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How Does it Feel to Hike 2,650 Miles with My Family?

Photo of the Egbert family atop a mountain.Photo courtesy Wilderness Press

How does it feel to hike from Mexico to Canada? The short answer: thrilling! The long answer includes several other adjectives, ranging from awe-inspiring to painful, plus overwhelming, difficult and fulfilling. Many of the people who saw my husband Gary and me hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with our 10-year-old daughter Mary in 2004 might have added a few more words, ranging from inspirational to irresponsible. Many Americans -- including quite a few who consider themselves outdoor enthusiasts -- firmly believe that no child so young should be required to walk more than a few miles a day, or be exposed to the vagaries of nature, whether wild weather or wild animals. What I found surprising as we headed north from Mexico to Canada -- dirty, blistered, footsore and underfed was that the more people knew about backpacking, the more they were likely to believe that two 50-some parents and a 10-year-old girl could succeed. Our fellow PCT thru-hikers, knowing of our experience, preparations and determination, thought we had a very good chance of finishing. Sheer stubbornness -- especially on Mary's part -- also played a major role.

 

Success was sweet when, after six months of hiking the trail, we crossed the snowy border from the United States into Canada on Oct. 25, 2004. Although I had left the trail for three weeks to obtain medical and dental care for severe shin splints and an abscessed tooth, I was able to rejoin my family for the final 70-mile push into Canada. (I returned to Washington during summer vacations in 2006 and 2008 to finish the portion I had missed.) Reaching the end of the trail made Mary the youngest person to backpack the entire trail during one year -- and gave me the impetus for the book I wrote about our experience: "Zero Days: The Real-Life Adventure of Captain Bligh, Nellie Bly, and 10-Year-Old Scrambler on the Pacific Crest Trail" (Wilderness Press, '08).

 

What did we learn from the PCT experience? We knew at the start that we had the skills, strength and experience for a long trail. And we knew what to expect from each other under various levels of mental stress and physical hardship. What we learned on the PCT was that each of us could go far beyond what we had considered our boundaries for endurance and perseverance. We learned that each of us, including Mary, had hidden strengths and talents. Best of all, we learned that no matter what happened, we could rely on each other to work toward our goal.

 

-- On hiking trails, Barbara Egbert (B.A., '72) goes by the name Nellie Bly. She and her family live in the East Bay.


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