- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MEADVILLE, Pa. (AP) - When former Meadville resident Marcy Laderer Thomas decides to take a walk she doesn’t fool around. She and her husband, Dave, recently hiked the 2,663-mile Pacific Crest Trail in 108 days.

Starting on May 8 in Campo, Calif., the Georgia couple trekked the entire 2,663 miles, finishing up on Aug. 24 in Manning Park on the U.S.-Canadian border in British Columbia. According to Thomas, the average PCT hiker takes four to four-and-a-half months to hike the trail. They chose to go faster to finish in three-and-a-half months.

“This hike was so phenomenal for us,” she said. “It took our game up to the next level.”

The PCT is a long-distance hiking trail starting at the U.S.-Mexican border and ending on the U.S.-Canadian border. The trail runs through California, Oregon and Washington and traverses the Sierra and Cascade mountain ranges. It’s the westernmost of the three long north/south hiking trails in the country, with the other two being the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail.

She and Dave hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2008. It’s 2,160 miles long, 500 miles less than the PCT, and runs from Maine to Georgia.

The couple carried everything they needed on their backs including tents, sleeping bags, water, food and other gear. They had to be prepared for all types of weather and terrain. Temperatures varied from 17 degrees to more than 100 degrees, Marcy said, and they encountered rain, hail and desert-like conditions. At one point, they had to cross a five-mile stretch of snow-covered mountains.

Their pack weights varied, with Dave carrying 35 pounds and Marcy, 25 pounds. What they didn’t carry was a global positioning system or a smart phone with GPS applications. They used a map and compass to find their way up the trail.

“We found it more fun and challenging to navigate via ‘old school’ methods rather than relying on modern technology,” she said.

To hike the trail as quickly as they did, the couple woke between 4:45 and 5 a.m. daily and were on the trail within a half-hour. They would walk an average of 25 miles per day for about 12 hours, depending on terrain, though one day stretched to 35 miles. By 8 p.m. it was lights out.

The longest waterless stretch was 33 miles. “If there was a lake we’d declare break time and there’d be a swim,” she said.

When hiking, food becomes very important both on and off the trail. In order to keep refueled along the trail, their diet consisted of 50 percent carbohydrates, 40 percent fats and 10 percent protein for between 3,100 and 3,500 calories a day. Thomas said this combination avoided drastic weight loss and kept them going strong the entire hike, though they did up their intake between 200 and 400 calories by the end of the journey.

“We’ve learned from other hikes we needed to increase our carbs and fats,” she said.

Breakfast consisted of granola and oatmeal; lunch was usually cold mashed potatoes on the trail; and supper was a smorgasbord of crackers, peanut butter, corn chips, Oreos and M&Ms.; They snacked on crackers and cookies along the trail.

Coming off the trail for a break, Marcy treated herself to a cheeseburger and french fries while Dave had a Philly cheese steak. Their first meal at the end of the trail was pizza.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Marcy said. “Food is a high priority for hikers.”

Resupply came through the U.S. Postal Service. They had prepackaged boxes of food that her parents mailed to them at towns along the PCT. They usually carried a four-day supply of food; when they were still a distance away from one of their packages they had to hike to a grocery store to buy food for the next leg.

The Thomases encountered animals along the way. Marcy said rattlesnakes were a constant companion along the trail. Black bears weren’t uncommon, with one encounter involving a sow and her cubs. The cubs heard the couple coming and climbed a tree, with the female bear standing guard at the bottom. Unfortunately, the tree was right by the trail so Dave and Marcy had to bust brush away from the trail to avoid the bears.

The Thomases also encountered some very nice people along the trail. For example, strangers handed them their car keys so the couple could drive to town to get more food; people in a recreational vehicle made them root beer floats on a hot, humid day; ice chests stocked full of soda or fresh fruit were left along the trail.

“Wow, the world is still full of kind and caring people,” Marcy said.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association doesn’t maintain statistics of the number of people starting and finishing the trail, because of the monumental feat to track and authenticate the data. There are several ways to hike the trail. Some hike sections of it at a time, such as Washington one year and Oregon the next year; others travel from Mexico to Canada in one year but hike just the sections that interest them.

The Thomases’ goal was to hike one continuous footpath from Mexico to Canada, not want to missing one step regardless of trail conditions. In order to accomplish that goal they had to hike five detours: one because of an endangered frog, one due to a highly poisonous plant called Poodle Dog bush, and three because of wildfires.

Marcy and Dave believe they were the 1300th hikers to start at the Mexican border this year on the journey north to Canada. By reviewing registers that hikers sign along the way, they think they were in the top 50 or 100 to finish the entire PCT this year.

Marcy said the hardest part of the trip was missing family. She was pleasantly surprised when they approached Manning Park and her parents and older sister were waiting to greet them.

For their next adventure the Thomases are planning to hike the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail, the only long north/south trail they haven’t tried yet, in 2016.

“You either do one, or you do all three,” Marcy said. “It’s great exercise, beautiful scenery, and what a way to see the country.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1sPc8Ca

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Information from: The Meadville Tribune, http://www.meadvilletribune.com

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