By Laurelle Walsh
Photos courtesy of Geoff Gode
Geoff Gode began walking home to the Methow Valley from the Mexican border on April 25. With the simple goal of reaching Canada before the North Cascades were snowed in, he really didn’t know how long it would take him to hike the 2,650 miles, or if he would make it at all.
He told people whom he met on the trail that he was walking home. And that became his trail name: Walking Home. A little more than four months later he tagged Monument 78 at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He turned around and retraced the 30 miles back to Harts Pass, and home to Mazama.
“The trail has given me so many gifts,” Gode says. “I don’t know if I’ve really digested it all yet.”
Watching the climate change from California “all the way up to home” was one of Gode’s motivators on the trail. “I had always wanted to spend time in the mountains, connect with nature and get away from roads and people,” he says. “When you are on the trail you’re using your senses a lot more and connecting with the earth.”
Gode, 45, has spent much of the last 18 years in the Methow Valley, working as a river raft guide with Osprey River Adventures and more recently as a builder for various valley contractors. Always an active person, he had been doing a lot of hiking and mountain biking – especially since getting sober in 2010 – but sometime last year began feeling he was “kind of stagnating in the valley.”
He read and was inspired by the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, a first-person memoir of the author’s empowering 1,100-mile hike on the PCT, following her mother’s death and the low point of a self-destructive lifestyle.
Gode began talking about hiking the PCT, but “my friends really talked me in to doing it,” he says. He made the decision to do it on March 20, 2013, and a month later was on an airplane headed for San Diego and the start of the trail.
The PCT is a multi-month marathon for through hikers who hike its 2,650-mile length in one season. For those who break it up into shorter portions of trail – section hikers – completing every mile of the PCT from Mexico to Canada becomes a multi-year project, some say every bit as satisfying as accomplishing it all at once.
When Gode started researching the logistics of the trip, he hefted a newly printed stack of maps, and said to himself, “There’s no way I’m carrying all that.” But what he really found daunting was the issue of food supply.
“You can only carry so much food,” he says, a problem made more difficult by the 4,000 to 6,000 calories a hiker burns walking 20-plus miles each day.
Gode ended up packing 12 resupply boxes containing dehydrated food and maps for each section of trail. Part-time Mazama resident and friend Mark Cairns, “key to the success of the hike,” sent the boxes to pre-established addresses, along with items that Gode requested along the way such as new pairs of shoes – he went through four pairs – and water filter replacement cartridges.
Gode’s backpack weighed between 30 and 48 pounds, depending on how much food he was carrying, he says. He carried an ultralight tent and sleeping bag, each weighing a little more than two pounds.
He tried to eat around 3,500 to 4,000 calories per day. After losing 17 pounds in the first 170 miles, he switched his lunch menu from granola bars and other high-carb foods to tortillas, salami and cheese. The only food he says he really can’t stand eating today is instant mashed potatoes.
Hitting the trail
Hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada in one season is a balancing act most years. On the south end, hikers hope to hit the high country of the Sierra Nevada late enough in the spring that the bulk of the snow pack has melted; on the other hand they also hope to make it through the North Cascades before autumn flurries stop northward travel. On years when deep Sierra snow makes travel impossible, some through hikers “flip” and take a bus to Washington to resume the trip heading south from the Canadian border.
Gode departed Campo on April 25, the day before the annual PCT Kick Off, getting a jump on “the pack” – the big push of hikers that head north around the same time each spring.
Gode says he was “blown away” by the culture of the trail, especially of the “trail angels” in California, non-hikers who go out of their way to support the efforts of those on the trail. Trail angels open their homes to through hikers, offer showers, laundry and meals, and accept resupply boxes at their addresses.
“Meeting all these people on the trail has rekindled my faith in humanity,” Gode says.
Trail angels also restock water caches along long, dry sections of trail. “Without them it would be very difficult to do parts of Southern California,” Gode says.
Gode also fondly remembers instances of “trail magic,” like the time he came upon a stashed cooler along an especially hot section of trail, stocked with soft drinks and snacks for parched and weary hikers.
He reached Kennedy Meadows, “the gateway to the high Sierras,” on June 2, well ahead of the normal June 15 goal – known by hikers as “Ray Day” for Ray Jardine, “the guru of lightweight backpacking.” Sierra snowpack this year was 40 percent of normal, making it possible for through hikers like Gode to push through the high country earlier than in some years.
The most exciting moment of the hike for him was in the Marble Mountains Wilderness, around 1,600 miles into the trip. He remembers being in a brushy section of trail, not hearing, seeing or smelling anything unusual, “but everything in my senses said ‘bear,’” he says. He eventually did see the bear on a nearby hillside, “but in that instance it was proven to me that my senses were dialed in enough that something inside of me said it was there.”
As the end of the trail approached and home was in sight, Gode was welcomed back to the Methow Valley by friends who met him at Rainy Pass and Harts Pass with food and good wishes. “I was very touched by that,” he says.
On Aug. 31 Gode reached the United States/Canada border, 129 days after heading out on his journey. He averaged 20.62 miles per day with only four “zero days” – rest days on which zero trail miles are logged.
After taking some victory photos, Gode turned around at the border to walk the seven miles back to his camp at Hopkins Lake, “knowing there would be some headlamp hiking.” He ended up taking a wrong turn in the dark at the Boundary Trail junction, leading him several miles off course. “It’s ironic that I had walked all that way and never got lost until the last day,” he says. “It was also my only 40-plus mile day.”
Gode is still sleeping on a Therm-a-rest, camping out at his family’s property in Mazama “for now.” He hopes to maintain the sense of well-being he achieved after so many months on the trail. “The trail’s got me kind of jazzed on travel and adventure; I’d like to keep that going.”