Have you heard of Charles Mitchell? Charles is an African American man who is determined to hike the Pacific Coast Trail all by himself, April of 2017. His feat caught my attention because it is a rarity to see African Americans hiking the PCT, to see one hiking it alone, with very little hiking experience, beyond rare.
Charles documents his quest here, https://www.facebook.com/journeytothepct. His main goal is to show the progress he is making in losing weight, purchasing the proper gear, determining the best trail and how he is preparing mentally for the challenge ahead.
I was curious as to why a black man with limited hiking experience, would pick one of the most challenging hikes out there, so I reached out to him. He shared the following with me:
What inspired you to hike the PCT?
I grew up in the outdoors. My father introduced me to hunting, fishing, trapping and camping pretty much, from day one. After my father passed in 1995, I turned completely away from my outdoor activities, without knowing why. It took me quite a few years to get back into the swing of things, but it all felt very different to me. Something was missing.
Initially, I thought “more” was the answer. I wanted to do more, see more, experience more. I bought a big ole truck, a fifth-wheel camper, all the gizmos and gadgets that promised to make my outdoor experience more satisfying. Even after all of that, I still wasn’t feeling fulfilled. It wasn’t until I began to down-size that I began to find the fulfillment I was craving.
By chance, in 2013, I had the opportunity to trade in my Duramax Diesel, 3500 Chevy, Crew-Cab, Dually for a Honda Element. Just a few short months later, with bags of “no-cook” foods, my girlfriend and I were in Yellowstone National Park. A place I had dreamed of going since high school. That small adjustment chanced my outlook and my life. It introduced me to the idea of “back-country” camping.
After returning from Yellowstone, I began to research backpacking equipment and hitting the second-hand, thrift stores in the area. A friend gave me my first back-packing stove and I fell in love with it (I have always been a Coleman, 2-burner stove, kinda guy). Amazon, Ebay and Youtube became my best friends.
Fast-forward to May 28, 2017. I watched “As It Happens: Pacific Crest Trail,” on Youtube and I was mesmerized. After further searches, I listened to “Cheryl Strayed reads from “Wild” 9/29/12″ and that was it. I finally discovered what had been missing from my experiences since my father passed away… comradery and necessity! I missed having like-minded friends and the pressures and challenges of real, life and death experiences. A thru-hike of the PCT is REAL!
It is said that African Americans are the least likely group of people to spend time in the outdoors, what are your thoughts on that?
After spending my entire life going places “we” shouldn’t go, and doing things “we” shouldn’t do, and having the very best experiences of my life, in the process, I find it frustrating to find so many African Americans are limited by thoughts and beliefs that have been passed down through the generations. I have been asked, more times than I can count, “Aren’t you scared to be out there? What if…?” Fortunately, my reply has always gotten to be, “In all of my hunting, fishing and camping experiences, I have NEVER had ANY issues related to ethnicity. Now, I have had issues in other areas of my life, but NEVER in ANY of my outdoor excursions.”
Have you received much support from big chain retailers on your trek?
I am having discussions that hover around the idea of pursuing sponsorship opportunities with a portion of the proceeds going to a designated non-profit organization, but since the project is still in its early stages, we have not nailed down any specifics.
How supportive has your immediate community been on your adventure?
I am overwhelmed by the number of atta-boys and go-for-its I get! Aside from a few who think I have, totally and completely lost my mind, I have had a tremendous amount of support and encouragement. Actually, the thing that most excites me is how many people, after reading my blog, have decided to attempt something like this. I love being someone’s inspiration. I feel like Jim Carey in “The Truman Show,” except, I know people are watching. I hope this will inspire people from all walks of life to do more. I want to inspire people to strive for more. The heavy person, the amputee, the high school drop-out, the depressed, the homeless…
Besides finishing, what do you hope to accomplish by hiking the PCT?
I wrote in my blog just a few days ago, “I’m not doing this simply because it’s “a thing” I want to do. I’m doing this because I believe it’s who I am.” Out there I feel at home, I feel at peace, I feel as though I can rest. Even with the physical rigors that go along with wilderness survival and homesteading, both of which have been main interests, I always feel like the outdoors resets my mind.
Part two to your question is, I want to change my life. When the economy took its nose dive in 2007, I opted to give up my business as a landscaper and pursue more steady employment opportunities. I was very fortunate to land a great job with terrific people and awesome benefits, working in a factory the only problem is I work in a factory. I’m totally and completely out of my element. I sincerely believe that for anyone to make this trek or even a good portion of it, there will be an outstanding career opportunity waiting at the end.
Why did you choose to hike the PCT alone?
First of all, I only know one person in my entire circle of friends, who would even remotely consider attempting something like this.
Secondly, I want to feel the freedom, the freedom of not being bound by a lease, the freedom of not being anchored down by bills and due dates, the freedom to make my own decisions and to come and go as I please. Succeed or fail, I did it Myyyyy Waaaayyyyyy.
And finally, I’m so sick and tired of people telling me, “You’re not qualified.” In life, someone is always deciding for us whether or not we have what it takes to be whatever it is we’re shooting for, regardless of whether it’s a job at McDonald’s or the next Martin Luther King.
I always think back to the movie “Rambo” where he says, “Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment, and back here I can’t even hold a job parking cars!”
And the list goes something like this…too young, too old, too heavy, not enough education, not enough experience, over qualified. In a world where credentials seem to be all that matters, I want to remind people that HEART is the foundation that the world, as we know it, was built on.
Have the folks who monitor the PCT( Associations) been in touch with you, if so, have they offered any advice?
I have done a lot of reading on sites others have led me to, but I have not, as of yet, joined any, so I don’t suspect any of the monitors of these sites even know my dream exists.