The Attempt Episode 10: 34 Hours in LA
Benjamin takes a little break from the trail to hang out with our Uncle Eric in Los Angeles.
The Attempt is sponsored by Gossamer Gear, manufacturers of functional ultralight backpacking gear, designed by hikers.
Previously, on The Attempt:
Benjamin: California, Baby! Woo! No more borders to cross…
Julia: And so, what was right for Benjamin was to skip ahead…
Benjamin: Today is 3 months since I started. I just realized that.
Julia: …He decided to leave those 411 miles of Northern California behind – he could do them next summer.
Benjamin: So we’ve been in the area of LA for a while and, if I’m being honest, I don’t like this section very much…
Benjamin: …Today someone asked me, “Are you doing this to feed your ego or feed your soul?” When I’m enjoying it, like this shit feeds my soul.
Benjamin: Ok so today was a great day. Around 10 AM I ran into two old friends.
Friends: Haha! Shred it bro!!! (Laughing)
Benjamin: I’ll hit 30 today so I feel good about that. Yeah. That’s about it.
Julia: You’re listening to
Benjamin: A podcast my sister makes
Julia: It’s called the attempt
Benjamin: I see what you’re trying to do!
Julia: (Laughing) Alright…
(Train sounds; bells)
Julia: It’s 9:00 at night, October 21, 2019, and Benjamin is arriving at a train station in Los Angeles. Patiently waiting to pick him up – and recording the whole scene for me – is our Uncle Eric.
Benjamin: Hey uncle Eric! How ya doing!
Eric: Good, how are you!
Benjamin: I feel ridiculous
Eric: Why?! You look awesome!
Benjamin: Oh, I think it’s so funny.
Eric: Can I take a photo of you here in the station?
Julia: This is the first time Eric has *ever* seen Benjamin with a beard.
Eric: Awesome! Love it! I love it!
Benjamin: I’m so happy to be here right now!
Eric: Oh my gosh, I’m so happy to have you here.
Benjamin: I badly needed a day in town.
Eric: Yeah, ok.
Julia: A few minutes later, Benjamin loaded his pack into the back of Eric’s car and they set off in the dark toward his house in Venice.
Eric: You’re getting the scenic route.
Benjamin: I’m pretty used to the scenic route. (Laughing)
Eric: Yeah, I know! Sorry.
Benjamin: Don’t worry about it.
Julia: Benjamin’s been to LA before, but he’s never walked there from the Canadian border.
Eric: It’s a big city.
Benjamin: This is a bit of a trip for me right now. (Laughing)
Eric: I’m sure! It’s such culture shock!
Benjamin: This is really funny!
Julia: On the trail – and in these small trail towns along the way – Benjamin has been spending a lot of time with other people who are also living the trail life. And I think LA must feel like a big contrast to that. And our Uncle Eric is one of the first people he’s seen in a while who really knows him – knows what he looks like without a trail beard. I think he’s able to hold up a mirror to Benjamin so he can see how what his life looks like now from the outside.
Eric: So, how much hiking alone are you doing?
Benjamin: Today it was 13 hours of hiking alone.
Eric: Oh really?
Benjamin: Yeah, I’d say like 50% of the time I’m alone, 50% I’m with someone. I’ve been hiking with this guy Matt for a month now, but sometimes we’ll be separated by like a day and we’ll have to wait until town to link back up.
Eric: And do you do that, like—are you waiting for him?
Benjamin: I would never wait for him and he wouldn’t wait for me.
Benjamin: It’s just like: we’ll link up eventually.
Eric: Right, right.
Benjamin: So, like, the other night, he stopped at 6 and I wanted to keep on walking until 9. And he stopped at 6 and I was like, “Ok, he’ll catch up eventually.” And so then yesterday morning I turned a corner and he had actually gotten ahead of me somehow, because I had slept in, and he was sitting there eating breakfast. And I was like, “hey man!” and then we just sort of kept on walking again. It was great!
Eric: That’s so cool!
Benjamin: It’s so fun that way.
