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Weinhart's 2,500 miles and counting

West Linn resident tackles arduous Pacific Crest Trail


Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: RYAN WEINHART - Starting near the Mexican border and climbing all the way to British Columbia, Ryan Weinhart has been on the Pacific Crest Trail since April. Ryan Weinhart’s first encounter with the Pacific Crest Trail came more than 10 years ago, when he was with the United States Marine Corps in California.

Weinhart, a West Linn native, thought little of it then, and it wasn’t until he moved back to Oregon that he discovered the trail’s allure. A frequent skier, Weinhart was on the slopes when he noticed that the same trail extended all the way up through the mountains of Oregon, and into Canada.

“When I put it together that it went from Mexico to Canada,” Weinhart said, “it was immediately on my radar that I wanted to do it.”

In the early months of 2014, Weinhart decided the time had come to tackle the challenge. He’d been married for more than three years, but did not have children yet. Weinhart and his wife, Danielle, eventually wanted to have kids, and he knew it would be harder to embark on such a journey if he was leaving children at home.

Even without a full family to support, the trip would require immense sacrifices. Weinhart would have to quit his job at Benchmade Knife Company in Oregon City, and he would be away from his family and friends for months on end.

In the end, Weinhart simply couldn’t resist the pull of the 2,650 mile trail.

On April 14, he began walking from the trail’s start point in Campo, Calif., just miles from the Mexican border. Over the course of more than four months since then, Weinhart has hiked through California, Oregon and Washington, contending with physical and mental exhaustion while traveling — mostly alone — across deserts and up into mountains.

If he remains on schedule, Weinhart will arrive at the trail’s end point — Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia — sometime today.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: RYAN WEINHART - Weinhart's journey began April 14 in Campo, Calif., and he was on schedule to complete the trail today.

“The biggest challenge is being away from family,” Weinhart said from a rest point in Snoqualmie, Wash., some 2,400 miles into the journey. “The physical aspect ... I truly believe anyone could do it if they want to. It’s a tradeoff — do you want the pain and being away from your family?”

At the beginning, Weinhart was walking about 15 miles a day; now, as he approaches the finish line, he’s averaging closer to 30. When he reached Snoqualmie, Weinhart calculated that he would need to push it to 34 miles per day if he wanted to arrive by Sept. 4.

“That’s my goal, but it’s a very hard goal to achieve given the terrain coming up,” Weinhart said.

Of course, by this point he’d seen much worse. In the Facebook and Tumblr photos he’s uploaded throughout the trip, Weinhart is always smiling. But in between those photos, truly painful moments tested him.

“There’s been several sections that I’ve thought, ‘I’m going to go home, this is crazy,’” he said.

The lowest moment came at Hat Creek Rim, in Northern California — a brutal stretch of literal scorched earth adjacent to the Lassen Volcanic Center.

“It was probably only 90 degrees,” Weinhart said. “But it felt like it was 110 and my skin was melting off.”

For a 33 mile stretch along the rim, the trail had no water, so Weinhart was forced to carry two days’ worth of water himself. At one point, in the heat of the day, he found a bush, curled up in the shade and called Danielle.

“I thought I had to go home, that this is crazy, there’s no way I can make it,” Weinhart said.

Danielle wouldn’t let him quit.

“You don’t have an option,” she said. “You’re not coming home, you have to keep going.”

Weinhart ended up hiking through the night, covering a two-day stretch of trail in half the time.

“And then you keep moving, wait for the next obstacle,” Weinhart said.

That ended up coming a bit further north, in the Seiad Valley near the California-Oregon border. Weinhart was camping for the night, and woke to find a group of deer circling his tent.

“It had to do with perspiring a lot,” Weinhart said. “They can sense the salt, and they want to lick it.”

Weinhart screamed and yelled, but the deer wouldn’t leave him alone. Finally, at 2 a.m., he was forced to pack up and start walking again.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: RYAN WEINHART - Weinhart celebrated the 400 mile mark in May.

Beyond the physical challenges, Weinhart has also struggled with spending so much time alone, away from his wife and close friends and family. There have been visits at towns along the trail, but the arduous mile-by-mile walks are his to tackle alone — sometimes for days on end.

“I might run into a day hiker, say a few words, learn where they’re from and tell my story,” Weinhart said. “But most days are spent in my own head, just walking alone.”

Low moments aside, the highlights of the trail have made everything worthwhile. The “most magical moment” was climbing Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet.

“Right after climbing that, the next day, there’s a mountain pass you go over,” Weinhart said. “When you crest the pass at like 13,204 feet, and you go through a little notch in the rock and when you pop out on the other side, you’re just engulfed in a huge valley of 14,000-foot peaks ... immaculate treeless peaks, waterfalls all around going down cliffs.”

And then there are the simple joys of life, which are enhanced tenfold after long days in the backcountry. In Old Station, Calif., Weinhart had the best chocolate shake he’d ever tasted (“It had brownies in it!”), and many of his photos show him enjoying a cold mug of beer at a local tavern. Danielle has kept him well stocked with food by sending it to towns along the trail, but Weinhart still treats himself whenever he has the chance.

“The most (walking) I’ve done in one day is 42 miles,” he said, “and that was to get to town and have a chocolate shake.”

Shortly after returning to West Linn, Weinhart is scheduled to — believe it or not — participate in the Mountain Lakes 100 Sept. 27, a 100 mile race that starts and ends at Olallie Lake.

Before that, he’ll start looking for a new job, paint his house and reflect on the summer that was.

“Kind of boring, but it’s been go-go-go lately,” he said.

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of three long distance trails in the U.S. recognized by the American Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA). Someday, Weinhart hopes to tackle the other two: the Continental Divide Trail (2,800 miles) and the Appalachian Trail (2,160 miles).

For now, being one of the few to complete the Pacific Crest Trail is satisfaction enough.

“Right now I’m in this dark spot, being out here for so long, being tired and wanting to be home with family,” Weinhart said. “But I know the itch will come again, and I’ll probably have to do it.”

To follow Weinhart’s journey, visit rweinhart.tumblr.com. For more information on the Pacific Crest Trail, visit pcta.org.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: RYAN WEINHART - Weinhart's journey has taken him through peaks and valleys, both physically and mentally.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A former marine, Weinhart hopes to one day complete two more long distance hikes: the Continental Divide Trail (2,800 miles) and the Appalachian Trail (2,160 miles).



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