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Book Recounts Journeys And Stories Along The Pacific Crest Trail

A photo of the book Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail
Jim Levulis
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WAMC

A new book documents the stories of a husband-and-wife hiking team and others who tackled the 2,653-mile long Pacific Crest Trail in the western U.S. The author is Barney Scout Mann. Having also trekked the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, he has completed what’s known in the hiking world as America’s Triple Crown. WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Mann about his experiences and how he approached the hike that turned into Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail.

Mann: I did not know I was going to write a book. But I did know I was going to write about it. Here I'm hiking 20 miles a day. But as important to me as my feet, was journaling. Everyday I'd write 400 or 300 words. And one of the times I was most down on my hike, I'd gotten 48 hours behind on my journal.

Levulis: And why did you go in thinking you were going to hike all those miles and then seemingly, I'm thinking at the end of the day, journal about them? Why put both those loads on yourself?

Barney Scout Mann, right, and his wife at the start of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007.
Credit Barney Scout Mann
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Barney Scout Mann, right, and his wife at the start of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007.

Mann: Yeah, that's a really good question. For years before, three, four or five years before, myself, my wife, we would go online, and we try and find people who are doing the trail who were journaling and posting it online. And we lived for the days to get to a small town, and they’d post the next three or four days. And so here, I'm out there, it's my turn, I'm actually hiking from Mexico to Canada. And I wanted to do the same thing to provide stories for others to be able to live vicariously while we were out there. And it wasn't just late at night in the tent, my little headlamp, shining down on it. During the day, I always carried some paper in my in my left shirt pocket. And if I had something I wanted to write down a little story, because it usually I wasn't talking about the trees in the landscape, usually something related to people. But if I wanted to write it down, I had to really want to, because I'd stop. I always walked behind my wife on the on the Pacific Crest Trail. But if a sentence or two sentences was worthwhile, I would stop, she's walking on, and this cost me 100 yards a sentence. So when I finished and tucked it back in my pocket, I had to hurry to catch up to her, so it had to be worthwhile.

Levulis: Sort of a stop and go approach there a little bit as it pertains to both the writing end and the hiking there. And your book is very personal, mostly about characters other than yourself and your wife. Why did you go that route?

Mann: So you think about doing a long hike, ‘I'm going to hike from Mexico to Canada,’ and largely think it would be stunning landscapes. It'll be a huge physical challenge that we'll have to meet. We'll have good weather, we'll have awful weather. But what really the hike ended up being so much about was the people. Jim, we talk and we act differently out there. And not just on a five-month hike, even if you go out and you take a walk to the park. When we're walking, and maybe we set aside, you know, so many of the things that claw at us in our daily lives. We’re more open. And so I would have literally, I would have a conversation almost once a day that I might not have in the city with a best friend in a year. And so I became privy to things, people's backstories and also what happened on the trail, that they really wanted to share. And it amazes me, you've read the book. And the book focuses on six of us, my wife and I and the four others and particularly two younger couples or couples we hope you would become couples, in their 20s and their 30s. It amazes me to this day that they trusted me to pet stories and to be able to tell them the way I did. It wasn't that out there I said now I have all the information I need, I’m going to come back and sit and write. But instead about a year later, and this is the book I did decide to write, I went back and I had extensive interviews with each one of them and actually iI think interviewed about 70 people before I sat down and started to write Journeys North.

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Credit Barney Scout Mann
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Barney Scout Mann, upper right, and others at the end of the PCT in 2007.

Levulis: Yeah, that's incredible. I was going to ask you how you were able to weave in the characters’ pasts while they were progressing on the trail and if you did go back and speak with them and obviously you did and, you know, choosing out of those 70-so people focus on those stories, really did make it personal. Now for some perspective here, the Pacific Crest Trail is 2,653 miles-long. You mentioned in the beginning of the interview that your lowest point was when you hadn't journaled for 48 hours. Why?

