Boise native Clay Jacobson finally read Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail because every time he mentioned he hiked the PCT, the first question people asked was, "Did you read the book?"
The best-selling 2012 memoir follows author Cheryl Strayed as she recounts her journey hiking several hundred miles of the trail that stretches from the border of Mexico to Canada. The book was adapted into a film starring Reese Witherspoon, which opens at The Flicks on Friday, Dec. 19, and Strayed paid a visit to Boise in April, speaking to a full house at the Egyptian Theatre and taking people on a hike to talk about writing. Rediscovered Bookshop has struggled to keep her book on the shelves since then.
Jacobson plans to see the movie, too, but his experience was wildly different from Strayed's.
"Obviously there's a lot of different kinds of hikers out there," he told Boise Weekly. "She was doing a different thing than we were. She was doing 700 miles or something. I saw, in her book, there were characters she had seen blowing past her and her thoughts were, like, they were missing out, they can't just relax and enjoy it because they just go, go, go."
Jacobson is the hiker who blows past people. He hiked the PCT in 2010, starting the trek at the end of April and finishing four-and-a-half months later in Canada. He hiked almost 2,700 miles, taking 10 days off. He hiked at least 20 miles every day until mid-September.
And, yes, he enjoyed it.
"It's a totally different mentality," he said.
Even while Jacobson was on the PCT, he was already thinking about the next trail. He said it's hard to finish such a long hike like that, and then come home. Day hikes and overnighters just don't cut it.
"It's sad because, you got so good at what you were doing, and then it's over," he said. "You can't really come home and be a great hiker."
Now he has his sights set on the the Idaho Centennial Trail, a 1,000-mile trail that runs the length of the state from north to south.
"You go through the Frank Church Wilderness. It's 500 miles without crossing a road, which is unmatched, even on the PCT," he said. After hiking it, Jacobson plans to write a guidebook.
"I want to be part of seeing this trail grow in Idaho," he said. "People are starting to hear about the PCT now, but the Idaho Centennial is something people here should be proud of."
Reasons for hiking any long trail are as different as the people who hike them, but while Jacobson and Strayed had different itineraries on the PCT, they hiked the same trail for reasons bigger than the—sometimes literal—hell of it. Strayed's book explored her struggles with drug addiction, divorce and the death of her mother. Jacobson hiked for the Wildland Firefighters Foundation, raising $2,000 along the way.
"The season before I hiked the PCT, we had a helicopter go down and 10 guys passed away," he said. "This was something I could do, something close to me."
Jacobson has always lived the vagabond lifestyle. The 30-year-old has worked as a lift operator at Bogus Basin for the past eight years, fought fires, ridden freight trains across the country and hiked the Appalachian trail before the PCT. His most recent purchase was a sailboat.
While Strayed's first night spent backpacking was her first night on the trail, Jacobson had the hiking thing down pat by the time he reached the PCT. Strayed's account includes beginning the trail with a pack so heavy she couldn't lift it onto her shoulders and wearing a pair of brand new hiking boots—all rookie mistakes Jacobson discovered on the Appalachian.
Jacobson was just weeks away from graduating Boise State University, "reading Walden and shit," when he decided to drop out and head into the woods. He took a freight train to the Appalachian trail and his trail name became "Woodward."
He started the trail in Carhartts and leather work boots. After the first 100 miles, his clothes and his feet were "destroyed," everything he owned was rain-soaked, he had $180 in his bank account and he posted on Facebook: "This is crazy, I'll be home soon."
Then, another hiker gave him a pair of Keen sandals to wear and he kept going.
"I put the sandals on and it was like, 'Oh, this is what it's supposed to be like.' Most people don't wear hiking boots."
Jacobson's time on the PCT was not without challenges. He hiked through 300 miles of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains, struggled through mental roadblocks up icy peaks and was challenged to eat five pounds of pancakes. He took another famous challenge on the PCT not mentioned in Strayed's book—the 24-24-24 Challenge.
"It's 24 beers in 24 miles in 24 hours," he said. "We did it in the middle of the desert, in 100-degree heat. At the beginning, it was so heavy to carry all those beers that we would just shot gun them every few minutes. All day, people were passing us and laughing because we were so drunk."
It took until 7 a.m., but they reached the 24-mile mark without a can of beer left.
"Drinking a whole pack of beer in one day, that's not something I would normally be able to do," he said, "but that's the challenge and that's what we're here for."