2,650-miles to The Soul
Story by Megan Schrenk
From Mexico to Canada, snaking along the Paci c states of California, Oregon and Washington are 2,650 miles of sweeping wilderness belonging to the Paci c Crest Trail (PCT). It is a beast that only the most steeled—or foolish—of hikers dare to tackle. Between the baking sun, bloodthirsty insects and deadly animals, the most fearsome enemy sometimes lies between your own two ears.
Preparing to take on the challenges the trail presents is Karra Russell Stone, a native from Selah, Wash. Stone’s father, who accompanied her on the quest was also pursuing a life-long dream of hiking the PCT. The trail comes with its own twists and turns, but Stone cannot foresee just how impactful this adventure will be. From revelations, to break downs, to love, nothing is too sacred or pure to be shielded from the demanding nature of the trail.
Mile 0. The beginnings are always sweet. You have decided to challenge the PCT with a friend and you’re ying down to the border of Mexico. Restless feet are itching to finally release anticipation that has been building up for this moment. You have spent months planning every detail, every meal, every town to stop at.
Stone stands in this very moment with her father on April 20, 2015. For months, she has been teetering on the edge; having just completed college and caught in the throngs of a destructive relationship, a mental breakdown feels like it is just around the corner.
This is the perfect chance.
Stone views the trail “as a walking meditation, a place of inner discovery, a place where I could get in touch with my center and my strength.” She knows the trip will change her life. She is curious to see how.
Mile 266. You’re only ten percent through. Weary legs continue plowing forward, moving on their own accord. By this point you would think your body would be in the best shape ever, ready to conquer any mountain thrown in your way. But reality makes itself cozy, just like the festering blisters blossoming on your feet.
At this point, Stone is reminded that hiking is not just about accepting the physical pain, but acknowledging the mental anguish it can cause.
“You can want to go home, you can want to quit, you just won’t,” is Stone’s mantra through the hundreds of miles ghting against blistering feet, hunger pains and fatigue.
Mile 543. Congratulations, you have made it half way through California and have completed just over 20 percent of your hike. Re-energized, you’re nding a new surge of energy accompanied by a moral boost. ose high spirits come crum- bling down, however, when your companion nds themselves injured, unable to continue the hike.
Stone realizes she is going to be completing the trail alone. It was her father’s dream to hike the PCT, and his dream is being put on hold a er tear- ing ligaments in both of his ankles. Stone watches him limping in agony, his face white with pain be- fore coming to this conclusion.
The next question is if she is going to continue trekking forward all alone.
“My father is a big in uence and with him around it wasn’t an escape from my old life,” says Stone, remarking on the journey thus far. “It was like going to a therapist with my parents sitting in the corner.”
Independence comes shortly a er her father ies home out of Reno.
“I knew I was going to keep going. It wasn’t a debate in my mind,” states Stone. She is deter- mined to complete what she had started.
Mile 892. A heavy weight settles on your shoulders knowing that 806 miles still lie between you and the Oregon boarder. Being alone out on the trail, while vastly di erent from traveling with a companion, still feels the same in many ways.
Partially because there is always someone there to keep you company—your own thoughts.
Loneliness to this degree is something that Stone has never experienced before. Walking hun- dreds of miles alone with only your own thoughts to keep you company has become the most exas- perating experience.
“Many times I’d make walls to stop negative loops of unproductive thoughts,” says Stone. “It was sometimes maddening to be in my head so much. I also began to question my sanity. e lon- ger I was out there the more serious I questioned it.”
“When Karra came home for a few days, she seemed restless and preoccupied,” recalls Diana Layton, Stone’s sister. Even Stone remarks that she is starved for some human interaction a er spend- ing so much time feeling like the only person with- in a thousand miles.
Mile 1,000. Hike, eat, hike, sleep, hike some more and repeat every day for the past 1,000 miles, along with the next 1,650 miles. at is all you do. At the beginning you thought there would be time to read, write and thoroughly immerse yourself in the adventure surrounding you. Again, however, reality decides to knock your heartfelt dreams out the window.
“All of my time was spent hiking; 12 hours a day minimum,” expresses Stone. “Most people around me started with the sun and nished with the sun. In the middle of summer there was about 15 hours of light.” is leaves little time for much else to be done besides crossing dozens of miles.
On good days, 20 miles will be crossed be- tween sun up and sun down. at breaks down to about two miles per hour, which might not seem fast. Factor in the scorching heat, undulating ele- vation and the amount of time spent eating to keep your body going, then that two miles per hour becomes a very brisk pace to set.
Mile 1,325. You’re half way, over 1,000 miles have been crossed, and at this point you’re willing to talk to thin air just to have some semblance of human companionship. While solitude might help in creating that ever elusive insightfulness, the craving for human contact is becoming ravenous.
Beginning the hike with her father, Stone did not feel compelled to become part of a group. That is, until her father had to step o the trail, leaving her alone. “I often enjoyed being alone, but sometimes it felt very empty and I wanted to ll that space with a person,” she remarks.
Stone begins grouping up with di erent hik- ers, each with their own unique trail names like Hawaii, Beer Goddess and even one who kept his own name, Ram. But by the time she joins these social circles, everyone is already tight-knit. “I felt invisible,” says Stone. “I thought I had gotten over my social awkwardness and timidity but I was faced with it head on. During those times, I yearned more than ever to be back on the trail.”
Mile 1,565. Each day, little by little, you are inching your way towards the Oregon border. ere are no frills out here, just expansive desert dotted with some trees here and there. Sometimes, a companion would be nice for enduring these long, dragging miles.
Somewhere along this winding desert path, Stone runs into a fellow PCT hiker from Israel, the gentleman named Ram. In the moment, she is un- aware of what a signi cant role this one person will soon play in her life.
