The Attempt Episode 11: “Go on a Camping Trip”
Benjamin loses his pillow. His body is falling apart. And every day, the finish line gets closer.
The Attempt is sponsored by Gossamer Gear, manufacturers of functional ultralight backpacking gear, designed by hikers.
Julia: Hey guys, so, before we get started today, I feel like I need to say something about what’s been going on the last few weeks. First of all, I hope you’re all safe, and healthy, and taking care of yourselves. I know this has been a really hard time and I just want you to know I’m sending you all love and strength to get through it. I also want to say – I know a lot of you listening are thru-hikers. Maybe you hiked last year or a year before, and maybe you were planning on hiking this year. This last week, the Pacific Crest Trail Association put out an announcement about the coronavirus. They asked hikers to postpone their plans to thru-hike this year. So I know a lot of you are listening to this with a bit of a broken heart. I’m so sorry. I know a lot of you were really looking forward to this and it sucks to not be able to go. I know Benjamin’s sad he won’t be able to do his section hike either. But I am so thankful to each and every one of you for making the decision to stay home right now and keep everyone safe. Not hiking through these trail towns right now is an act of kindness and – as hard and sad as it is to cancel something you’ve been training for and looking forward to – I’m sure it is the right decision. So thank you. Anyway, without further ado, let’s get back to the story.
Benjamin: Hey, what’s up? It’s Ben Drachman. I am doing I guess my first audio update. It’s 4 weeks today until I start the PCT Southbound so, right now, I threw my pack on and I’ve been testing out how it feels around my neighborhood. Having fun!
Previously, on The Attempt:
Benjamin: 7:05, let’s do it!
Mom: Go, go, go! Have fun!
Benjamin: Hart’s Pass, baby!
Julia: Any last words for the recording?
Benjamin: Uh, let’s rock and roll! … Hey, it’s Ben, first night of PCT trip… camped at Windy Pass… it’s Day 3… Day 5… It is Day 16, I believe… Day 17… Day 18… Day 20. Yeah, it’s a good day.
Julia: You all smell bad, but you don’t smell horrible.
Benjamin: We showered! Hey! Hey, we showered!
Benjamin: We are now walking away from Mount Rainer and toward Adams… South of Trout Lake… it is, I wanna say, Tuesday?… about 100 yards away from Bridge of the Gods… Hello from Oregon!… wow, what are those animals? Elk? That was really fucking cool!
Trail Angel: I am here with my friends and we are trail angel-ing today
Benjamin: Good evening (grunt) … It is Wednesday the 21st… August 25th… Today is, I don’t know, screw it, I’m not even gonna try anymore… Hey, good morning!
Benjamin: How’s it going?
Hiker: Good, how are you?
Benjamin: Doing well, thanks! Oops, ok so she definitely thinks I’m talking to myself… shit, what day is it? It’s Friday, September 6th… Heading toward Ashland, Oregon… California, baby! Woo! … Um, I’m really excited to see my friend Peter tomorrow.
Peter: Well this is day one for me, Peter Scott.
Benjamin: And he’s just been such a frickin’ trooper.
Benjamin (on the phone): …And they have a train station, so I figured it would be a good place to get off the trail… and I drove to South Lake Tahoe.
Julia: Got it.
Benjamin: Ok, I am wrapping up September 16… it is September 19th… but this is the best campsite I’ve had. It’s just so damn pretty… we’re about 11,000 feet… ok this is one of the best moments of the trail so far…
Others: There it is! Wooohoo! (Howling)
Benjamin: Owwwww! (Howling) … Today is 3 months since I started. I just realized that… so I am staying here in Tehachapi, California… I am sitting on a dirt road… I am in a hot tub in Venice (laughing) at my Uncle Eric’s house.
Eric: Could you change your pace, so you hike a 12-mile day?
Eric: Do you think you would do it?
Benjamin: Yeah, I think so.
Eric: So good to see you! And hopefully I’ll see you at the end. We’ll keep in touch.
Benjamin: That would be really fun!
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, fine…
Benjamin: Alright I wanted to make a quick recording after leaving Los Angeles. It’s almost 4:00, this day’s kinda flown past. It was so great to be in LA. It was cool to go to pottery class with Eric, and it just felt like I was not on the trail. And it made me feel like I’m probably a little ready to be done.
Julia: After his day in LA, Benjamin was back on the trail, with only 342 miles ’til the border. And despite all his talk with Eric about slowing down, he was really eager to catch back up with some of the people he had been hiking with.
