Editor’s Note: We usually focus on the pleasures of a long-distance hike. We tell ourselves the pain will dissolve into a march of panoramas from Mexico to Canada. But the truth of thru-hiking is that it is brutally physical. This excerpt from recently published Journeys North by Triple Crowner and PCT trail angel Barney “Scout” Mann follows his northbound Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in 2007, tracking his experience and those of fellow thru-hikers Blazer, Dalton, Ladybug, and 30-30. Their stories map the glory of the trail but don’t look away from the fear, money issues, and injury that underwrite the experience. And any hiker will recognize the ties that bind this group of travellers. Those considering a long-distance trek ought to know that to travel thousands of miles by foot is to race both the season and the body’s unfolding demise. Every mile has to be earned until, eventually and reliably, something in the body or mind gives. But it’s what hikers do next that defines their hikes—and themselves.

Beginning of the End


THE BRIDGE RATTLED AND SHOOK. Through the soles of her feet, Blazer felt the 1,800-foot span jerk as if there’d been an earthquake. She braced herself, pressing her back hard into the railing, and shut her eyes tight. The semi roared by, missing her by inches. Its whoosh sucked her and her pack sideways on the narrow roadbed.

The Bridge of the Gods. Even the name sounds like a rite of passage. Forty miles east of Portland, it spans the mighty Columbia River. Anyone walking across the bridge is acutely aware that the roadbed isn’t asphalt, but an open metal grate. Those who dare to look down see the Columbia’s roiling swells far below their feet, barely obscured by a gossamer lattice of steel. It feels like walking on air.

The bridge is barely wide enough for two lanes, let alone a sidewalk or shoulder. Any ten-foot-wide load requires 24-hour advance notice, a pilot car, and a traffic stoppage. Hikers cross at their own risk—and pay fifty cents for the privilege.

Blazer clung to the outside rail, hating that open grid. In all of her twenty-five years, she’d never experienced anything like this. Looking straight ahead the whole time, she

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