Inspiration: The Story of Flower and Poptart’s PCT Record Attempt
Day 15. Mile 369.
Why on earth are you hiking 2,659 miles? A classic question posed to every PCT hiker.
Sometimes hikers keep their answers simple. Something along the lines of “adventure” or “self development.” But there’s usually a deeper answer, something or someone that spurred a seemingly insane decision.
My decision came from a combination of overwhelmingly supportive family and friends, challenging life events, inspiring life events, advice from professors, my childhood, etc. It would take ages to explain it all.
And besides, my decision mostly boils down to inspiration from three women.
One of them has been one of my very best friends for years, Tori Kent. We go back to the days we used to skip high school cross country workouts to make dandelion crowns at a local park. In college, we ran a marathon together. She has hiked the AT and most of the PCT, and she actually happened to win a marathon just weeks ago. One strong lady.
The two other women have no idea how much they’ve impacted me. We have no history of dandelion-crown-making. Their names are Carly Moree and Daisy Glasser. I got in touch with them when I was an intern with Backpacker Magazine and was keeping tabs on all record-attempting thru-hikers. Carly happened to be one of the names I was assigned. I chatted with her and Daisy for multiple hours, on an off trail. Backpacker eventually decided they didn’t want the story anymore, so I submitted it to a dozen other magazines and received only rejections if any response at all. Bummer.
So, I’ll share it here instead. Their story is the biggest reason I’m out here. A story about two women who broke all sorts of odds and attempted a crazy record. A story that led me to talk to other incredibly strong outdoorswomen. The story that got me realizing that maybe, just maybe, I could hike a long trail too. And here I am drinking beer and digging into half a watermelon with a spoon in Wrightwood, California, about 2 weeks and 369 miles into my hike.
I’m forever grateful for the people and this great big story that got me here. Here it is:
Outdoorswomen: Attempting records, breaking odds
She strides through the Washington mist blanketing the Northern Cascades. Her green poncho and pink sundress flutter in the wind, and her trekking poles continue to clickright, left, right, lefton the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail.
Her name is Carly Moree at home in Asheville, North Carolina, but she is Poptart or Papi on trail. At 5:21 a.m. on August 10, 28-year-old Poptart bounded away from the Canadian border in the morning darkness with her 12-pound base-weight backpack. Most thru-hikers, who can complete the trail, reach the Mexican border in four to six months. Poptart is no ordinary hiker. She plans to finish within 59 days to break the PCTs self-supported* speed record.
On Poptarts first day, blisters covered her feet. A bug flew into her eye and stung it repeatedly. She made a toilet paper bandage to protect it. A fellow hiker told her she looked like a pirate, and others heading north continued to confuse her with their passing comments.
Your friend is just around the corner, they repeated as Poptart passed them, heading south.
What friend? Poptart contemplated. She was alone. Or so she thought.
At 8:30 p.m. and about 40 miles from Canada, Poptart spotted another lone female hiker, flying down switchbacks ahead of her. A long braid swung above her collared shirt. Who is this girl? Who hikes this late on their first day unless theyre going for a record?
Daisy Glasser (trail name: Flower) was also attempting the fastest known time. She started just 21 minutes before Poptart. This is so amazing! Flower gawked. Two women starting within 21 minutes of each other. And were both going for the record. The universe is speaking to us.
As soon as Flower referenced the universe, Poptart knew the two would get along. Flower gets this, she realized.
This. What exactly is this? Attempting a record is waking up at 3:30 a.m., hiking for 17 hours daily, eating anytime the incline allows, taking five minute breaks to brush teeth or to grab more snacks, battling blisters and chaffing, dreaming about pizza, facing extreme sleep deprivation and sometimes even falling asleep while hiking. Day after day after day. A record attempt means embracing a physical challenge across 10,000-foot mountain passes and multiple states to discover something.
That something differs for every hiker.