Eric: So, wait, when is it getting dark now? It’s like…
Eric: 7? So you walked for 2 hours in the pitch dark?!
Julia: Sometimes even I forget how crazy all of this is. Hearing Eric react to Benjamin’s adventure reminds me: it is objectively a crazy thing to choose to do this. Walking for 13 hours a day, by yourself, and a lot of that time in the pitch black, in the woods. In fact, it’s that last bit that really seems to stick with Eric.
Eric: So, wait, that’s kind of like… tell me about that. So it’s a headlamp, you’re alone—
Benjamin: I was with someone that time. I was with another random guy, but half the time – I’d say once or twice a week I hike alone at night. I like it.
Benjamin: It’s peaceful. It’s actually really peaceful, if you have a good headlamp and it’s bright enough..
Eric: It would make me nervous.
Benjamin: For what? Like, animals?
Eric: I don’t know, I’m a wuss. (Laughing) I mean, you know, just walking alone in the woods
Benjamin: It’s a little creepy.
Benjamin: But I really like it. I really like hiking alone at night.
Eric: Wow. Has there been anything – any scary moment?
Benjamin: There was one really scary moment. I hiked alone at night and it was a weird thing where I had been hiking with a bunch of people and everyone had shared where they were camping that night. And I didn’t – I was like – I had just enough energy to not be in either group. Like, I didn’t want to camp at the river because I had too much energy. But I didn’t have enough energy to go to the base of the mountain. So I was like, there was a mile between me and the closest people on either side. And I was like, “that’s fine.” And I plopped my stuff down – found a spot off the side of the trail, like 100 yards, plopped by stuff down, and I’m setting up my tent, getting food ready. And then I hear someone – like a woman’s voice from right behind me, like farther from the trail than where I was, go, “Hey there.”
Benjamin: And I was like, “What the fuck?” And I turn and there was no one. It wasn’t like a rustling – it was a, “Hey there.” (Laughing) And I was like, “oh no.”
Eric: So there was never a person there?
Benjamin: And I waited and I called out and I searched and there was never a person. And I kinda went to bed that night being like, “Alright, hope I don’t die.” (Laughing)
Eric: Oh my god. Oh my god. That would’ve scared the crap out of me.
Benjamin: Yeah, and then I was like, well, I could freak out about it or I could just convince myself it didn’t happen. Which is what I chose to do. It was pretty funny though.
Julia: Later than night, they get to Eric’s house and Benjamin’s able to eat some food, take a shower, and sleep in a bed. There are a couple really great things about having our uncle Eric host Benjamin in LA. First, I think Benjamin was ready for a break – not just from the walking, but from the trail itself. I think he needed a little time away to get his perspective shaken up. Second, not only is Eric offering Benjamin a place to stay, he’s also helping me out by doing some recording for the podcast. And he’s not using his phone to do it – cause Eric actually has worked in audio quite a bit and he owns his own gear. So I asked him if maybe he would be able to interview Benjamin a little while they were together.
Eric: Testing, testing. Alright, now we’re talking.
Eric: First of all do you want to say where you are?
Benjamin: I’m in a hot tub in Venice at my Uncle Eric’s house. (Laughing)
Julia: Oh, and maybe I should’ve mentioned another reason it’s great for Benjamin to stay at Eric’s house: he has a hot tub.
Benjamin: (Laughing) It’s a Tuesday morning.
Eric: This is what you do on the trail, right? Someone sticks a microphone in your face? So you were telling me about the… 10 by 10.
Benjamin: Yeah, you want to go 10 miles by 10 am if you want to have a good, productive day. That’s kind of the good benchmark. And I missed it yesterday by 10 minutes. So it was a 10 by 10:10. Which was frustrating.
Eric: And – but you did, how far did you go yesterday?
Benjamin: Between 36 and 37. Which was the longest day for me so far.
Eric: So… so what if you missed 10?
Benjamin: Just meant that the second half of the day was tougher, fewer breaks.
Eric: Wait, it looks like your hands are peeling off. (Laughing)
Benjamin: Oh, I’m in the hot tub right now? What do you mean?
