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One step at a time

Hiking the entire length of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail for five months may be a demanding, super-arduous and life-changing experience, but Ashlander Steve Cossin, finishing up his slide show Thursday at Northwest Nature Shop, offhandedly notes it’s indeed harder than you can imagine but, “It’s extremely addicting. Once you get the bug, one time isn’t enough.”

The key to making it, says Cossin, is that you rigorously check out every pack, sleeping bag and tool, finding the ones that weigh least, then you make up your mind you will ignore the never-ending aches and pains — and never quit, and finally, know you’ll meet a lot of good people and you’ll come to love and support each other.

“What I remember most is the people,” says Cossin, who works at True South Solar. His best trail comrade, LaVerne, did the whole journey with him. Their friendship seems one that will last a lifetime. They still email and she edited 55 video clips of the trip into a fascinating two-minute movie.

You really have to care for your feet, he says. Some people didn’t and developed ghastly sores (he showed them) that went to the bone and put people in hospitals for weeks.

One little thing, a solid, lightweight umbrella, can save you lots of sunburn and drenching — and Cossin found one at 7.9 ounces. It stood up to all kinds of wind while the regular umbrellas of some hikers were in tatters real soon. His empty pack was under two pounds.

Cossin developed a trail mindset where “You soon quit thinking about your aching bones and stiff joints. It’s hard to get up in the morning, stretching yourself up straight, but the big thing I learned from the hike is it opened my eyes to how big and accessible the world is.”

Cossin’s pics show dazzling shots of him waving his walking sticks among the majestic peaks of the high Sierra, crossing the lucid streams of the Yosemite, taking many 15-mile side trips to legendary spots like Half Dome and volcanic peaks in the Oregon Cascades, finally running into miserable weeks of rain in Washington — and finally, as he approached the Canadian line, snow that covered trails, leaving him to fear getting lost.

An amazing 4,000 people register with the PCT organization as thru-hikers, but only 20 percent of them make it, he says, and that entitles them to a bronze medal to wear around your neck.

Among the obstacles, ironically, is this thing called “hiker hunger,” the urgent feeling that, well, you’re real hungry and your trail meals just aren’t doing the trick. There’s also the lure (and expense) of alcohol. The hike is grueling and long stretches of rocks and forests can be tedious, so, he notes, it’s tempting, when the trail crosses a highway, to just pop into town for a nice, hot dinner, lots of beer and a motel room with TV and phone-charging.

Then one night becomes two and three nights relaxing and healing. Soon, he says, your money can run low — and you need money to do this hike. He did it for $4,500 and finished with $50 in his pocket.

“Most hikers are out of money by the time they hit Oregon,” he says, “The best way to keep your money is don’t go into towns.”

A nice surprise is the number of trail angels you run into. These are people who set up feasts at road crossings or invite you into their homes for dinner and a night’s sleep in trailside towns.

“They are an amazing community, up and down the whole PCT, especially in Ashland, and they will not accept a dime.”

See Cossin’s two-part “PCT Ultimate Gear List” on YouTube.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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