Silverthorne resident Elisabeth Perry is an articulate, engaging young woman who readily admits she has an obsession.
"I don't know anybody else who is my kind of crazy," Perry said. "Mentally, it's a whole lot more than most people want to take on."
That's an understatement. Like many people in the West, Perry loves the outdoors. What separates her from more mainstream outdoors enthusiasts is her need for extended stays in the wild. For Perry, it isn't really a hiking trek unless it lasts for months.
"I have always known I want to undertake great adventures," Perry said.
In that spirit, during both 2011 and 2012, she tackled the Pacific Crest Trail. That's a 2,670-mile hike that runs from Mexico to Canada and covers climates ranging form arid deserts to snowcapped mountains. Why did she do it twice? Because in 2011, she was stopped a mere 300 miles from the trail's conclusion, so she returned home to Colorado, spent a few months working and saving and then took off again in 2012 to complete the hike.
"This year, I got to the Canadian border exactly five months after I left from Mexico," Perry said. "Before I left, everyone said, 'Why not just finish the last 300 miles?' But I said that wouldn't count."
Perry will present tales and pictures from her Pacific Crest Trail adventures during a special program at the Eagle Public Library today. While her story is framed by those two hiking adventures, it's also a tale of how her soul craves extended time on the trail.
Perry was born in Chicago, and her family moved around the country often during her childhood. Her mother and father enjoyed hiking and camping and passed that love on to their daughter - a bit more vehemently than they realized.
"My parents are the reason why I have such a great respect for the outdoors, but I don't think they ever envisioned me trekking thousands of miles across the world," Perry said.
In 2001, Perry moved to Colorado and graduated from Metro State University with a bachelor's degree in social work. She also earned an outdoor education degree from Colorado Mountain College. During her spare time, she enjoyed climbing, snowboarding, ice climbing and backpacking. But she found those adventures were too small for her taste. Then in 2008, she decided to hike the Colorado Trail.
"It's only 500 miles, and that just wasn't long enough for me," Perry said.
She doesn't remember when she first heard about the Pacific Crest Trail, but she decided that the 2,670-mile trek was calling her. She talked her dad into dropping her off at the U.S.-Mexico boarder in April 2011, and she started hiking. The trip would take six months.
"It was a record snow year, so part of the challenges were greater in 2011," Perry said.
She perfected her traveling routine and gear - a 12-pound pack that includes a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothing, a camp stove, weather gear and food. She tried to camp near water that she could filter for her hydration needs and mapped out plans to resupply every five to 12 days.
During her resupply breaks, she would call her parents, grab a shower and eat ice cream.
"You have to have that kind of balance when you are on the trail," she said.
Every 500 miles or so, she would have to replace her hiking boots.
Perry found she could walk between 20 and 30 miles per day and that life on the trail was simple but not monotonous. She would wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. and take an hour off midday to rest and write in her journal. She'd finish her day between 6 and 8 p.m., set up camp, filter her water, eat and climb into bed. While she would frequently meet up with other hikers and spend time on the trail with them, she didn't have a trail-long hiking companion.
"You have to be 100 percent self reliant," she explained.
You also have to be smart. Perry had made it all the way to Washington back in 2011, when day-after-day of harsh weather convinced her to halt her hike.
"Being wet and cold for weeks is just stupid," she said. "I just couldn't get dry, and sometimes you have to just step back and listen to Mother Nature. As much as I loved what I was I doing, when Mother Nature says stop, you have to respect that."
She was down, but not out. In 2012, Perry decided to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail again. This time she finished the hike, so in total she has hiked more than 5,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Her least favorite trail section was the dusty, dry northern California. Her favorite sections were along the Sierra Nevadas and the Cascades. At the end of the journey, she was faced with a dilemma: How could she find an adventure to top the one she just finished?
Alaska to Argentina
Perry does not think small, and her next adventure will dwarf the one she just finished. In 2014, she hopes to begin a four-year hiking trek from Barrow, Alaska (the most northern North American city) to Terra del Fuego (the archipelago located off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland). Along the way she plans to do community service and bring attention to the work of the CASA organization.
These days, Perry is working and saving money for her next great adventure. She presents slide shows detailing her Pacific Crest Trail journeys and tells audiences about her Alaska to Argentina plans. She is researching the route she will take and laying the groundwork for the message she hopes to carry.
"My dad says, 'So you want to be like Mother Teresa with a backpack?'" Perry said. "I tell him that's about right."
A friend plans to make the trek with her and the journey will also include biking through Mexico and sea kayaking in Central America. One leg of her journey will find Perry hiking along the Continental Divide, just a few miles from her home.
That four-year trek is Perry's biggest dream yet, but she is a go-big-or-go-home kind of person.
"It is pretty crazy, I know. Hopefully, it's just not insane," she said.