Somewhere up on Logan Pass in Glacier National Park in Montana, 4 long distance hikers are waking up, hungover. They will stumble out of their tiny tents and hammocks, eat candy for breakfast, and with the insistence of the trail dad, will start an 8 mile assent. If they reach ice, they have no cramp ons. They will each walk carrying a sharp object, so if they slip they have something to stab into the ice, or they could die in 10 seconds, falling.
My husband Pat meet two of these hikers, when they were all 10 years old, in middle school. They grew up together. Back then, they were known as Greg and Chirs. I meet them just out of high school, when they were known as Enyon and Swany. After hiking the Appalachian Trail together 2 years ago, they are now known, in hiker circles, as Chuckles and PegLeg.
On the Appalachian Trail, Peg Leg meet and fell in love with a beautiful woman named Kayla, her nickname is “Happy.” They also met a dude from Mississippi, Cory. He got nicknamed “Body Glide” from excessive use of the anti chaff product. The following year after the AT, Happy, Peggy and BG hiked the John Muir Trail together, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Last week they all met up in Omaha and drove to Glacier via Yellowstone. Happy and Peg Leg today started the first day of a 3 month hike, The Pacific NorthWest trail, from Glacier National Park to the furthest most western point in Washington state. The last 45 miles is along the beach.
It’s interesting to talk about long distance hiking and gear and experiences.
“I have few luxuries” Peg leg says. “Like what?” I want to know. “Like half a pack of cards.” “What, like 2 kings 2 queens…” No, it was a deck of cards cut in half. “You don’t need the other half!” His mutilated 99c cards are considered a luxury but his $40+ titanium cup is not.
Happy says “Have you ever seen freeze dried Chicken?” Indeed we have not. She makes up meal bags herself that you just need to add water to. Couscous, spices.
Happy carries a small journal, another luxury. On the AT they ripped down the guide book as they progressed to not be carrying unnessasary weight.
We hung out, played flickin chicken. Chatted about adventures.
The next day we made a big batch of pancakes, gluten free, organic maple syrup, that type of thing. Everyone wants one except Chuckles … “No I’m fine, I had a snickers bar for breakfast.” he says, drinking a coors light. Chuckling. Ellie has just informed me that he also had a Dr Peppers with that snickers for breakfast. I imagine she was giving him major side eye.
The thing is about Chuckles and Pegleg, is that they were the most unlikely long distances hikers. In their wealthy suburban high school in Omaha, you would have never imagined that they would set out to do something like hike the AT. They had beer bellies, smoked, drank. slept in. I think when I first meet pegleg he was a cart attendant at Sams, and Chuckles often changes jobs. On the trail, Pegleg takes the role of the trail dad, making sure they are all packed up and on time. Chuckles keeps everyone happy, and the moral high, constantly cracking jokes.
The AT changed their lives. They still drink and smoke but they’ve lost the beer bellies. The most obvious change for Peg leg is that he met Happy who is wonderful and so good for him. They have been together 2 years now.
I think for Chuckles, it’s less obvious but there is no doubt doing the AT changed his life. I think achieving hiking the trail gave them both a quiet confidence.
The boys love to wind each other up and laugh at each others suffering, which is, in fact very kiwi. I highly approve. They take it one step further and video each others trying moments.
When Body Glide couldn’t work out the hand games and my 5 year old was laughing in his face, it got filmed. When chuckles got woken up by a tamborine? Filmed.
Yesterday Pat dropped them off to the trailhead. He is in fact, the only person who knows exactly where they are. There was some concern about the condition of some of the trails at higher elevation, that even though it was July there would still be icy conditions. PegLeg has a sat nav, and they have more than 9 months backcountry hiking, I reassure him.
The four hikers start their ascent. Four miles in BG starts puking straight liquid. He’s breaking out in hot sweats, pulling his hair back to puke, his face is purple. He’s struggling. Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the warm cask of white wine passed around the car that morning, they don’t know, but PegLeg wants to keep going.
They do keep going, they’ve still got 4 miles to get to the designated camping spot, and it getting dark. They’re walking along a narrow trail with a 1000 foot drop on one side, they’ve all got their headlamps on …BG’s puking.
Chuckles and Happy finally pull Peg Leg aside to reason with him. They have to stop, BG is really sick. There’s nowhere for BG to pitch his hammock, and they’re in grizzly bear country so they decide to all sleep together on a tarp for safety.
At the backcountry permit office, they were made to watch the grizzly bear safety video. “We watched it at Yellowstone!” they protested. “Watch ours.” Glacier National Park has the highest density of bears in the lower 48. Their video basically says “If you see a bear, don’t approach it. If it approaches you, play dead. However, if it starts to eat you, fight back.”
So the hikers hang their bags away from where they will be sleeping and settle down for the night on the tarp. Then they hear running steps coming towards them and all freak out. On of them shines the light around them, and see a bulk elk, 10 yards away with its huge rack down, like its ready to charge. They all jump to their feet and clap and make noise. It goes away. 10 minutes later, they hear it again. Clomp clomp clomp. “Everybody up!” This happens over and over, its red eyes in the flashlight. Its like some cheap horror movie.
At around 3am they figure that they’re obviously in its teritority, so they decide to move, dragging everything 100 yards away. It makes no difference, it comes back.
Finally Chuckles and BG light up a cigarette, and it leaves! But then it comes back, so Chuckles lights up again. He’s alone now, everyone else has gone back to sleep. He’s smoking to keep them alive. Staying up late, smoking cigarettes with a terriost Elk on steroids, he starts to plead. “Leave us alone. Don’t hurt us. We are good people ya know.” He gazes up and surrenders to the situation…
“So this is what my life is now.”
BG had to catch a flight back to Mississippi the next day so hiked out the next morning. Chuckles carried on through to Polebridge and then came back to camp a night with us, pick up the car and tell the tail. And PegLeg and Happy are still out there on the trail, hopefully with zero nighttime visitors.