BEND, Ore. — Sometimes, when one path is blocked, you can simply find another one.
Such was the case for Bend’s Kristen Hege and Gibson Biddle, who set out in late March to thru-hike the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington along the upper elevations of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade mountain ranges.
When a hefty snowpack impeded their progress in mid-May, they decided to hike the 400-mile Oregon Coast Trail while waiting for the snow to melt on the PCT.
”We did the first 600 miles, and then we pivoted over to the Oregon Coast Trail,” Hege said. “We ran into the California high Sierra that are still covered in 20 feet of snow.”
After completing the OCT, which runs through beaches, state parks and towns along the coast, the husband-and-wife duo tackled an out-and-back hike of the 40-mile Rogue River National Recreation Trail in Southern Oregon recently.
Their plan was to start north from Ashland on the PCT last Friday and walk the trail all the way to Canada. Then, they hope to return to complete sections of the High Sierra that they missed due to the snow, possibly this fall and next summer.
“We probably won’t get to all of the Sierra this year,” Hege said, “because we did the extra month on the Oregon Coast Trail.”
Hiking for a cause
Hege, 60, is a retired physician who spent much of her career at Bristol Myers Squibb doing cancer research and drug development in the bio-pharma industry. She was also a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco.
“I’ve done cancer research throughout my career and one thread over 25 years was engineering cells of the immune system to target and kill cancer,” Hege said. “The last 10 years this field has exploded.”
Hege got in touch with the editor of Endpoints News, a biotech, pharma and health news site, to publish some essays from the hiking trail. That turned into a fundraiser to support early-career women in the field of cancer immunotherapy. Her goal is to raise $500,000.
“I’m focused on getting more women, and more diverse women, in science and medicine,” Hege said. “It tends to be a lot of white men.”
Bristol Myers Squibb contributed $100,000 to the campaign, and Hege said she has raised about $150,000 total.
Pacific Crest Trail
Hege and Biddle, who is 61 and retired after a career in the tech industry, started their PCT trek on March 25 on the border of Mexico and California.
“It was cold, but it was lovely,” Hege said of the desert section of the PCT. “There was plenty of water. There was a desert super bloom in April. We had some snowstorms and some really cold nights, high winds. But we met great people who we ended up hiking with. Overall, we loved it. It required a lot of creativity in terms of figuring out how to get around the snowy sections. We had a lot of support from friends and family picking us up and dropping us off different places.”
Hege and Biddle had backpacked in the Sierras before, but this was their first time thru-hiking. The couple developed a form of hiking they refer to as “luxury light,” in which they carry a relatively light load but are still able to enjoy comforts such as fancy cheeses, homemade bread and a small chair.
“We spent a lot of time with 20-somethings,” Biddle said, laughing. “I would be asking (Kristen) if she wants brie or goat cheese while the 20-somethings we’re with smeared peanut butter on a tortilla.”
Oregon Coast Trail
Biddle called the Oregon Coast Trail “kinder and gentler” than the PCT.
“We joked that it was the Oregon Coast brewpub tour,” Biddle said. “We just loved it, even though it was not part of our initial vision.”
Because Hege and Biddle have only lived in Oregon for two and a half years, they were motivated to explore the state along the OCT.
“For us it was all about exploring Oregon, and the OCT was a total delight,” Biddle said. “We spent a quarter of our nights in a hotel, because we’re 60.”
He said they have learned to be flexible as they give the snow a little more time to melt in the Sierra Nevada.
“The cool thing is we’ve done 1,000 miles in the last 10 weeks,” Biddle said. “600 on the PCT and 400 on the OCT. No one can accuse us of laziness.”
From the Bay Area to Bend
Hege and Biddle have two daughters, ages 27 and 25. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the youngest daughter was in New York. She moved to Bend with several friends to work remotely. Her parents soon followed, and they bought a house in Bend more than two years ago.
“My goal every winter is to ski my age in days,” Biddle said of his love of skiing at Mt. Bachelor. “I did my 61st day just before I left for the PCT. The year before I went 115 days. It was hard for me to watch my friends’ Instagram feeds when they were still skiing in April and May, and here Kristen and I are looking for dirt instead of snow.”
Hege and Biddle said they are hoping to cross into Canada along the PCT before October.
“Then go do some unfinished sections of the PCT that we had skipped,” Biddle said. “But we know that we’re going to have to do some sections next summer.”