Tahoe City welcomes Pacific Crest thru-hikers
July 15, 2004
Standing in line at the Albertson’s in Tahoe City last week with a cart full to the brim of pop tarts, macaroni and cheese and king size Snickers bars, Rob Hopkinson received skeptical glances from his fellow shoppers.
The looks probably resulted from the fact that Hopkinson hadn’t showered in nearly 10 days, his clothes were stained with dirt and his stench wafted into check-out stands to his left and right.
What most people didn’t realize, however, was that Hopkinson, who goes by “Wholesome” on the trail, had already hiked 35 miles that day. He had been hiking at that pace since the Mexican border and would continue to do so until he reached Canada, as part of a five-month trek as a thru-hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The PCT is a 2,650-mile long trail that stretches from Campo, California through Oregon and Washington and ends just over the Canadian border. Approximately 300 people begin the trail every year in early May, hoping to complete it by September. Only half of those who start actually finish.
Hopkinson set out on May 12, averaging 25-35 miles a days, and arrived in Tahoe just after the Fourth of July.
“The high Sierras have been my favorite place so far,” he said. “It’s so beautiful here.”
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He still has a long way to go before he reaches his destination, but taking a break in civilization gave him a chance for a shower, a good night’s sleep and a chance to mail food packages to himself for the next few weeks. Apparently, he’s not the only one visiting the towns around Tahoe this time of year.
“You can always tell when the PCT thru-hikers have made it this area,” said John Drollette, general manager of Stanford Alpine Chalet and two-time PCT veteran. “They’re walking around town with running shoes, they smell, and they have a faded appearance ” the sun really takes a toll on them.”
Hopkinson wears running shoes and carries a sleeping bag that weighs one pound and a tarp tent that weighs even less. He’s part of the new trend of super light-weight, long-distance hikers. His new, lighter equipment is encouraging more people to attempt to hike the PCT this year than ever before, according to Bill, a so-called “trail angel” who helps thru-hikers on their way through the Tahoe area by providing them with free accommodation and a chance to recuperate and re-supply. (His first name will be used because he wishes to keep his identity disclosed.)
“There are many more starters on the trail this year than previous years, but there probably won’t be more finishers than usual,” Bill said. “The people swelling the numbers don’t necessarily have the mental capacity to finish the trail.”
It’s the mental strength that defines the real thru-hikers, Bill said.
“The hard part about thru-hiking is when you get up and face putting on your pack and going north, just like you have been for the preceding 90 or 100 days,” Bill said, “What keeps people from finishing the trail is usually mental problems, not physical ones.”
Hopkinson says his mind often wanders when he’s on the trail. “Once you get walking, you just start thinking about people you haven’t seen in a while,” he said, adding, “A lot of the time you spend thinking about food, too.”
He usually determines his destinations and distances in advance, knowing exactly where and when he will need to restock on food and supplies. It’s a form of goal-setting that requires discipline and determination. “To get to Tahoe when I wanted to, I knew I had to do 35 miles a day, and so I did.”
Even Hopkinson’s daily pattern requires discipline. He wakes every morning around 5 a.m., eats a couple of pop-tarts and then begins hiking, only stopping for a more substantial breakfast of oatmeal and granola at about 8 a.m. He walks through the day, eating four king size snickers bars dipped in peanut butter for lunch, and stops to cook dinner when the sun begins to set. Soon afterward, he’s fast asleep.
“Dusk is called the hiker’s midnight, because we’re usually asleep by then,” he said.
Hopkinson first completed the Appalachian Trail, the 2,160-mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine at the age of 14. He received his trail name of “Wholesome” because of his youth. Now 21, he has plans to complete the Continental Divide trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada through the Rocky Mountains, by 2007.
“I can predict my pattern,” Hopkinson said. “After I get off this trail, I won’t want to hike at all for at least two weeks. Then in about three years, I’ll get nostalgic and want to do something like this again.”
For more information on the Pacific Crest Trail, go to: http://www.pcta.org