Poptart hiked to gain confidence. To prove to herself that she was capable and competent, both on and off trail. She only camped alone three times prior to attempting the record, and the outdoors had not always been her niche. It wasnt until high school when Poptart attended a boarding school nestled in Indias Himalayan Mountains that she gained an appreciation for nature. Then, while working for a financial firm in Chicago after college, she started walking four miles to and from work everyday. Eventually, she traded her TOMS for running shoes and her purse for a backpack. The walk became the best part of her day, even when temperatures dropped below zero. In 2013, she hiked the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail and finished hungry for more miles.
Flower, a year younger than Poptart, hiked to regain confidence. She hiked to prove that her scoliosis and a serious back surgery in 2014 would not define her today. Flower competed as a collegiate all-American pole-vaulter. Back home in Tallahasse, Florida, locals recognize her as the roller blade girl, and her friends call her blades. Since growing up in Seattle, long- distance trails have remained on her radar. Members of her extended family hiked the Appalachian Trail in the 1970s, and she completed the hike in 2012. Just four days before attempting the record on the PCT in August, Flower graduated with her masters in meteorology. She was sick of screen time and ready to verify her strength.
Both hiked to defy their own expectations of themselves. To increase their awareness of their own potentials and inner strengths. They hoped the trail would foster this growth, but does a dusty, snowy, rocky, sandy, rollercoaster of a trail have that capacity?
After meeting, Flower camped three miles up trail from Poptart, and the two women spent the next six and a half days hiking alone. They found each others unseen presence comforting, but also frustrating. Where the fuck is she? Poptart recalls questioning.
About 260 miles from Canada and a week into the hike, the two women met again while resupplying at Snoqualmie Pass, southeast of Seattle. Giddy with excitement, they chatted over BLTs and burgers at a pancake house. This is so weird, Poptart thought. We are both going for the record, but were taking the time to have lunch like girlfriends.
They left the pancake house together and stayed by each others side for nearly another thousand miles. This is women supporting women, Flower explained. If both of us are trying to break the record, why would we not do it together?
So, Flower and Poptart teamed up and dubbed themselves Flowpop.
Flowpop: A sum greater than its parts. A team that broke so many odds.
The odds of this team were slim. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, women made up only 25 percent of hike completions on the AT between 2010 and 2015. Today, the gender disparity is shrinking. According to a survey of 187 AT hikers done by The Trek, women comprised 42 percent of the surveyed hikers this past season.
Women did not start breaking overall (men and womens) thru-hiking speed records until 2011 when Jennifer Pharr Davis (trail name: Odyssa) set the supported** record on the Appalachian Trail. Four years prior, Odyssa broke the womens supported record on the AT, but she finished the trail with untapped ambition.
I realized that I was really limiting myself because I was female, Odyssa explained. I told myself that a womans record would naturally be days or weeks behind a mans record, so thats what I set myself up for.
When Odyssa returned to the AT and broke the overall record, she threw open the gates for other women. Within the past two years, Heather Anderson (trail name: Anish) set the self- supported records on both the AT and PCT. Before Anish, a three-week gap separated the men and womens self-supported records on the AT.
I was really inspired by these women, Poptart said. I think they sent a really powerful message that theres a place for women in the wilderness… and one that doesnt revolve around fear.
Historically, women have not dominated the outdoor sphere. Men like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Chris McCandless are regarded as Americas outdoor heroes. But more recently, outdoorswomenlike Odyssa, Anish, Poptart, Flower and many morehave increasingly logged miles. Despite this improvement, women still face additional challenges on trail.
I think that women have proven that they are very competent hikers, and that they can compete at a very high level, Flower explained. But unfortunately, people are still predatory towards women.
