I was wild before there was a “Wild.” I’ve been thinking about my Colorado Trail presentation for some months now, but today I sat down to start putting it together. In the process, I started poking around with photographs from my very first backpacking hike, a 400 miles trip the length of Oregon on the Oregon Skyline Trail, most of which would eventually be turned into the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
This was the summer of 1972. The Pacific Crest Trail had been established as a concept in 1968 and Eric Ryback had walked the length of the trail, from Mexico to Canada in 1970. I read about Eric’s adventure in the June 1971 issue of National Geographic magazine and decided I had to see the trail for myself. I had never gone backpacking before. I didn’t even know anyone who had gone backpacking. But, I knew a friend of a friend who was driving to Oregon from Phoenix and he said I could have a ride with him.
I rushed down to the J.C. Penney store, where I was working, and forked over a fair amount of money for the best camping gear money could buy in that pathetic sporting goods section. Oh, dear! It was a blessing I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was as clueless as Cheryl Strayed in her popular book, Wild. And, I have to say, the hike was about as transforming for me as it was for her.
I made every hiking mistake it is possible to make, including starting out with ill-fitting boots that wore enormous blisters on my feet the very first day. But, I did survive. It’s true that I didn’t eat rice for about twenty years after the trip, and I spent that last cold, snowy night wrapping myself around the business end of a campground outhouse, which wasn’t the best place I’ve ever slept in my life. But, boy did I grow up! And I became convinced that I could do just about anything I set my mind to. That’s a lesson worth learning on a backpacking trip.