An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: Best and Worst Days

Part two of my interview with Sam Haraldson about his ultralight thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Here’s part one.

A campsite on the Pacific Northwest TrailI couldn’t help starting the interview off by asking Sam a pretty basic question: what were his best and worst days on the trail?

The worst day, he said, was a day spent literally bushwhacking a section of the trail a little west of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. It was an “alternate trail” chosen as the result of a section closed due to fire danger, and it sounded like a nightmare.

“Logging roads were often a nice treat after walking some of the ancient trail I’d been on all through Montana but not this logging road. It started off with only the occasional downed tree or overgrown area which I was well accustomed to by this time. It was the deterioration from old road, to single track path, to absolute alder-choked jungle nightmare that was slowly making this the worst day of my thru-hike. After a few miles of walking trail 315 I was Pacific Northwest Trail signageactually cursing quite loudly at the alder shrubs which have the most agitating tendency to grow so that the ground is perfectly visible yet nearly impossible to walk on. Cursing and swinging my arms, my hat being pulled off constantly, my clothing and body being prodded and poked and my anger rising I could do nothing more than push on – focusing my anger and rage into my legs to push harder and keep going. I don’t like to get angry but I realized on that day that I too am susceptible to rage. I’m glad I was able to focus it and tolerate it until I broke free atop that peak into the year old burned forest whereupon the going became much easier and I was even treated to spotting a young moose browsing through the new undergrowth. The note I made in my journal (after a few angry words) was this, ‘This camp is gorgeous and a good relax after a long day.’”

A campsite on the Pacific Northwest Trail in Olympic National ParkFortunately, as Sam said, “the bad days were numbered far fewer than the good ones on this hike.” His best day, he said, was had as he walked along the Pacific Ocean during the final days of the trek.

“On this day the joy I felt and the power of success that overcame me brought to my eyes tears of joy and to my lungs shouts of exultation. I was walking the last leg of my hike along the shores of the Pacific Ocean a few days from the end of the hike. My girlfriend, Sarah had mailed me my mp3 player at the last mail drop so that I would have it for the train ride home and I’d chosen to listen to it a bit while I was in camp in the evenings. The Olympic Peninsula is an area known to have rain the better part of the year and truly gorgeous, sunny days often only number in the dozens. Today happened to be one of those days. The sun was out, the few clouds in the sky were of the type that inspires daydreams, the sound of the surf was sumptuous to my ears and the walking was effortless and enjoyable. I arrived at a camping spot which had an element of perfection to it – from the giant overhanging tree which created a perfect spot over my tarp to the rope swing someone had built out of discarded rope to the crisp, brilliant flow of the creek a few dozen meters to the North – the campsite was perfumed with perfection. I had reached camp very early so I built one of the few ground fires I had during the entirety of the hike using some of the nearly limitless driftwood available along the beach, had The Flaming Lips “Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots” on the mp3 player, my pants rolled up to the knees, shirt off and the warmth of the Pacific sun warming me all over. as I sat on the giant log along the edge of my camp and watched the surf roll in the view, music and feelings of what I’d accomplished thus far all came together in a welling sensation of emotions – bringing the tears and shouts I spoke of earlier to fruition. There have only been a handful of times in my life that I’ve felt so overcome with emotion and many of those have been tragic. There is nothing better than the power of joy so powerful it affects you physically.”

Don’t forget, Sam will be giving a presentation on his hike, titled “Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail,” at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis this Saturday at 11 a.m.

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview:

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