Stone acquires her own trail name with a helping hand from Ram. It is a feather, one Ram be- lieves to be red but Stone jokes is really a bright shade of orange and grey, that he gives her. Stone threads in through her side braid thoughtfully and Red Feather becomes her new name.
After meeting her, Ram expresses that Stone appears to be hiding, avoiding other people. He was curious about this quite girl out here hiking the trail alone. “I also thought she was very beautiful,” confesses Ram as they begin their journey together.
Hiking together provides a new experience for Stone. There are times where their paths intertwine, but she and Ram respect that they were both out there for their own goals.
“Here’s a common motto between hikers of ‘hike your own hike.’ We were all out there for dif- ferent reasons with different paths and plans,” says Stone. “Space to move along our individual paths was the most important thing and I think most of us understood and respected that.”
Mile 1,698. You have done it, you’ve nally reached the Oregon border.
Many would be ragged and exhausted from traversing the entire expanse of California. is section of the trail is regarded as one of the hardest to complete, longings for home tugging desperately at the heart-strings of many hikers.
Gratefully, though, Stone is preparing to tackle most of Oregon in the company of a friend and her sister, Diana.
Intermittingly, however, Stone is able to meet up with Ram. After their first meeting in Oregon, Ram takes the new feather and entwines it in Stone’s braid along side the one he gave her when they first met. Before parting, Stone returns his old feather, sealing it with a hug goodbye. An exchange begins. A feather of his for one of hers.
Mile 2,079. Just under 80 percent of the PC has been completed. Not only that, but Washing- ton is so close you can almost smell it. Chomping at the bit, you surge forward, ready to nd your own heroic tale of completion.
at same pull is what drives Stone forward. As she nears the Washington border, her time hiking with Diana is gradually coming to an end as well. Spending the majority of Oregon hiking with people, as enjoyable as it is, yields another revelation for her.
“Being alone meant I had no one to compromise with,” says Stone. For her it was complete independence. “I loved being free, responsible and independent,” but she would always long for the company of certain people.
And a certain gentleman waits for Stone at the border of Washington in the quaint city of Cascade Locks.
Mile 2,396. Just 10 percent of the trail is le to journey as you crest over Snoqualmie Pass. While you’re dreaming of fresh clothes and a warm, cushy bed, others are dreaming about their future.
“There was plenty of time to over evaluate my past, present and future from every angle,” she remarked. “I did a lot of contemplating that sometimes resulted in insights.”
One thing became certain in her musings: Ram is someone she feels a connection to. And Ram feels the exact same way.
Mile 2,560. The home stretch lies before you. Just 90 miles to go between Stehekin Pass to Manning Park, B.C. As the journey begins drawing to an end, your mind is swimming in reflection. All the sunsets you watched, mosquitoes you wished the worst endings to and new friends whose paths are now woven tightly with yours.
Perfect endings do come a er traversing 2,560 miles through blazing sun, hail, bloody blisters and crippling hunger. “It was really rough in the beginning, but after a couple of months the constant aches and pains became inconsequential,” says Stone who has been on the trail for almost five and a half months.
The PCT is all about perseverance and persistence. “I let loose the grip that forced my path into a certain direction,” Stone says. “I became exible to changes and learned to listen to my intuition.”
Each foot step brings Stone a little closer to her heart.
Mile 2,650. The PCT is 100 percent complete. Your epic journey has culminated to this one moment where you can lay your hand across the stone block signaling the northernmost terminus and say “I did it.”
This adventure is not the only thing coming to a head.
Stone has discovered how resilient her nature is and how adaptive she can be in any situation. Stone realizes that she has more resolve to live the life she wants, no matter what obstacles are in the path.
She also finds love.
“I felt that traveling with Karra in Washington was the most synchronized thing that could have happened,” says Ram. “Finishing the trail hiking with Karra was the most perfect ending for a perfect adventure.”
Stone reminisces on her earliest thoughts regarding her trek. “So many people would kill for this opportunity and it’s right in my lap. I can’t not go,” she says.
And, just like in life, Stone begins her journey with her father right there with a strong, steady hand to navigate the way. Through the twists and turns of the trail and life, some of the strongest connections are formed in the most unexpected places. Stone does not complete the trail alone, despite having to say goodbye to her father. The relationship she creates with Ram began with an exchange of feathers and ends with an exchange of hearts. In the end, she emerges with the man she will marry in just over a year.
Through the highs and lows, the brightest days and the darkest nights, the PCT is more than just another hike. It creates an anguishing, yet compelling test for even the most physically capable. Those who can mentally shoulder the pain are blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will weave wondrous stories for years to come.
Whether the trail provides you with insights about your true nature, allows you to map out your future, or creates that future by giving you the chance to fall in love, one thing can be said; in those 2,650 miles you will find yourself. Because those 2,650 miles create a map to your soul.
Here is a list of stops along the trail:
Big Bear Lake, CA
Vasquez Rocks, CA
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Kennedy Meadows, CA
Forester Pass, CA
Pinchot Pass, CA
John Muir Wilderness, CA
Yosemite National Park, CA
Sonora Pass, CA
Shasta-Trinity National Forest, CA
Rouge River National Forest, OR
Crater Lake National Park, OR
Three Sisters Wilderness, OR
Mount Hood National Forest, OR
Columbia River Gorge, OR
Grifford Pinchot National Forest, WA
Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA
White Pass, WA
Chinook Pass, WA
Snoqualmie Pass, WA
Stevens Pass, WA
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, WA
Rainy Pass, WA
Hearts Pass, WA
Okanogan National Forest, WA
Manning Park, Canada