Bobcat, brother conquer Pacific Crest Trail
By Mariah Medina
Mason Puckett began his college education as a criminal justice major, but after a four-month, 2,650-mile hike, the Texas State University junior has a broader scope of interest for his future.
It was a journey with his brother, Conor, along the legendary Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that set Mason on a new path. The red-haired duo came home on October 28 lighter by a combined 60 pounds, and a lot richer in experiences.
“The reason we, as backpackers, do what we do is multifaceted and impossible to answer,” Conor wrote before making the trip. “Smelling fresh air hinted by the different scents of the country under your feet … It’s the fire burning in your chest and the mile-long views from the top of mountain passes. Pulsating adrenaline after an encounter with a not-so-friendly animal and the inexplicable, mouthwatering deliciousness that trail food becomes. All of these require a removal from day-to-day, week-to-week distractions in order to experience.”
For months the men called various places along the trail from Mexico to Canada home — making sure to write about their experiences weekly on Conor’s blog, SeePuckHike.wordpress.com. From inflamed knees to encounters with area wildlife, first-aid training and hikes through Texas state parks couldn’t prepare the two for what adventures the trail held.
“Hiking a long trail is very mentally exhausting as well because every day we had to hike for 12 hours, and we knew we would be out for no less than four months,” Mason says. “So there really isn’t any great way to train for a long trail besides hiking a long trail.”
The trail passes through six of the seven major ecosystems— excluding the tundra — making the PCT a favorite choice for Conor. He had initially planned on making the trip with a friend, but financial problems came up, and Conor reached out to his brother.
“I was in my English class and immediately I said yes because I can always take summer classes if I need to make up hours,” Mason says. Bringing the idea to their parents, however, was a new obstacle. While the brothers are both Eagle Scouts and very familiar with the wilderness, their parents expressed concerns ranging from “how will you afford it?” to “what if you get eaten by a bear?” After some discussion, they got parental approval, and ― more importantly — the approval of the Pacific Crest Trail Association.
There was a delay of about a week from their planned starting date, but the duo were eventually among a group of 50 PCT hikers to begin the trail on July 1. Equipped with backpacks filled with Snickers, oatmeal cream pies and other high-calorie foods, the two set off for the Canadian border. Thanks to the hospitality of others, who would give Mason and Conor rides to local eateries and back to the trail whenever necessity took them off course, the brothers are among the 4,605 people who have successfully hiked the PCT.
Conor, who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, joined the workforce. Mason returned to Texas State in January with a renewed focus on careers relevant to land management and wildlife preservation.
Photo courtesy of Mason Puckett