Mann: Well, that was one of the pieces of that lowest point. We were about 460 miles along the trail. One of the few times we actually hiked with a couple of people. And when you do that, you want to impress them, they want to impress you, so you don't take breaks. So I'm abusing my feet, I have a couple of blisters that are broken into open sores. And they're not healing. We had just left a high point, which was a trail angel’s house. There are a few places along the way on this journey, where people open up the houses. And if this is known, it's probably like in the Depression, where a hobo would draw a sign on someone's store in chalk and so other hobos would know to stop there. And in this case, there was a trail angel’s house, and we'd stayed there for two nights, probably gotten next to no sleep. And on top of this, it's a 24-mile day, because we know where we want to go to. I would usually carry the food. So my wife would carry some of the group gear. And in doing that, it’s five days’ worth of hiking to our next food drop. So I don't have five days’ worth of food on me. I have 10 days’ worth of food on me. And I do, because my wife had suggested ‘You know there’s a little place in the middle of week break it up?’ And I said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I didn't want to stop and get off.’ So I’m hiking along. It's late in the day, now. I'm feeling down because I haven’t done my trail journal. I'm feeling down, because I have an open sore that every step I'm walking on, I can feel. I'm feeling down because I'm carrying some of the heaviest weight I’ll carry on the whole trip and I can't complain about it because it was my idea to do that. And with every step, I can barely keep my eyes open. Yeah. And that evening, I finally told her, I said, ‘Hey, you know, these list of things are really hurting me and I know I have no right to complain about the food.’ And God bless her. She said the next morning was to something we only did once the entire hike. And that is we slept in. And then we slept in and got up. And she said ‘we will start going when you get caught up on your on your journal.’ And that just made a huge difference, because a question you’ve haven’t asked and maybe will and it's on your list, I'll preempt it. What do you do to prepare for this sort of thing? Be hiking 20, 20-plus miles a day for five months? Six days a week. And people when they ask me that, I think they expect an answer of a training regimen, how they're going to do this many training hikes, or they expect answers about gear, you should have this kind of gear. And there's some truth to both those two. But the answer I give, is the most important muscle out there is and I point to my head. It's mental. It's so much a mental game out there. And so it's actually sort of fitting that the worst time out there wasn't when I broke a rib. Wasn’t when my wife fell and literally broke off one of her front teeth. But it was my worst moments mentally out there.

Levulis: To that preparation point that you mentioned, in addition to the PCT, you’ve hiked the 2,190-mile-long Appalachian Trail and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. So you've completed what's known in the hiking world as America's Triple Crown. The question I bet many people ask and I will, why?

Mann: We are our best selves out there. I love being out there. I've never felt this free. I'll give you an example. So I'm 69 and I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, last one, three years ago. Passed fairly close to where you are and all your listeners are now.  Actually the Appalachian Trail crosses a subway stop that'll take you directly into New York City. You got to love that. But my Pacific Crest Trail hike is now 13 years ago. I was out there for 155 days. And today sitting here right now, I could tell you a story for each and every day. We imprint differently out there. We talk differently to each other out there in the woods. Literally, I'm walking in almost acutely aware that anytime, something amazing could happen around the next bend. And if I were to think back to two years ago, three years ago, to a period of my life, yeah, maybe I could dredge up a story a week. Yeah. And I like it so much that I'm hoping this coming spring to go out and do the Arizona Trail, which is only 800 miles.

Levulis: Oh, so nothing compared to those previous three, nothing.

Mann: Nothing. But we use the word ‘only’ very oddly in this is long distance trail community.

Levulis: Of those three trails. Did you have a favorite?

12.pct_.starry_night.beggan.jpg
Credit Barney Scout Mann
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Barney Scout Mann

Mann: Yes, the Pacific Crest Trail and that’s not just because my wife says I have to say that. The PCT was the first one we did. It's the one we appointed to for many years. It's the one that my wife did entirely with me. She only did 600 miles of the Continental Divide trail with me 2015. And the Appalachian Trail, she was going to stand there and wave goodbye to me. She did actually come out a number of times to visit on the east coast. The PCT because it's a wilderness trail, but it's also still approachable. Because mile for mile packed with the best views. They call the Appalachian Trail, maybe have you heard it called the green tunnel, Jim?

