For the fourth consecutive summer, Dave and Boni Deal, of Camas, are training and preparing to spend more than one month hiking south on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
Every week you can find them conditioning for their annual adventure by hiking local trails in the Columbia River Gorge and even trails in town, like the ones inside Lacamas Lake Regional Park. They enjoy hiking year-round in the sun, rain and snow. The Camas artists find inspiration deep in the wilderness for their ceramic artwork and say their time hiking on the PCT helps them avoid creativity burnout.
“I think anyone can do it really. It just takes having the right gear, planning and perseverance,” Boni said.
While the Deals have discovered inspiration, their annual adventures serve to inspire others, especially seniors. Dave is 69 years old and Boni is 65.
Continuing lifelong dream
The couple’s first hike on the 2,650-mile trail goes back to 1979, when they spent a month and hiked the entire state of Washington on the PCT with their son, Gabriel, who was a toddler at the time. Thirty-five years after that first trip, Gabriel and his wife completed the entire trail from Mexico to Canada in one season, a feat accomplished by only about 200 people each year.
The adventure inspired Dave and Boni to attempt to finish what they started 36 years earlier. In their 60s, they decided to knock-off 500-mile sections of the trail each summer, starting with the entire state of Oregon. The past two summers they hiked through northern and central California.
Last summer, the steep terrain and snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains kept the couple to about 300 miles, a distance they expect to repeat this year when they continue their backpacking journey near Mammoth Mountain, California — John Muir country, named after the naturalist known as the “Father of the National Parks” a region legendary for magnificent vistas.
“We’ll aim for about 300 miles just like last year, due to the steep terrain, and then see how it goes,” Dave said.
Last year, the couple averaged about 13.5 miles on the trail each day.
‘Not like the thunderstorms you see in Camas’
The couple was caught in an intense thunderstorm last summer at 12,000 feet.
Cell phone coverage on the PCT is almost non-existent in northern and central California, except from the very highest locations, so the couple was excited to find a signal on top of Donahue Pass near Yosemite National Park.
After texting loved ones at home, they were suddenly hit by an intense storm as the sun was about to go down.
“It’s not like the thunderstorms you see in Camas, (it’s) way different in the mountains,” Dave said.
Boni said she still had shorts on, because it was a hot summer day before the storm.
“It was suddenly so incredibly cold up there as Dave put the tent up,” Boni recalled.
Hail covered the ground as the couple got into the tent, changed into dry clothes and then contributed to the memorable moment by brewing up a warm beverage.
“Drinking that hot coffee was an incredible feeling,” Dave said.
While hiking the PCT, the Deals stop for supplies every five to seven days in small towns that have post offices or stores that accept mail near the trail.
“We ship out boxes with freeze-dried food and supplies ahead of time, and then we just hike into the towns and pick them up,” Boni said.
The couple enjoys finding private spots away from the trail to camp each night. While there are a few shelters built along the trail, they are not in the best of shape, the Deals said.
“They are filled with mice and squirrels, so we stick to our tent,” Dave said.
Boni prefers camping on higher ground.
“I like camping up high, where you have a view,” she said.
Dave, on the other hand, likes to camp in the forests near streams, explaining that there is much less condensation in the woods.
Local day hikes on the PCT
While the PCT is the longest trail in the country, and covers the most remote areas in the West, almost anyone can enjoy the trail from section hikes that last a month to simple day hikes.
“I’m 65 years old, with asthma, a bit overweight, and never have been an athlete, so most others pass me by,” Boni said.
As far as local day hikes on the PCT, the Deals recommend hiking from the Bridge of the Gods off Highway 14 in Washington and Interstate 84 in Oregon, where the PCT crosses the Columbia River north to Table Mountain. It’s a journey of about eight miles, but includes a steep climb known as Heartbreak Hill.
“It may be called Heartbreak Hill, but it’s beautiful, and I love getting up there because it’s rugged and rough and rocky and there are wildflowers everywhere. It’s just neat,” Boni said.
The Deals said they have met people from all over the world while hiking the PCT. Most are young people, but they are now running into more and more retired people, even some folks in their 80s — all chasing adventure and inspiration by exploring our nation’s longest and most remote hiking trail.