The call of the PCT

Author John Riha hatched his scheme to go on a multiday hike along the famous Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail while enduring a cold, uninspiring Iowa winter.

He didn't know at the time that the expedition with his son would take two years of planning and more than $2,000 worth of hiking and camping equipment.

Riha now lives in Ashland, where the PCT is in the town's backyard.

Stretching from Mexico to Canada, the trail traverses Mount Ashland, Soda Mountain, Crater Lake National Park and the Sky Lakes Wilderness, and is a favorite among locals.

But when Riha lived and worked in the Midwest, reaching the PCT took much more than a 30-minute car ride.

Riha captured his quest to go backpacking on the iconic trail in his newly released book "Rookies in the Wild: Fear and Gloaming on the Pacific Crest Trail."

During the early planning stages, he said, he floated the idea with friends and co-workers to gauge their reactions.

Riha wrote, "In the midst of casual conversation, I'd break in with, 'I'm thinking of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail next summer with my son.'

" 'Gee,' they'd invariably say, with a look I mistook for awe and envy. 'I'd never do that.' "

Despite the misgivings of others and his own phobia of cougars, Riha decided to hike Northern California's Trinity Alps Wilderness.

A knee injury delayed his plans, but when he was finally ready to set out, the tab on hiking equipment mounted quickly.

The bill for one day of shopping hit $1,927, with Riha hauling away backpacks, sleeping bags and pads, pillows, tents, headlamps, eco-friendly soap, a medical kit, waterproof matches and other gear.

A plane ride later, Riha and his son arrived in Ashland, where they added bear spray, a camp stove and fuel canisters to their loads.

Their rented Ford Explorer took them to Northern California and a U.S. Forest Service road, where they experienced a common problem for PCT hikers — finding the point where the trail is supposed to cross a road, at least according to maps, and provide an entry point for hiking.

Eventually they did find the crossing and a nearby campground.

"I felt a surge of explorer's excitement," Riha wrote. "The trail! I felt like Neil Armstrong with one foot on the last rung."

In the pages that follow, Riha conveys the frustration and exhilaration of a multiday backpacking trip through a wilderness area.

There is the difficulty of falling asleep with raindrops falling on a taut tent and creating explosive sounds, followed by an early-morning wake-up call by raucous ravens.

There's the fear of not being sure which way to go when the main trail unexpectedly forks, or the confusion of not being able to find a side trail that leads to a planned overnight stay next to a lake.

And, of course, the exhaustion from hiking hour after hour with a loaded backpack.

At one low point, Riha wrote, "It all made so little sense. What was the point? Hiking to exhaustion. Were we having fun? We could have stayed home and watched DVDs and had a lot less stress and much more access to snack foods."

But he also conveys how hiking through forested mountains can feel so right.

Riha noted that he began to feel like his life and the wilderness were intertwined.

"We've been here. We know this place. We recognize the surroundings without ever actually having set foot in them before; the sights and scents are baked into our genetic makeup," he wrote.

Looking back on his backpacking trip with his son, Riha said he would recommend that other people seek out similar adventures.

The two covered about 25 miles on their out-and-back trip.

"The feeling of accomplishment is pretty nice, even if our goals were pretty modest compared to other people's goals who go out on really long hikes," said Riha.

Following the hike, Riha went to work as the content manager for a real estate website, which allowed him to live wherever he chose.

He relocated to Ashland, and his son now lives in the Rogue Valley, as well.

Riha said there's something about the PCT that calls hikers to return again and again, no matter how exhausting the trail can be.

"It's not long on the drive down or over the next few days before you start thinking, 'We have to do this again next year. This was so cool,' " he said.

"Rookies in the Wild" is available at Bloomsbury Books, 290 E. Main St., in downtown Ashland.

The book is also available on Amazon in both ebook and print versions at or through Smashwords as an ebook at

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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