Eric: No, I mean, you haven’t been in there that long… it looks like, I mean…
Benjamin: Yeah they’re not doing well.
Eric: You want some lotion?
Benjamin: I don’t really know what’s happening. They’ve never looked like this before.
Eric: It’s probably just callous-y and being in soaking hot water.
Eric: Yeah. Alright, I’m not gonna make you talk here.
Benjamin: Yeah that’s pretty gross. I’m actually gonna get out as well.
Julia: After Benjamin got out of the hot tub and dealt with his peeling skin – I hope – he and Eric went out for a day of LA activities, including but not limited to: eating brunch and taking a pottery class.
Eric: Alright, I’m gonna just jump in so I don’t waste our time
Julia: Later that evening, they sat down for a proper interview.
Eric: Like, I mean, describe how you… I guess I could say, describe how you’ve changed. But start with: describe how your body’s changed in this.
Benjamin: I feel scrawny. My upper body feels really scrawny. I have, in my opinion, a really unfortunate beard and mustache situation. Um, my hair is super long. My mother tells me it’s handsome but I don’t love it. My legs have gotten stronger. Haven’t lost too much weight or gained any weight. Yeah, I mean, I eat a tremendous amount. The fun thing is, before I bought compression shorts, I had more loose, lightweight shorts. And all the hair on the front of my thighs chaffed away. Which was – the leg – the hair was gone, rubbed off by the shorts. Which was super strange. That’s a fun, very accurate answer to your question of how has your body’s changed.
Eric: That’s good. You bought new shoes at the beginning, right?
Benjamin: I changed from more rigid hiking boots to trail runners, so that’s one thing that changed. I changed the brand of sock I have and bought sock liners. So that’s a complete revamp of the foot situation. I bought knee braces, which I didn’t have before … I got rid of my old pants – which were like convertible shorts to pants and bought running shorts with the compression shorts sewn in .. Sent the other stuff home…Got rid of my lightweight tee shirt and got a lightweight button up with sun protection … My hat is the one thing I’ve kept the same. Um and it really… you can tell. It’s greasy, sweat, a completely different color than I started. It’s pale now and it was purple when I started … I got rid of my second set of clothes but I have sleep clothes which I kept form the start… went from 3 pairs of boxers down to 1. Which keep things, um, spicy. What else? … I bought a new sleeping bag. Probably the most important change I made in terms of being comfortable. And then I bought a new sleeping bag liner to keep it warmer… I swapped out my sleeping pad at a hostel because mine was about 4 feet long, and I’m about 6’2” so it wasn’t my size..I got a new tent because my old one broke. Kept my backpack, kept the same hiking poles even though they don’t’ have any tips anymore… Yeah. Which I think is pretty par for the course. So my pack has gotten lighter in a lot of ways.
Eric: So, I was just gonna ask you… you were saying you had come to grips with skipping the 400 miles and now you’re going back and forth again.
Benjamin: I feel like I go back and forth a lot. I think it would be really nice to get to the end and be done, but I’m also excited to have a future adventure to look forward to. If I were finishing right now it would be really, kinda final. But I think that having something I know I get to do next year makes it a little less final. And that kinda counteracts the feeling that it would be really good to finish now, and feel that triumph, but it would be best to do next year. And all the cool people I have met by virtue of skipping ahead, I would not have met.
Benjamin: I think it was objectively the right choice. And people who didn’t do it got ok weather, but they were colder than I was. So I win that one I guess.
Eric: Ok, so what occurs to me is like, you told me that it’s hard for you to not feel bad if somebody’s passing you.
Eric: And so what I’m wondering is, is there a right speed for you that’s not relative to other people. You know, like… it’s kind of a sprawling question – like, what is the trip about and what do you get from going faster, or slower, or is it just competition. Or maybe there’s your speed – that there will be a certain cadence that will be right for you.
