Teacher chronicled 2,664-mile hike in online journal for students back home
Each spring, the monarch butterfly makes its way from Mexico to Canada.
Reynoldsburg teacher Cindy Morehart – affectionately known by her students as the "Monarch Lady" – sought inspiration from the more than 2,000-mile journey the winged creatures take each year.
Her destination: the end of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) – a national scenic trail that spans 2,664 miles through California, Oregon and Washington.
The trek didn’t come easy. Morehart suffered painful blisters the size of her toes and a serious infection in her heel. She suffered another setback when she sustained a stress fracture, taking her off the trail for several weeks.
But it was through the pain, the beauty around her and the people she met along the way that she discovered the end of the trail wasn’t her true destination. It was the journey that took her there.
After being granted a sabbatical from her position as a reading intervention teacher at Herbert Mills Elementary School, Morehart began her journey through the deserts of southern California in late April.
It wasn’t her first long-distance hike. Nine years ago, Morehart hiked 2,167 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, a goal of hers since she was a young child.
The PCT offered a different set of challenges, with more than 50-degree temperature swings, difficult terrain and agonizing injuries. Her goal was to not only conquer the PCT, but educate her students by teaching from it through blogs and other long-distance correspondence.
Near Idyllwild, Calif., Morehart saw firsthand the power of Mother Nature, trekking through blistering desert heat in areas that just a year ago were scorned by wildfires.
Just a couple hundred miles into the trail, the landscape began to change and Morehart encountered a whole new set of challenges. Twelve miles of snow-covered trails in the Fuller Ridge area took 10 hours to navigate.
April 23: Idyllwild, Calif. (mile 178.6)
I’m excited to get out of the desert region and into the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains. My body had to adjust to the altitude (hiked from 5,000 feet to 8,500 feet in 13 hours). Had to slow down and rest more often, but my legs felt strong on the steep trail so was glad of that. Had half mile of solid snow and just had to follow footprints. Only fell a few times.
The trail angels made the most unbearable days bearable. Trail angels are volunteers who provide food and water – and sometimes room and board – to the hundreds of hikers who walk the PCT each year.
"There was one couple who housed hikers it wasn’t unusual for there to be 50 people there," Morehart said.
Although Morehart made several friends and would see hikers at different points along the trail, most of the time she walked at her own pace.
"I knew I would be by myself a lot," she said. "There were times I admit I got a little lonely and wanted to talk to someone."
She joked that her feet were her companions. Those companions averaged about 18 miles a day in southern California, including two "zero days" in which she rested.
She also had the bountiful wildlife – rattlesnakes, bears, bobcats, foxes, deer and elk – to keep her company, though most animals ran when they saw a human approaching.
After nearly 700 miles at the end of May, Morehart suffered a surprise setback. An infected blister on her heel developed into MRSA, a difficult-to-treat infection. Morehart got off the trail at Walker Pass, just before the Sierra Mountains, and with the help of a trail angel doctor, was back on her feet.
May 25: KOA Campground near Walker Pass (mile 651.4)
I came off the trail for r&r and to rest my heel. If it hadn’t been for the kind people working and residing at the KOA I may have gone crazy these last four days. I just have trouble sitting still when I want to be teaching from the trail.
Soon another setback occurred. After suffering pain on her left foot, Morehart visited a nearby hospital. Doctors determined she had sustained a stress fracture.
June 18: Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
The MRI showed two stress fractures in my left foot … No wonder I was in pain the last 60 miles I hiked!!! I think the two weeks of favoring my left side when I had the infection in my right foot took a major toll on my left foot. The doctor here said eight weeks of TLC for the foot. I can walk on it as long as I don’t feel pain. WOW!!! I had planned on maybe three weeks and a chance to at least finish California after resting the foot.
She decided to fly home to Columbus for seven weeks to allow her injury to heal.
Rather than returning to the last location she left in the Sierra Mountains, Morehart decided to start in Canada and work her way south.
Returning to the Sierra Mountains would have tested her newly healed foot with its rugged terrain, she said, so she decided to play it safe and start at the end of the trail.
It was a change of scenery she welcomed. "The wildflowers were blooming."
Aug. 2: Stehekin, Wash. (mile 834.2)
I am so thrilled to be back on the trail! I’m getting my trail legs back (did 26 miles one day) but I do have a few blisters. My arches hurt a little so will switch back to my boots soon. What a change this part of the country is from hot, dry, dusty, southern California. Everywhere I look the scenery is stunning! I’m always anxious to see what lies beyond the next bend or over the next mountain pass.
On Sept. 12, after completing the trail through Washington and Oregon, Morehart decided to leap down to the location in the Sierra Mountains she originally left in June. She hiked northward, with the finish line in sight.
It was October and Morehart had clocked nearly 2,315 miles under her belt when she began experiencing a range of emotions. Although excited to be on her way home soon, she wasn’t sure if she was ready for the hectic, stressful city life that awaited her.
But fate made the decision for her. It was less than a hundred miles later that her journey on the PCT ended, sooner than expected. In Dunsmuir, Calif., Morehart listened as weather forecasters called for rain in five out of the following seven days. That meant more snow or icy conditions in the higher elevations where she would be hiking.
She also began suffering pain in her left leg above her ankle from walking 38.4 miles in a recent storm.
With just 250 miles left, Morehart decided it was time to head home.
"I decided I would have to wait until next summer to finish the trail," she said.
She hated to stop when she was so close, but knew she was making the right decision.
As I reflect on the last couple of weeks on the PCT I think I was losing sight of what I had set out to do. That is, experience the trail with my heart, body and soul, and bring my experiences to the students and all who were following me. As I got closer to Ashland, Ore., (my finish of the trail) I found I was not only being influenced by my approaching ending date and the need to keep moving, but the days were getting shorter, temps colder, weather more unpredictable, and I just didn’t feel as relaxed and excited as I had earlier in the hike. My journey was no longer my destination, Ashland, Ore., was.
Now back in Columbus, Morehart anticipates returning to the trail next year to take in "all that it has to offer: the hikers, trail angels, flora, fauna, the energy that it emits."
She said she plans to return next July when the weather will be better and when she can average 22 miles a day.
Morehart said she also looks forward to once again inspiring the hundreds of students who followed her progress along the PCT and who followed in her footsteps by emphasizing physical fitness in their own lives.
My journey is my destination and my journey continues. I hope you will stay tuned next summer when I return for more adventures on the PCT and the final finish. Until then, enjoy your journey, wherever it takes you!
Read Morehart’s blog in its entirety at http://teachersites.schoolworld.com/webpages/CMorehart/index.cfm.