The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 135: A Family Hike

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

With all the emphasis on getting more kids outdoors, it might be helpful to give them a role model. Here's one. This week on The WildeBeat; A Family Hike

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one thirty five.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: In two thousand and four, Mary Chambers was ten years old. Her parents suggested that they go for a walk.

MARY CHAMBERS: Well, I thought it was pretty cool, and I always wanted to go, and ...actually, I was definitely in favor of it. My parents were actually less in favor of it than I was at times.

STEVE: This wasn't just an afternoon walk in the park they were talking about. This was a through-hike of the entire Pacific Crest Trail, twenty six hundred and fifty miles long. The trail goes over high mountains, through deserts, and hikers can spend weeks at a time isolated in wilderness.

GARY CHAMBERS: Mary's first backpacking trip, I think she was two months old, so we'd been doing this her whole life, and before.

STEVE: Gary Chambers is Mary's father.

GARY CHAMBERS: You want to ease into it... Start off with day hikes. Make them harder...

MARY CHAMBERS: When you're out hiking in the wilderness, it's definitely necessary to know some things. I think the most important thing, is how to find and purify your water, with a water filter. And another thing is definitely how to set up a tent and pitch a tent so you're safe from the rain and snow and mosquitos. But really, food is a really big issue, you know, what kind of foods are good for backpacking. What kind of foods won't spoil or be far too heavy. I guess food, water, and shelter are definitely the most important things when you're backpacking in the wilderness.

GARY CHAMBERS: Have some fun, you know, and when that goes well, when you feel good about that, then you take on another harder one and you build on your experiences until you're ready to take on a big challenge, and you know what you're doing, because you want to be safe, especially with children.

MARY CHAMBERS: Well, ...I actually talked to my class about it a little bit, and one of the boys in my class said, after hearing about our plans, said, "gosh, what did you do to deserve something like that?"

STEVE: And then, what did you say?

MARY CHAMBERS: Well, I was like, "well, I didn't do anything wrong. I'm going to enjoy this." And I think he was pretty surprised.

STEVE: So on April eighth, two thousand four, Gary, Mary, and mother Barbara, set out to hike the crest of mountain ranges starting at the Mexican border and ending in Canada.

BARBARA EGBERT: In the early part of the trail, I just tried to make sure that we had what we needed to keep going, whether that meant we stop and eat more food, stop early for the day if we were just too exhausted.

STEVE: This is Mary's Mom, Barbara.

BARBARA EGBERT: I was the one who got us up in the morning and got us going. I was in charge of the food and I tried to make sure that everyone got enough to eat. Well, never quite enough, but making sure that everyone got a choice of their favorite foods. Tried to make sure that when we got into camp, people had time to do the most important things tohike. them. I always made sure Mary had time to read her book, play a little bit in camp. And if we were having a rough time, I'd try to be the one who would be encouraging and just talk about the importance of the trail. And they encouraged me a lot of times. There were a few times when I was in pretty bad shape and Mary and Gary would point out how much we'd accomplished already, and how ready we were to finish up.

MARY CHAMBERS: We were walking through some really gorgeous scenery of these amazing chasms and rocks and beautiful scenery, and we took a break and we looked down and we saw this snow patch. And it seemed to be moving across the hillside. And it was coming a little closer I believe, and we kept looking at it, and looking at it, finally realized, oh my gosh, it's a mountain goat. And there were several of them around once we saw them and it was just amazing because mountain goats -- not many people get the opportunity to see one, and it was just amazing to see such beautiful, graceful, sure-footed creatures, that I never would have got to see. And it wasn't the same as just seeing it in a nature documentary.

BARBARA EGBERT: When we were in southern California, we had hiked a ways north of Palm Springs, and Mary had found a little camp site on a little saddle, and we settled down for the night in our tent, and we started hearing these strange noises. These sort of roaring noises... Well, this was pretty scary. Gary thought, "Bears?" I though, "Mountain lions?" Mary was just plain frightened. So we all get in the tent, and, you know, and all, "It's OK, Mary, we're going to be safe." And I really wasn't sure myself what was going on. So we all go to sleep. The next morning we walked down the hill. It's a private zoo. Someone was keeping a selection of lions, tigers, and bears in a little area. It looked like they were retired circus animals perhaps, or retired zoo animals, being kept out there by someone in this basically private zoo. And that's what had made all the noise.

MARY CHAMBERS: We did have some contact with bears, and they tried to steal our food. We were camping in a place where there didn't seem to be any bear tracks or anything, but we woke up one morning and there was a bear kind of mauling at our food bag, and so my Dad leapt out of the tent in his long underwear, and began to hurl rocks in the direction of the bear, and leap around on the sharp pine cones. And the bear eventually left, but then it came back with friend, and they were both there, but we finally got them to go away.