Benjamin: Hmm that’s a good question. There was a guy who, I mentioned this in one of my recordings, who said you should ask yourself every day, “are you doing this for your ego or for your soul?” And I think what he meant is that it should all be for your soul. And then I passed him and I was like, “Haha, I passed you.” (Laughing) And I knew was I was thinking that, like, this is the wrong way to be thinking. And that was a long time ago. And since then I’ve convinced myself that passing is not inherently a good thing. But I think that the way I interpret what he said now is that sometimes it’s ok to do things for your ego, and I think the split I’ve come down on happily is 75% do things for the soul, 25% for the ego. Because at the end of the day, part of this, you should be proud of. And by ego I mean, an accomplishment that makes you proud because you did it. Even if there isn’t somebody meeting up with you, there are some days it’s just important to push myself. But the vast majority of the time, he was right. You should be doing things that feed your inner well-being. And that doesn’t always mean going fast and passing people.
Eric: Yeah, like I wonder… it keeps coming back to: what’s the goal? You know, is it to finish? Or is it the journey?
Benjamin: Yeah, no, my buddy yesterday – was it yesterday? Two days ago. We hadn’t camped together, we had camped a couple miles apart. So I asked him how his night was and he was like, “It was good. I had a realization that I think I’m probably gonna stop hiking after Halloween.” I was like, “what? You’ll be so close!” And he was like, “I was sitting ether, having breakfast, it was a delicious breakfast. And the birds were chirping and the leaves were rustling and everything was breathing around me and I was like, this is what I want.” And at that point he wasn’t hustling, he wasn’t trying to make it far or go fast. He was like, “This is perfect.” And as soon as he snapped out of that, he was like, “Crap, I have to make it so much further tonight. I want to get to the border at this point. And so we were talking and he was like, “this is turning into a race for me, it’s about hustling and I’m not enjoying it. And I think that I should just go through Halloween and then stop.” And he was like, “it would be weird because I’ll be super close to the border, but I think I’ll just go home or maybe hitchhike up to Big Sur.” And that just blew my mind because… I was like, “You’re probably correct that that’s what’s right for you. You’re probably correct that that would be healthier for everyone. But you’re not gonna convince me right now.” And he wasn’t trying to convince me, he was just sharing his personal philosophy. And it was funny because it’s just such an emotionally intelligent way to approach this and I think I’m kind of pushing back on any voice that tells me to do that. I just reject that. But I thought that was a really cool strategy. Not my strategy, but it was cool.
Eric: Do you have… is there a time you need to be back?
Benjamin: It was Thanksgiving, originally, but I’m gonna be well before that. So no.
Eric: So, could you imagine yourself… like, you’re normally hiking now 30 plus miles a day, right?
Benjamin: Averaging a little below 30.
Eric: So, could you take a day – and I don’t mean half a day where you hike a lot and then do nothing – could you change your pace so you hike a 15 mile day or a 12 mile day.
Benjamin: Yeah, that could be like a really cool challenge. That could be a really cool challenge.
Eric: Do you think you would do it?
Benjamin: Yeah, I think so. Since I only have a couple weeks left, I could buy flights and then try to set a record for my longest day and try to set myself a record for my shortest day.
Eric: It’s just a thought. When you say “longest day” and “shortest day” I don’t even mean that. It would be the same length day. You would just move at a different rhythm
Benjamin: Oh. You’re definitely right that that would be such a good idea to do, but just my instincts are telling me not to do that. But like, my instincts are wrong.
Eric: I don’t know that they’re wrong. You may be at the right pace for you. But it would be interesting to see if you can adjust to that pace and then all of a sudden you might discover something different. I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe you’d hate it.
Benjamin: (laughing) No I think you’re probably right. Oh that’s so interesting. I think you’re 100% right. It’s just really hard to convince myself to do that. There’s something about the surge of people all going – just like the structure of this that makes it very hard to slow down.
Eric: That makes sense. I get that. It’s interesting. I’ll be interested to hear if you try it and if so…
Benjamin: Oh I’ll definitely try it. Yeah. I’m getting excited about this idea. I’m also getting excited about the really long day right before it.
Benjamin: Pushing both kinda extremes. I want to do 50 in a day.
