The 24-Hour Challenge: PCT Days 112 & 113

Spoiler alert: I reached the Canadian border on 9/16/22, although not on the PCT itself (#thankswildfires). I am now back to “normal” life. I hope to finish up the blog of my PCT journey in the next few weeks. Thanks for coming along!

Day: 112 Miles: 10.3 Total: 2059.2

After another beautiful breakfast at the Airbnb, it’s time to head back to the trail. I Uber over to the last Blockbuster on earth, where I’m meeting another hiker named Hobbit, a young guy from Israel. I take a quick, nostalgic lap inside the video store, a curious little landmark of Bend.

Then, we stick out our thumbs near the on-ramp to the highway. It’s my first scary ride on the PCT. In the back seat of the pickup, I’m blissfully ignorant of the situation, but after we are dropped off, Hobbit confides that our driver was drinking hard liquor. He wasn’t swerving or slurring his words (yet?), but still. Yikes.

Once we reach Warm Springs, we wait at a park until our trail angel arrives. Krysta pulls up in a pickup truck with her two daughters in the back seat. Hobbit and I hop in, and Krysta drives us to Olallie Lake. She is Native American and grew up on the Warm Springs reservation. By using the reservation roads, Krysta is able to cut an hour off of the time it would take most visitors to reach the lake. The PCT community is incredibly lucky to benefit from her generosity, and during the ride, she shares stories of hunting, hiking, and collecting huckleberries in this area. When we’re only about fifteen minutes from our destination, Krysta stops the truck. A mother and baby black bear are in the road. When we pull forward slowly, they retreat into the woods, but we’re able to watch them forage for a minute or two.

She’s a little bit difficult to see, but Mama Bear is the brown shape in the center of the frame.


Inwardly, I try to quiet my nerves, which are already buzzing from anticipation and copious coffee. You see, I am about to undertake the 24 Hour Challenge. This will involve a great deal of night hiking…
…on the most remote section of trail in the state…
…mere minutes after seeing two bears.
I take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine. 
When we reach our destination, we thank Krysta and her daughters and unload from the truck. Hobbit starts hiking right away, but he’s only planning to go two miles. After all, it’s already after seven p. m. It took over four hours in total to reach Olallie Lake from Bend. I zeroed yesterday, and I had most of the day off today. Other than the weight of four days of food in my pack, I’m perfectly positioned for the challenge.

So what is the 24-hour challenge?

Hikers attempt numerous informal challenges on the Triple Crown trails. Naturally, my favorite on the AT was the Half Gallon Challenge, where you eat a half gallon of ice cream to celebrate reaching the halfway point in Pennsylvania. Here on the PCT, the 24-hour challenge is exactly what it sounds like: you try to hike as far as you can in 24 hours.
Oregon is a popular place to try this because compared to the other parts of the trail, it’s relatively flat. Many hikers exceed fifty or even sixty miles in this challenge, but I’ve set a fairly “modest” goal of 40 to 45 miles. Breaking 40 will feel like a huge accomplishment, but it’s not so far above my usual mileage that I’m worried about getting injured. Plus, it allows me time to sleep for a few hours, so that hopefully, I won’t completely disrupt my internal clock.
In the warm, orange light of sunset, I take a quick selfie at the north border of the closure and start hiking. It’s eight p.m.
Let’s do this. 
The trail is pretty smooth. The first few miles traverse a burn area. This whole region was greatly affected by the Lionshead fire, but the blowdowns have been cleared away, and the trail rolls gently through the charred and blackened woods. I’m making great time, but it’s getting dark. When I begin tripping over my feet, I turn on my headlamp. I’m surprised by how nervous I feel. I’ve night hiked before, and I’ve hiked alone before, but I haven’t done much solo night hiking before. The two bears from earlier are fresh in my mind.

My view for several hours


Each time I turn my head, and my headlamp illuminates a new patch of forest, I expect to see eyes glowing back at me. But of course, this doesn’t happen. Even if I’m hiking quietly, I’m not likely to sneak up on any animal when the beam of light on my head can be seen from a quarter mile away. Nonetheless, I break hiker etiquette and play an audiobook out loud on my phone, just turning it off each time I approach a campsite marked on FarOut. I needn’t have worried though. I hike ten miles by 11:30 p.m., and I only pass one tent. When I see the Duplex, I hastily switch my headlamp to its red light setting as I walk by and continue into the dark forest. One person in ten miles. Thanks to the closure, this is the most isolated I’ve been on the whole trail. Usually there are at least a dozen hikers in any given ten miles of the PCT, but not here.
The perfect time to be night hiking alone, right?
I jump at every noise, but the only animals I actually see are one rabbit and two fat toads, each bigger than my fist. I also find a pile of fresh bear scat, full of huckleberries.
That just means he shouldn’t be hungry.
At midnight, I make camp alone on a bed of springy pine needles and set my alarm for 4:15 a.m.

