Adopting the simple life over 2,650 miles
October 14, 2021
"We did it, we made it to Canada," 20-year-old Seeley Lake resident Kyle Peltier said as he approached the northern terminus monument at Canada. After five months and one day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), 2,650+ miles from the United States southern border to Canada, Peltier met his goal. Not only had he pushed his body physically but won a mental battle that gave him a stronger sense of identity and a better understanding of a simple life.
Peltier started the PCT April 11 with a goal to finish in four months. He started with a pack that weighed around 50 pounds that included five books, a journal, tent and other "necessities."
Peltier said the first day he hiked 10 miles. He set up his tent and crashed because he was so sore. Someone had to drag him out of his tent for dinner.
"I remember being like I'm never going to make it if it is going to be like this every day," Peltier said. "Then slowly, as I kept doing it, it got better and better."
Peltier started celebrating the milestones. He posted photos on social media every 100 miles for the first 1,000 miles.
"The mile markers were just a sign that we were making it," Peltier said. "We are slowly getting there. And no one else I know has walked this many miles."
His first week on trail, Peltier got his trail name "Shooter," a name that can only be given by others. Before Scissors Crossing near Julian, California, he saw cars and tents down a dirt road. He thought it was Trail Angels, people that provide food, water and other assistance to hikers. He walked up on this group and asked "Trail Angels?"
Peltier described an old man with a ponytail spouting profanity while asking what Trail Angels were. Peltier realized it was just a family out camping and shooting. While making small talk, Peltier asked what they shoot to which they replied, "Everything." They continued to shoot various weapons including semi-automatics into the woods and general direction of the PCT.
Peltier ran back to the group telling everyone to steer clear of the area. They gave him his trail name Shooter.
"You have to do something stupid to get your trail name, something funny or just something that fits," Peltier explained. "It was fun, it was unique but we learned you can't yell it in a crowd."
Peltier climbed about 2,000 feet a day going through the desert. About half of his original group got off trail around the 500-mile mark because they got injured, had something off trail come up or couldn't mentally work through the mental struggle that would crop up while hiking and thinking for 12 hours a day.
"I didn't want that to be me," Peltier said that getting injured was a big fear for him. "You meet up with people and break off from people, it just depends on your pace. Hike your own hike [was the motto]. The trail is really fluid like that.'"
Peltier explained the 700 miles through the desert is considered "conditioning. Then the real hiking starts when you get into the Sierras."
Peltier was hiking alone for the first part of the Sierras. Some days he would do 7,000 feet of climb in 14 miles.
"You would spend the whole day dragging up these hills just to get to camp. It sucked," Peltier said.
It was this part of the trail when he had a mental breakdown and almost got off trail.
"I was homesick, in the middle of nowhere, it was not fun any more, all these mountains are kicking my [butt] and I was just like I don't want to be here," Peltier said.
He slowed down and hiked with a couple other guys until south of Lake Tahoe. He started writing in his journal to help process those things on his mind. And he also intentionally reviewed photos he took throughout the day to recognize the daily accomplishments. When they got off trail to go into Lake Tahoe, Peltier kept going.
Soon after he met Darko, a 35-year-old hiker named Ashley Shubi. After riding out a heat wave, Peltier and Darko decided they wanted to separate from one of the hikers in the group. They pulled a 30-mile day and out hiked them.
"We just kept going and over time we just got closer and closer," Peltier said. "We decided we were each other's tramily."
They hiked the remaining 1,300 miles together finishing three months later.
"We usually would make each other's days better by having a swim or just talking and saying something funny," Peltier said and smiled. "We both would forget that we just hiked 30 miles and were both in immense pain."
Peltier said it wasn't until the half-way mark that he regularly hiked 20 – 30 miles per day.
"Once you really have your muscles built up and have your trail legs, you can do bigger days and cruise through northern Cal and Oregon," he said.
Peltier loved the fluidity and flexibility on the trail. He met people that were a lot of fun to hike with and others that were "not cool to be around at all."
"For the most part we were all working towards the same [big] goal of getting to Canada," Peltier said. "But every day, you have to wake up, you have to hike and you have to make sure you are alive by the end of the day. There were just some people that that wouldn't click for, some that felt entitled and others that would just ruin things for other people."