Benjamin: And I really like all those people and I was concerned I wouldn’t see them again and I saw them already today. Matt within the first 5 minutes. He was taking a nap by the trailhead. And then I caught up with the quintet at lunchtime. Um… yeah it’s weird to be walking around a recreation lake. It’s very different from Washington or Oregon in which they were wilderness areas. It’s gonna be a 30 mile day altogether, which is a lot for starting on the later side like I did today. That’s ok. Alright, that’s all for now.
Benjamin: I am now, I guess, just a little bit under 2 miles away from the highway that leads me into Big Bear. Um, I’m going to go to the post office there, pick up the ballot that my mom sent me, which was really cool of her. So Big Bear is at mile 2386 which means… it’s 267 miles away from the end… and that number sticks with me because that’s exactly how far Snoqualmie is from the start. There’s a lot of symmetry… Rightwood is the like White Pass… something like that… Rightwood is the same distance from Mexico as White Pass is from Canada… And then Julian is the same distance as Stehekin and Idyllwild is the same distance as Stevens… So it means that the feeling I got when I arrived in Snoqualmie and met my parents and Romio and Anand and Rebecca… that is the… that distance that I traveled then is all I have left… Which of course feels funny because I felt like I’d done a great amount at that point. It’s all out of order and jumbled, but at the moment it makes sense to me…
Julia: So… unless you’re looking a map right now, or you’ve done the PCT yourself, this might not make any sense to you at all. But the takeaway for me is that he’s getting close. And the amount of miles he has left feels really doable. I think he’s starting the long process of coming to terms with the end.
Benjamin: I am ready to be done with the PCT. It’s a combination of the little inconveniences: like I’m sick of filtering water. I’m sick of digging a hole to poop. I’m sick of sleeping poorly. Like, I wake up like 5 or 6 times a night. Um… sick of the diet. So much sugar. Which I think I need, but it’s just gross at this point. Too many Snickers bars. Um, I’m not that sick of walking. It’s just kind of the other things.
Julia: For Benjamin, this is like the 22nd mile of the marathon – he’s close enough to feel like he should already be done, but not so close that he can just sprint to the finish line. It’s a tough part of the trail, I think. And this day in particular, he was not taking it easy. It ended up being a 31-mile day, including a resupply in Big Bear. And that is a long day. Later that night, just before 9 PM, he sat himself down in the mud in the dark to have a late dinner.
Benjamin: So, in… what town was that? Big Bear. I went to the Mexican restaurant, got a burrito before I left. It’s cold now, but I’m still really excited. So I thought I’d record that. The unwrapping. Oh it’s been so heavy in my bag. Can’t wait to get that weight away. Oh god, it’s gonna be so good. Mmhmm. Mmm. Probably would’ve been better hot, but not complaining. I think I’ll go a half-mile further to camp. Mmm. Wish I could have a burrito every night for dinner.
Julia: So, at this point, there was a reason why Benjamin was pushing so hard, hiking until after 9 pm. A few days earlier, he had made a commitment to get to the next town, Cabazon, by that Sunday morning. (Which was the day after next). His friend Peter Scott – the one who joined him for a week in Northern California – was planning to meet up with him there to take him out for breakfast. For that to work, Benjamin had to do 31 miles that day. Then 36. Then 10 on Sunday morning. And that is not an easy schedule, even in the best of circumstances.
Benjamin: Ok, I just needed to make a recording. I had probably the most frustrating hiking day I’ve had so far on this trip. So, I just finished the 36 and I kinda thought I’d be finishing at 8:30 pm or so. Instead, I finished it at 11. Which was so frustrating. It was a combination of things that slowed me down. It was a really tough section in which you’re in a pretty narrow canyon and the trail’s not clear at all, and it’s sand. So you can’t really follow footsteps carefully – or easily. The first six miles I did in the daylight, the second six I did in the dark. And my goodness was it hard. Just always off the trail, kind of twisting your ankle, crossing the river again and again and again. Trying to kind of guess where the trail is going. And then I also think that starting to listening to – ugh, I’m so tired I can’t speak. I think that since I’ve started to listen to music and podcasts, my pace has gone down. The result of those factors is that I’m getting to camp the latest I’ve ever gotten. (Sigh) I’m so tired. I thought of a lot of things today that I wanted to say to the podcast – or my journal, or whatever this is – but I just can’t do it right now. I’m too tired. (Sigh) But it’s sleep time now. Or more accurately, read 5 minutes of The Hobbit and then sleep.
