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Tales of the trail from a woman alone

Solo hiker Karen deSousa will share photos, stories and tips from her 1,100-plus miles of section hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24 at the Ashland Outdoor Store.

DeSousa, a resident of Phoenix, has always had the hiking bug. She was in a high school hiking club with big old boots she’d never wear now and has always loved the outdoor life. For a couple of years she took time out for life and work, marriage and kids and then deSousa discovered the Pacific Crest Trail and was back on track with day hikes with family and friends.

But deSousa wasn’t satisfied.

“This thing I wanted to do for decades wouldn’t get done unless I started to make it happen,” deSousa explained. She wanted more miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and finding people who could get away at the same time was difficult.

In 2016, deSousa decided to commit to hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail, largely hiking by herself and not all at once but in sections. She moved from her 24x7 day job as an emergency nurse into a more flexible schedule as a per diem ER nurse and created a lifestyle where she could get away, not just for a long weekend, but for the weeks and months that she needed to hike the rest of the trail in sections.

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of 11 trails designated as a National Scenic Trail in 1968 by Lyndon B. Johnson. This year is the 50th anniversary of the 2,650-mile trail, which runs the length of the United States from Mexico to Canada.

“I did about 700 miles in California in 2017 and laid out my life and career and plans to finish the whole trail this year,” said deSousa. “And then I had that skiing accident in March and had a change of plans.”

Last spring deSousa had knee surgery because of that accident and it laid her up for a while. She still wears a brace and uses poles to stabilize herself on uneven ground. For this lifelong hiker, surgery was a disaster, particularly right then as she was planning a summer hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail. Instead, deSousa found that the forced immobilization was a gift, giving her a chance to stop and reflect.

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“I found a silver lining and realized I was going to use the time to do things I hadn’t been doing that I wanted to do,” deSousa remembered. Time stood still and instead of miles on the trail, Desousa wrote of miles in a blog she named KarenGoesOutside.com, a naively comical name given deSousa’s experience and professional training.

If you’re a hiker, you don’t take trails for granted. Those miles and miles of paths through forests, across mountains and around lakes are exquisitely beautiful and eminently hikable, thanks to the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s regional chapters. Trail wide, PCTA Big Bend regional coordinator Ian Nelson reports, more than 100,000 hours of volunteer labor and 15,000 volunteers worked the length of the trail, just 3 foot wide from Mexico to California, in 2017.

In the Ashland neck of the woods, the Southern Oregon Rockers, led by volunteer Mick McBride, serve as trail-tenders, keeping an 8-mile stretch of the trail clear and safe.

According to Nelson, the Southern Oregon Rockers do everything necessary to maintain their Pacific Crest Trail stretch, from cutting down logs, cutting back brush, repairing drains, building rock structures over the course of about eight weekends a year.

For deSousa, the Pacific Crest Trail centers her mind and is central to her life. She finds space and solitude and friends on the trail, and freedom and strength in independence. This summer, deSousa will be back on the trail, her favorite hiking shoes eating up the miles and maybe some new gear to lighten her pack.

Read more about deSousa’s hiking at www.KarenGoesOutside.com and for information about the Southern Oregon Rockers work on the Pacific Crest Trail, visit www.PCTA.org. Reservations are not required for deSousa’s Sept. 24 talk at Ashland Outdoor Store, 37 Third St. in Ashland. For more information, call 541-488-1202.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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