Finding Meaning: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

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Alan Caserio, at the Pacific Crest Trail sign that inspired a 26-year odyssey. Submitted photo

By Skip Hellewell

Two Laguna Beach scoutmasters, hiking over the 11,700′ Kearsarge Pass with their troop in the Sierras, came across a trail sign. One arrow pointed south: “Mexico, 790 miles.” The other pointed north: “Canada, 1,860 miles.” They had crossed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and if you add the numbers the trail runs 2,650 miles. One asked the other, “interested?” The answer was, “Yes!”

They got busy with life, and two years passed with the only action of buying a copy of Jeffrey Schaffer’s guide to the Pacific Crest Trail. One finally said, let’s just set a date and start. The date was Memorial Day weekend, 1996, and four Laguna men in their mid-thirties with three high school daughters started at Campo near the Mexican border. As opposed to “through hikers” who make the hike in a single season during the snow-free months, they planned to do it in sections.

Alan Caserio (left) and Larry Black at the end of the Pacific Crest Trail near the Canadian border. Because the border was closed due to COVID, they hiked back 30 miles to their final starting point.

Each year they chipped away, arranging transportation to trail portals, then hiking a section of the trail. Laguna friends joined the group, especially around Mt. Whitney (14,508 feet elevation). Years slipped by. The daughters finished high school, went off to college, married, and started families. The dads kept hiking, through their 40s, 50s, and into their 60s. Last month, two of them, Alan Caserio and Larry Black, completed the hike, reaching Canada. Mission accomplished, and it only took 26 years.

The biggest changes over the years were in technology. Improvements in equipment reduced Caserio’s basic pack weight (without food and water) twelve pounds. Cell phones (with solar chargers) and GPS made map and compass optional. Another change was the number of people hiking the trail, greatly increased in recent years.

PCT hikers have their own language. FKT stands for “fastest known time,” recently set at 52 days, the holder hiking or running an incredible 51 miles per day. Yo-Yo refers to a person who completes the hike and, not wanting to stop, reverses it back to Mexico. The Triple Crown requires completing the PCT, the Continental Divide Trail (3028 miles) and the Appalachian Trail (2200 miles). A Trail Angel is anyone who gives you needed help along the way.

Hikers are known by assigned trail names. Caserio was known as “Piecemeal,” for doing the trail in pieces. Black was “Poptart,” for his preferred breakfast (Kellogg’s should put him in a commercial). One hiker was named “MacGyver” for carrying very little equipment while first hiking the Continental Divide Trail, then heading west on the Pacific Northwest Trail until it hit the PCT, then heading south to Mexico. Life can be simple on the trail.

Summing it all up, Caserio found the hike to be a spiritual experience. Hiking day after day through the beauty of the mountains, you ponder the world about you. Stripped of distractions, immersed in nature, life becomes spiritual. There’s meaning in that.

 

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ’50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” To get in touch, email [email protected].

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