Benjamin: (Grumbling) The trail giveth and the trail taketh. It’s 2:40 in the morning. And 5 minutes ago, I rolled over in my sleep and all of a sudden woke up and opened my eyes and saw my super lightweight pillow in the air, it was flying away in the wind and I watched it land about 30 yards away in the river. Quickly ran over there but it was already gone. So I guess I don’t have a pillow anymore. (Sigh)
Julia: After a 36-mile day of losing the trail in a canyon, and finishing at 11 pm, Benjamin lost his pillow in the middle of the night. The must be something that happens at the very end of something big like this. Everything gets a little more intense – a little crazier. It’s like the emotions of the thing are heightened and random, crazy shit starts to happen. Maybe you have your most frustrating day of hiking. Maybe the wind steals your pillow. But the next morning, on his way to meet Peter, Benjamin sounded downright chipper.
Benjamin: Oh my god. Woke up this morning, followed the riverbank, crossed the river, and decided to keep an eye out for the pillow. There’s a log crossing – where it’s a bunch of little logs that are piled together – that stretches from bank to bank and I just peak under it with my headlamp and I see my pillow trapped under it. Soaking wet, still inflated, and not popped. So it had totally landed in the river, exactly like I thought in my stupor. Floated downstream a couple hundred yards, and then got trapped where it couldn’t go any further. So got my pillow back, baby!!! (Laughing) Oh my god. I’m ready for this to be over, but fuck if that wasn’t funny! And I’m excited to go see Peter today and it’s pretty out. (Sigh)
Julia: I think a lot of things changed for Benjamin on this day. Not only did he get his pillow back, and but I think this is where things started to turn around for him. He started having more fun. And I think a part of that was meeting up with Peter and his sister Sara and her fiancée Jordan. Once he got to Cabazon, they all picked him up and took him out to Palm Springs for brunch and ice cream, and a quick resupply, and then dropped him back off on the trail. And after that, Benjamin was no longer in any kind of rush. That night, for the first time in a long time, he actually set up his tent.
Benjamin: I’m gonna make a quick recording while I get ready for bed. The past few weeks I felt like I was in such a sprint to get to Eric’s – to get to LA when I did. And then to get to meet up with Peter today that part of the reason I haven’t set up my tent was just out of speed. And um… so I set it up today and I remembered how comfy it is. I really like it. Um… I stopped hiking at 6:10 today. That is so early. I set up everything while it was still light. It’s 8:00 now. Yesterday at this time, I was – it’s 7:54 – yesterday at this time, I hadn’t even started dinner. I was still in that horrible valley with the river crossings, the canyon. And I had about 7 miles left to go. And now I’m tucked away, warm, and about the read The Hobbit in a little bit. I feel like getting through yesterday, which was a tough, hard day, convinced me: ok, take it easy, have fun. Go on a camping trip. And that’s what I’m gonna do. I think I have exactly 200 miles left. Or maybe 201. And I’m gonna have fun with them.
Julia: I love that after 2,000 miles of walking with a heavy pack, Benjamin finally feels like he’s earned the right to stop hiking before dark and read a book at his campsite.
Benjamin: It’s 5:45. I only hiked 6.5 miles today. I’m at a campsite that looks good. I’m just not gonna hustle. This is such a pretty view. There’s like four… five craggy peaks with – they actually have dead trees on them, which is usually ugly, but really pretty right now with the sunset behind it. Yeah, it’s gonna be windy tonight, so I’m gonna find a nice, protected spot. I’m gonna set up my tent and read for the bit, then make dinner. There won’t be a hurry. I’ll push myself tomorrow, really earn it. But I’m just gonna be very content today to… chill. (Sigh)
Julia: It’s like he flipped a switch in his mind and now, he’s finally allowed to coast for a bit. Or, at least, that’s the plan. The problem is, the hiking part is still pretty damn hard.
Benjamin: Ok, so today was frustrating. My day was fine starting out, waking up and stuff. (Yawn) That’s a big yawn. But I got so frustrated with the wind on the walk – the Santa Anna winds, which are really picking up. The low point – this is kind of embarrassing – the low point came when the wind knocked my hat off and I was so angry I kinda just… tried to stake my pole down so it wouldn’t blow away further, but I kind of threw my pole in anger also. And I wound up hitting myself in the head with the pole. Somehow. Um, which felt ridiculous. I skipped lunch also, which might have had something to do with that. (Laughing) Because I thought I could make it to this place I had heard of, which was 1 mile off the trail, down a highway, called Paradise Valley Café. Thought I could make it there by lunch which, spoiler alert, I didn’t. But I kinda got myself together at a certain point. And made it to Paradise Valley Café, got a really good burger. A brownie sundae. I just kinda needed it today. I have 150 more miles. And I’m excited for ’em I think. (Yawn).
