Life Changes

by Steve Queen
Published in the Distance Hikers Gazette, Summer 2003.

When I was eight years old, I went hiking with a friend. We left Timberline Lodge and later stood at an overlook into Zig Zag Canyon. His uncle said "If you walk that way the trail will take you all the way to Canada, and if you walk that way, it will take you all the way to Mexico." He told me that only one person had ever hiked the whole Trail (it was 1971 and that person was Eric Ryback). It was one of those moments that shape the rest of your life. After that, any time I stepped foot on the PCT, a shiver would race up my spine. Fifty-mile hikes with the boy scouts became love affairs with the Trail.

I don't know when I knew I would hike the PCT. Maybe it was that day in 1971. Or maybe it was never a decision at all, rather it was just an undeniable fact that I never questioned. My peers generally scoffed at my plans and one school-mate even asked me, "why would you want to waste six months of your life?" My parents saw the whole process and didn't say much of anything except under their breath, "dear God, I think he's really going to try this."

In high school, I read our library's copy of the "High Adventure of Eric Ryback" annually. I absorbed the pages of the June 1971 National Geographic countless times. I dragged my first edition California and second edition Oregon/Washington guidebooks everywhere I went. My high school English teacher said it would be okay if I read a guidebook to fulfill a reading requirement. My college professor agreed that I could study architecture in nature while on my hike to maintain continuity in my major.

At 18 years old, standing next to my tent in Campo, I looked north and tried to visualize the entire trail in my mind all at once. It was a black silhouette of a mountain range against a pale sky. Standing on the Canadian border I felt like God. The black silhouette was replaced by thousands of multi-colored memories couched in the context of experiences I simply could not have imagined. Quite literally, the shape of my face changed. The one staring at the camera on the Mexican border looked just like the kid in my high school yearbook and the one at the Canadian border looks eerily close to the 41-year old face I see in the mirror today.

Since hiking the PCT, I've hiked the AT, the CDT and many other trails. I've been affiliated with ALDHA-West since Ray Jardine, and I'm the Mount Hood area coordinator for the PCTA. All these things are simply reflections of who I am; reflections of who I became on the PCT.

The question that prompted this ramble had something to do with life changes. My PCT hike in 1981 was the most profound, moving experience of my life. There is nothing specific I could say about its effect on me that wouldn't be trivial.