Friends take a Wild Hike
Glen Baxendale recalls taking his first backpacking trip as a teen-ager. It would have been in the early 1950s, a time when kids in the small lumbering town of Vaughn learned early to fish and hunt and find their way through the forested slopes of the Coast Range near Noti.
Back then, he says, backpacking meant throwing a few cans of food in a rucksack along with a sleeping bag and heading off on backwoods trails.
So perhaps it didn’t seem like a completely wild idea when he decided, at 77, to tackle the Pacific Crest Tail in more or less the same way. But the inspiration that kindled his interest was totally “Wild.”
It began in 2014 when Baxendale watched actress Reese Witherspoon hoist a pack on her back in the movie “Wild” and head into the challenge and majesty of the Pacific Crest Trail. After reading the book that triggered the movie he began to ponder the possibility of stepping into a similar adventure. Not the full 2,600-mile pathway from Mexico to Canada. Just the Oregon section, he thought--460 miles of Pacific Crest Trail.
He’d retired by then from the window-washing and maintenance business that occupied him for 40 years, delivering adventure in the form of belay ropes and the high-rise risks of cleaning windows in multi-storied apartment towers.
The aging parents he cared for after retirement were no longer living. A single man with time on his hands, he was ripe for fresh motivation.
At Daynight Donuts on Hwy 99 N, Baxendale discussed his “Wild” inspiration with Jerry Krause. The two met ten years ago as regulars at the coffee shop and the connection grew into a friendship they shared on hunting and fishing trips as well as gold panning and wood-splitting outings.
So why not a distance hike as a friendly adventure for two retired outdoorsmen? Gradually, a fantasy bubbled into a proposal.
As a youngster in Sweet Home, Krause, 72, grew up with the wilderness in his backyard. He’d never been a distance hiker but he often logged five or six-mile days on elk hunting trips. Until retirement in 2006, he’d worked mainly as a diesel mechanic for sand and gravel operations in the Eugene-Springfield area. A commitment to fitness, a love of nature and a wife who agreed to provide support for the venture sealed the proposal for Krause.
Off to a Stormy Start
After training walks at Mt. Pisgah and along the Middle Fork Path from Clearwater Park in Springfield, the two men set out on July 7, 2015, to hike the first leg of their PCT adventure, a 12-mile stretch between the California border and Mt. Ashland.
It didn’t go well. They’d walked just six miles when the storm rolled in, drenching hikers and gear. Lightning blazed in the sky around them as they decided to abandon the quest for the day. A call to Krause’s wife Bunny brought an emergency pick up on a forest service road and a re-thinking of the goal.
Instead of setting sights on a sequential, through hike on the trail, they decided to tackle segments they could do in a day or two. They’d fill in sections piece by piece when weather and readiness allowed.
With renewed commitment, they set off two weeks later on a two-day hike and confronted another challenge. The weight of gear, water and food for two days proved too much for Glen, a slight-bodied man, now 79. He accepted help from other hikers on the final stretch to a camping site.
Yet another re-calibration of plans was required. Another revision of the goal. It’s clear now, they admit, they can’t walk the full length of the Oregon pathway together. So they intend to walk what they can—segments with access roads at points that allow single day hikes of 12-15 miles.
By using a two-vehicle shuttle system, they won’t need to backtrack. And with supplies stashed in the cars, they figure they could sleep, refuel and hike a second day, without the burden of a heavy pack.
In two summers, they have completed about 100 miles of trail and calculate they have perhaps 100 more accessible miles to walk in summers ahead, using the two-car shuttle or the gracious taxi services of Krause’s wife.
In retrospect it may seem that Baxendale and Krause weren’t much better prepared for the challenge of a long-distance hike than the author of “Wild” who inspired their ambition. But they are just as determined.
“We aren’t done hiking,” Krause insists. “We’re just doing shorter hikes. We both have a strong commitment to exercise. We know our limits now, but we aren’t done yet.”
The enthusiasm and pride that invigorate their voices confirm the magic bestowed by a dream. There’s excitement in pursuing a goal no matter what your age.
Pursuit of a Goal Brings a Boost
Eugene hiker Janet Jacobsen, 75, recognizes the power of that magic. She has walked with dozens of goal-seekers in her years as a participant and hike leader with the Eugene Obsidians hiking club. Founded in 1927, the club now has 492 members, many of them gray-haired.
“These are people who are retiring and choosing other adventures in their lives,” Jacobsen says. “People who want to get the skills to implement a dream.”
In recent years, she has been helping those hikers prepare to tackle walks like the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the Coast to Coast trail in northern England, or segments of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Wednesday training hikes led by Jacobsen or other club members give participants a 3-mile circuit on the Ridgeline Trail and up Spencer’s Butte for an aerobic hike that includes elevation gain. The goal is to provide a fitness base that enables hikers to follow their dreams.
“You open your mind to new adventures when you gain confidence in your own skills,” she asserts.
Typically, a dozen hikers or more show up for the Wednesday hikes. Some join the group to develop new outdoor skills, she says. Some want the fitness challenge of a 1,600-foot elevation gain. Some are seeking a change in personal health or daily patterns. Some don’t like to hike the trail alone.
“If you can train and get your mileage up to five or six miles you can see so much,” she says. “Start with that dream. Just getting your pack ready for a day hike. That is where to start and it’s easier with a group.”
Advance sign-up is required on all Obsidian outings. A full list of activities and contacts is available at www.obsidians.org.
Chris Stockdale, 72, joined the Obsidians when she moved to this area 15 years ago. A former runner with two hip replacements, she, too, knows the power of a goal and the challenge of redefining expectations.
“I used to be a really strong hiker,” she says. “Now, I have slowed down. It doesn’t bother me. I just go at the pace I enjoy. The friends I hike with are all about the same age and we just want to live a good, healthy life. The way to do that, we believe, is exercise. Real exercise.”
Nothing “wild” about that goal.
Carolyn Kortge of Eugene is a former Register-Guard editor and writer.
Contact her at email@example.com