Mitch McCoy Photo Provided

Mitch McCoy takes a moment to celebrate finishing the Pacific Crest trail at the trail's Northern Terminus on September 4, 2021. McCoy turned 61 while on the trail and says it was the toughest and most rewarding experience of his life.

Rewards found on Pacific Crest Trail trek

November 1, 2021

A 2,653-mile trip from Mexico to Canada through desert terrain, the snow-filled High Sierra and Cascade Mountains of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington may seem like a good road trip. For Mitch McCoy, though, it was a long walk.

For 156 days, McCoy traveled the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), staying ahead of wildfires that consumed thousands of acres in all three states. In July of 2020, McCoy turned 60, but with COVID-19 in full swing, he could not celebrate the significant milestone.

“I couldn’t even celebrate with my kids and do a big 60th party or anything like that, so it’s kind of a big fizzle,” said McCoy. Just after his birthday, in September of 2020, McCoy had back surgery, an L4/L5 fusion. During his recovery, McCoy decided he was going to tackle the PCT.

There are three major through hikes in the United States. The Appalachian Trail (AT), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and the PCT. The AT is the more popular of the trails.

“They’re all tough, and they’re all beautiful, I’m sure, but the Appalachian Trail’s more populated…I wanted more of a wilderness experience. There’s more diversified scenery and more tranquility in the Pacific Crest Trail,” said McCoy.

When McCoy told his family about his plan, he was met with some surprise. His girlfriend scratched her head, bewildered. His daughter just thought he was crazy, reminding him that he had never even backpacked before.

“She thought I was crazy for sure, but by the end of this, my daughter was one of my biggest supporters,” said McCoy.

One of his stepsons was able to join him on the trail for a few days. They experienced heavy rain, blown-down trees that were hard to climb over and extreme heat. McCoy said it was fun watching him get an idea of how difficult it [the PCT] really is.

“There’s a level of appreciation that he has now that nobody else in my family will be able to understand,” said McCoy. On July 3, 2021, McCoy turned 61 while on the trail and was rewarded with a close-up experience of a cinnamon-colored momma bear and her two cubs.

McCoy had several other rewarding experiences on the trail, but one sticks out. On the day he started the hike, he met another man who was also starting. They hiked together for a while, becoming friends, but eventually separated, only seeing each other occasionally. As the hike ended, they eventually met up again, finishing on the same day.

“I was so happy to see him, he’s a lifelong buddy now, and we work out together on Zoom every day,” said McCoy. McCoy says these kinds of moments happened all through the hike. “There really is something about being one with nature. You get out there, and she kicks your butt and then she gives you these incredible rewards.”

On September 4, 2021, McCoy completed the trial. When asked if he would do it again, he simply laughed and said, “No, I’m one and done.” He’s glad he did it though. “On a mental, physical and emotional level, this was by far the toughest and most rewarding challenge I’ve ever faced in my life,” McCoy said.