Husband-and-wife hiking duo take to 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail hike with completely different motivations
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — These days, news stories regarding the Tahoe Rim Trail — and its much longer cousin, the Pacific Crest Trail — often revolve around uber athletes setting new speed records for completing the trail while using the latest in ultralight gear.
We hear of people who hike 40 miles a day to complete the PCT in just two months, or run the entire 165-mile-long Tahoe Rim Trail in 40 hours or less. These are impressive accomplishments and show the seemingly endless ability of humans to push the envelope of possibility.
Recently, however, I spent some time with a couple with an entirely different approach. They completed thru-hiking the TRT in a very leisurely 24 days, while carrying 55-pound packs.
Gary and Monika Westcott’s idea of how to do the Tahoe Rim Trail includes a second freshly pressed cup of coffee before a leisurely camp departure around 9 a.m.
They take frequent breaks to take pictures, throw out a cast, or work on the articles they will write about their experience. Since they don’t cover the long distances each day required to make it to the few water sources that can be found on the TRT, they had to resort to carrying gallons of water, a significant portion of their hefty weight.
Part of the adventure
While their technique for hiking the TRT may seem unorthodox to those hikers like me who hate every damn extra ounce in our packs, the Westcotts are no strangers to travel.
They hiked the John Muir Trail in 2006, but their primary mode of travel — since they met 38 years ago on a beach in Mexico — is via 4-wheel-drive vehicle on dirt roads.
They write about their adventures for a host of magazines, such as MyFord, Truck Trend, Camping Life, Motorhome and Trailer Life, the largest RV magazine in the US. In fact, they are legends in the field of writing about overland travel, and have a popular web presence under the name Turtle Expeditions.
Overland travel is a self-reliant means of long distance travel to remote locations where the journey is more important then the destination.
Part of the adventure for the Westcotts has been developing and adapting vehicles capable of taking on their adventures. They are now driving the Turtle V, their fifth attempt at creating the perfect overland excursion vehicle.
They started with a Land Rover, and then graduated to large heavy duty pick-up trucks with camper shells that can handle anything the world can dish out. The vehicles are loaded with gear provided by sponsors to deal with weeks of travel on rough roads in the middle of nowhere.
CREATING A NICHE
During one two-year period, the couple drove 40,000 miles, beginning in Portugal and ending in the Yellow Sea. They traveled through China, Mongolia, Siberia, Korea, Turkey, and a good sampling of the “Stan” countries.
In 1989, they spent 14 months traveling the length and diverse breadth of South America. In 1996, they drove all the way across Russia, an immense challenge that most experts said was not possible — since in many places the only roads are “Winter Roads,” frozen pathways used by long haul trucks to deliver supplies to remote regions.
Often, temperatures reached minus-100 degrees. The journey included 650 miles on the frozen Lena River.
“It was a real adventure, we met absolutely wonderful people, who were very hospitable,” Monika said.
They are able to travel like they do because, “We created a niche, writing for four wheel magazines, doing things no one else could do,” Gary added.
They began telling their stories for Off-Road and 4Wheeler and other magazines which needed travel stories from the more remote parts of the world, and someone to cover 4W drive events throughout North and South America.
Because of the exposure, they also found sponsors, mostly auto related companies, who were happy to have their name tied to this couple of active world travelers.
In comparison to all their other adventures, a trip around the Tahoe Rim Trail certainly seems quite tame, but they still had to do all that walking, carrying those immense packs.
One of their biggest challenges was finding a decent campsite by the time it came time to lay their head down at night. They ended up in the middle of nowhere at wide spots in the trail, underneath chair lifts, on windy ridgelines, and next to the housing development at the start of the trail on Kingsbury Grade.
In Tahoe Meadows, they camped next to the trail without realizing the impact of the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K/50M/100 Mile race, which was under way at the time.
They spent the night watching pairs of bright headlights lighting up their tent, while being regaled by spotters who loudly were encouraging their ultra long distance racers to get past the hallucinations and keep running.
Gary fell on some loose gravel and got a nasty bruise on his elbow, but an EMT came along immediately afterward and provided medical assistance. They encountered just a few thru-hikers on their long adventure and decided that the trail was primarily designed for day use more then long distance backpacking.
One memorable encounter was with a woman who had hiked an entire day the wrong way. She thought she was hiking toward Desolation Wilderness when it was getting further away with each step.
They also found some amazingly beautiful spots to camp, and enjoyed the spectacular views of Lake Tahoe that are the hallmark of the Tahoe Rim Trail. They were impressed with how the TRT trail builders were able to move enormous boulders to create the smooth pathways they were lucky enough to walk on.
And fortunately, in the end they decided that before they embark on another long backpacking trip, they will contact some of their sponsors to equip them with some lightweight backpacking gear. Good move.
Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, now in it’s third edition, as well as Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.