It was a spring, summer and fall, spent on the trail for Tyler Cottenie.
Cottenie, who grew up in Yorkton, started a hike across the United States on May 2, and finished the Pacific Crest Trail on Sept. 24.
“I think that’s pretty normal, four to six months,” he said looking back on his accomplishment.
But Cottenie’s story actually starts in Taiwan where he now lives.
“I’ve been hiking a lot,” said Cottenie.
In Taiwan hiking is a great way to see the country, and Cottenie has taken full advantage of the opportunity since moving there more than a decade ago.
“I went there to teach English,” he said, adding he found he enjoyed the country. “I’ve been there 11 years now.”
Cottenie said he has stayed in Taiwan for a number of reasons.
“The people are very nice. It’s a safe country and there’s lots to do … And I like the job too,” he said.
Taiwan is also where the hiking bug bit Cottenie.
“There’s great weather in Taiwan and you can hike all year, so I’ve done a lot of hiking the last four or five years,” he said.
On his hikes in Taiwan Cottenie met other dedicated hikers, some who had taken on the Pacific Crest Trail in North America.
“I just kind of put it in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do some year,” he said, adding the experience of the trail intrigued him as one person who had hiked said it was a case of “every day you wake up on the trail is the best day of your life.”
The idea stayed in the back of his mind until some job fatigue set in.
“This year I was feeling like I needed a bit of a break from work,” he said.
So Cottenie headed back to Canada for a break, and the idea of tackling the trail came back into focus.
“It seemed like the right time to try this,” he said, adding to complete the trail was “a five or six month commitment. I saved up for the last year and went for it.”
The Pacific Crest Trail has a long history in terms of being a key hiking opportunity.
The idea for the trail was first suggested as far back as 1926, according to the history provided at www.pcta.org.
The trail is a border-to-border one, starting at the Mexico-United States border in California “70-miles east of San Diego,” said Cottenie.
“It basically follows the mountains all the way up to B.C.
“It’s a little over 4200 kilometres.”
Cottenie said one of the biggest draws for hikers is that almost the entire trail is in wilderness, with only a couple of communities directly on the trail. While a section does cross a section of the Mojave Desert “the rest is in the mountains,” he said.
Since most of the trail is in the mountains Cottenie noted “there certainly is a lot of up and down,” but the elevation changes are generally not severe.
Being a mountain trail meant there were amazing landscapes.
“In the mountains there’s a lot of great views,” said Cottenie adding that was a huge draw of doing the hike. “It’s not too steep, there are great views and almost no rain.”
While the trail winds through the wilderness, Cottenie said it does cross highways, so there were opportunities to get into town on occasion.
Cottenie said he learned quickly that a visit to a town was a coveted thing.
“It’s all the little things that you take for granted living in the city. It’s all the little things you don’t have on the trail,” he said over a sandwich at A&W, adding finding an A&W on the trek “would have had me jumping off the ground.”
When Cottenie did get to a town it was the simple things he sought out, restaurant food, a shower, a chance to wash his clothes.
On the trail you only want to carry exactly what you need, he said, adding that includes food, which included cereal, granola, cookies, licorice, and foods such as rice, mac and cheese and potatoes that would cook quickly on the small camp stove.
And on occasion Cottenie would come upon what hikers term “trail magic”. Residents along the trail often set up spots where hikers cross highways providing coffee and cookies, and in some cases even serving meals.
“I can’t count how many times that happened along the trail,” he said, adding it was amazing how people would go out of their way to help hikers.
Still, being out on the trail meant being isolated at times.
“I felt safer in the mountains,” he said, adding when camping near roads the cars going by always had him just a little worried who might see his tent and stop.
But there were also others on the trail Cottenie said he saw rather often.
“There’s a lot of people doing this trail now … The day I started 20-25 were starting the same day. You got to know everyone a couple of days in front of you and behind you,” he noted. “Probably this year there was nearly 1000 people who finished the trail.”
As a result, Cottenie said, “it’s not really a lonely experience unless you try to make it that.”
The hike began in the smoke of California fires.
“There was tons of smoke for weeks,” he said.
And there were mosquitos, lots of mosquitos.
“The mosquitos were far worse than anything I’ve seen here,” he said, even in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 10,000 feet. “You couldn’t stop walking or you were covered.”
During his months on the trail Cottenie was also blogging about his experiences, in both English and Chinese.
“There’s not a lot of information about this trail in Chinese,” he said, so he set out to change that, at least a little.
Cottenie would do ‘notes’ on the trail, the actual blogging was generally left to stops in towns. Twice he spent days in libraries catching up on his story.
It was an experience to write about that Cottenie said he completely enjoyed, in part because it percolated life down to its simplest.
“Everything you need is in your pack. You eat when you’re hungry. You just keep moving forward,” he related.
“Really the highlight was how simple it was, and stress free it was … I’d do it again.”