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For This Pair, Road Less Traveled Is 'a Gift'

A New Hampshire couple, the first to hike a 5,058-mile nature trail in its entirety, marvel at the people and scenery they encountered.

August 24, 2003|Juliana Barbassa | Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A husband-and-wife hiking team reached the Pacific Ocean after a 5,058-mile cross-country trek, becoming the first to backpack the entire official route of the transcontinental American Discovery Trail, according to the organization that helped establish the trail.

Joyce and Pete Cottrell of Whitefield, N.H., left their jobs at Wal-Mart and started the trek across 13 states on March 5, 2002. Eighteen months later, the sunburned but exhilarated couple dipped their toes in the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes, saying they'd do it all over again.

"We feel like a gift has been given to us, and we just can't say thank you enough," Joyce, 51, said after she and her husband were welcomed on the beach by about 20 friends, hikers and other people the couple met along the way.

"This trail is just unbelievable. The places it goes through, and the people ... the people are the best part," Pete, 55, said.

The Cottrells took leave of the Atlantic at Cape Henlopen, Del., and followed the American Discovery Trail, facing flash floods, forest fires, knee-deep snow and blinding desert sandstorms.

They nursed sunburns, sore muscles, ankle sprains, blisters, flu, and their two adult sons, who thought their parents had gone crazy.

But the Cottrells saw this as the adventure of a lifetime, and they have no regrets.

On the East Coast they frequently pitched their tents in backyards because of suburban sprawl. In the Midwest, the midsummer humidity wore them down. But it was the vast, dry stretches of the western states that proved to be the greatest challenge.

The American Discovery Trail Society, a group that pushed for the establishment of the three-year-old trail and now promotes it, provided support along the way, making water drops in Utah and Nevada that the Cottrells found using global-positioning-satellite signals.

Society spokesman Dick Bratton said the Cottrells were the first hikers to cover the entire trail. After reaching Colorado in November, they stopped hiking until February, taking jobs as Wal-Mart cashiers to wait out the winter and to earn the money needed to finish the trip.

Through it all, they relied on the kindness of those they met, who welcomed them into their homes and treated them to meals along the way.

"People are the best part of the hike, more so than the scenery. It took us by surprise to know the American people are so generous," Joyce said.

They particularly remember a retired worker in his late 70s who treated them to breakfast and his homespun philosophy in Herington, Kan., and a former Navy band trombonist who invited them to join his family for dinner in Annapolis, Md.

"What better way to see the country? You really get to know our country and people up close on a daily basis. You can't get it in Winnebagos," Joyce Cottrell told Associated Press from Virginia City, Nev., during the trip.

Trail users can hike, bike or ride on horseback past 10,000 points of interest in 15 states.

Billed as the "Route 66 of American Recreation," the trail starts in Delaware, passes through cities, mountains and deserts, meandering through 14 national parks and 16 national forests before hitting the Pacific.

The trail officially opened 11 years after it was proposed by hiking enthusiasts as the first coast-to-coast footpath connecting the popular north-south Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails.

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