A few years back, we shared the story of a Bend man who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail at age 75.
On this edition of The Great Outdoors, we experience the more than 2,000-mile-long trail through a young woman from Wisconsin, and her worried parents back home.
“I’ve always loved being in the outdoors. Being outdoors is my happy place. Knowing that I could be out exploring for months at a time…I have to do that,” Emilie Burditt said.
“Bambi” as she’s known on the trail, had not done much backpacking before taking on the 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail.
Being from Wisconsin, she was not accustomed to the elevation or the weather extremes.
“It was incredibly cold, especially at the elevation I was at. Just walking in snow your boots get wet. Your socks get wet. Your gloves, when it’s snowing all day, it gets wet. When it’s wet it’s also cold. It got to the point where I was waking up with frost on my sleeping bag. My sleeping bag was wet. It was snowing so hard; I couldn’t keep the things in my tent dry. Kind of scary. I was worried about frostbite,” she said.
Emilie, and the majority of through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail this year, started in Campo near the Mexico-U.S. border heading north.
Emilie detoured around the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains due to an enormous snowpack, to continue the hike to the Canadian border.
She later backtracked to tackle the Sierras.
“I fell. My micro spikes landed in his leg. In his ankle, which I do feel really bad about but, selfishly, happy about because that stopped my fall. Somebody else grabbed onto my backpack. It happened so quickly that when they caught me, I was upside down, feet toward the top of the mountain. That really wrecked my confidence when it came to walking in snow. It was scary. I could have fallen a lot farther. Every step after that was overthinking it and doubting myself,” she said.
Emilie’s parents tracked her progress via a Garmin GPS device. It allowed Emilie to send text messages about where she was and that she was safe. The regular updates were reassuring, most of the time.
“One example was a Friday night at about 9 o’clock. I got a text, and it said something to the effect of ‘It’s raining ash. I’m not sure where the fire is. Does my insurance cover me if I need a helicopter ride out?’” recalled Scott Burditt, Emilie’s father.
Scott spent hours figuring out where Emilie was in relation to the fire in Washington State, and on the phone with emergency managers, before concluding she was not in harm’s way.
“I think for me, the most challenging part was the mental aspect. Sometimes I just didn’t want to keep going. I couldn’t turn back. I didn’t want to keep going forward,” Emilie said. “I was sitting at the top of a canyon, and I just started crying. I was so fed up with the trail. It wasn’t that I couldn’t physically go on. I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to keep walking any more. I didn’t want to set up a tent. I didn’t want to filter water.”
Scott Burditt joined his daughter on the trail twice. Once near Big Bear Lake early in her hike, a second time three months later near the journey’s end.
“Emilie had changed at that point. What I mean by that is when I was with her in May, she was all about getting the miles in and just moving all the time. In September, she was more about taking in the scenery around her and enjoying the hike more,” he said.
A recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin with degrees in anthropology and journalism, Emilie celebrated her 25th birthday while on the trail.
“The biggest thing for me is an improved sense of confidence. When I got to the northern terminus, there’s a logbook people write in. Maybe a sentence. Maybe an entire page about some reflection or experience they had. What I wrote was ‘Finally free.’ What I meant was, moving forward, there will never be anybody or anything that can hold me back pursuing my passions or my dreams,” she said.
It took Emilie five and half months to hike through 3 states, 7 national parks and 26 national forests.
She finished by reaching the summit of Mt. Whitney and calling her dad.
“I’m about to go into a meeting when I get a call. It’s a video of Emilie. She explodes on my screen, there’s her face. She burst into tears and said, ‘I did it.’ That just got me,” Scott said.
“I want to emphasize that it is important to acknowledge the risk. I also want to show and prove to other female hikers I don’t want that risk to stop us from going after our dreams and our goals,” Emilie said.
Emilie Burdett from Madison, Wisconsin now joins the select ranks of Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers whose immediate goals include:
“Sleeping in a bed. Taking lots of showers. Eating hot food and not filtering any water. Just drinking it from the tap.”
Last I checked with Emilie she accepted a job offer from people she met on the Pacific Crest Trail and moved to Australia to continue exploring.
Another example of how experiences in The Great Outdoors transform people.