The Attempt Episode 12: “It’s Possible if We Just Try It”
Benjamin comes home and looks back on his time on the trail. And also, a few surprises.
The Attempt is sponsored by Gossamer Gear, manufacturers of functional ultralight backpacking gear, designed by hikers.
Julia: Hey guys. Welcome to the final episode of The Attempt. I wanted to start this one the way we usually do – with a walking voice memo from one of my siblings… except, this time, it’s not Benjamin.
Rebecca: Hey um… it is… 9:53 on November 5. I am currently walking back from a physics midterm…
Julia: So, this is our sister, Rebecca. And I asked her if she wanted to send any thoughts about Benjamin’s trip and this is what she sent me.
Rebecca: Overall, body is feeling… fine. Back’s a little sore, but you know… Today, let me see how much distance I’ve covered today, let me check the health app on my phone. Ooh (laughing) looking at a cool 2.4 miles… not ideal! Gotta get more steps in… Let’s see, for what I’ve eaten today… gotta keep you filled in on that. Let’s see… I had like a pumpkin muffin for breakfast, then some avocado toast. And then a salad for lunch… (fade down)
Julia: So yeah, it’s gonna be a fun one today. But without further ado, let’s get started.
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…
Julia: On November 9th, 2019, I drove to the airport to pick Benjamin up after his trip. I’d been hearing his voice for the last few months pretty regularly, through the voice memos and phone calls now and then. And I’d even seen photos of his face. But still, when he showed up with that long hair and the fuzzy face and the tan, it was surreal.
Julia: Alright, just picked you up, you’re in the car. You’re done.
Benjamin: I feel good! Yes, I was very happy to land.
Julia: And all the tan that I thought was dirt is tan. Or, not all of it, but most of it…
Benjamin: Some of it. As I said, a little bit of this, a little bit of that…
Julia: Normally, my parents would’ve picked Benjamin up, but today, I was enlisted because we were planning a surprise. See, my aunt, Florencia, and my Abuela, Elizabeth, were both in town for a trip and they had no idea he was going to be getting home that day. So, when I showed up at my parents’ house with Benjamin, everyone went nuts.
Florenica: Oh my god! Oh my god! Holy shit! I thought you were gonna be here in a couple days!
Benjamin: Well, we lied about where I was. I finished the hike four days ago…
Julia: If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a total sucker for surprises. Just, total cheeseball.
Mom: Alright, I need to hug my kid!
Julia: Dad was out of town and Rebecca was still across the country at school. But for the rest of the day, the rest of us sat around with Benjamin and grilled him about his hike.
Benjamin: (in the middle of a story) …and he actually had a tres leches cake for us.
Mom: No! No! He actually had a cake?
Florenica: He brought it!
Benjamin: He brought a tres leches cake for us.
Julia: And later that night, for dinner, our friend Miriam came and we got to do the surprise all over again.
Miriam: (Shrieks) Oh my god, Benjamin! (Laughs)
Julia: After dinner, we all piled into the couch in the living room so Benjamin could show us a slideshow of photos and videos from the last few months.
Miriam: Look at that! The colors are just so beautiful!
Abuela: Que hermoso!
Julia: Seeing Benjamin with his facial hair and his desert tan back in our childhood home was amazing. He was the same little brother I’d grown up with, and played make believe games with, the guy who made the most epic sandwiches and always kept everyone laughing. But he looked more grown up too – he had this calm that I think came with the package of hiking for 4 months straight. And for the rest of us, I think we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. He was back, safe and sound.
Julia: Do you miss it? Or are you glad to be done?
Julia: Back when I interviewed Benjamin before his hike, in that very first episode, I asked him an impossible question. Which was: what was he hoping to learn from the trail? But of course, he couldn’t possible have known that until he did it. And so, now, I wanted to know, what did he end up getting from the trail? What were the lessons he learned?
Benjamin: So I recorded all of them. I’ll tell them to you briefly now. Number 1 in very brief terms, is that when you make a little mistake, your only options – little or big I guess – you’re only options are to learn or to laugh. And so like the metaphor is: you trip on a rock, which I did all the time. And at first I got mad at myself or mad at the rock, or something stupid. And basically you can either learn and say, “oh, I should step higher when I go up,” or “at night, when I’ve tired I should be more attentive.” Or you can laugh, so I laughed at my mistakes. And that actually worked. So that’s lesson number one. Learn or laugh. Lesson number two is… when you’re going up a mountain, look down at your feet, um, looking down at your feet, make sure you actually go effectively and pay attention. And looking up – I think there’s too much focusing on your goal and it can be counterproductive, and I’ve made that mistake in work and school before. Lesson number 3 is that extremes exist and when you’re in one uncomfortable extreme, thinking that your path will take you, eventually, through comfort and to the other extreme, is kinda helpful to remember. So the example I experienced was, in the mornings I was really fucking cold. And as I thought, ‘I’m cold, I’m cold, I’m cold,’ like that made it worse. When I thought, ‘Oh, the sun’s gonna come up, and it’ll be really nice until eleven, then it’ll be way too hot,’ like, knowing that really relaxed me. I was like, oh, it’ll be nice, then too hot. So maybe savor the cold. And it’s hard to really savor the cold, but thinking that totally helped me.
