Before setting off on the Pacific Crest Trail, the longest hike Alan Masters had done was a 50-mile trek with his Boy Scout troop.
The PCT, which stretches from the Mexico-United States border to Canada, is a different beast, but the South Lake Tahoe resident didn’t undertake the challenge as a normal backpacking trip. His goal is to raise $2.65 million — or a penny per mile from 100,000 people — for diabetes research in honor of his father, who passed away from the disease last year.
Two weeks into his five-month-long expedition, Masters said the trail is everything he expected and more.
“It’s a lot like anything. As soon as you start walking, any plans you had have to be flexible,” Masters said Monday, 180 miles into the hike at Idyllwild, Calif. . “From a physical standpoint, it’s everything I expected and more. From a mental standpoint, it’s much more than I expected.”
Masters started his 2,650-mile trek at the Mexican border April 14. The trail winds through hostile terrain baked by 120-degree daytime temperatures that fade into freezing nights. No one would find you if you slipped off the treacherous route, Masters said. Since starting the trek, he’s seen three fellow backpackers abandon the trail because of injury or, in one case, a poisonous spider bite.
The PCT is one of the hardest hikes in the county, even if you’re not simultaneously trying to run a business and raise a couple million dollars for charity according to Masters. He estimated his pack weighs 60 to 70 pounds thanks to the additional tech equipment — he’s schlepping a video and still camera, an iPhone, a satellite phone and a solar charger — needed to document the trip. He’s also shipping a laptop from rest stop to rest stop so he can update his website, crestblessings.com.
“I’m trying to do a lot,” he said. “I’m trying to get to the point where I can get my mind, my body and my systems in shape to do 20 to 22 miles a day.”
There’s a need for haste. Masters said he hopes to arrive at the Canadian border by Sept. 15 — before snow closes off the high mountain passes in the Cascades. At the moment he said he’s averaging about 16 miles per day.
“Every day is a challenge. I wanted to do something that was bigger than life so I could draw people to a cause … This is not for the faint of heart. Only a small percentage of people make it all the way through,” he said.
For a cause
Masters’ father, Ron Malmgren, passed away July 2012 after batting Type I diabetes for 52 years. In 2010, doctors amputated both of Malmgren’s legs above the knee because of poor circulation after a head injury. Masters writes on his website he was in the room when they removed the first leg, but couldn’t face the second amputation.
“It had an incredible toll on his life and on everyone around him. That’s just what the disease does. He would never have been able to do anything like this with me, but he’s out here now,” Masters said.
Ninety-five percent of the proceeds Masters raises will benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund. The remaining five percent will go to PCT and Tahoe Rim Trail conservation accounts. As of Monday, he had raised more than $3,000.
Masters’ wife, Leanne, quelled her fears when she realized the weight the trip carried with her husband. Since the couple married 20 years ago this May at Edgewood Tahoe, they haven’t spent much time apart, the South Tahoe High School alumnus said.
“My first thought was, ‘Wow, he’s going to be gone for a long time.’ But then I realized that this is super important to him,” she said. “I had a choice to make. I could be fearful or I could be optimistic and jump on board. I saw how important this was to him and I chose to look at this as an opportunity for personal growth. He’s a man on a mission and I’m so proud of him.”
She’s planning a trip to visit him on the trail in the next few weeks. As for Masters, he hopes to swing through the South Shore in July before continuing his journey north.
“I’m going to go until I can’t. I want to achieve the goal of getting there, I want to raise the $2.65 million and in between is icing on the cake.”
“ It had an incredible toll on his life and on everyone around him. That’s just what the disease does. He would never have been able to do anything like this with me, but he’s out here now.”