s Triple Crown.
“It’s on my resume,” Texaspoo said earlier of his tri-coronation, while at a North Park diner. “8000 miles in 14 months through 23 states. I used project management, time-use management, and logistics. I prepackaged my supplies, handled the postage, and I organized a network of friends to mail them to towns along the trail.” He said he averaged 20 miles a day on the Pacific Crest Trail, but once pulled a 42-miler. “That was in Oregon. I started at 5:30 in the morning and finished at 2:30 am the next morning.”
For five months at a time he lived on Cliff bars, Luna bars, Top Ramen. “Dried fruit. Granola.” His pack weighed 37 pounds. It took him three days out of Campo to reach the Mt. Laguna summit. There’s a post office up there. “That’s your first stop to re-package.” Texaspoo says “You have to be kind of masochistic. You’re dirty. You smell bad. I wore one set of clothes the whole time. I would sit wrapped in a towel in a laundromat. You’re basically homeless for five months.”
Most thru-hikers take on average five months to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, although High Country News reported in 2013 that a 32-year-old woman named Heather Anderson hiked the trail in record time: 60 days.
Anish is her trail name.
Texaspoo stows his cell phone and locks eyes on the other hiker. “Dude: do not share your food when you get up in the Sierras. People are gonna hit you up for spare food up there,” he cautions the younger, less-experienced hiker. “But don’t do it. You need every bit for yourself, or you’ll starve to death.”
Thru-hikers are known to waste away, get sick, or become injured on the trail. A very small percentage don’t make it back home. A blog called Halfway Anywhere keeps tabs on death on the Pacific Crest Trail. In 1983, Gerald Duran and his hiking partner fell to their deaths in Wrightwood, California. In 1995, Jane Rodman and her hiking partner were hit by a car and killed while detouring along Highway 138 in Southern California. In 2005, John Donovan was lost in a Mt. San Jacinto snowstorm. The next year, Ray Echols fell to his death in the San Bernardino National Forest. In 2014, Timothy Nodel succumbed to heat stroke.