Julia: Those are good. I love a good metaphor and they’re all good metaphors—
Benjamin: They’re all a little on the nose. They’re a little cheesy. But they’re sincere. I sincerely feel all those.
Julia: I don’t know. I’m a cheesy person. I think it’s fine to be cheesy.
Benjamin: Yes you are.
Julia: (Laughing) So, at the beginning, before you left, I think you were a little trepidatious about making claims about the trail because you hadn’t done it yet. We even called the whole podcast ‘The Attempt’ because you weren’t sure if you would be able to do it or not. Um… what does it feel like now to be done with it and be looking back? It feels like you don’t have to hedge your bets are much when you’re talking about it.
Benjamin: Yeah… I didn’t do the whole thing, and I don’t take that too seriously, because a lot of people don’t, as I mentioned before. But even considered that, I definitely forget that it was an accomplishment and it helps to talk to people who I haven’t been talking to – like I hung out with my friend John’s family the other day and they were like, “you did what?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, I guess that was a long, relatively tough project.” Whenever I think about it in my head, I completely minimize what it is. And maybe I should be minimizing it. Like, at the end of the day, it’s like a 4-month vacation, and like, legitimately, anyone could walk it because your body gets used to it. I really, really, really think that. I really don’t think it’s that impressive of a thing. I think it’s like a cool thing and I’m proud of it, but I don’t want to build it up to be like this—this is like a monumental accomplishment. I’m very happy I did it.
Julia: I think we’re trained to feel like endings are always triumphant. That they make us uniquely happy and accomplished and proud. But I don’t think it’s ever that simple. Whether you hiked the PCT or graduated from college or you… let’s say, finished producing a podcast… it never feels how you expect it to at the end. And a part of that is because, once you’re done, you know it was a thing you could do. You’ve done it. But doing that big thing wasn’t inevitable – you had to make the choice to start it. And then every day, you had to make the decision to keep going. Those are the moments that I think take guts. Looking back, I’m so glad we called this podcast The Attempt. Because, sure, maybe a lot of people could have done this thing. But the bravest part is deciding to give it a shot.
Julia: Uh, so I have another question about the trail. This is not something that you really addressed, but did you guys really call each other by your full trail names – like did you literally call “The Machine,” “The Machine”? Were you like, “Hey, The Machine”?
Benjamin: So, his was the most ridiculous. Like nobody’s compares with his because it has “The” and it was so funny. Especially when Anand and Peter came I’d be like, “So his name is The Machine,” and they were like, “Oh, we’re definitely gonna call him The Machine,” because it’s so ridiculous. Other people, it was kind of like this nice pattern where, if you hung out with someone for four days in a row, their name would pop up. I’d be like, “Hey, what’s up? I’m Brass.” And then after like a couple days, I’d tell a story about my sisters and I’d be like, “And Rebecca would always scream at me: BENJAMIN!” And they’d be like, “Oh, Ben’s your name.” And they’d kind of file it away and then later that day, they’d be like, “Hey Ben, can you pass me that?” And it would be kind of like a cool little moment. Every time someone called me by my real name for the first time it would feel like really intimate and close and cool. And then, when you really knew someone well you’d be fifty-fifty. You’d 50% call him “Spark” and 50% call him “Matt.” And it kinda depended on the moment. Like when it would be like, you know, talking about something more serious, you’d call them by their real name. At least that’s the way I did it, maybe other people do it completely differently, but that was my relationship to it.
Julia: Speaking of the other people on the trail, I actually have my own little surprise for you and for Benjamin. Over the course of the last couple months, I’ve been reaching out to people who were involved in Benjamin’s hike and I’ve asked them to send me some stories of their own. And so many people got back to me with these amazing stories and messages for Benjamin. So, I want to end this episode with their voices and stories. And Benjamin hasn’t heard these yet, so, enjoy!
