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Carrying through – Pacific Crest Trail hiker’s story preserved in new anthology

By Melissa Wagoner

When Silvertonian Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser packed her bag for the 152-day hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012, she weighed everything – her sleeping bag, her pots and pans, even her toothbrush – parting with anything she absolutely didn’t need.

“You have to have what you have to have, but you also have to carry that stuff for 2,650 miles and ounces make pounds so it really makes a difference,” Brown-Kwaiser explained, adding that, even after the hike began, she continued to purge.

Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012.

“Every package stop I sent things home or ditched things,” she said. “It might be a lace or the lid for a pot… I got to thinking – I can just make one out of foil.”

But there were a few items she never could discard, no matter how frivolous they seemed or how much they weighed.

“I had a stuffed mouse that my cat, who was hit by a car, had had and a stuff-sack from Jazzercise, some ribbons from a friend and a few letters and pieces of poetry,” she listed. “There are things you carry that are mementos that carry you through.”

Because hiking the PCT is tough.

“It’s physically grueling and it’s mentally grueling,” Brown-Kwaiser – who completed the hike despite a crippling case of plantar fasciitis that began when she was still in California – said. “Your body’s so tired and everything hurts so much.”

Mementos – carried by nearly every hiker Brown-Kwaiser encountered – hold such importance that her essay, “The Things They Carried,” written during her time on the trail, was recently chosen as part of the latest volume of the Crossing Paths: A Pacific Crest Trailside Reader.

“This story calls to mind the little extras that somehow sneak into our packs,” the book’s editors, Rees Hughes and Howard Shapiro, wrote in the essay’s introduction. “… These don’t weigh much but are the ounces of love, caring, and memory that can fill our hearts when we are out on the trail away from family and friends.”

Scheduled for release on May 1, the book is a compilation of stories from numerous contributors including the well-known writer Cheryl Strayed, and can be purchased anywhere books are sold.

“It’s a good tale of adventure,” Brown-Kwaiser said of the book, which, along with her own essay, includes stories about the necessity of “trail angels,” the myriad ways hikers earn a trail name and how technology has changed the PCT experience in recent years.

“If anyone’s thought about doing the PCT, or has a passion for it, or if you’ve done part of it, you should read it,” Brown-Kwaiser said. 

“And all the money goes back to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.”

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