Hiker a trail champ

Vancouver man qualifies for hiking’s Triple Crown

By Ruth Zschomler, Columbian staff writer



On the Web:

DeGraw’s blog

American Long Distance Hiking Association — West

Did you know ?

Pacific Crest Trail: Around 2,600 miles; crosses California, Oregon and Washington.

Appalachian Trail: 2,160 miles; crosses Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Continental Divide Trail: Around 3,000 miles depending on the route selected; crosses New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

— American Long Distance Hiking Association

DeGraw’s gear

• Clothing: gloves, hats, rain gear, shirts, pants, shorts, socks, sunglasses, crampons, shoes.

• Cooking and hydration: bleach, multi-utensil, water, lighter, matches, pot, cup, bowl.

• First aid and toiletries: moleskin, medications, needle, Band-Aids, antibiotics, naproxen sodium pain reliever, soap, toothbrush, Chapstick, shower nozzle, toilet paper, hand sanitizer.

• Electronics: phone, camera, iPod, lights, GPS and batteries, water-resistant watch with thermometer.

• Miscellaneous: personal documents, knives, compass, maps, corncob pipe and tobacco, journal, pencil, poles, repair supplies, bug net, bear spray, ice ax, S-biner.

• Packing: backpack, disposable liner, disposable cover, stuff sacks.

• Sleeping and shelter: sleeping bag, bag liner, tarp/tent, sleeping pads.

• Consumables: salt, garlic, chili, olive oil, water, food.Weight summary:n Base pack without food and water, 14 pounds, 0.8 ounces.

• Food and water, 18 pounds, 8 ounces.

• Loaded pack (gear with food and water) 32 pounds, 8.8 ounces.

• Worn or carried, 3 pounds, 8 ounces.

He doesn’t eat oats from a feedbag. He doesn’t run on four legs. And he’s never been to the Kentucky Derby.

But Kevin DeGraw, 32, of Vancouver recently qualified for a “Triple Crown.” DeGraw, or Freebie as he is known on the trail, spent the past four months hiking the Continental Divide Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico through the Rocky Mountains. This was DeGraw’s third long-distance hike in four years, qualifying him to receive the Triple Crown award for “thru-hiking” from the American Long Distance Hiking Association.

“When I began the Appalachian Trail (in 2008), I’d never heard of the Triple Crown,” DeGraw said. “While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (in 2009), however, I heard much about it and knew I was going to attempt the Continental Divide Trail, despite hearing such intimidating things about its wildness, ruggedness, and remoteness.” The three trails make up the Triple Crown of long-distance hikes and are grouped together because of their length and unique wilderness experiences they offer.

DeGraw didn’t become interested in hiking until he was in his 20s, when he and a friend began day-hiking throughout Southwest Washington and

Northern Oregon. In 2002, another hiker joined them on their first long hike, which was on the Wonderland Trail, a 100-mile trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier.

“Our packs were classic examples of novice mistakes and we were ill-equipped, lugging around far too-heavy packs. But I loved the experience and was hooked,” DeGraw said. Since that first hike, he’s learned to keep his supplies down to the basics. On the Continental Divide Trail he started out with a base weight, not including food, of around 14 pounds. His basic supplies included lightweight clothing, first aid and toiletries, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and miscellaneous electronics including an iPod, cellphone, and camera. He also carried crampons, an ice ax and bear spray. He said he went through three pairs of trail runners on this hike. DeGraw said the hike cost him just under $3,000 and that a common budget for hikers on the cheap is around $1 per mile.

Unlike some long-distance hikers, DeGraw doesn’t hike hoping for some profound life-changing experience. “I’ve always considered thru-hiking to be more of an extension of who I already am, rather than a way for me to shape who I want to become.”

He does admit that spending four to six months on a trail will have a powerful impact on anyone. “It’s a way to distill things down to their most simple versions, and achieve more clarity of thought.”

And while it sounds like it might be a little rugged and lonely being on the trail for so long, the average distance a hiker has to travel between resupply points on all three trails rarely exceeds four or five days, DeGraw said. The longest stretch he had between supply pickup points was eight days. When he’s hiking alone for days on end, DeGraw said his mind fixates on what his body is lacking. “If I’m low on water and it’s a hot day, I’ll daydream about cold drinks: sodas, water, lemonade. When I’m hungry, which is pretty much all the time, I can’t stop thinking about food, mainly pizza.

“Other times, I think about friends and family back home, or about what I plan to do after the hike (DeGraw quit his job at a local hummus factory to take this trip), or about how many miles it is to my planned camp, or to water.”

Most of his preparations for this hike were logistical. Because of his previous experience on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, DeGraw already owned most of the gear he needed. So, he spent hours poring over maps and familiarizing himself with available resources — checking distances between resupply points and water sources, for example.

The Continental Divide Trail is the most remote of the three, but also follows hundreds of miles of roads; the Appalachian Trail goes through patches of densely populated areas and cities and towns are visible from much of the trail; and the Pacific Crest Trail passes by several stores and through towns. “It’s pretty difficult to truly get away from other people, and I’ve only gone a couple days at a time without running into any other people at all,” DeGraw said. It was long enough, though, for his voice to be weak with disuse, he said.

The latest hike wasn’t without completed without its share of hardships. About two weeks into the hike, DeGraw developed a blister under a callus, which infected and grew nearly to the size of a pingpong ball. He continued his journey, however, walking with varying degrees of pain each day. “It was a constant struggle and had a truly negative impact on my hike,” he said. “If I hadn’t had the experience of two other hikes under my belt, I’m not sure I would have been able to continue.” He said he never doubted his resolve to finish the hike and complete the Triple Crown. This resolve proved necessary in October, as well, when he took a trip to the emergency room, was diagnosed with an intestinal illness, and was forced to take a few days off.

“There are certainly days when I can’t find my groove, and the minutes seem to take hours, and the miles are slow and drawn out. I carry an iPod, and these are the perfect times to put on some music, or possibly listen to an audiobook or podcast.” He said his 4-year-old iPod classic can still hold a good charge, around 30 hours of playback.

He watched all seven seasons of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” at night to decompress and get his mind off the repetition. He recharged his iPod during resupply stops.

“My favorite times, however, are when I slip into a sort of walking meditation. When I find myself simply enjoying what’s around me and the feeling of strength and good fortune I have to be able to be on the trail.” DeGraw said, “In these moments, hours can pass by before I suddenly realize I have no idea what I’ve actually been thinking about, but it never feels like a waste of time.”

Ruth Zschomler: 360-735-4530; ruth.zschomler Col_hoods.