Trooper (Gary)

Mile 2,591

 
 
 

(1) Where are you from?

I live in the village of Tingewick near the town of Buckingham in Buckinghamshire, England

(2) What day did you start?

19 May 2018

(3) What day did you finish?

08 Oct 2018

(4) Do you have a trail name?

Trooper

(5) If so, where did it come from?

I was given the name by a fellow hiker named Bubbles (she acquired her name because she would randomly burp). We were camped near Whitewater, it was windy, and she shouted out that she had thought of a trail name for me - Trooper. I was the oldest in our then trail family (64 years old with the youngest being 17 and the others in their 20s, 30s and 40s) and despite my age I was able to keep up with them even if it meant arriving at camp a couple of hours later. Never complaining, always positive. And I might have mentioned to her I am a retired Commander from the US Navy.

(6) What did you dream of when things weren’t going well?

Good question. I can’t recall any dreams but when times were tough, I thought of the trials and tribulations of my past and how I had managed to overcome them (e.g. going into that “dark place” when running a 100 mile race and staying on my feet for more than 24 hours straight)

(7) Did you experience anything miraculous?

No. I have read and heard people speak of seeing or experiencing miracles but I tend to have a bit more of a rational or sceptical nature and disposition.

(8) Any memorable encounters with the elements, or wildlife?

I was nearly bitten by a rattlesnake, not on my foot or leg, but on my hand. I was hiking thru a dry section with very few water sources and came upon a spring which was trickling from beneath some underbrush next to the trail. I reached down to fill my bottle when I suddenly heard the loudest rattle I had yet encountered on the trail and then saw a large rattlesnake slide up from the spring into the brush. It was between 2 and 3 feet long and a couple of inches in diameter. Perhaps it was a “miracle” I wasn’t bitten. 

I had at least 9 other encounters with rattlesnakes but nothing as close and potentially as lethal as this. Also encounters with bears during the day and night. And I woke up to a long horn sheep munching near my sleeping bag when I was cowboy camping near Goat Rocks and Old Snowy.

(9) Think back to your “pre-hike self.” Now think of yourself here at the end. Has anything changed?

I had never hiked before I stood at the Southern Terminus of the PCT (remember I was a career naval officer and then a secondary school Business Administrator. I spent a lot of time running marathons and ultras but never hiking and sleeping outside.) I now consider myself a competent hiker. And I am extremely grateful for having had the time, resources and most importantly the support of my family to undertake this rather self-centred experience.

Each day that passes I feel an emptiness and fear that I will become numb and forget the powerful experience of hiking from the Mexican border across California, Oregon and Washington and into Canada.

(10) Now that you are off the trail, what do you miss most about it?

The unique, self-selected community of people that hike the trail. Gender, age, appearance all become irrelevant. We supported and respected each other day and night.

The incredible generosity of the people (trail angels and random strangers) in the towns along the trail.

The subtle beauty and awesome majesty of nature along the trail. The flowers, the trees, the incredible rock formations.

The sounds of the rivers and streams.

The utter stillness on so many sections during the day and night when I stopped and listened.

The pleasure of drinking spring water at the source. Truly one of the best experiences in life.

(11) Before you started, what were you most afraid of?

Experiencing a serious injury or illness which would end my hike.

(12) Now that you are finished, what are you most afraid of?

Forgetting what I experienced  on the trail where each day was different and accepting the routine and habits (bad) that drain away our spirit in most of our lives.

(13) What’s the difference between life on the trail and life off the trail?

As stated above, every day was different and every action was deliberate. From deciding how far to hike, where to acquire water, what and when to eat from the limited supplies in your backpack, how long to linger taking in the beauty around you and finally where to camp. No two days or nights were alike.

(14) Would you like to add anything else?

Where do we go from here?