Peltier shared about one tramily called "The Hoard." They started out as a group of 15 and by the end of the trail had grown to 30 people. They filled up lodging and restaurants in small towns and picked fights, making trail angels less welcoming to hikers that followed them.
"If you were behind them, you definitely felt the effects of the Hoard," Peltier said. "All these hiker-friendly towns would be like 'sorry, no more hikers.' Or trail angels would not help you."
Another issue was the weather and drought. Peltier survived three heat waves where the days were cloudless with temperatures reaching 100+ degrees. Peltier was up by 5:30 a.m. and on the trail by 6 a.m. to put in 15-18 miles before noon. He wore a sun hoodie to protect himself from the sun. A lot of the water that they were supposed to come across did not exist. At times he had to pack at least three liters of water for more than 22 miles.
The bugs were also horrible for a two-week section in the Sierras. Peltier said they couldn't stop and take a break until they got to camp, put up their tent and just hide.
"We drenched ourselves in Deet, sunscreen and had a bug net on," Peltier said.
Peltier said over the course of the trail, he dropped his gear weight from 50 pounds to 25-30 pounds on average. He sent thing homes that he did not need including his tent, books and extra clothing. He also traded out his gear for ultralight alternatives when possible.
While food was a fun thing on trail, Peltier said his diet was "terrible." It consisted of re-hydrated meals, candy bars, granola bars and fruit snacks. He missed salads and fresh food the most.
"Because we are hiking 30 miles a day we just wanted calories," Peltier said. "It didn't matter that it was junk food or not."
Peltier said he could have finished on the four-month goal if he really would have pushed it. He said after counting his "zero days" of no hiking, it totaled about a month.
"We just hiked every day. It was just nice to sit some place and not worry about hiking so many miles by noon or where, find clean water or [the weather]," Peltier said adding it also helped his body recover. "It was just nice to chill and relax and enjoy what we were doing for a minute."
He finished Sept. 12, "just in time to beat the [snow]." He said he got to see the North Cascades turn all the colors and "it was absolutely beautiful."
When he saw the northern terminus monument, Peltier was happy to finish but the reality that he finished did not hit him until Darko arrived.
"It was a really emotional day," Peltier said. "You are fighting for this thing every day and I'm like 'I'm going to make it,' 'I'm not going to make it.' It is something you are always thinking about from the time you leave Mexico and then you finally get there."
After he finished, Peltier called it a "deconstruction of yourself."
"I just spent five months in the wilderness and now I'm done?! So now what?" Peltier said. "I don't have to hike 30 miles a day, I have clean water on access, I can get to-go food whenever I want? It is just kind of this weird kind of disconnecting. And then reality hits."
Peltier said the process of physical and mental change is very healing. He realized his strengths, better understands what his body can do and learned he could survive in the wilderness on his own.
"I didn't think I could ever hike 30 miles in a day and then I started doing I," Peltier said. "On the trail, you realize what you need and what you don't need. It helps cut out all the toxic and extra things and go back to a very simple lifestyle. I prefer living out there than I do in town.
He continued to explain, "Trail life is everything you need, regular life is everything you want on top of the need. On trail I have everything I need to survive on my back. In society I have an apartment and it doesn't matter how much things weigh, I can just get it."
While Peltier missed technology, he realized he didn't need to be on his phone all the time. While he missed his dog and his family, his family was incredibly supportive and always encouraged him to stick it out and keep going.
"I wanted to do something for me before I turned 21," Peltier said. "I went and did it."
Peltier was very grateful to his third-party sponsor that paid for his gear and entire trip. He said the cost for someone's first thru hike including gear averages around $10,000. However he didn't have to worry about funds running out and was able to upgrade his gear as needed.
Peltier said the whole experience was very humbling and has given him more empathy for others.
"You have your protective layer of dirt, you are sore, you are cranky, your hair is greasy and when it is time to come into town, you look haggard," Peltier said. "Some of the kindest people don't care about that. I'm thankful for what I have and [people helping me]. It kind of restores your faith in humanity a little bit."
Peltier is moving to Seattle later this fall. He looks forward to doing more long hikes and some day thru hiking the Continental Divide Trail.
He encourages anyone who has considered thru hiking the PCT or others to "pull the trigger and go do it. It is once in a lifetime. It is nice to be prepared but if you are not, you will figure it out. Life is very simple...You will see a lot of things people will only dream of seeing or not even think possible to see...It is going to be hard but it is going to be worth it in the end."