Mom: Hey Benjamin, it’s Mom. You’ve been talking about doing the PCT for, I don’t know, a couple years. And you were pretty dead set on it, but I think you knew that Dad and I had lots of questions. And you got back from New York after leaving your job there and, probably the first night that we sat down to dinner, you said, “What do you guys want to know about the PCT?” We just gave you all the things we were worried about and you said, “Ok, sounds good.” And then the next day, Dad and I went off to work. And when we came back and sat down to dinner that night, you pulled out your laptop and you had a whole powerpoint. You gave us this whole orientation. And after that little powerpoint over dinner, I felt like, “Ok, he’s got this. It’s a reasonable thing to do.” And I felt like I really got behind it then.
Guy Fawkes (Antoine): When I first met Brass and his family back in Seattle, I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve never even met these people and they welcomed be into their home.” This is crazy. I guess they were my first trail angles.
Gretel (Astrid): Hi Ben, this is Astrid aka Gretel. I remember that me, my brother Lewik, and Callum, we were just coming back form the Canadian border, to Hart’s Pass. And you were just arriving there and you were all jumping out of the car, getting ready for your great adventure. Yeah, for your great attempt.
Guy Fawkes: Our first days on the trail with Brass were so intense on so many levels that I think we bonded instantly. When I look back, I think that, thanks to Benjamin, I even have good memories of the bad days. I remember that night in Brush Creek, being soaking wet, sleeping in a crooked tent. But having somebody to laugh about it with in the morning.
Gretel: I remember that, a few days later, we saw each other again at Stehekin, but you were wearing sandals and you got your feet all taped because you had so many blisters. (Laughs) That was really funny.
Anand: Dear Brass, I look back on my past summer and cherish those four days we spent together. I loved traveling with you on the trail during our last day. We knew we had already gone faster than expected, but getting those last four miles was so tough. And our packs were so heavy – we had just like completely useless things. Like I think you even had a camping knife, like come on dude.
Guy Fawkes: It’s funny, when you think about it, the trail reunited us on a few occasions. And it was always at times where I really needed to hike with somebody and share conversations and stories. They say the trail provides and I think that’s gotta be true.
Gretel: And, we didn’t see each other again after that time, but we were always checking the trail registers and we often saw your name and we were always counting how many days you were ahead of us.
Guy Fawkes: I think now I can say without a doubt that my hike definitely wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t met Brass. And for that I will always be grateful to him.
Gretel: It was a really great adventure we had.
Chips (Luke): Hey, my name’s Chips. I’m from New Zealand. And in 2019 I hiked the PCT with Brass.
Peak Freak (Brandt): Hey Brass, it’s Peak Freak.
Odie (Matthew): I was hiking through Obsidian Falls on the Pacific Crest Trail with Brass and I picked up a piece of obsidian about the size of a baseball. Decided I would hide it in his backpack because he has such a great sense of humor.
Chips: And then, yeah, I left the people I was hiking with and started hiking with him, near the Goat Rock Wilderness Area and one of the biggest storms that’s happened around there for years came upon us and we were like, at the top, and there’s like lightning and rain. And Brass was there, still cracking jokes, yeah, it made it so much better.
Odie: Few hours later, I catch back up to him on trail and he says to me, “Does you backpack feel heavy?” He had found the obsidian and, at lunch, put it in my backpack and I was the one carrying it.
Peak Freak: We came to a tent site. Now, we noticed that the fire ring at this back country, primitive campsite was actually smoldering because of un-extinguished fire that the people staying there previously had not put out. Luckily, you needed to relieve yourself and urinated all over the first circle, successfully extinguishing those flames. SO we were truly heroes that day and we saved the forest.
Chips: But yeah, no, lots of fun memories with Brass. Tough lad.
Peter: It was an incredible adventure, I was just so happy to be part of it. And I think through that week of hiking, I experienced more than I had really experienced, at least in terms of intensity and adventure, than I had experienced in any part of my life. So, I thank you for showing me the door to that.
Flawless (Leah): Hey Brass, this is Flawless. I hope you’re doing so so well in your post-trail life. I miss you, dude! I miss you so, so much!
Mary Poppins (Joel): Hi. My trail name is Mary Poppins and I thru-hiked the PCT in 2019, the same year as Brass did.
Flawless: You and I actually never hiked together, not a single step on the trail. We met in the Sierras, on that rock, we hung out, we drank beers at Kennedy Meadows. And we kept just popping up in each other’s hikes at very awesome times and that was really special.
Mary Poppins: I met Brass the first time and he was in bad shape. I felt really bad for him. The altitude really kicked his ass. So I gave him some advice for what to do and hopefully cheered up his mood a little bit.
