AN ANNUAL GATHERING OF HIKERS

This past weekend I spent my time amongst the company of hikers while attending the annual ALDHA-West Gathering. Each September we come together to celebrate long-distance trails and the bond we share from setting foot on their tread.

A captivated audience.

A captivated audience.

One hundred fifty hikers gathered at the Kiwanis Camp on the western side of Mount Hood. Each hour we came together under the roof of a rustic lodge, listening to the inspiring tales from keynote speakers, our ears and mind adrift in adventure and bearing admiration for those who spoke. One woman, Jean Earl, modestly told the story of her hike on the Continental Divide Trail nearly forty years ago. In 1978, Jean Ella was the first woman to complete the CDT, a marvelous feat in that that ultralight gear didn’t exist, nor GPS or any other electronic that could make hiking thousands of miles a wee bit easier. (Which in that year was only 20% complete, if that). With 70-pound packs, Jean and two other females headed north, but it would be only Jean who’d complete the trail in its entirety that year. The other two women, if I’m not mistaken, became injured and decided it was best to end their hike early. Jean continued, committed to reach the trail’s opposite terminus.

A second story came from another woman, Bernadette Murray, who as a young girl rode on horse-back with her playful siblings and adventurous parents along the Pacific Crest Trail. It was in the 60’s, and over the course of several years, that Bernadette and her family would ride from Mexico to Canada, stopping on many days to build a trail on an otherwise treadles hillside. They’d pick flowers for their dinner-time centerpiece and the children would spend hours braiding their horse’s hair, brushing their manes and laying alongside the sleeping beauties.

Siddhartha, a thru-hiker who now resides in Portland, shared his story through a beautiful slideshow about the Pacific Northwest Trail. Hiking from Glacier National Park to the Olympic Peninsula, Siddhartha hiked west through forest and mountain,
and along a trail that had many hikers in the audience intrigued. It’s a fairly new idea, and in the last year it’s gained greater recognition and support. It’s certainly a trail for future consideration.

Trauma and Pepper tell their story about what it takes to hike the PCT in the winter.

Trauma and Pepper tell their story about what it takes to hike the PCT in the winter.

Lastly, a highly anticipated slideshow came from Trauma and Pepper, two hikers with a serious portfolio of long-distance trails under their feet. The two men completed the first winter thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail last winter. Their slideshow served as inspiration and awe, but also possessed a degree of great knowledge. Gear, resupply and survival were all points of discussion, in addition to a good bit of humor, because out there, on a cold and grey winter day when your trekking poles end up in a tree, well, you just have to laugh.

Besides the keynote speakers, there were speeches and slideshows from the managing director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, as well as the Arizona Trail Association.  Raffles and Hiker Olympics gave hikers the chance to win gear, donate money and consume Oreo cookies faster than your average canine companion. Squatch, a fellow hiker and friend, showed his latest film about the people you meet along the Appalachian Trail. Flip Flop Flipping is a well-designed and humorous film that follows a dozen hikers as they meander the length of the green tunnel.

And of course, by the eve of the second night, we all gathered to recognize and applaud those who have completed the Triple Crown, an award given to those who have completed the length of the AT, PCT and CDT. Lots of happy faces, a few tears and many cheers!

Tattoo Joe shows off his muscles! In 2007 I met him on the north side of Mathers Pass in the Sierra Nevada.

Tattoo Joe shows off his muscles! In 2007 I met him on the north side of Mathers Pass in the Sierra Nevada.

At which point I must give a very big THANK YOU to Hop Valley Brewing Company for providing the event with tasty brews including their new Pale Ale. Cheers!

Tomato is most certainly thinking, "What trail should I hike next?"

Tomato is most certainly thinking, “What trail should I hike next?”

Flashback to 2011: Hiking the CDT through Colorado with Tomato.

Flashback to 2011: Hiking the CDT through Colorado with Tomato.

Besides all these activities, I had the opportunity to reconnect with dozens of hikers. Although I’ve only hiked with one or two of the hikers who attended the event (including Tomato who I hiked with along the CDT in 2011), we share a very special trail bond. It was fun catching up face-to-face, some of whom I haven’t seen in several years. I hope that next year’s travels will see some of those faces again. The Calendar Triple Crown awaits!

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