When I first started “camping”, I was a young guy who’d spent several years at sea in the merchant marine, finally come ashore to live. My plan was simple: take a knapsack, throw in some cans of chili, stew and tuna, plus some bread, cheese and salami, and head out. I didn’t know what “trailhead parking” was, so I just parked and went, or hid my car off some dirt side road. I didn’t have the gear to go to a drive-in campground. Besides, the little houses where rangers collect money had the look of an unnecessary expense. For what? A little piece of ground to sleep on? I could get that for free. Where I became tired, that was where I slept. I never cooked, simply ate right out of the can, and always carried out the empties, so there was never a trace left behind.

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I even camped this way in Yosemite Valley. I remember waking up in a meadow to find a young deer browsing just six feet away. Later on, when I married Monty, we went “camping” together, and shared the cold can of chili or stew. She understood that the experience of hiking in God’s creation is so much easier when our food needs are simple. Then we started having children. Kids don’t understand cold stew out of a can. They also don’t understand going on a long walk up steep hills because it is “fun”.

Monty suggested car camping in a campground. We would have to buy a tent. I was young and in love. I would do anything! We bought a little tent for ourselves, and another for the kids, plus a pot, a Coleman stove, a lantern, and a plastic tablecloth. That’s when I learned to camp in a regular campground. (Monty already knew how). It is a great idea if you have small children.

Kids grow up. The mountain trails were calling. Lightweight food and gear became more available. Little by little, backpacking was worked into our schedule.

I discovered that I loved the high country, above 7000 feet. In every direction is a visual sensory delight. When I heard about a trail that follows the mountain crests from Mexico to Canada, I knew I had to experience it.

Now I am 65, and about to retire at the end of January, 2005. Last year I had a bone spur in my heel. An inexpensive mailorder orthotic seems to have taken care of it. Then I smashed my knee, splattering some cartilage. A knee support and hiking stick took care of that. I have an arthritic feeling in my left hip. Exercise, building up the muscle, is keeping it under control. I feel healthy and strong enough for the task of walking 2700 miles. The fact that I have some extra fat reserves is a good thing. Come early May, I’ll be ready to go.


My own “first contact” with the PCT came on a blue-sky-gorgeous High Sierra day in the 1960’s. I was a teenager eating lunch with my family by the bridge where Yosemite’s Tuolemne River begins its plunge into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolemne. While we were joking about our plans to fish in the river as we headed back to camp (“Betcha Dad catches the smallest fish again!”), a well-seasoned-looking rider leading a packhorse stopped right where we were sitting, and asked us if we’d take a picture of him with his horses on the bridge.

“Where are you going?” we asked as my dad aimed the camera. “I’m riding from Mexico to Canada,” was the reply. All our mouths fell open. “You mean you started riding at Mexico and now you’re HERE?” “That’s right.” We were amazed–it sounded like something out of the adventures of Kit Carson or Daniel Boone. We watched respectfully as the rider waved and headed off into the canyon, and a very faint thought of “I wish I could do that” crossed my mind–to be quickly dismissed–“Impossible”.

After that came college, then I met and married Bill. Instead of the car camping I knew, I found myself happily sharing one sleeping bag and eating cold food out of a can. Then came two little daughters and a 6-year odyssey of adventure (1973-79) involving the “Baby Park Tour of the USA” (which is what you call driving cross-country with a 2 year old and a 3 year old), then 5 months at the Youth With a Mission school in Switzerland, and finally 5 years of living and working in southern Africa as do-it-yourself (“tentmaker”) missionaries, helping South African Christians develop a program of camps, meetings, and literature for children.

In 1979, we returned to the USA, and wasted no time getting back into camping! At first we borrowed gear from my parents, but gradually we accumulated our own, and finally one summer there came a week when our now junior high age daughters were both going away–one to music camp, and the other to “Camp Grandma”. Bill and I decided the time had come–we would try backpacking! We got 2 surplus store packs, loaded up with food and some gear, and headed for the backcountry of Lassen National Park. We cooked over tiny wood fires (it was OK to do that back then!), swam in many lakes, climbed mountains, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! After that, we went backpacking every summer, till we could stay out for 8-10 days at a time, even though a couple of years later we had a very special “surprise addition” to our family–another baby daughter. We had her out backpacking with us when she was 3 years old, carrying her own tiny pack with stuffed animal and “blankie.”

Then we discovered Ray Jardine.

We were impressed/dubious/hopeful. Would the “Ray Way” work for us? We decided to ease in with a gradual switch. First it was a tarp instead of a tent–then it was Ridgerests instead of our old backpacker air mattresses, a beer can stove instead of whitegas WhisperLite, etc., etc. And what had just been an “adventure dream” of doing the whole PCT started looking do-able.

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