Day: 113  Miles: 33.4 Total: 2092.6

I’m hiking again by 4:45. It’s not that much earlier than some of my desert starts, but today it still feels like night hiking for nearly two hours. It’s mid August. The days are getting shorter.
I continue to make good progress through the morning, but my pace has slowed by a few minutes per mile. My knees and my hips are noticing the distance adding up. I stop for lunch near Timothy Lake. There are a lot of people around. It’s the weekend and the weather is beautiful. Already, my night alone in the forest feels like a dream. None of these day hikers know what I’m attempting as I walk by. It feels odd, like I have a secret. I imagine what it must have been like for Heather Anderson when she quietly broke the PCT record. She passed hikers left and right like this, while hardly ever breathing a word of the history she was making. I try to picture how my body would feel if I hiked this much (or even more) every 24 hours of the PCT. The scope of her accomplishment is staggering.
In the afternoon, it starts to get difficult. I’m on track to reach my goal, but with each passing hour, the temptation to stop is stronger. I just want to take a break, to lay out my Z-lite and take a nap beside side of the trail. North of the road, I am rewarded with amazing views of Mount Hood. The trail begins to climb now. It’s gentle though, with precious few blowdowns, and my pace stays steady. I take one more break, nibbling on a cookie beside a dirt forest service road. Two hours to go.
At this point, I’ve reframed my goal as “Get close enough to Timberline Lodge that you can make in time for the breakfast buffet.” When I had phone service near Timothy Lake, I made a reservation for ten a.m. tomorrow to incentivize myself to keep going. If I make it 70 kilometers, I will have just five miles to hike in the morning to reach one of the most famous meals on the PCT.
My watch buzzes: 40 miles. Forty! It feels crazy. My right knee and hip are aching a bit, but I’m feeling more sleepy than sore. Two hours remain before my time runs out. Forty was my main goal, but because the 24 hours span two calendar days, I am still pushing to break my single-day, dawn-to-dusk record, which currently sits at 33 miles. My pace is slow now. The trail is lined with huckleberry bushes, and I pick them without stopping, popping them into my mouth for a little bit of extra energy. My limbs feel heavy.
I hit 43 miles, then 70 kilometers. When I reach my target campsite, there’s still a minute left, so I keep hiking. I’m recording with both Strava on my phone and Garmin on my watch. Throughout the day, the totals have diverged a bit. When my deadline arrives, Garmin says I’ve gone 43.66, whereas Strava says I’ve done 44.60. The Garmin total is more in line with the math on FarOut, but in this case, I’m naturally going with Strava.

I stand there, staring at my watch. Forty-four miles. Alone in the woods, I look up at the canopy of trees, grinning like an idiot. Then, I turn around and limp slowly back to the campsite. My feet ache, but I feel light-hearted, buoyant. I want to give myself a hug. You did it! 
It was a completely arbitrary goal, of course, but then again, so is walking from Mexico to Canada. That’s the core of what thru-hiking is, I suppose: setting big goals that have little meaning beyond that which we create for ourselves. And sometimes that’s enough, I think. Hopefully, most of my big goals in life will have positive value for not just myself, but for my loved ones and community around me. But sometimes, I believe it’s okay to do nonsensical things like quit your job and hike 2650 miles just because you’re curious if you can.
I’m glad I did the 24-hour challenge. It has offered perspective that I’ve struggled to maintain in the last few weeks. On the PCT, I’ve questioned myself in ways I never did on the AT.
Why are you doing this?
Who is it even for?
None of this matters.
Honestly? It doesn’t matter. None of the world’s problems are solved by hiking the PCT. Heck, none my problems are solved by hiking the PCT, not really. This journey has no capital-M Meaning in the grand scheme of things, but to quote John Green, “We don’t live in the grand scheme of things.” The 24-hour challenge meant something to me, and that was enough.
You could argue that hiking the PCT is a selfish, pointless, very physically difficult waste of time. Sometimes, I sort of do argue that. But at the same time, it feels important to find out if it’s possible. And if completing the trail will mean something to me, then it means something. And that’s enough.

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