Eric: That’s, that’s… holy crap, that’s a lot. Ok, last bit: how much farther do you have?
Benjamin: I’ve walked 1900 miles. I have 411 to do next summer and I have 342 more until the border.
Eric: And how much time is that?
Benjamin: 342 miles is just over 2 weeks.
Eric: Like, no regrets, but you’re – I feel like you’re ready to be done.
Benjamin: I’m ready to be ready to be done is what I’ve been saying.
Eric: What does that mean?
Benjamin: Um… it means I don’t wish it were over yet, but I’m ready to start wishing that way. I don’t think that’s too far off.
Eric: It’s so funny, like going to the pottery class, everybody – when everyone hears what you’re doing they’re so excited.
Benjamin: People are excited! I didn’t expect. I guess that’s how I would’ve reacted had I been at a pottery class tonight and someone had walked in with their nephew and I would be like, “oh my god, you’re doing the PCT?! I have so many questions! I want to do it one day!” That’s exactly how I would’ve reacted, but I figured I was in the minority of people who were interested in that. It definitely also is different on the East Coast. Like my friend from the East Coast, when I told him I was doing it, he goes, “oh it’ll take you, what, 4 or 5 days?” And I was like, “No I’m walking.” And he was like, “You’re joking. You could totally drive that.” Which is funny.
Eric: I don’t know, I think it’s an excellent question. I don’t know what’s wrong with you, nephew. (Laughing) No, I actually, for the record, I admire your drive and your gumption and your spirit.
Benjamin: Aw, well thanks.
Eric: It’s such an amazing adventure.
Benjamin: It’s fun. I’m having a good time. For now, I’m having a good time.
Eric: Ok, I’m gonna not make you keep talking.
Benjamin: Thank you.
Eric: It was fun.
Julia: During Benjamin’s 34 hours in LA, he was able to rest his body, and soak in a hot tub, and go to a pottery class, and eat avocado toast. I think staying with Eric was more of a break than he usually gets in towns. Because it wasn’t just a break from the exertion of hiking. I was also a break from the culture of the trail. It felt like a chance to recalibrate his attitude – especially with only 342 miles to go. By the morning of the 23rd, he was ready to get back to the trail. They piled into Eric’s car and this time, Eric took him all the way to Cajon Pass, to the trail head, so he could get started with his day nice and early.
Benjamin: There’ll be a little turnaround… On the GPS app, this is called “the road to McDonalds.” There it is. This is the turnaround.
Eric: Oh, that’s the trail!
(Car door closes)
Eric: It’s beautiful here by the 15 freeway.
Benjamin: Yeah it’s a very scenic spot.
Eric: Let me take a picture of you by the sign.
Benjamin: For sure!
Benjamin: Alright, Eric, thank you so much.
Eric: It was so good to see you.
Benjamin: It was so great to see you too!
Eric: And hopefully I’ll see you at the end. We’ll stay in touch.
Benjamin: Yeah, that would be really fun!
Eric: We’ll figure out the timing. Alright. Be safe.
Benjamin: Will do! I’m off! Should I sprint up the hill?
Eric: No, I’ll just record your feet.
(Hiking sounds continue in the background, slowly replaced by the freeway sounds below…)
Julia: You’ve been listening to The Attempt, produced by me, Julia Drachman with editing help from Doug Beyers. And this episode in particular would not have been possible without the amazing interviewing and recording by Eric Drachman, so huge thank you to my Uncle Eric. The Attempt is a production of Bad Cat Media, created in partnership with The Trek – a media company dedicated to thru-hiking and long distance backpacking enthusiasts. Find all the episodes of The Attempt at thetrek.co/the-attempt. You can find more information about Bad Cat Media on our website, www.badcat.media. Or you can follow us at @badcat_media on instagram and twitter. The music you heard in this episode is from Blue Dot Sessions. Thank you so much for listening. We’re going to be taking next week off so that we can finish the next episode, so that one will be out – not next week – but the week after.
(…continued sounds from the 15 Freeway)
Eric: And he’s gone – out of sight. So cool!
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