Imagine spending days, weeks and even months just walking.
Jasmine Batten did just that when she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
She hiked the 2,650-mile trail with her boyfriend, Chad Courtney, beginning last April 15 and finishing on Oct. 8.
“I’m still processing it all,” said the 31-year-old Batten, who is a 1997 graduate of Waupaca High School.
The idea of hiking a national scenic trail had intrigued her for some time.
“I learned about the Appalachian Trail when I was quite young,” she said. “I thought I wanted to do that some day. Just the idea of doing something different – getting away from civilization for that long. I couldn’t fathom as age 15 or 16 that you could walk that long.”
Batten, who “loves all things outdoors,” said the idea dissolved until about a year ago.
She had done short backpacking trips, and her boyfriend had been trying to plan a trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The trail is one of America’s national scenic trails, running from Mexico to Canada through three Western states.
“He (Courtney) had wanted to do it back in 2007 with friends from college. It didn’t work out. He started planning one year ago and asked me jokingly if I wanted to go with him,” Batten said. “I had personal transitions going on with my career. It was either time to consider grad school or take a different career. It was a good time in my life to re-evaluate my direction.”
For six months, Batten lived frugally, saving money for the trip.
At the time, she was living in Madison where she worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She has a degree in wildlife biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The planning was pretty straightforward. A lot of people have done the trail, so there is a lot of information out there,” she said.
They began the hike on the trail at the southern end in a tiny border town called “Campo,” east of San Diego, finishing 5 1/2 months later where the trail officially ends at the Canadian border.
Batten said the trail ends in the middle of nowhere, which meant they had to hike another eight miles into British Columbia, typical for those who do the hike so that they can stage how to get back into civilization.
“Most people that do the whole trail in one season hike from south to north,” she said. “April to October is the window of hiking opportunity, because it’s based on snow patterns.”
Those who hike any long distance in one year or one season are called “thru hikers.”
“Three hundred to 400 people try every year. I don’t know the completion rate,” Batten said. “I know it is less than 50 percent. This year, I think the estimate for how many started was closer to 400.”
Along the trail are people called “trail angels.” Some of them are past hikers, while others have an interest in thru hiking. They volunteer to give hikers rides into towns so that the hikers can restock. Some of the trail angels randomly leave treats on trails for those who hike. Some even offer rooms in their homes for hikers to stay the night.
“We mostly bought supplies along the trail, at grocery stores,” Batten said. “On the trail, it was pretty much all camping – mostly in nonestablished sites and most of the time just off the trail.”
Sometimes, they got rooms in motels with other hikers to save money.
“Occasionally, the trail would go right through a town, but sometimes, we had to find rides into town,” she said.
Batten said many people start hiking the trail alone but end up hiking in loose groups.
“My experience was that the other hikers were outgoing and friendly. It was easy to make fast friends. We were all in the same situation. We looked out for each other,” she said. “The hiking part you can anticipate. It’s like a longer series of backpack trips. But, the people you meet I couldn’t anticipate. It was really a nice surprise. There was lots of kindness of strangers.”
She and Courtney averaged 20 miles of hiking per day. “We did 15 to 16 miles in the beginning and then worked up to about 20 miles per day,” she said. “Then, when we got to the high Sierras and there was lots of snow, we slowed down. In northern California and toward the end, we were consistently up to 25 miles per day.”
To prepare for the trip, Batten tried to work out as much as possible – running, biking and doing some hiking.
She said that typically, there are challenges in the beginning of the hike because of the desert, which is why most begin the hike there in the spring.
Luckily, they encountered only a handful of days when the temperature was 100 degrees or higher, and while they had expected to have to hike at night through that portion of the trail, they found there was still water in streams due to a later spring, making night hiking unnecessary.
Batten, who had no specific mountaineering experience, said hiking in the high Sierras was extremely challenging for her.
“It was make or break at that part. After I did it, I felt like I could do anything,” she said.
For her, the highlights of the hike were the high Sierras in California and Washington state.
She said the mountains were beautiful and that the weather was wonderful when they were in Washington.
“The trail is so varied from desert to high mountains. You go through so many different ecosystems,” Batten said. “The state of Washington and the Sierras were definitely a highlight.”
It took them seven weeks to finish Oregon and Washington. The rest of the time had been spent hiking through California.
Batten said that when the trail ended, she was glad to be done.
“But, the second it was done, I started missing it,” she said.
Doing such a hike again someday is a possibility, Batten said.
But, in reality, she does not know if she will be able to take that many months to do so.
She called it a lifetime adventure.
“I just feel more confident. I walked for 5 1/2 months straight. I can do anything,” Batten said.
She is still adjusting to being back in the real world and is temporarily staying in Waupaca as she searches for a job.
“I didn’t have a huge epiphany about what my career should be, but I’m looking at applying for lab jobs,” she said. “Long term, I’m considering a career change, of going back to school for nursing. I’ve always liked working with people and want a job that feels personally satisfying.”