REGION — There are times in life when we yearn for a big change, whether it’s to break routine, test our abilities and/or distance ourselves from the past.
For two North County locals in their mid-20s, the desire to shake things up and answer the call of the wild compelled them to quit their jobs, sell their cars and hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada — a journey of 2,659 miles.
Innumerable blisters and instant-ramen dinners later, romantic couple Zach Solomon and Becca Zak sat down with The Coast News at Pannikin to discuss their trek, which started on April 22 in Campo, California, and finished on Sept. 28 in Canada.
Zach, 26, grew up in Encinitas and Becca, 25, in Carlsbad. They have returned to their respective family homes to figure out their next steps.
What made you want to set out on this journey?
“We weren’t happy,” Zach explained, and needed a change. They were living in San Francisco, working in tech and feeling the stresses of hustle-and-bustle city life.
On a road trip to Crater Lake, Oregon, they came across a male PCT hiker whom Becca described as having the classic look they came to know on the trail: “bearded, tan, fit and somewhat underfed yet blissful.” This encounter at a gorgeous natural location captivated their interest and solidified their intention to do the trek themselves.
How prepared were you?
“We had never camped for longer than two nights at a time and had never filtered our own water before,” Zach said. After their families dropped them off at Campo, Becca remembers, “I looked out at the desert and said, ‘Here we go.’” It helped that they were both in good physical shape. Even so, “The first day was the most painful,” Zach said. “It was very hot, and everything hurt.”
They had to whittle down their supplies because their backpacks were too heavy. From Julian they shipped home playing cards, a large pocketknife and other inessential items.
Your hike was also a fundraiser. Tell me about that.
Zach explained, “We set out with the goal of raising one dollar per mile to sponsor under-resourced youth wilderness programs for Big City Mountaineers. We’ve since smashed the goal and raised almost $4,500!”
Instagram photos of teens holding signs with messages like, “The Big City Mountaineers trip taught me to be more positive towards myself” motivated Becca to keep going on tough days, she shared.
What was daily life like?
They rose at 4:45 a.m. in the desert to beat the heat and 6 a.m. otherwise. Due to the tiring nature of hiking great distances, they always had to set an alarm. Breakfast mostly consisted of cold-soaked oatmeal, and it took an hour and a half to break down the camp.
They hiked until sunset and each kept a journal in the evening. Becca recorded “the good, bad and weird for each day.” They devoted a lot of time to planning ahead by studying maps and identifying water sources. Becca’s favorite part of the day was when she’d first lie down. Bedtime or “hiker midnight” was 9 p.m.
Showers, not part of the daily routine, were a luxury to be enjoyed about every five or six days. The longest they went without one was 12 days. Becca said it was all part of becoming comfortable with her “raw human self.”
In addition to oatmeal, they ate “an absurd amount” of Clif Bars and Snickers, Zach said. Some favorite meals were tortilla wraps with summer sausage and cream cheese or ramen that they’d transform into “pad thai” with peanut butter, jerky and dried seaweed.
Despite eating about 6,000 calories a day, Zach shed 20 pounds. Becca ate about 4,000 calories daily and lost eight pounds.
What lessons did you take from the experience?
They learned that less is more and that people tend to have way more possessions than they need. They both pointed to an enhanced ability to tolerate pain and put it from the mind. Becca found it valuable to “become really in tune with our bodies and not push too hard” and to go with the flow when plans hit a snag.
As a couple, Becca said they learned to be “super honest with each other” and to “solve any problems right away.”
Zach relished the opportunity to “see what we were capable of” and said it was a “uniquely human experience to make every day an exploration,” noting, “You never knew what would be on the other side of the hill.”
They both felt that the journey instilled in them a confidence that they had never experienced before and that they hope to carry forward.
What were the people like whom you met along the way?
“On the trail, they were anything from jerks to Buddhas, but most were really nice,” Zach said. He estimated that about half of the thru-hikers were from other countries. Becca said fellow hikers would gladly offer advice on how to heal blisters or take a tent down faster. “It was collaborative rather than competitive.”
She also described the heart-warming “small-town charm” they experienced. People would offer places to sleep and food to eat. Zach recalled, among many random acts of kindness, a FedEx driver who gave them cheese sticks — a tiny gesture that just made their day.
What kind of pace did you keep?
“We averaged 20 to 30 miles a day,” Becca said. “It took us about 500 miles to get our trail legs.” She explained that their hiking pace slowed once they reached the Sierras due to the high elevation and rocky terrain, but they were glad for the chance to immerse themselves in the mountainous surroundings and fly fish.
What was your favorite item on the trail?
At this question they both smiled and grabbed their straw hats — held together in places with duct tape — from Hansen’s in Encinitas. They loved the hats’ sun protection and breathability.
Has it been difficult to adjust to life off the trail?
“The traffic and noise have been hard to get used to again,” Becca said, who also finds the push notifications on her phone a bit stressful. Zach has found it difficult to sleep with city sounds. Their metabolisms are still cranking, but they try to watch what they eat now that they are no longer hiking 30 miles a day. Zach feels a newfound excitement for Encinitas, where he grew up but hasn’t lived since high school.
What’s next for you?
After a backpacking trip to New Zealand in December, they will start job searching. Becca said, “We are brainstorming now and want to work for organizations that share our values and promote active, healthy outdoor living.”
Zach and Becca want to impact and inspire others. As they wrote in an update on their fundraising site, “We would like to encourage everyone to step outside your comfort zone and trust in your inherent ability to go out and live in the wilderness for a few nights or more, with all that you need — and only what you can carry — on your back.”