Levulis: I have at certain points. Yes.

Mann: Yes. Because there would be days out there, especially in the southern three quarters of it, there would be days when the little guide book you had to tell you the three times that they that you'd have a view and only if you walked off the trail. And on the Pacific Crest Trail if you'd have a similar guidebook, it might tell you the three times a day that you won't have a view. The Continental Divide Trail walks along the Rocky Mountains. And way fewer people. 60% of the time, I was hiking by myself. I had two days I didn't see another human being walking 50, 50-plus miles. And great scenery but not quite the same as the Cascades in Oregon, Washington and as the Sierra Nevada in California. Yeah, so the Pacific Crest Trail is my favorite. And if you had to do only one, I would recommend it. And if you had one area to hike on the PCT that you are granted, get into the Sierra Nevada, get in there for a day hike, an overnight. I hope sometime in your life, your listeners get to get out there, if they haven't already.

A view on the PCT in Washington state
Credit Barney Scout Mann
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Levulis: Now when you're thru-hiking, you're carrying seemingly everything you need to survive until your next resupply point on your back. I'm not going to let you answer your journal to this next question, but is there anything you carry for luxury? Other than their journal?

Mann: Yeah, everyone carries a luxury item. This will sound funny, but one of mine was my one ounce headlamp. One ounce is 28 grams, and it's a little tiny thing. But for the first seventy-something miles I carried something even tinier. It's like a little 11-gram, so it's three pennies worth, little tiny light that you might put on a key chain, in fact, even there, you think it's tiny. And when I switched over to that slightly larger headlamp that just really felt I could read better at night. I like that. The other thing I bring is a one ounce little sit pad. So it's maybe eight inches by two feet. It's actually a cut out portion of a sleeping pad. It looks like an eggshell compartment about half inch thick. So I plop down for a break and I just put it down the ground and I had this little time sitting on this little tiny civilized spot. It's sort of nice. Yeah. And if I'm hiking in snow, I actually have a little place I can sit for a moment. There are some of my luxury items.

Levulis: Is there an item thru-hikers in your mind should not go without?

Mann: The first thing that comes to mind today, everyone goes without, I mean it literally. I'm a little old school so I carry paper maps, even though I also have it on my cell phone I have a guide too that I can see essentially, GPS, I can see where I am. When I did the Appalachian 2017, I think I was literally the only person I met, who was also still carrying a paper map. But what undergirds that is you shouldn't go out there without navigation skills. They said, I got my phone, it tells me exactly where I'm at. There are a number of excellent map and hiking to trail app, tutorial apps. But that can fail. Go out there and at least you'll have the skills to be able to navigate.

The PCT 50 miles from Canada
Credit Barney Scout Mann
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The PCT 50 miles from Canada

Levulis: And this will be my final question as far as items go. What about a piece of equipment that you think might be overrated or overhyped? In terms of the need for it?

Mann: I'll name one of its type something called the Spot. Started about 10 years ago, a four ounce now it's down even two ounce device, that basically you press a button, and you have activated a search and rescue team and you'll likely have a helicopter and on you, within not all that long. A number of companies make them. More and more people are going into the outdoors with them. It's a troublesome device, because we go out there to be out there. And now also, we've carried this, this tether, which is even a different tether than even your cell phone. You have a tendency maybe to get in deeper than you should, because I have this thing, I can press the button and I can all of a sudden know I'll be rescued anywhere. And there's something amazing about being out there where there are no safety rails. Where you're sitting like that right now, where I'm sitting, if we walk out our door, we walk into our cars, everything has been designed for safety. And one of the wonders of being out there and walking is that I'm in a place that's actually wild. I could see it there. And it won't be behind bars. In fact, I'll be at its home. One of our more amazing experiences was running into a bear the size of a Volkswagen as I say. But it's just I feel it takes away a bit of experience. And I know that's a little contrary. I'm safety conscious and you should have this device. So I'm expressing my inner feelings about it but not necessarily advising people to leave theirs at home.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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