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Runner Gallops 2,581 Miles--Not for Glory but for Wilderness Scenery

November 05, 1987|ALAN DROOZ | Times Staff Writer

Some distance runners run for the challenge, others for medals and the rewards of victory.

Bob Holtel has a bigger picture in mind. He runs for the grandeur of unbroken desert expanses and mountain vistas, unspoiled glacial streams and herds of elk and deer.

With that in mind, Holtel is helping inaugurate the sport he calls "wilderness adventure running." The 55-year-old Manhattan Beach resident, who has run for 35 years and has coached runners on trails for 25, recently completed his life's dream by running the 2,581-mile Pacific Crest Trail, taking it in stages over three years.

Holtel, a retired teacher, believes he is the first person to traverse America border-to-border running only on wilderness trails. His journey began in 1985 in Campo, Mexico, with an early trip through 108-degree heat in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. By 1986, in the second stage of the journey, Holtel was reaching elevations of 13,600 feet in the High Sierra. And this summer he was battling glaciers in the wilds of Washington to complete his trek at Manning Park in British Columbia.

Holtel spent 156 days in the wilderness, living on trail mix, energy bars, dried fruit and whatever he found along the way and could carry in a 15-pound pack. He slept in his clothes. He crossed paths with 10 bears--two face to face--45 rattlesnakes, two cougars and a bobcat. He went through nine pairs of shoes. He fell three times, covering trails that changed from desert sand to loose stones and gravel to mossy rocks in streams.

Nearly a Marathon a Day

Holtel averaged nearly a marathon a day--about 24 miles in anywhere from seven to 10 hours--for the 110 days. He interspersed 46 rest days to restock food, study his maps and update his log.

Holtel, a leathery veteran of more than 100 marathons and nearly that many ultra-distance runs, said he conceived his ultimate run five years ago. Several years went into planning before he was ready to go, including a preliminary 300-mile run to check out the trail.

Holtel broke his journey into three stages. The first summer he went from Campo to Donner Pass near Lake Tahoe, 1,055 miles in 58 days. Last year he continued on to the Columbia River gorge on the Oregon-Washington border, 1,040 miles in 66 days. This summer he crossed into Canada, 486 miles in 32 days, and finished on Aug. 22. In his log he wrote, "It's highly difficult to fully comprehend the staggering impact of this joyous moment, the ultimate fulfillment of a lifetime dream."

Supplies Mailed to Friends

In the first two summers Holtel supplied himself by sending caches to post offices along the way. He also had friends pacing him and providing supplies at times. This summer there were no available post offices so he "would mail caches to runners' homes and they would supply me when they found me.

"The hardest part was the preparation, 90%." Most nights were spent studying maps. But it wasn't all cerebral. Holtel said there were times he was spellbound by the scenery and solitude.

He wrote, "One wilderness flower garden lasted 10 miles, highlighted by lupine, Indian paintbrush, monkey flower, columbine, fireweed, marigolds, white tiger lilies and acres of bear grass. . . . In one three-day period I ran by 35 lakes, interspersing endless panoramas with meditative overlook pauses. . . . Massive marmots would sun-worship on warm ledge lookouts."

Holtel has almost completed a book about his adventure, but he has hardly retired to a desk. He trains about 80 miles a week and has four 50-mile races scheduled in the next six months. Next summer he will help build a 140-mile Tahoe Rim running trail.

Parts of the Pacific Crest Trail date to 1935, and Congress commissioned its completion in 1952. Holtel said, "Some runners say PCT stands for Pretty Crumby Trail. To me it symbolizes Patience, Character and Tenacity."

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