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The 2,665-mile Bird Walk

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NoahhikingIn two weeks I will heft a backpack, drape my Leica binocs around my neck, and begin walking slowly north from the Mexican border near San Diego. If all goes well, I’ll arrive, considerably hairier and dustier, at the Canadian border in mid-September, having continuously hiked and birded the deserts and mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington along the entire Pacific Crest Trail.

As the days count down, I worry most about things like daily mileage (averaging 22 miles/day, with no breaks, for four months) and wear and tear (will my knees hold out? will six pairs of shoes cover it?), but almost everyone asks the same incredulous question: “You’re doing this, uh, alone?”

Well, yes.

I’ll navigate the backcountry on my own all summer. It’s funny to me that people seem more afraid of their own company than bears, late snowstorms, and demented hillbillies. But there is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. And, though going solo, I’ll be far from alone; about 300 hikers are attempting the whole trail this year, and 90% of them will start their trek within the same two-week window, heading north, to take advantage of summer conditions.

Even so, I will probably walk long sections with birds as my only company. Despite taking extreme measures to cut weight (I won’t carry a stove, and my pack should weigh about 15 pounds without food or water), I’ve decided to wear binoculars. It was a heavy choice, so to speak. Carrying my 1.4-pound Leicas over 2,665 miles, with 750,000 feet of elevation gain, will require an extra 7,500 calories of food over the 120-day journey. But how many birders have seen a California Thrasher and Boreal Owl without burning gasoline in between? In the realm of “green” birding, this is the ultimate carbon-neutral trip.

Advance plans have been straightforward but mind-numbingly complex. I’m really just going for a walk in the woods à la Bill Bryson, who had a somewhat different experience on the Appalachian Trail. But the logistics are intimidating: permits to cross 67 wildernesses, forests, parks, and monuments, and official entry to Canada; ice axe, crampons, and bear canister for the high Sierras; and 27 resupply packages to be mailed to post offices, stores, lodges, and resorts strategically along the route, including a mountain of vacuum-sealed dried food. My bedroom looks like a post-apocalyptic REI warehouse.

Soon enough, all that gear will be smashed into my Osprey pack and strapped on my back, leaving no space for worries. I will wake to the dawn chorus every morning, face north, and head off in search of new adventures, with birds, all summer long.

If you want to follow Noah’s progress throughout his trip, check noahstrycker.com/latest for regular updates from the trail.


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Noah Strycker

Noah Strycker

Noah Strycker, Associate Editor of Birding magazine, is author of Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica (2011) and The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human (2014). In 2015, Noah will undertake the ultimate big year, traveling through 35 countries in an attempt to see 5,000 species of birds between January and December.
Noah Strycker

Latest posts by Noah Strycker (see all)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/tfloyd Ted Floyd

    Re: “Considerably hairier and dustier.” If you want to catch a sneak preview of what’s in store for Noah, be sure to check out the last color plate (opposite p. 97 of the text) in Noah’s recently published book, “Among Penguins” (OSU Press, 2011). Here’s a good newspaper article on Noah’s book–and on the life & times of Noah more generally:

    http://tinyurl.com/5t7kwvu

    Oh, and check this out. While on the trail, Noah’s somehow gonna manage to press on with his duties as Associate Editor of Birding. And something tells me he’ll keep up his unblemished track record with deadlines…

  • http://www.birderslibrary.com Birder’s Library

    I hope you already have a book advance for this. I’m enjoying Among Penguins right now, and this sounds like another great adventure.

  • http://www.barbaragleason.com BarbaraG

    Curious how (what devise) you’ll be updating with? iPhone? iPad’s too heavy, I think…

  • SorenK

    Actually us demented hillbillies fear…forget it

  • http://profile.typepad.com/tfloyd Ted Floyd

    Here’s some cheerleading from a charter member of the Noah Strycker fan club.

    Noah is the Associate Editor of Birding magazine, and he recently submitted his work on the manuscripts for the January 2012 issue of Birding.

    I’ve noticed that, in his work on manuscripts for Birding, Noah checks all the URLs to make sure they work; Noah apparently checks all the literature citations to make sure they’re word-for-word correct; Noah checks all the specs on product reviews to make sure they’re accurate; and so forth and so on.

    But he never meets his deadlines. What? Huh? You see, Noah has this incredible knack for coming in ahead of deadline! All that while birding in Lord-knows-where, working on his next book, doing research, and a great deal more.

    I stand in awe of him.

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