STEVE: But the difficult times made the high points seem even better.

MARY CHAMBERS: One of my favorite, favorite moments ever on the PCT was actually when we took a side trip to climb Mount Whitney. It was amazing. My Dad and I near the top, we raced each other to the top of Mount Whitney, and it was such an exhilarating feeling because Whitney is the highest point in the lower forty eight states and we were on top of the world, it felt like, and looking down all around us and seeing the storm coming toward us and that was one of my favorite moments on the trail, being on top of Mount Whitney and, you know, knowing we did something really amazing.

STEVE: What could you see from up there? How far could you see? What was it like?

MARY CHAMBERS: I don't know how far we could actually see, but it felt like we were seeing for hundreds of miles. There was ridges -- layers and layers of ridges going off into the distance, and you couldn't see any roads or signs of civilization for miles and miles around and there was a storm coming toward us, and it came toward us and it started to circle around, and we could see the thunder and the snow starting. It was just amazing and the frozen lakes and everything, it was just really fantastic.

BARBARA EGBERT: When we were getting pretty close to the border and we ran into blizzard conditions trying to get over Slate Peak.

GARY CHAMBERS: We were trying to go through this pass and the second time we went through there, Mary "Scrambler", got actually blown off her feet and put down into the snow by the wind. Just slammed down in the snow. And it was so windy, and the snow was blowing and everything, I couldn't even hear her and Barb screaming at me to stop.

BARBARA EGBERT: And I, at that point I did decide, "this is hopeless. There's no sense going on. The weather's horrible. We can't get through the snow. We're going to give up." Mary gave us a pep talk. Gary talked to forest service people, looked at the maps. And realized there was just a chance. And so against my better judgement we went on and sure enough we made it to the border and we're all here alive.

GARY CHAMBERS: You know occasionally we've had parents ask us, "how can you expose your child to this danger in the wilderness for so long, with all the bears out there, and mountain lions and all the weather?" But I look at the other side of the question. If you don't do these kind of things, you're missing an opportunity -- an opportunity to experience wonderful things, amazing things in your life. If you're cautious all the time, and sit in front of the T.V. and be real safe and never take any risks, you're missing out on so much. So when we took Mary on our P-C-T hike, it was not so much exposing her to risk, it was giving her experiences.

MARY CHAMBERS: This is an amazing thing you can do, that -- it's not just walking, it's seeing things, being right out there. And you can have memories doing backpacking and other things like it that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

STEVE: Some people say that the natural world, the wild places feel more real to them than the city. Do you have that sensation, or is it all the same to you?

MARY CHAMBERS: I think it's definitely, like, it's more realistic. Like the city often everywhere there are billboards and everything showing products that you don't really need and people everywhere, you know, doing things that just are kind of pointless, whereas, you know, in the wilderness does seem more realistic.

STEVE: Do you think that a lot of people see outdoors activities, or scenes from the outdoors on T.V., and they sort of think like, "I've seen that. I don't need to go there."

MARY CHAMBERS: I think a lot of people do think that seeing nature on television is a substitute for the real thing, but it's really not. You watch something on T.V. and it's not the same as being there and being able to really see it up close, and touch it and hear it and feel it. It's -- seeing something on T.V. is just no substitute for the real thing.

STEVE: Barbara Egbert chronicled their family's adventure, complete with photos and Mary's drawings and journal entries, in her book, titled, Zero Days. Barbara's book offers a strong message to other families.

BARBARA EGBERT: Kids are much stronger than you think they are. But because they tend to have essentially two gears, full speed ahead and stop, adults give up. They forget kids don't just naturally walk two and a half miles an hour for mile after mile. No. They run, they stop. They run, they stop. Take that into consideration. Let them run and stop. And do it again and again. These kids will get to be strong. Kids are much stronger than you think, much more resilient than you think. Give'em a chance, and they'll amaze you.

STEVE: How has it affected your dreams of what you want to do next in your life?

MARY CHAMBERS: Well the whole experience of the Pacific Crest Trail has shown me that even though something might look really difficult from far off, when you get right up there it's often not as difficult as you think and the reward might might be even more wonderful than you'd ever imagined. It's taught me that more things are possible than you might think. I think it has made me much more confident. More confident in my own abilities to accomplish my own goals.

STEVE: You can find links to more information about the Pacific Crest Trail, about Barbara's book, and an extended version of this show, on our web site.

STEVE: We depend on you to help support our work. For a limited time, become a WildeBeat member and get a weekend's worth of meals from Alpine Aire foods, books from Wilderness Press, access to bonus audio content, and more, as thank you gifts.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Please click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one thirty five. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- Fire.

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