Victoria Kent (trail name: Tortoise), a 23-year-old medical student and avid hiker from Minnesota, has faced such sexist behavior on trail. She was the first female hiker to finish the Appalachian Trail in the 2015 season. While hiking it with her boyfriend (trail name: Hare), she explained that people seemed more impressed by him. If fellow hikers asked the couple when they started the trail or how many miles they planned to cover that day, theyd always direct their questions to Hare. He represented the true alpha male, at least in their eyes.
If I responded, it would get brushed off, Tortoise said. They would have to follow up with him.
One day on trail, while Tortoise and Hare ascended their final hill of the day, they spotted an overweight middle-aged man (trail name: The Professor) wearing a plaid shirt and a tiny daypack. The couple passed him quickly, surprised by his slow pace for having such a small pack.
Ive never been passed by a girl before, he called out. I cant believe youre walking that fast.
What? Tortoises stride halted. Hare almost ran into her backpack. She turned around to see The Professor smirking at her.
Ive never experienced sexism like that before, Tortoise reflected. Of all places, I did not expect to experience it there.
Flower has been the victim of sexual comments on trail, and Poptart has also noticed societys hesitation to fully welcome women into the outdoor sphere.
Society still tells us its not safe for us, Poptart said. Sometimes people make comments like okay be safe. They may mean well, but it still throws me off.
Regardless of societys expectations, the trail does empower human beings, regardless of gender. It gives the sense that you can do anything, Flower assured. Youre living in a much fuller way than when youre living just normal life.
Food never tastes better, for example. On day 14 of Flower and Poptarts record attempt, about 560 miles from Canada, Poptart recalls eating an entire loaf of bread, six bagels, a container of cream cheese, a bag of orange sliced candies, a jar of mayonnaise, two packs of donuts, a slice of cheesecake, a salad and an entrée sandwich. That afternoon, she sat on the side of the trail, telling Flower a story while chowing on cheese. Flower politely waited for Poptart to finish the story and then blurted out, Youre literally eating an entire block of cheese. Thats disgusting!
At mile 690 while resupplying water in Oregon, a woman addressed Poptart in passing and uttered, You really inspire me. By the time Poptart comprehended the compliment, the woman had already hiked away. Later, she shared the message with Flower, who immediately started crying. Hiking behind Flower, Poptart couldnt see her tears. I could just hear it in her voice, Poptart remembers, so she cried too. Happy tears.
Team Flowpop also empowered one another. Both women identify as positive people, and both claim that the other is even more positive than themselves.
How do you know that you can do this? Poptart asked.
Because I have faith in myself, Flower responded.
This phrase, because I have faith in myself, sticks with Poptart months later. She remembers it anytime she feels insecure, both on and off trail.
Every night around 9 p.m., Flower sang Ave Maria. It became a tradition to break the silence and blackness of night with the song. The first time Flower sang it, Poptart reflected on their unlikely union. She thanked the universe for leading her to this moment: hiking the PCT, at this exact pace, with Flower. Tears fell. Grateful tears.
Sometimes during the day, the two would sing the National Anthem as a patriotic pick-me-up. Other times, when fatigue and sleep deprivation caught up to them, theyd have giggle fits. In between the tough miles and comforting moments, they built a bond. A very sacred thing, Poptart explained. No ordinary hikers, no ordinary friendship.
Wesley Trimble (trail name: Crusher), a PCT thru-hiker and the American Hiking Societys Program Outreach and Communications Manager explained that the trails reward comes from the interconnectedness of hardships and rewards.
One thing I realized on trail is that the experience wouldnt have been as nearly as fulfilling if it would have just been sunshine and smiles, Crusher explained. The joy of hiking is very intimately connected to the tribulation of the experience as well.
A Difficult Decision
At mile 945, The Gap forest fire in California forced all hikers in the area off trail. Poptart and Flower created an alternate route that involved 70 miles of hiking on small mountain roads and possibly on private property. No trespassing signs dotted their makeshift route.
