OREGON CITY, Ore. - "Go for it and don't give up. It's probably the hardest thing you're going to do, but it just takes a lot of sheer will and discipline."
That's the advice that 34-year-old Dorothy Brown-Kwaiser, who took five months out of her life last year to hike 2,669 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, has for anyone who is thinking about doing the same.
The hiker from Oregon City (who earned the nickname 'Bacon Bit' on the trail) took about six million steps during her trek, saw 152 sunrises and sunsets, and made unforgettable friendships along the way. And now she's sharing her story - we caught up with her last week at the Oregon City Public Library, where she gave a talk about her experience.
Every year, around 800 or so hardy souls challenge themselves to hike the Pacific Crest Trail all the way from Mexico to Canada. It's called a PCT thru-hike.
"I'd always wanted to do it and I do like big adventures," Brown-Kwaiser told us. "It was also a time to re-evaluate (my life) and make sure I was on the right path. I thought about my work and career and the rest of my life and what I wanted to do - whether or not I wanted to get married, if I would ever have kids - important things like that."
Brown-Kwaiser went on the hike with her cousin, Melissa Kwaiser-DeKalita (whose trail name was Gumby).
The hike was thrilling, but utterly exhausting - serene, but painfully lonely at times. There were difficulties to overcome and of course, doubt.
"I remember waking up the second morning, getting out of my tent and I was like 'what am I doing? Do I really want to wake up just like this for the next five months?' " Brown-Kwaiser said. "But then I just got wrapped up in the day. I think my cousin and I are both driven - we're disciplined and we're driven to finish things."
Despite that doubt, Brown-Kwaiser said she never felt like giving up.
"I didn't really think about quitting so much as wouldn't it be nice to be at home," she said. "And then when I got to Oregon, I forgot about it. Oregon was wonderful. In Washington, I did think about it just because my feet were so bad and nothing I did was helping."
Photo courtesy Dorothy 'Bacon Bit' Brown-Kwaiser.
Even months later, Brown-Kwaiser is still struggling with her feet.
By the time she reached northern California, she had developed Plantar fasciitis, and every step became painful. It was an ordeal that left her feet in pretty bad shape by the end of the trip.
"I can now walk like a normal person and I can hike a couple of miles," she said when we asked her how she's doing today. "When I go to Jazzercise, I tape them to support the arch and pull the heel in. And then I also have these elastic bands that if someone at the last minute asks me to go for a walk, I can give them a little extra support."
We also asked Brown-Kwaiser if she thought the problems with her feet might stop her from going out and doing something like this again.
"I can't let myself think that," she said. "I can't even because it's too upsetting. So we'll see. I think they'll heal."
There's much more to Brown-Kwaiser's story and you have to see her in person to really understand her journey. She talks about the type of gear she took along with her, the incredible sights she saw, the harsh elements she faced and the incredible amount of planning it took to make sure she had enough supplies to keep her going. And, of course, she reveals the deeply personal experience of it all.
"There was obviously a real passage she went through that had a lot more to do with the inside of the person than the outside," said Mike Orzen, one of the folks who showed up at the library to hear Brown-Kwaiser's story.
"We actually hiked portions of the Pacific Crest Trail here in Oregon," his wife, Lynda Orzen, said. "Not with a backpack, but just hiking it - and it's hard. So I appreciate what she's been through.
Dorothy 'Bacon Bit' Brown-Kwaiser talks about her 2012 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike at the Oregon City Library on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com.
"(Hearing her story) was a real eye-opener," said Quentin Reavis, a young man who is planning on going on the same hike this year and went to the library to hear Brown-Kwaiser talk. Reavis said he grew up in California just a couple of miles from the Pacific Crest Trail and had seen and talked to plenty of hikers. He said seeing them fulfill their dream made him want to do the same.
"I just grew up talking to those guys and they always seemed like the happiest people," he said.
Reavis is going on the hike with his 51-year-old father. His mother, along with his wife and two kids, will be following along in an RV to help provide supplies along the way. Reavis said his dad can't wait.
"He's excited," he said. "He's been doing so much research about it."
Dorothy 'Bacon Bit' Brown-Kwaiser shows the gear she took with her on her 2012 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike following her presentation at the Oregon City Library on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com.
"(Her talk) was amazing," said Bryce Rulisson, who was among the 800 or so people who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail last year. He had met 'Bacon Bit' a few times while out on the trail. "She put a lot of things into words that I thought but I never really had said.
To Hear Her Story
'Bacon Bit' will be sharing her story a few more times in the coming weeks and is also planning a talk this fall:
- March 26 - 7 p.m. at the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center in Salem
- April 16 - 6:30 p.m. at the Tryon Creek State Natural Area in Portland (where she works as an Interpretive Ranger)
- Sometime in October (TBA) - at the Salem Audubon Society
You can also read her trip blog.