Vegan Hiker Breaks Pacific Crest Trail Record
At 2,654 miles long, the Pacific Crest Trail is one of the gems of American nature and hiking. The trail runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian one, and is part of the Triple Crown of Hiking — which also includes the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails. Josh Garrett, a 30-year-old southern California native who teaches exercise physiology and coaches cross country at Santa Monica College, knows the PCT well. Earlier this month, Garrett completed his second hike of the trail, in the process shattering the world record by more than five days with a time of 59 days, 8 hours, and 14 minutes. We caught up with Garrett to discuss his newfound love of Band-Aids, how he ended up in the fetal position on the third day of his hike, and why breaking the record wasn't important to him.
How did you decide to embark on the record-breaking hike?
I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009 and it was a great experience. Last year I had the opportunity to meet John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, and we hiked together. He was impressed by my endurance and he challenged me to go after the PCT record. He said he would personally sponsor me.
I wanted to raise money for an organization called Mercy for Animals. They send undercover workers into slaughterhouses and onto factory farms to videotape the abuse and the suffering that occurs. They are in part to thank for my turning vegan.
Do you know yet how much money you were able to raise for the organization?
We're just above $9,000 now. We set a goal of $26,660 given that the trail is 2660 miles long, so, shooting for a goal of ten [dollars] a mile. We're a little over a third of the way there.
What previous hiking experience did you have?
Really just solo excursions in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada, that was typically the extent of my experience — going on three- to five-day solo trips in the backcountry, off trail. I like to get into the remote areas and feel absorbed and surrounded by real wilderness. About three weeks before the hike I started doing long distance hikes. I would go into our local mountains here. I started at 25 miles, and worked my way up to 43 miles.
Were you alone the entire way?
I met another hiker about halfway through, we hiked together for about two weeks. We met near the Donner Pass area, and we hiked into Oregon, almost close to the Washington border, together. His name was Matt, his trail name was Vittles. I was sort of at a low point in the hike and I ran into him. He helped me get through that low point.
What obstacles or setbacks did you encounter on the trail, and how did you overcome them?
It was definitely an emotional roller coaster. The third day I suffered heat stroke and collapsed on the dirt and curled up in the fetal position and started to shiver, even though it was 100 degrees out. So I took 24 hours off and recovered, rather quickly. I attribute the vegan diet to that recovery. I got back out there and I remembered why I was out there in the first place, and that was to hike for the animals. As painful and as miserable as I was during that heat stroke episode, I had the faces of those animals burned in my mind.
How did your vegan diet influence your excursion?
I ate a lot of vegan energy bars, Pro Bar being one of them. They were a sponsor of mine. I ate a lot of peanut butter packets to get the fat, and vegan jerky. I had vegan cookies and vegan marshmallows. Vegan licorice. I had to keep a wide variety of vegan snacks so I wouldn't get burned out on any one of them. After hiking 45 miles a day, I was really surprised by how quickly my body recovered from each day's beating.
What parts of the trail did you enjoy most? Which ones would you suggest to more casual hikers?
The High Sierra, definitely, was a highlight. Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington was another favorite. Both of these areas are full of beautiful wildlife and clean water and pristine land. They're just sort of magical places. If you only have a few days, I'd recommend those two places.
What was a typical day like on the trail?
The first half of the hike I was on trail by about 5:30 in the morning and I would hike until 10 or 11 p.m. The second half of the hike I would be on trail by around 6 and hike until about 1:30 in the morning. I was averaging probably 4 hours or so of sleep throughout the course of the trip, and got even less in the second half.
What gear did you find important?
Callous pads became very, very precious and valuable for me, and Band-Aids. They really helped. Foot-care items were probably the most important piece of gear. I had a trailrunning shoe called the Brooks Cascadia. I found it to be a really good shoe for that type of trip, it held up really well.
What did it mean to you, personally, to break the record?
Honestly, the record wasn't so important to me as it was to raise awareness about how much suffering animals endure in factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Will you hike the PCT again in the future?
I could see going out there and doing certain sections, certainly the High Sierra. But as far as another thru-hike of the PCT, I can't say right now. I'm not sure.
You've gotta recover a little first!
You never wanna say never, but I don't have any plans of doing another thru-hike anytime soon.
Photos courtesy of Mercy for Animals