On their 24th day, Flower and Poptart sat on the entrance ramp to I-5, eating vanilla cream cookies. They thought about what the alternate route would entail. What people would do if we unknowingly wandered onto their property? They thought about their family and friends back home. They thought about the other PCT hikers. Would they follow in our footsteps? Neither of the options were preferable: Either theyd potentially find themselves in a dangerous situation while doing the alternate route, or theyd have to forfeit the record. A difficult decision to make over vanilla cream cookies.
They chose to abandon the record.
Flower rebounded quickly. I was disappointed for a little bit, she admitted. Like 15 seconds. A quarter of a minute recovery time wasnt sufficient for Poptart.
Her relationship to the record differed from Flowers, and she hadnt mentally prepared herself to give it up. Tears fell. Disappointed tears.
Youre just kind of small, Poptart explained, reflecting on the tough decision. The things we want, like setting a record, dont really matter in the grand scheme of things.
The experience epitomized wise words from a man whom Flower and Poptart encountered while still hiking their alternate route that morning, the morning of their most difficult decision.
We have 30,000 or so days in this life, 80 years if youre lucky, he said. Theres a sea turtle in the San Diego zoo thats 540 years old. We as humans are small. I like to go to the ocean and look out and feel like a tiny grain of sand.
Hiking is empowering, but also humbling. Hikers are mere dots wandering through vast landscapes, like tiny grains of sand next to the ocean. Even the most elite hikers, like Anish who holds the self-supported records on the AT and PCT, expressed the humbling power of hiking.
We dont dominate out there, Anish admitted. Its a very good check to this false sense of power that we have. Out there, were just part of nature, but were not the biggest part.
The forest fire proved natures power to Poptart and Flower, but it didnt define their experience. Their record attempt wasnt even really about the record after all. It fostered a challenge so they could learn more about themselves and grow as individuals, together. So, Team Flowpop left their record dreams on the I-5 on-ramp, shuttled around the fires, disqualifying them from the record, and continued hiking towards Mexico.
Two days later and about 1,053 miles from Canada, Poptart choked on her words as the two charged up a hill.
Flower, Im going to go home.
Flowers powerful strides halted. She whipped around to face Poptart, her braid swinging. She silently listened to Poptarts reasons for leaving.
I needed to be put in a position where I wasnt going to finish the trail, and theres this girl whom I really admire and respect whos going to finish it, Poptart explained while reflecting on the experience. I needed to learn that Im not a lesser person because of that.
Without the record, this wasnt the experience Poptart needed. Her heart was no longer in it. She had already thru-hiked the PCT last year. This time around, she could learn more from not making to Mexico.
I think thats a very brave decision, Flower assured. Can I have your food?
Poptart offered up her leftover Snickers and Oreos, wished Flower happy trails and skipped down the mountain, smiling. Flowpop headed in different directions for the first time in nearly 800 miles. Even without the record, they both gained what they needed as individuals.
Flower made it to the Mexico border in 67 days, and Poptart learned to have faith in herself, just as Flower had taught her. This summer, Flower plans to attempt the self-supported record on the AT and Poptart will return to attempt the record on the PCT. Separate, but always together in a sense: a long-distance team.
After skipping down the mountain to a small parking lot, Poptart made a bologna sandwich and hitched a ride back to civilization. She climbed into a white truck, sharing the backseat with a yellow lab.
Whats its name? Poptart asked the couple giving her a lift.
Flower, they replied.
She knew she made the right decision.? The universe brought them together after all.
*Self-supported FKT attempt: The hiker does not have any external human support, but she/he may mail supplies to herself/himself ahead of time or stop to re-supply at stores near the trail
**Supported FKT attempt: The hiker has an external team to provide for her/him (providing supplies, making meals, etc.) along the trail.
Photos courtesy of Carly Moree.
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This post was so inspiring! I think its so important for us, as women, to raise each other up and empower one another and this post absolutely did that. Thank you so much for sharing. Good Luck on your own thru hike journey – I’ll be starting mine next year. Happy Hiking~!!
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