Three years ago, Julie Klazynski had never been backpacking, but then she read “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” by David Miller.
That book, which tells the author’s story of hiking that entire 2,200-mile trail, made Klazynski want to backpack.
A year later, with a handful of short backpacking trips under her belt, the Columbia woman decided she wanted to hike the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
“It just formed in my mind that this would be so cool,” she said. “I think what really solidified that decision is three years ago, my parents and I went to Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, which the PCT runs through. I just decided ‘this is my goal. In the summer of 2019, I’m going to do this.”
She is not sure why the idea of thru-hiking such a long trail appealed to her, though she acknowledges the challenge of it was intriguing.
“I love backpacking and I love being outside, so all that attracted me,” the 39-year-old Freeburg High School math teacher noted. “Some people have a midlife crisis and buy a Corvette or something like that. But I’ll turn 40 on the trail, hopefully, in September. So maybe that’s it.”
She does know why she picked the PCT, despite it being farther away than other long trails like the AT.
“I knew it would be super different from the terrain back home,” Klazynski explained. “The Appalachian Trail, they call it the long green tunnel. It’s very wooded and that’s how hiking in Missouri is. So I knew doing the PCT there would be desert and mountains, and if I was going to have this crazy experience I wanted to go for the most different thing from what I’m used to.”
With her mind made up, Klazynski got to work.
She began reading books and blogs from those who have done similar hikes.
She got more backpacking experience, including backpacking on a glacier in Alaska so she could practice hiking on snow and ice.
She also persuaded her school board to her an unpaid leave of absence so she could complete the hike.
Additionally, she planned the hike, including deciding how to manage resupply boxes, as much as she could.
With that work done, she left her home for California on April 12. She was on the trail on April 14.
Klazynski has hiked 745 miles so far.
She started at the southern end of the trail, but recently had to flip and start hiking from the northern end because the High Sierra mountains are dangerous to hike in this time of year.
“It’s been great,” she said of the trip so far.
“The first four weeks were really, really hard. Your body is just getting used to it and it fights you, you’re sore and your feet are tore up. Plus, you don’t really know anyone yet. There’s people on the trail and they’re amazing, but you’re all hiking different distances so it’s really hard to make connections with anyone.”
Klazynski also said being away from her family, including her husband, Phil, and job are extremely difficult.
Having been on the trail for more than two months, however, things have gotten better as she has adjusted.
“Now, the hiking is really great,” she said. “I can really focus on the beauty of what I’m seeing and the cool things I’m doing and not just ‘oh my gosh this is so hard.’”
Even with that beautiful scenery, which she predicted would be her favorite part of the trip, Klazynski said the people she has met have been the highlight.
“Everyone is supportive of each other and willing to help each other. Everyone kind of realizes that we’re in a risky sort of predicament,” she said. “It’s just an amazing, amazing community.”
One example of how close-knit the hikers become is they give each other nicknames called trail names that are derived from each hiker’s personality.
Klazynski’s name is Arc, which is short for Archimedes, the Greek mathematician. She got that name because she used “very nerdy math terms.”
Klazynski said she has also been amazed at how her body has adapted to the strenuous task.
“I’m a plus-sized woman,” she said. “So I was worried I wouldn’t be able to adjust to this, but it’s been so cool to see what your body can do and the fact that if you push through it will figure it out.”
All things considered, Klazynski said she is happy she chose to hike the trail, though she does miss her loved ones.
“I’m still glad I’ve done it, and I’m still glad I’m going to finish it, but I know when I finish I’ll be glad to go home,” she said.
That is still a long way off, as Klazynski anticipates finishing the trail around Sept. 21. She has 1,905 miles to go.
But this will probably not be the last such adventure Klazynski has.
She said she will probably backpack some shorter trails that take about a month to complete.
She may even go for the triple crown: hiking the PCT, AT and 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail.
“I think I’m probably addicted,” she said with a laugh.
To stay up-to-date on Klazynski’s trip, visit her blog at klazynskitravel.wordpress.com.