Benjamin: It is Halloween! First I’m realizing it. Um, quick update on ailments. I don’t have any injuries but I just feel so shitty. My nose is constantly running. I need to pee like 15 times a day. But it’s always just like a weak stream. Which is not like a normal thing for me. Maybe more than 15, maybe 20 times. And it takes me forever to start peeing – which is also not normal. It’s very uncomfortable. I’m drooling all the time – I don’t know why that is. My back hurts, my neck hurts. But it’s just like… I think my body’s shutting down.
Julia: This recording in particular I’m glad my mom didn’t hear before Benjamin finished, because he sounds like he’s had it. But he keeps carrying on, putting one blistered foot in front of the other.
Benjamin: It is the First of November. Time is kinda moving pretty quickly I guess. Today we’re gonna camp at mile 100.5. Which is pretty frickin’ exciting. And I say we, meaning my buddies, the group of 5: Rook, Trooper, G-Punk, Soup, and Bounce. And they’re really lovely people. They’ve been really inclusive. Definitely makes a difference that they’ve been so welcoming to me… (Fade down)
Benjamin: Alright, today is November 3. It’s around 5:13 right now, but it’s Daylight Savings so the sun is setting. And this weird mountainous desert area is all kinda hazy and nice… (Fade down)
Benjamin: It is November 4th, third to last day. Oh, I almost fell. This fucking rocky trail! (Fade down)
Benjamin: Other news is that Spark – Matt – is off the trail now. He texted me and sayd, “Hey man, this is the end of the line for me. Travel light, travel far, and have a happy Halloween.” Or something classic like that, for him… (Fade down)
Benjamin: Man, I’m struggling now. My body is just like shutting down. My nose is like cracked and my lips are chapped and I’m drooling again and I have a new blister on my heel and my shins hurt. I’m getting sunburnt… (Fade down)
Benjamin: So I sat down to take a quick nap. And I don’t really remember starting hiking again. And after about thirty minutes or so, after I woke up from my nap, I looked up and realized – oh no, I’ve crossed this road before. And I was walking the wrong direction. And I had been for over a mile and a half… (Fade down)
Benjamin: When I kinda did the math and realized I’d get into camp before dark, I pulled over to the side, pulled out one of the magazines that Madi sent me in a resupply package, and just read for 30 minutes on the trail in the sun. I lay down in an itchy bush, which was a mistake. But that notwithstanding, it was really fun… (Fade down)
Benjamin: I don’t know where my group is. They’re trying to finish tomorrow. I’m comfortably happy with my decision to finish the day after tomorrow… (Fade down)
Benjamin: Um… I am so glad I did this. I just was smiling to myself and I started laughing and I was like, “I gotta record this feeling.” Because, I, basically, I mean, at this point I feel like I’ve done this… (Fade down)
Benjamin: Anyway, right now I am walking South. Sun is rising to the East and I am looking into Mexico. So that’s exciting… (Fade down)
Julia: So, that brings us to November 5, Benjamin’s last full day on the trail. And, like he’s done so many times on the trip so far, today he’s sitting on the ground, filtering water.
Benjamin: One sec, I’m gonna put the phone in my pocket. (Bird sounds) It is, from here, like 20 something miles to the border, but there’s actually no water. So I’m trying to take a bunch of water with me. And it’s funny, my filter broke – not my filter, the bag I use to collect water and then filter it – got a hole in it. Not a bad hole, but a substantial hole, like, yesterday. It’s just funny how things like hold out until the very last minute. Seems like a lot of things are kind of breaking like that. Um… Yep, I’ve been here about 40 minutes. It’s kind of ridiculous. But almost done filtering. Excited to never do this—well, to not do this again for a little while.
Benjamin: It’s… uh, what time is it? It’s 2:50 pm on my last full day. I have about 6 miles left today. I’m thinking right now about something that my friend Erin said last night on her last – everyone was leaving today, so they were kind of reflecting – and Erin said something really smart. And I’m gonna paraphrase her and maybe add my own take as well. I think what she said and what I believe is that there’s 3 challenges on the PCT. The first is physical, right? And that’s a fun challenge. It’s fun to push your body physically, and learn that you can do 20, 25, 30, 35 mile days. The next challenge could also be a fun challenge, which is uh… the mental. Accepting that some moments will be really uncomfortable. When it’s cold. When it’s windy. When it’s too hot and you have blisters. When the trail sucks. When your hiking partner is annoying you. When it seems like the trail will never end. That’s another challenge – the mental. Then the third is the “Fun Challenge.” Which is, despite the first two, while you’re tackling those two primary challenges, still having fun. And I really like that way of looking at it. And it is a challenge to have fun. Because, I think that, unlike other things I’ve done, you have to work to find the fun. I can’t think of a better way to describe the challenge of the PCT. I think that’s beautiful. Yeah so I guess, kind of on the challenge of having fun, I am going to have fun today. I’m gonna stop early, and I’m gonna do what I’d want to do on a backpacking trip, which is sit at camp, read, cook dinner leisurely. Yeah, that’s kinda what I’m thinking about right now. I got a couple of lasts coming up. Last dinner, last night, last poop in a hole. So stay tuned.
