By GENE PEREIRA
Sam Maguire looked up and could see the monument ahead. The hiking journey, with friend Trevor White, had begun just south of Campo, California, located on the border of the United States and Mexico.
Now after 158 grueling, but spectacular days, just ahead was the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT), located at the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia. The two former Barrie Central Collegiate graduates, their emotions bubbling inside them, remained silent as they completed the remainder of the 4,729-kilometre trail.
“I was pretty grateful that I was finished and just extremely satisfied with myself the day we got to the border,” recalls Maguire, on wrapping up the five-and-a-half-month long hike they began in late April and completed in late September. “There’s a monument at the northern terminus that’s at the Canadian-U.S. border, so pretty much the walk to that – the three miles we did up to that – was just silent.
“Then I saw the monument and I just started bawling. Just seeing the monument – and not in a photo – and being there was just really rewarding for me. I didn’t think it was possible. It was just a neat experience.”
An experience Maguire is already looking forward to again. He spent years researching and planning the PCT hike and is ready to take on the next challenge. Of course, this time without all the snow he had to walk through on the PCT.
“I know what I can do now and I know what I have to do to prepare for a trip of that magnitude,” the 24-year-old adventurer said.
Maguire is thinking of tackling a longer challenge this time, that being the Continental Divide Trail, which ranges 5,000 km between Mexico and Canada.
“That’s probably my next good, long trail,” he said. “It’s more navigation based, as defined as the PCT. It involves map use, but it’s a little more beautiful. There’s also trails in Canada that I’m willing to try. This has really opened up what I can do. These trails are everywhere.”
The PCT, which ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon-Washington border to more than 4,000 metres at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada, passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks. Designated a national scenic trail in 1968 and officially completed in 1993, hazards include severe weather, wildlife and dehydration.
Maguire saw something about the trail on the social media website, Reddit. He had been camping before, but nothing like this. Having researched ultralight backpacking, he admits he wanted to know what it was like living in the bush for days at a time.
“It was more just ‘can I do it’ and it looked like a challenge to me,” said Maguire, who added with no career or family the timing was perfect. “I just wanted to give it a shot.”
White actually missed his graduation at the University of Waterloo to go on the trip.
“It wasn’t difficult to convince him,” Maguire said.
The trip was pretty much eat, sleep and walk. And you name it, they encountered it. Especially the weather. Going through California, says Maguire, was pretty much desert for the first 1,100 km.
“It was just dry,” he explained. “We had to carry water for long distances.”
Then came the mountains and the snow and then the rolling hills of Oregon. Then, it was back to the mountains in Washington.
“It’s pretty much a postcard wherever you go,” said Maguire, whose parents drove across Canada and stayed with him and White pretty much through all of Washington.
As for rain, they got lucky, with only two occurrences along the West Coast.
“The only time we got rained on was in the desert on our day off, which is pretty stunning,” he said. “The weather leading up to it, especially in Sierra Nevada, the snow was 200 per cent above normal. So, we really got a kick in the butt there.”
They walked on snow for some 640 km. Sometimes two or three times a day they would have to cross rivers that were waist deep and freezing.
“People heard we were hiking in this snow situation and they were shocked we were able to do it,” Maguire added. “Only a couple of hundred made it through. Some went backwards, so the snow had time to melt. We were just going for it.”
Maguire also had to fight through a knee injury on his first 960-km hike through California.
“Going downhill I was pretty much crippled,” he said. “I had to use my trekking poles as crutches because my knee couldn’t stand the weight.”
But, he was determined to get through that.
“I pretty much had to get through it and I was going, ‘I’m not giving up because of a stupid knee problem,'” said Maguire, who met and hiked for parts with people from Australia, Europe, South Africa and Canada.
Maguire praised the volunteers who worked along the PCT. The “trail angels” would even pick them up at the airport and let them stay at their house for a couple of days, as well as provide valuable information and tips about the trail.
“They also feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner at their house,” he said. “They were extremely generous.”
Maguire doesn’t hesitate at all when asked if he’d recommend a similar experience to others.
“Absolutely,” he said. “If you have time off in your life and you’re able to go.”
Maguire even saw people working on the trail so they could afford the experience.
“Just go for it and see if you can do it,” he advised. “Anybody can do it. You don’t have to have incredible fitness. Just go for it. We saw every type of person out there. We saw such a massive age range, 60- to 70-year-olds that are just finishing up the trail after doing sections for years.
“They’re finishing up and they’re excited to get their certificate. Really, anybody can do it.”