Two-thousand, six-hundred and fifty miles. That’s how much ground the Pacific Crest Trail covers as it winds from the border of Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon, and Washington. A bit more of a stretch from your Sunday morning walk to grab a coffee and clear a groggy head. The trail itself runs along the high crests of the Sierra and Cascade Mountain ranges, and it’s as scenic as it is precarious. Sweeping vistas and scenic valleys are balanced by unstable trails, rocky paths, and all the other regular dangers you’d expect to come across in the wilderness.
In short, it’s not something one does because they’re looking to pass time. It takes preparation, planning, and lots, and lots, and lots of determination. But the reward at the end? We’d say it’s beyond words, but our own Authentico Gillian Larson just finished the trail and wrote up something for us. Here’s what she had to say about her time on the trail, from the first saddling up at one international border to celebrating at a further passport-controlled area:
“After five months and more than 2500 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, on September 21st I reached the end of my journey. After all the challenges—the fallen trees, the fire closures, the concerns about snow melt and grazing and campsites and water sources, as well as a few lost horseshoes—I breathed a big sigh of relief arriving with two healthy, fit horses and my sanity still intact.
“But it was also a little bittersweet, I confess . . . I will miss those days of pine trees and mountain vistas, the creak of saddle leather and the rhythm of hooves hitting dirt, and the simple pleasure of a life stripped down to its essentials. It’s good to have accomplished what I set out to do, but hard to leave it all behind when it’s done.
“It was a beautiful day with a big blue sky overhead and a wide-open sweep of grassland around us as I rode Cricket and led Takoda as a pack horse toward the monument marking the border between the U.S. and Canada in northern Washington. We had to take an alternate route for this section of the expedition, as the last 25 miles of the PCT were closed due to a fire in the area. But as we headed first east to skirt around the fire closure, then north again toward British Columbia, there was no sign of smoke in the air, just the surprising warmth of the late September sun and the Cascade mountains outlined on the horizon.
“Of course, once we arrived, it was time to celebrate! I had met a hiker coming back down the trail while I was on my way up (crossing over into Canada is currently not allowed except at monitored border stations, so everyone has to backtrack after reaching the monument), and she gave me a Canadian flag to drape over Takoda’s pack saddle. Back in April I had ridden him away from the southern terminus of the PCT at the Mexican border outside of Campo, California, on our very first day of the trip, so it was fitting that he was here on the last day too. And along the way I had shared an 805 with a lot of very happy hikers. I carried a cooler in my truck and handed them out whenever I could—and always made someone’s day in the process! The hiker who gave me the flag had told me to pass it on to anyone I met when I too headed back south, and it felt good to be able to once again “pay it forward” as part of the trail community.
“It’s my third thru-ride of the Pacific Crest Trail and fourth Mexico-to-Canada trail adventure. The other two PCT trips were in 2014 and 2016, with Takoda and his mother, Shyla, who also carried me along the Continental Divide Trail in 2018.
“I did things a little differently this time in 2022, as I rotated riding several horses, rather than relying on just one, along with a pack animal at times. Even my mule, Karlee, got her turn under saddle, and she carried me through one of my favorite sections of the PCT, in the rugged Sierra Nevada. I have been incredibly fortunate to have these amazing equine partners in my life, as well as the generosity of sponsors such as Firestone Walker and the many “trail angels” and friends I have met along the way. I might be out riding solo in the wilderness for thousands of miles, but I am never there alone.”