Flawless: Yeah, and then I was… I was trying to come up with a parody song of “Hey Jude” where I say, “Hey Brass,” then I rhyme it with “ass” later, but I very quickly realized I have no skills that could make that happen.
Mary Poppins: And then later on, we met again in the Sierras, and we summated together Mount Whitney which was just stunning, sitting there on top, with friends, seeing the sunrise. Oh god, that was awesome.
Flawless: So, you don’t get a song. But since your name is Brass, here’s an arm fart for you – which I doubt will make it into the podcast! (Laughs) So, miss you Brass, this one’s for you! (Fart sound)
Spark (Matt): Hi, it’s Spark. I hiked with Brass in the High Sierra and in the desert and we went through a lot of things together. I think we were opposites in a lot of ways. Brass was a really meticulous planner and I had a more… let’s-see-what-happens attitude. And I think we each gained something from that.
Trooper (Erin): Hey, this is Trooper, of Rook and Trooper. I went southbound on the PCT in 2019.
Singet (Alison): Hey hey, Brass, it’s Singet. It was so cool to meet you and remember when we picked up way too much beer for the masses at Casa de Luna?
Trooper: Brass was like a ray of sunshine in an increasingly dark desert.
Spark: One of my favorite hikes with Brass was, essentially our first long hike together. We were aiming for Muir Pass and I remember that, toward the end of the day, we were about to break free of the tree line, and there was a little bit of sunlight left and we decided to go for it. We sort of bolstered each other. We were surrounded by nothing but rocks. It was just like the fragmented pieces of the mountain laying in the bowl.
Singet: And then I think we caught up again above Messenger Flat. That was such a great sunrise. And then we had lunch break at the fire station with that radio continuing on and on while we were eating and contemplating going back out in the sun. Really good times.
Trooper: Anyway, we just set up camp, resigned to start eating in our sleeping bags when Brass shows up with just the most sincere, positive energy, out of nowhere.
Spark: And we were worried about being stranded up there, exposed at 1200’. By then it was just me and him. We were alone. Nothing but the stars around us. And we were joking, we were laughing our way through it. I think when Brass sets a goal for himself, he usually makes it. And I saw him do that over and over again on the PCT.
Trooper: And you know, we’re in the last few hundred miles at this point, we don’t frequently see folks we don’t know, let alone people who feel so fresh and positive. Like, he is a man, out for a jolly stroll around a neighborhood he loves.
Spark: But we knew that there was a stone hut at the top of Muir Pass and we aimed for that. We just struggled through the dark until we ran into it, collapsed, inside, exhausted. We thought we were either gonna walk all night or freeze unless we found that hut. And I remember walking outside and we were at 1200’ feet, so the stars were right up against my face. And I remember thinking that that was the closes to the cosmos that I had been in my life until then.
Crazy Eyes (Martin): Ok, so the first time I met Brass was on the highway 58 overpass outside of Tehachapi. I had packed out from town this delicious breakfast sandwich that I planned on eating later that day for lunch. And after hanging out for a little while, I realized that this awesome guy deserved this breakfast sandwich more than I did. And um, that was the first time I got to feed Brass, because Brass just seemed to show up at the right times.
Little Legs (Mary): Hey Brass, it’s Little Legs. I’m calling because your sister asked me to relate to you my favorite Brass-related trail memory.
Crazy Eyes: And uh, if there were leftovers, I always tried to give ’em to Brass. And uh… I wish we got to hike together, but it was always fun to run into Brass and try to feed him again.
Little Legs: So, I am going to tell you about a time. It was maybe 2 days after I busted my knee open.
Crazy Eyes: If I see you again, man, I’ll try to feed you! Ok?
Eric: Hey Benjamin. It’s Uncle Eric. The first time I saw you was when you were passing LA. Honestly, I almost didn’t recognize you when I picked you up at the train station downtown.
Little Legs: And I was just having a day where I was feeling really down. I felt like I was slowing down Crazy Eyes, which I was. And around the corner, here comes Brass, our favorite human.
Eric: But honestly, the coolest thing for me was that since you were collaborating with Julia on this podcast, I had an excuse to sit down with you and have a direct, serious conversation about your trip and your life and your journey. And record it!
Little Legs: And he was like, “Oh my god, I have some homemade cookies for you!” (Laughs) And it just made everything better. So it was a really beatiful thing. I’m not sure if you realized how much I needed that cookie! So, Brass, thank you for the cookie.
Peter: I visited you with Sarah and Jordan, my sister and brother-in-law.
