Not many things can keep Carol Ritter from her Mexico to Canada trek along the Pacific Crest Trail.
But her journey along the 2,653-mile long PCT was temporarily halted after 650 miles so she could return for the birth of her grandson, Beckham. Ritter’s daughter, Kaylene Mahaffey of Talent, gave birth on May 21.
“We knew we’d have to take a break,” Ritter says of the planned layover. She is making the journey with her friend and hiking companion Debbie Miller. “One of the things my family said was they didn’t want me going by myself.”
Ritter, 61, who lives in Bonanza, and Miller, 66, of Klamath Falls, have run the Hood to Coast relay with the Blister Sisters. After recruiting Miller, the two began planning their journey late last year.
With permits in hand, they left from Campo, the starting point for the PCT at the Mexico-U.S. border, on April 3. Until taking their Baby Break, they’d been averaging 17 to 18 miles a day, with a long day of 22 miles. Their on-trail routine includes waking up at 5:30 and, if hot temperatures are forecast, being on the trail by 6 o’clock. They’ve been making camp between 4 and 6 p.m., depending on access to water and logical camping sites.
“We got into a pretty good routine,” Ritter says.
That routine includes carrying a backpack weighing about 26 pounds, or sometimes adding up to another 9 pounds of extra water on days when streams or other places to resupply water supplies are less available. Ritter and Miller are using a cell phone app, Guthook’s Pacific Crest Trail Guide, that provides information on places to refill water, camp and make stops at hiker-friendly places where they can take showers, do laundry and replenish food supplies.
Meals vary, from oatmeal for breakfast to snacks and lunch featuring cheese sticks, protein bars, dried fruit, tortillas, pretzels lathered with peanut butter and, “The one thing I’ve discovered, jerky dipped in peanut butter.” Dinners often feature dehydrated food and, a new favorite, instant potatoes — “You just add water.” Despite “trying to eat all the time,” during the first seven weeks Ritter says she’s lost 15 pounds.
Although she’s enjoyed day hikes, Ritter says she’s relatively new to backpacking. “I pretty much just started last year. I’m pretty much a rookie ... I got the inkling to do the PCT when we were doing some hikes around here with my husband (Paul).” When the youngest of her five children graduated from high school, she put her PCT plans in motion.
Resuming the hike
That motion was put on hold at Old Station, near Mount Lassen, where they’ll resume their hike Monday or Tuesday. Ritter hopes the two-week hiatus has helped melt some of the extremely heavy snow that’s caused some would-be through hikers to alter their routes and led them to bypass a section because of reportedly dangerously heavy snow.
“I think that even with the warm weather we will still have to hike through snow to get to Ashland,” she says. “We’ve encountered all sorts of weather — windy, foggy, rainy — and we did have some snow.”
Other surprises along the early section of the trail have been more positive, including abundant floral displays of cacti, yucca, Joshua trees and wildflowers. Ritter’s favorite sight was hiking up Skinner Peak where, “We got our first good view of the Sierras.”
During their trek, Ritter and Miller have met and hiked with others, including Linda Murphy, a Canadian from the Toronto area, who’s become the team’s third member.
As is traditional, all have adopted trail names. Murphy’s is “Diddly” because she “doesn’t know diddly” about what she’s doing. Miller, a runner, is “26.2,” the distance of a marathon. And Ritter is “Best Western.” Why? Early on the hike, she stayed at a motel at Cajon Pass in Southern California — a Best Western.
Most nights aren’t that comfy. No motel rooms with beds, but in sleeping bags in tents. But Ritter and the others have also experienced “Trail Magic.” At one campground they were greeted by people with copious supplies of soda, water, beer and fruit. While crossing Tehachapi Pass, “magic” was a picnic area with umbrellas, chairs, water, fruit, snacks and a guest book.
“Everyone’s friendly with everyone else because we’re there for the same purpose, the same common goal,” Ritter says of the trail magic provided by people along the way and friendships between the hikers. She’s noticed the vast majority of thru-hikers are “20-somethings and 50-plus,” people either not with families or in their retirement years, along with “A lot of people from out of the country who’ve come to hike the PCT.”
Many thru-hikers are focused on completing the entire PCT and not varying from the designated route, something that’s proving unusually challenging this year because of still deep snow in the Sierras. Ritter says she and Miller share the goal of reaching Canada, but she emphasizes they’re also focused on enjoying their journey.
“Yes, we want to finish but we want to experience the trail along way, to see the pretty places,” Ritter says of sometimes varying their route.
Their goal is to reach the Washington-Canada border, but Ritter says she and Miller prepared to make adjustments or, if necessary, complete missed sections another time.
“I like the challenges and while I’m able I want to do as much as I can. It’s real and you’ve got to be prepared,” Ritter says, noting one night they shared a campsite with a man who became severely dehydrated and had to be rescued. And, just days ago, they learned about another hiker they’ve come to know who was injured on a snowy section. “We know what our limitations are. We’re going to go as long as we can. If it’s doable and we have the time, we hope to reach Canada this year,” possibly in late September.
The Baby Break is nearly over and, for Ritter and Miller and their new friend Murphy, it’s time for Diddly, 26.2 and Best Western to resume their quest.
“It’s a great experience,” says Ritter, “and we’re excited to get back on the trail.”