My Thru Hiking Evolution (Part 1 of 3)

I consider myself lucky – being outdoors is in my DNA. My parents met in the Trails Club of Oregon and were married shortly thereafter. They loved the outdoors and made sure that me and my three younger siblings got to enjoy the great outdoors as well (although I don’t think it made as big an impact on the others as it did with me.)  We did a lot of car camping including some several epic 3 to 4-week trips touring the National Parks and Monuments of the Western US. As we got older, we started day hiking as well as doing some very short backpacking trips.

The Formative Years – Troop 69

At the age of 11, I joined the local Boy Scout troop.  This was no ordinary troop.  They were not focused on merit badges and advancement, but rather outdoor experiences. We did 8-9 overnight backpacking trips and a snow camping trip each year.  Many of these trips were in the Columbia River Gorge, just an hour east of Portland, OR.  Then every August, we did a weeklong 50-miler. My first trip was on the WA PCT from White Pass south to Killen Creek Meadows.  I was hooked. I went on five more long hikes – The Wallowas, North Cascades, Olympics, Bull of the Woods Wilderness, and the PCT through the Jefferson and Sisters Wilderness Areas. Without a doubt, this experience played an important part in my decision to do the PCT a few years later. Interestingly enough, I was not the only boy from this Troop to do a thru hike.  In 2019 “Toast” did the PCT, SOBO no less. A huge thanks to my first Scoutmaster, Mr. Cameron, and later my Dad, for leading this crazy troop.

Troop 69 on the PCT north of Old Snowy (Goat Rocks)

1977 PCT Thru Hike

While I was still in the Scouts, I ran across a copy of “The High Adventure of Eric Ryback” which detailed his 1970 PCT SOBO hike.  This book, along with several books by Colin Fletcher, planted the seed for wanting to do a thru-hike. The idea didn’t take root until my sophomore year of college when I ran across a classified ad in the student newspaper from an individual who was looking for a hiking partner to do the PCT.  Engineering classes were burning me out, so much to my parents’ chagrin, I decided to delay finishing college and hike the PCT with my new friend Bob.  My parent’s basement became resupply central.

On April 2, 1977, just a couple months after deciding to do the hike, we were at the border at Campo, along with about 20 other Eric Ryback wannabees. There was a single book by Chuck Long dedicated to PCT hike planning comprised of about thirty (30) surveys from some of the earliest thru hikers which recommended an early April start, thus the crowd at the border.  There was no wall, just a barbed wire fence.

I completed the hike on September 13, 1977 (Bob had dropped out in Central WA) and shortly thereafter returned to college  I won’t bore you with the details of the trip other than for the fact that I made some life long friends on that journey including Strider (ADZPCTKO co-founder), The Chairman, and PA Jeff.  Jeff is now a triple crowner with multiple additional PCT hikes as well as many other long trails.  He has rebranded to Jay-Z.  He hosted me on my 2017 AT hike at his home in PA and will be joining me for the AZT this year.  I would be remiss not to mention the class of 1977 got together in 2002 for a 25-year reunion at Castle Crags. I’m hoping there will be a 50-year reunion as well, although sadly, it will be without Strider who lost his battle with ALS several years ago.

The PCT Class of 1977 25-Year Reunion at Castle Crags. The signs are replicas.

The Next Forty Years

After completing college, I went to work in Construction Management, spending most of my career as an Estimator for large public and private projects.  Two years were spent in Anchorage, AK where I learned to nordic and downhill ski, ice skate, and fish for salmon.  Truly an epic experience.  I got married, raised two kids, and then got divorced after they completed college. I did a lot of camping and hiking with my kids, but never lost the urge to do another big hike.  For many years, I had to be satisfied by doing the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood.  Then at the age of 59, I decided to go for it and hike the AT.  I spent months planning while still working. It was almost overwhelming – there is so much more info now and the gear choices are astounding.

Parts 2 and 3 of this post will touch on my more recent adventures (AT, CT, TRT, TABR) followed by an intro to my 2023 AZT hike.

Instagram: @beertownbill

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Comments 2

  • Paul Rhoades : Feb 2nd

    Love your story, I have you by a year and will be retiring at the end of this year, making plans to hike the AT next February. This will be my first thu hike , but I have done a lot of one week trips. Looking forward to following you on your next adventure!!

  • Hailey B : Feb 3rd

    I’ll have to look that book up! I love trail journals, and hadn’t heard of that one. Maybe Powell’s will have a cool old copy!


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