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The First Step Is the Biggest : It took 1 1/2 years to plan and 5 1/2 months to complete, but last year Bob Moision made the 2,600-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.


SANTA ANA — Bob Moision started walking north from the Mexican border one April day last year. One friendship, two pair of boots and 5 1/2 months later, he took his final step of the trip, crossing from the United States into Canada.

Moision, who told tales and showed slides from his journey last week at REI sporting goods in Santa Ana, is one of the handful of people each year to walk the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, a continuous path that follows the spine of the Sierra Nevada and Cascades as it traverses through some of the most spectacular wilderness in the Western United States.

The walk was 2,600 miles, an odyssey that included 30-mile waterless stretches, single-day hikes that took him from snow-topped peak to desert floor, and trudges through rainstorms and snowstorms. He started walking with a best friend from his days in grade school, Sean Pelling, and finished alone.

Even with more than a year of planning and preparation, Moision said there was no way to know quite what he was getting into, both emotionally and physically.

"When you get out for more than, say, a month, it turns into something completely different than a normal hiking trip," Moision said in an interview. He would have to hike into towns every four to five days to resupply, turning his usual relationship with the outdoors upside-down.

On typical hiking trips, he said, he feels like he is visiting the wilderness. On his forays into town during the Pacific Crest Trail trip, he felt like he was visiting civilization. "You become very aware of the way you smell and the way you look" in town, Moision said. "When you're in the hills you just don't think about it."

The trip also forced Moision to simplify his existence to levels he had never imagined. "I was just grinding life down to the barest essentials. I was worried about food; I was worried about shelter," he told his audience at REI.

Unlike most of us, who struggle to gain possessions, Moision did his best to discard his in the interest of lightening his load. All through the trip, he mailed home pieces of equipment that he decided weren't being used enough.

When he started the trip, his pack weighed a staggering 80 pounds without water ("I had enough clothing crossing the Mojave to get me through Antarctica," he joked). By the end of the trek, it weighed 50 pounds or less.

Moision, a resident of the town of Alpine in San Diego County, started planning the trip almost two years before taking the first step. He and his usual hiking buddy and longtime best friend first discussed doing the John Muir Trail, a comparatively measly stretch of little more than 100 miles from Mt. Whitney to Yosemite, before talk turned to doing the Pacific Crest Trail.

In the 1 1/2 years before the trip, Moision read guidebooks and purchased backpacking gear. The things he had were too heavy for such a long trip, so he sought new items that were light, rugged and inexpensive. "The three of those (attributes) never combined," Moision said. He spent between $3,000 and $4,000 on the trip, about half of that on gear.

He also had to work out his resupply schedule. He found post offices about 100 miles apart near the route and mailed packages of freeze-dried food to himself for pickup along the way. He enlisted his mother, Bonnie Moision of Los Alamitos, to aid in his resupplying when he was in need of new equipment or extra food.

The pair left on April 17, 1992. Moision had almost immediate problems with blisters, and he and his friend ran out of water on some of the longer waterless stretches. But they pushed through, averaging 16 to 18 miles a day.

In the town of Warner Springs in San Diego County, they found a note on the trail inviting all Pacific Crest Trail hikers to stop in at the home of one of the residents (a PCT veteran himself) for a meal, a place to spend the night and a chance to shower and wash clothes. It was the first of many examples of trail hospitality that Moision was to experience on the trip.

One retired couple in a van met hikers and offered water, soda and candy (the couple found Moision again a few miles from the Canadian border and gave him a T-shirt). And then there's Milt Kinney, the "unofficial mayor of the PCT," a resident of the town of Castella in Northern California, who makes it a point to meet every hiker doing the entire trail. "In general, the people I met along the way were pretty incredible," Moision said.

Because the walk must be timed to fit within a certain time window to take advantage of the best weather, hikers usually leave about the same time (most go south to north, although a few leave from the Canada end). Usually, fewer than a dozen hikers make the entire trek in a given year; last year, Moision said 15 did it, with the lower-than-average snowpack making the Sierra more passable than usual.

Moision met a number of other "through-hikers" along the way, joining with one group of three for about 300 miles through California, and shorter stretches farther north.


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