Courtesy photo/MARILYN SLOAS Elliot Schaefer celebrates completing the Appalachian Trail in September at the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Schaefer, 24, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017.
For Elliot Schaefer, one 2,000-mile hike deserves another.
The 24-year-old backpacker from Rogers hiked from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail last year. That adventure covered 2,700 miles through California, Oregon and Washington.
Going the distance
Here is the mileage of three epic trails in the United States.
Continental Divide Trail: 3,1000 miles between Canada and Mexico.
Pacific Crest Trail: 2,659 miles between Canada and Mexico.
Appalachian Trail: 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine.
Source: Staff report
Schaefer headed east for another marathon trek this year, covering all 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. That hike started on April 27 at Springer Mountain in Georgia and finished at Mt. Katahdin in Maine on Sept. 9.
A couple days later, Schaefer headed back home to Rogers — for awhile. In April, he’ll head out West again to hike the Continental Divide Trail, a jaunt of 3,100 miles.
For the better part of two years, Schaefer has lived his life in the wilds on the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails. That’s jumping into long-distance hiking big time without much experience. Schaefer was an Eagle Scout with Troop 81 in Rogers.
“We did some overnights. The longest was about four days,” recalled the Heritage High School and University of Arkansas graduate. “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail sounded great, not doing anything for six months but walking from Mexico to Canada.”
So off he went. That trek started April 2, 2017 in Campo, Calif. on the Mexico border. He reached the United States- Canada border on Sept. 11, 2017 at Manning Park in British Columbia.
Schaefer hiked through the desert’s baking heat, through snow on the trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains and cold near Canada. The thrill of adventure kept him going for about 700 miles. Somewhere in northern California, he hit a wall, much like runners can experience during a marathon.
“I started to have doubts about finishing,” Schaefer said. “There were days I wanted to throw in the towel, but I just kept going. I wanted to finish something I’d started.”
His spirits picked up, buoyed by the grand scenery and new friends he made as miles passed. The Pacific Crest Trail comes close to some big cities where Schaefer saw a lot of hikers each day. Much of it is isolated, so Schaefer went as long as a week without seeing anyone.
A big challenge of such a trek is eating enough calories. Schaefer averaged 20 to 25 miles each day. That burns a bunch of energy.
“You’re always in a calorie deficit because you’re 10,000 calories a day,” he said.
So what kept Schaefer fueled?
“Nothing that’s good for you,” he laughed. ” I ate a lot of Ramen noodles, honey buns, Snickers bars.”
He’d hit a town every now and then and chow down on a hamburger. Sometimes the trail went right through a town. Other times Schaefer hitch-hiked up to 40 miles to a town. He never had trouble getting rides.
A scary moment was taking a tumble and sliding 70 feet down a mountain in Oregon. Now and then, ice was a hazard that required some climbing using an ice ax. Schaefer bought one once the weather turned chilly in the mountains.
In northern Washington, state Schaefer could smell the end of his epic hike. By then, he’d already decided to tackle the Appalachian Trail in 2018. First, he had to save up the money. To do either trail isn’t cheap. Cost is $5,000 to $10,000, depending how frugal one is, Schaefer said. Working last winter at a ski resort in Vail, Colo. put enough money in his pocket to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Schaefer hit the trail this time with more confidence after finishing the Pacific Crest Trail. It didn’t take long to realize this six-month hike would be different. It rained a lot, much more than out West. The scenery was different. It’s more stunning on the Pacific Crest Trail, with more mountain greenery on the Appalachian Trail.
“Both are so different. The culture out West is different than in the East,” he said. There’s more rain on the Appalachian Trail, but the weather is milder.
His Appalachian Trail trek was smooth hiking most of the way. He’d meet and walk with different groups of hikers, breezing along again at 20 to 25 miles a day. On this hike, he walked a lot of 30-mile days. A typical hiking day started at 5:30 a.m. and ended at 7 or 8 p.m.
Schaefer’s working and saving to start his Continental Divide Trail hike in April, from Mexico to Canada.
At a picnic table in Rogers’ Frisco Park, he said easing back into life away from the trail is difficult.
“It’s hard to adjust, hard to adjust back to a life that’s not hiking.”
Schaefer highly recommends a long-distance trek.
“There’s that sense of accomplishment when you finish. There’s the travel, meeting new people and seeing the little towns.”
Flip Putthoff can be reached at [email protected]
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