Over the years, rowers log thousands of meters on the water. This year, Sammamish Rowing Association rower Jan Schelter logged thousands of miles on land, completing all 2,652 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Stretching from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Crest Trail is a legendary wilderness path made famous in part by the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Every year “thru hikers” spend several months covering every single one of those miles. Jan Schelter was one of those thru hikers this year.
Eager to hear about Schelter’s recent journey on the PCT I jumped right into asking her about the endeavor. “I was mostly a northbound hiker,” she said. Thru hikers typically go from Mexico to Canada making them north bond hikers (NOBOs), but some choose to go from Canada to Mexico making them southbound hikers (SOBOs). “We started April 18th, and I finished October 9th.” Schelter had a partner who was with her for most of the journey, but had left the trail around Crater Lake about 2-3 weeks earlier of when Schelter finished. I was curious if hiking alone made her scared. “Culture tells me I’m supposed to be scared, but I wasn’t. I had no reason to be.”
While the end of her thru hike was quiet and free of too many hikers, Schelter said it was in stark contrast to the beginning of her trip when there were crowds of people. “Fifty people start a day. You have to get a long-distance permit, which was instituted to spread people out. There used to be hundreds of people starting every day.” Schelter agreed that the increased popularity of hiking the PCT could be partially attributed to the publishing of the book Wild that she compared to the rising popularity of rowing after the book The Boys in the Boat was published.
Thru hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail often give trail names to fellow hikers, based on defining characteristics or trail moments. Schelter’s trail name was Neon- given to her because of the high viz neon rowing hat she wore every day to honor her rowing friends. Her now sun-bleached rowing hat also resulted in a chance meeting of another rower who knows a member of the 5am team - alas - the small world of rowing.
Support came from not only friends and family, but strangers as well. Along her PCT journey, Jan met many “trail angels”- people who help thru-hiker’s with food, supplies, encouragement, shelter, transportation, and other bits of “trail magic”. Trail magic can be as simple as leaving behind water bottles or as elaborate as hosting an entire barbeque meal just off the trail or hosting hikers in personal homes. Jan experienced many of these trail magic moments and was blown away by the kindness and goodness of people. She couldn’t help but reflect on the intangible trail magic her friends from home had given her. “Learning about the amazing people here [SRA], and the support that they gave me- that was nothing short of amazing.
Knowing she wouldn’t quit came partly from her drive to achieve goals. She said she has always had a strong drive, but through rowing she found a new dimension to it. With rowing, she experienced her drive as more than commitment and determination – there was a depth to it. She said she was “pulled” to Canada, like a fish on a fishing line being pulled in. There was no choice.
Reaching the end, which for her was Mt. Shasta, was a bittersweet moment. “I was incredibly grateful for the experience,” Schelter commented, “I suppose I was a little teary-eyed to have actually finished. I was also thankful for the support that all my SRA friends gave me along the way. I didn’t expect that- I didn’t know it was coming. I was also relieved to be finished!” Schelter is glad to be back in her own bed and to have indoor plumbing, but she occasionally misses life on the trail. To help prevent the sense of loss one can feel after finishing this big of adventure Jan is throwing herself back into rowing to help with her transition back to “normal” life.
As Jan prepared to start a post-PCT workout at the SRA boathouse, I asked Jan if she had any advice or final thoughts about this incredible adventure. “The PCT is such an amazing journey, so many experiences. So, I would say, live the National Geographic’s Nature Magazine motto- Dream it, Plan it, Do it.”
Elizabeth W. Wilson