I wake up, groggy as a knockouted boxer, after sleeping only 1 hour. It’s the 5th of July, and I postponed the start of my hike to participate in the US Independence Day the night before. And, possibly, because I was and am scared of my undertaking: to walk 4300 km thru the wilderness, solo and unsupported. I force myself to wake up, say goodbye to my local couch surfing host and head towards the train station in Seattle . Another 1,5 days of hitchhiking with 5 different drivers and a local family that hosted and fed me, and I am standing at the trailhead of it all. I take the first step and things seem unreal. I now have 4.999.999 steps to go before I, hopefully, arrive at the end of the trail, 5 months from now. On my back sits a 9kg back pack plus food for a week. Ahead of me, the great untamed American Wilderness.
Now, It’s real. Very real and very isolated.
The first day takes me up a 1800 m climb and I am surrounded by snow capped peaks and standing in the white stuff myself. The views are stunning, I haven’t seen anyone all day and I feel the rush of responsibility pour over me. “Take care, Henrik, there is no one out there to help you if you get lost or injured” I tell myself. “It’s you vs nature, or essentially, you vs. you”
And it did happen. I got lost. Just south of the Canadian border in the endless pine- and snow covered wilderness. That’s exactly the place where you DON’T want to get lost.
I am surrounded by thick old-growth forest, swarms of dancing insects and a deep silence that you only find in the woods. The trail disappeared into huge patch of snow and I attempted to find it again. In doing so, I ventured 1 hour in the wrong direction and I finally mustered enough courage to admit it to myself. You’re lost !
“Easy now, just gotta go back to the point where I last saw the trail” I remind myself. I push another hour and realize that I can’t even find my way back to where I was before. My heart is pounding, long after I stopped walking and started thinking. I am, admittedly, nervous. Lost in the wilderness. ” Fuck, fuck, fuck, you’re lost” I tell myself and try not to panic. It’s eerily atmospheric in a scary yet beautiful way, the deep silence of these bear-infested pine woods, the huge piles of snow and me, an optimistic adventurer who seemed to have bitten off more than he could chew. I have food for 5 days, good news. If I walk in the wrong direction, I’ll likely never see anybody for the remainder of my short life that can be measured in food supplies. Bad news.
“I gotta get out of this dense forest, climb a peak and gain a topographical understanding of my position, which I can translate to a location by use of my map and compass” is my conclusion. So I head straight uphill towards a rocky outcrop in my attempt to “find myself” in the landscape and then convert that to a map location. And then, I crossed the trail again, it appeared out of nowhere and the problem solved itself.
A strong reminder to not underestimate anything on this mammoth walk. It’s wild, out there.
The trail meanders its way around postcard pretty scenery and I am, day by day, getting in better shape and more confident with my new walking lifestyle. I eat away at my food supplies and my pack gets lighter by the day. And I managed to stay blister free for several days until I reached a section with lots and lots of snow. My feet get wet. And soaked, walking feet means blisters that spread like mushrooms. I tape them and dress them and fight my way forward, because it simply is my only option, there are no other way out of this beautiful yet tough and merciless trail. After a week, I reach a village and take a day off.
148 km down, 4152 to go. I shiver, just thinking about the magnitude of it. But I like it: raw, beautiful nature combined with the physical challenge and the freedom of living with everything you need on your back. It’s shockingly simple: just walk, view and stay alive. And do so for the next 5 months.