This article by Rick Steigmeyer appeared in The Wenatchee World and is reprinted below with the paper’s permission.
LEAVENWORTH — Rich Brinkman, a Wenatchee Valley College sociology professor, just completed a long walk — and he feels it.
Brinkman returned to his Leavenworth home last week after completing a 2,650-mile, five-month through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. His toes, he said, have been numb since Yosemite. His feet, ankles and knees are swollen, his Achilles tendon is strained, he’s still recovering from shin splints that made hiking through Oregon excruciatingly painful.
“My body actually held up pretty well,” said Brinkman, 49. Not keeping your mind focused is what causes about half of those who attempt to accomplish the entire hike to fail, he said.
But then there’s “trail magic” to keep you going, he adds. The drive it takes to hike 20 to 25 miles a day, every day for five months is grueling, he said.
“I don’t use that the word “magical” lightly, but there is something magical that goes on along the trail. It’s amazing,” said Brinkman, an amateur magician who has performed locally many times.
He attributes such magic for healing the painful shin splints that nearly forced him to quit the hike last month in Oregon. “I’m not sure why it worked to just keep hiking, but the trail is magical that way.”
He began the hike April 22 near the California-Mexico border, progressing north through California, Oregon and Washington to the Canadian border. One of the toughest phases of the hike was trying to get through Washington’s Cascades. Wildfires were still going strong when he arrived at Snoqualmie Pass. The PCT reopened just before Brinkman’s arrival to Stevens Pass, but there were several detours through steep terrain on unimproved trails that rivaled the toughest hiking days since the California Sierra Nevadas.
Brinkman, former Leavenworth city administrator and Wenatchee administrative services director, took the hike while on leave from WVC’s sociology department.
He plans to write a research paper and perhaps a book about trail magic, the subculture of PCT hikers and “trail angels” who help hikers accomplish their goals. He said he made many connections with people who he’s sure will be friends for life.
The number of people on the trail greatly increased this year, he said, due to the film “Wild,” based on Cheryl Strayed’s solo journey on the trail. Brinkman met hundreds of hikers. Nearly all the hikers were about half his age. Most didn’t complete the trail. Cross-country hikes could jump again next year after the release of “A Walk in the Woods,” based on Bill Bryson’s comic book about hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The hike was one of the most difficult and challenging things he’s ever done, but also the most satisfying, he said. That said, he has no need to do it again.
“I don’t have any desire to hike the Appalachian or the Continental Divide Trail like some people do,” Brinkman said. “I am looking forward to becoming just a backpacker again with time to enjoy the little things along the trail.”
Brinkman will give a talk about his adventure at 7 p.m. Oct. 8, 2015 for a Red Barn Event at the Wenatchee River Institute, 347 Division St., Leavenworth. He also plans to give a talk at WVC later in October but a date has not yet been set.
A day-by-day journal of his hike can be found on the Internet by looking for Rich Brinkman, postholer.com.
Reach Rick Steigmeyer at 509-664-7151 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog Winemaker’s Journal.
This article was first published on 09/24/2015.