IT TOOK 145 DAYS to walk from Mexico to Canada.
In the desert, the heat index soared to 130 degrees. In the mountains, snow fell and drinking water froze.
Blair Southworth ’14 had one coat, one rain jacket and a single pair of shorts.
Such is life on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Winding through three states, seven national parks and 25 national forests, the 2,659-mile PCT is the westernmost and second longest leg of the Triple Crown of Hiking—the three major U.S. long-distance hiking trails, which also includes the Appalachian Trail in the east and Continental Divide Trail through the Rockies.
Southworth and her younger sister Hallie hiked the entire trail end-to-end this past summer. Starting at the U.S.-Mexico border, just south of Campo, California, in early May, they made their way through California, Oregon and Washington. They averaged 23-25 miles a day and made it to the finish line, at the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada, on Sept. 24.
“When you are standing on that imaginary line between Mexico and California, it’s hard to imagine just how far away Canada is,” Southworth said. “California just seemed to go on forever. It’s definitely a mental game.”
One quirk of trail life: everyone goes by a nickname.
Southworth went by Rat; Hallie was known as Ant. “We were just two little critters walking around the whole summer,” Southworth explained. But along the way, the pair gained another moniker: the Whiz Sisters.
“We drank a lot of water, which led to frequent bathroom breaks. Our trail buddies would wonder, ‘Who would be peeing right next to each other?’
“‘Pee with a view’ has been our mantra ever since.”
Prior to attempting the hike, Southworth and her sister had no long-distance hiking experience. Now, the sisters are on a quest to become the first women to complete the Triple Crown in a calendar year.
To do it, they’ll have to pick up the pace. The sisters plan to start walking at the southern tip of the Appalachian Trail on Jan. 1, 2018, with the hopes of finishing in about four months. Then, they’ll head back to California to again hike the PCT. But this time, the goal will be to finish in 80-90 days, nearly half the time they took on the first go-around. Finally, they’ll head to Montana and follow the Continental Divide Trail south to Mexico.
If all goes according to plan, the entire quest should take less than 11 months.
For Southworth, who majored in environmental studies at Connecticut College, it’s a unique opportunity to appreciate the diversity of the United States.
“I don’t just want to travel to remote, different and beautiful places, I want to experience them for longer periods of time and get to know them beyond a surface level,” she said.
“What better way to do that than to travel by foot?”