Trooper: A couple days short of the border, think south of the cow pastures around Eagle Rock, and I’m hiking alone through these really high bushes, in the zone.
Peter: We met you half a mile off some major highway, walked with you for half an hour and brought you back to get ice cream at the closest town and hung out with you a big before getting you back and on your way.
Trooper: And all of a sudden, I come upon Brass, who’s literally reclining in the dirt, as if he’s in a chaise lounge, cool as a cucumber, just reading The Economist magazine.
Peter: So, I won’t go on any longer, but a heartfelt thank you and a heartfelt congratulations for everything that you did.
Trooper: And that is how I will think of Brass on the PCT. Doing his own thing, giving you a, “Cheerio!” and just inexplicably having the latest issues of the Economist, getting his Brexit news on in the final days of the trail, just relaxing right there.
Eric: And that end was a surreal scene. To see the border wall with razor wire and constant passing of border guards. To see you touch the marker at the terminus. And then attempt to open and drink some random bottle of wine someone left there. Anyway, it’s a huge accomplishment and I admire not only that you did it, but how you did it. With thoughtfulness and introspection. You made it a journey greater than the physical one. And uh… thank you for sharing a little part of it with me.
Dad: Hey Benjamin, it’s Dad. I think back to your grandparents, my parents, who, in their fifties, decided to bike across the United States. And that was one of the things that, as they look back on their life, was one of the defining periods of what they did. And I think that this particular journey for you is also one of those things that is… something that will help you. And actually help the rest of us too, to realize that, no matter how big the task, no matter how big the thing in front of us, it’s possible if we just try it and then have the will power and the ability to stick to it. And if it’s important, we can do it.
Mom: I actually felt connected to you in a fun way, like I was vicariously enjoying the trail with you because, you know, with the little messages from your beacon I could see where you were. And I sure knew what you were eating because I was packing all these ridiculous boxes. I wasn’t walking along with you, but I really felt connected in a way.
Dad: I’m really proud of you. I really am impressed by you. And it’s important for people to hear this story. Because I think everybody takes from it something different and hopefully will apply it to things in their lives and in the world to make their lives better and to make the world better. Anyway, I love you Benjamin. Congratulations.
Julia: So, there you have it: that’s it for The Attempt. This podcast started out as a project I was doing with my brother just to keep our friends and family up to date on his trip, and it’s grown into this amazing chronicle of what it’s like to attempt something big like the PCT. I am so grateful to Benjamin for trusting me to make this. For letting me help tell his story and for being so honest. I think the reason this show has resonated with so many people is because of his ability to be so real about his experiences. So thanks, Benj. I love you, brother!
Julia: You’ve been listening to The Attempt, produced by me, Julia Drachman with amazing editing help from the one and only Doug Beyers. Thank you, Doug! 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. And I’m so, so grateful to them for helping me bring the show to all of you. So, thank you, Zach and the rest of the team! As always, you can find all the episodes of The Attempt at their website: thetrek.co/the-attempt. And the music for this episode was from Blue Dot Sessions.
Also, while we’re doing thank you’s, I want to thank each and every one of you who sent in a voicemail. Guy Fawkes, Gretel, Flawless, Spark, Odie, Mary Poppins, Chips, Little Legs, Trooper, Crazy Eyes, Singet, Peak Freak, Anand, Peter, Eric, and, of course, Mom, Dad, and Rebecca. Thank you to all so much for taking the time to record your memories and send them my way. I’m so grateful to each of you for sharing your stories with the podcast.
And lastly, to every one who has listened and joined us on this whole journey, thank you for listening each week and for leaving your kind reviews and for sharing the podcast with your friends. It has meant the world to me!
This show is over now, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop making stuff! Doug and I started our company, Bad Cat Media, to make games and podcasts, so if you want to stay in the loop about our many projects, follow us on social media @badcat_media. Or you can check out our website, www.badcat.media.
Hopefully we’ll be back in your earbuds soon with new stories! Thank you so much for listening. And now, I’ll let Benjamin take us out with one of my favorite pieces of tape from his thru-hike.
Benjamin: Ok, this is really fucking incredible. Looking up I can see the International Space Station, an incredible sunset. But holy shit is it so fucking cool to be here. Oh my god! (Laughs) Today was great. And I spent time with cool people today. I felt connected to other humans. And right now, it’s just, I mean it’s just so darn pretty. Oh my god, I’m gonna have to do a stream crossing in the dark. Woohoo! This is gonna be fun. Gonna put my phone down. (Stream crossing) Ok, that was really fun. (Laughs) Man, this is a good fucking moment. (Sigh).
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