Julia: The next morning, as Benjamin woke up and started his day, our Uncle Eric woke up in a nearby hotel and started to make his way to the Southern Terminus to pick Benjamin up. And, speaking of lasts… this next recording? It’s the last one Benjamin made on the trail…
Benjamin: Alright, last morning. It is November 6th, my 113th day on the trail. I’m having my last breakfast right now. It’s oatmeal. The little general store in Julian didn’t have apple and cinnamon, which is my favorite, so I got peaches and cream, which is not good. Final cold-soaked oatmeal. I’m actually really ahead of schedule for the first time ever so I’m reading, I’m sitting in bed, it’s kinda cold. It’s just before 6 and I’m actually mostly ready to go. So, feeling pretty good.
Julia: A couple hours later, our whole family was braced for the end of Benjamin’s journey. Back in Seattle, I was at my parents’ house, waiting with my mom to hear from him. And thousands of miles south of us, Eric was parked by the trail, waiting for Benjamin. They agreed to meet up a half mile before the monument so they could walk the last little bit together.
Eric: Look who I found!
Benjamin: How’s it going?
Eric: It’s going great! Oh my god!
Benjamin: Look at that timing!
Julia: Eric locked his car and the two of them started off together for the last few hundred yards before the monument.
Benjamin: It was weird camping 5 miles away last night.
Eric: Yeah, I bet.
Benjamin: But it felt good. It’s the slowing down thing.
Benjamin: I slowed down a lot yesterday.
Eric: Did you?
Eric: Hey listen, we also don’t have to talk.
Benjamin: I’m not feeling overly stressed out about the climax, you know, reaching the end.
Benjamin: I’m excited though.
Julia: Reaching the end. When Benjamin started this thing, I found it hard to imagine how he would finish. I couldn’t imagine walking that far. In the first week he was riddled with blisters. It felt like every day he was finishing more and more beaten down by the trail. But then he got new shoes. He figured out a new routine. When things got hard, he’d find a reason to smile or laugh or find something beautiful to look at. Or someone to talk to. Each day, he had small goals. Make it to this water source by noon. Get into town before dark. Go 30 miles. Get over that mountain. Make it in time to see the sunrise. And I think that’s the only way to do something as big as this. Break it down into smaller and smaller steps. One foot in front of the other. And if you can do that, day after day, then, eventually…
Benjamin: I think that’s it.
Julia: You make it.
Benjamin: Woooo! (Foot steps) Aaaaaah, fantastic!!!
(High five sound)
Eric: That was a hand on the monument.
Mom (in Seattle): Oh my gosh! I just got a picture! He just texted a picture. Check it out! Doesn’t have him in it. Just his back pack at the border.
Julia: Yay! So exciting!
Mom (texting): You made it! You attempted it!
Julia: But here’s the thing, Benjamin may be done hiking the PCT for now, but as any good adventurer knows, the last step is coming home again. Next week, on the final episode of The Attempt, Benjamin comes home to Seattle and together, we look back on his attempt to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
Julia: You’ve been listening to The Attempt, produced by me, Julia Drachman with editing help from Doug Beyers. And once again, big thanks to Uncle Eric for recording at the finish line! 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. The final episode will be out in a week. And guys, it’s gonna be fun.
Benjamin: Yeah. Oh, my mom is calling! Hello, Mom.
Benjamin: How’s it going?
Mom: Oh my goodness.
Benjamin: All done.
Mom: How do you feel?
Benjamin: It hasn’t really sunk in yet.
Julia: Benjamin, I’m so impressed.
Mom: Hey, baby, I’m so proud of you.
Benjamin: Aw, thanks mom.
Mom: And really happy for the fact that you were able to do this.
Benjamin: Thanks mom. You guys made it possible, like seriously.
Mom: Well, I do have a thumbtack that says where you are. I’m gonna move it. I moved your thumbtack.
Eric: The Eagle has landed.
Mom: Alright, well take it easy.
Benjamin: Oh my god, this brownie is so good.
Eric: That hand is almost as brown as that brownie.
Mom: Ewww! Ok, alright, thirty minute shower for you, Benj.
Eric: A couple. Alright, we’re gonna go get breakfast.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.