I really enjoy most memoirs about long distance hiking; somehow the rhythm of hiking becomes the rhythm of reading and you’re swept along the trail. One of the things I’ve noticed, however, is that narratives about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail seem to break down about the time the author reaches the Oregon border. I’ve lived in both Oregon and Washington and I know that the PCT in both states is astoundingly beautiful. I figured this paucity of narration was a side effect of narrative fatigue after explaining the struggles with adjusting to the trail as well as the result head down hiking to make miles before the snow starts to fall.
Somewhere along the line I started to think, “I’m not so sure I want to thru-hike the trail.” It just started to seem like a not ideal way to absorb the beauty of the trail. A couple of years ago, Amazon suggested One Hundred Mile Summers: Hiking The Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada by Eleanor Guilford.
Guilford began backpacking in the late 1960s with the Sierra Club. She became enchanted with backpacking and completed the John Muir Trail before expanding her hikes to the PCT. She generally completed a trail section each summer of about 100 miles, expanding the length of her hikes after her retirement, and finished the PCT at the Canadian border in August of 1989.
I really enjoyed reading Guilford’s account of her hike. She is frank and honest about what she experienced along the way and I think her section hiking approach really allowed her to be fresh and open to experiences the entire trail. I also felt a really strong kinship with Eleanor as a solo female hiker. She utilized Amtrak, buses, and hitchhiking to get to and from the trailheads and her home in the Los Angeles area, in her sixties and at seventy! Sometimes I had to remind myself that she wasn’t thirty like me!
Guilford’s hike being spread out over two decades meant that she was able to make observations about how equipment, attitudes, and policies changed over the years. While clearly not a professional writer, Guilford’s enthusiasm and positivity about the trail are infectious and never ceased to make me smile. I was a little disappointed that she ran into some rain in Washington, despite hiking in August which is usually a gorgeous month in the Cascades even at elevation, I wanted glowing Washington prose! (She did positively describe what she could see.)
Is it spring yet? I need some high mountain backpacking after reading One Hundred Mile Summers.