— Boni Deal
Suffice it to say that Dave and Boni Deal know a thing or two about hiking.
The Camas couple has been on several epic adventures over the years — beginning in 1979, when their son was just a toddler.
Last summer, the local artists marked yet another monthlong hike from August to September in Northern California. Their long-range plan is to complete the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which stretches from Canada to Mexico, and they’ve been tackling the trail in 500-mile chunks. This year, the Deals have the Sierra Mountain section in their sights, with elevations up to 13,000 feet.
One might wonder why a couple in their 60s would take on such a challenge, but Dave, 68, and Boni, 64, say they each have their own reasons that drive them to tackle a goal relative few will ever attempt: Dave really likes the wilderness and physical challenges, while Boni enjoys the incredible scenery and getting in shape.
“I’ve wanted to hike the PCT since I first heard about it in the 1960s,” Dave says. “I’d like to do more, as I’ve always liked hiking, especially in wilderness areas. It feels so good to get really tired, then get into camp and have coffee and cookies.”
Boni handles much of the planning for the couple’s journeys. She notes that Dave has no problem observing and enjoying the trail experience, but it takes her a while to get there mentally.
“My mind races along, making intricate plans for solving problems and doing projects when I return home,” she says. “Then it slows down to enjoying memories and future family plans, maybe some songs and free-flowing thoughts. Finally, it moves to appreciation of the world around me.”
The couple carries all of their gear with them, and picks up additional supplies in towns near the trail. To be as efficient as possible, their backpacks need to be very light.
“It’s a big effort,” Boni says of finding the appropriate gear for such a long hike. “You really have to think ahead and do the research.”
However, Dave and Boni still find a way to pack their trail treats.
“My favorite meal is breakfast: oats, dried fruits, biscotti and a latte,” Boni says. “My trail lattes aren’t as good as at home. They’re made with instant coffee, sweetener and milk powder, but taste great when we’ve been hiking awhile.”
Dave’s favorite is dehydrated soup dinners with corn chips or Cheetos, with black coffee and cookies to end the day.
While exploring different sections of the PCT, the couple has run into all kinds of people in the “trail community,” from 20-somethings to retirees.
“We enjoyed crossing paths several times with older section-hikers Mike and Christine throughout our four weeks of hiking,” Boni notes. “She was 72 and from Germany. There were also days we met no one, but overall we saw hundreds of hikers from the U.S. and Canada, and an equal amount from other countries, especially New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Europe, particularly Germany, Austria and Switzerland.”
The Pacific Crest Trail organization notes that a surge of PCT hikers is likely due to the popular movie and book, “Wild,” by Portland author, Cheryl Strayed.
Boni says the “thru-hikers,” those who intend to hike the entire trail in a given year, were as diverse in personalities as in homelands.
“Some were visibly hurrying and intent on getting through the mountains before the autumn snows began, and others were very laid-back and enjoying ‘zero-days’ in trail towns, and swimming holes and side trips,” Boni said. “Some slower hikers had been out for five months, where we met them near the halfway point in late August.”
Potential emergencies are always something hikers need to be prepared for, from falls to allergic reactions. Unreliable cell phone coverage on the trail and relative isolation mean hikers often need to depend on their own wits.
“A young friend we met early in our hike later suffered a collapsed lung,” Boni says. “Fortunately, he was tough and had a strong companion, and they were only six miles from a road. They made it to a hospital.”
She and Dave says the prayed for his recovery, and hoped they might get news farther along the trail. At the next re-supply town, the first people they ran into told them how the story ended: The young man underwent a successful surgery, but was on doctor’s orders to discontinue the big hike that year.
The couple also faced their own challenges on the trail, including feeling exhausted at the end of the day, and being stung several times by yellow jackets.
Compared to the prior summer’s hike through the state of Oregon, the Northern California trek was far hotter and drier, with more severe terrain.
“But we also encountered lush green forests and raging mountain brooks,” Boni says. “Our home area is Washington and Oregon, so Northern California was an adventure, exploring new territory: We walked through the Marble Mountains, Castle Crags, Trinity Alps, Mt. Lassen National Park, Burney Falls and many other delights.”
One highlight was reaching the midpoint of the PCT, which is commemorated by a metal box holding a spiral notebook and pen. Such trail registers dot the PCT at special points and in many “trail towns.” Hikers write comments about the trail, their adventures and notes to those who will come later.
This year, Dave and Boni hiked farther each day, averaging 17.3 miles, completing 520 miles in 30 days.
“The most fulfilling aspects of these hikes are taking physical accomplishment up a notch, learning to be more comfortable in rustic conditions, and enjoying God’s creation,” Boni says. “Oh, and it’s kind of cool to just up and leave ‘normal life’ for a while to take a walk in the mountains.”
Although conditions were tough, talking and laughing together, and finding camaraderie with fellow hikers got Dave and Boni through the rough patches.
“I’m not sure why, but I laughed at seeing mountains and miles steadily slip by,” Boni says. “It was also a kick to see hikers eating as much as possible — horribly fattening stuff, things you wouldn’t even consider at home — with no worries of gaining weight.”
Boni and Dave note that anyone can hike the trail, it just takes planning, patience and setting realistic goals.
“Just bite off doable chunks,” Boni advises. “Some people like to do the whole thing from Mexico to Canada or vice-versa. Some do short day hikes, or anything in-between. The quiet, isolated beauty of the Pacific Crest mountains is awesome any way you choose.”