Going It Alone
In his debut book, Tim Voors traverses the world-renowned Pacific Crest Trail, pushing himself to his physical and mental limits, and musing on the restorative qualities of going it alone in the natural world
words & interview by Elliot RAMSEY
Tim Voors has always possessed a keen curiosity about what lies beyond the horizon. His adventurous nature, born out of his childhood experiences of trekking with his family in Europe, has been the driving force behind his fascination with the great outdoors. Having walked across New Zealand, around the Japanese island Shikoku and through Spain, his latest expedition saw him travelling from Mexico to Canada in an epic pilgrimage. In The Great Alone, Voors documents the six months he spent tackling one of the most challenging and dangerous hiking trails in the world. EJ
We often didn’t follow the marked mountain trails, but created our own paths through the mountains to the next valley. This way it was always an adventure because you never knew exactly where you were going and how long the day was going to be. During these wonderful trips, we lived in a bubble, secluded from society, constantly in motion, nomadically moving from valley to valley.
One night, as we all sat around the campfire, my mother told a story about her own mother, who in 1930 had climbed with ropes and crampons to the summit of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. I was mesmerized by tales like these and hoped to one day embark on such adventures myself. The Pacific Crest Trail is renowned for being an incredibly challenging – and often dangerous – route to complete.
How did the realities of the trip match up to your expectations?During the year of preparation, I found it very hard to know what to expect and, of course, I had my fears. I worried about being caught out in the desert with no water left and about being totally alone for days on end. Things like snakes and bears I was, somehow, less fearful of. I figured they were probably more scared of me than I was of them.
The realities of the trail taught me that life moves relatively slowly and that there is always time to react with common sense in a situation. It turned out that the snakes and bears live between your ears, mostly. To battle the heat I carried lots of water with me through the desert. The weight on my back, with all that extra water, was tough to deal with. It dawned on me what the word ‘wilderness’ actually meant: not romantic and beautiful, but often desolate, painful, scary, dry, and dangerous.
What kind of training had you undertaken before commencing the trip?
To be honest, I didn’t train much beforehand. I was working full-time right up until I left the Netherlands for the US. Plus, my country is so flat that it’s practically impossible to prepare yourself for the mountainous terrain of the Pacific Crest Trail. I did train my lower back and core muscles by hiking with a backpack full of Coke bottles, but you don’t really have to train much for the PCT. The trick is to start slowly and rest frequently. If you take it easy during the first seven weeks of the desert, you’ll be in perfect shape by the time you reach the Sierra mountains.
You decided to hike the trail entirely on your own. Was it as much a mental journey as it was a physical one for you?
I started on my own but, as I love meeting new people, I formed special friendships with several people during my time on the trail. I walked alone during the day and would join others in the evenings, but the journey is much tougher mentally than it is physically. I went through ecstatic highs and painful lows, but I have never felt more alive before in my life.
Was there a sense of freedom and liberation in hiking the trail on your own?
I guess that we’re all searching for our own sense of freedom, and going it alone through the wilderness gave me that. It’s a special gift – a luxury in many ways – and very humbling to be able to experience. I was able to move freely, without any commitments, and yet felt the comfort and safety that the hiker community gave me.
What was the most challenging moment of the hike?
The most challenging moment of the hike was my ordeal during a storm on the summit of Mount Whitney. At 14,505 feet, it’s California’s highest peak and I was totally exhausted from the six-hour climb to this altitude. The weather had been pretty calm the whole day, but on the peak, I could see the thunderstorm coming up from the other side of the mountain.
On the peak, there was no real safe haven beyond the 100-year-old emergency shelter with a rickety metal roof. I suddenly regretted my cavalier plan to see the sunset and sunrise from the summit. Not only was the lightning storm scary, but that fear stayed with me for the following two or three weeks. Perhaps I was traumatised in some sense. I became paranoid, fearful of the unknown, and I lost all trust in nature itself.
Do you have a favourite place or memory from your time on the hike?
My favourite place was near the end of the hike, at mile 2,282 on the Goat Rocks. The contrasting autumn colours were stunning – the views of the distant, white-capped sleeping volcanoes and the beautiful thin trail winding ahead across the ridge of the Cascades. But it was ultimately the people that I met during my hike that created the lasting magic and impactful memories. The deep conversations with strangers and powerful friendships that grew over the months on the trail – that’s
where the real memories for life were forged.
What’s the next challenge for you?
I’m currently back home, working hard, enjoying my family and watching my children grow. I’ve incorporated a lot of micro-adventures into my daily life. I try to go wild camping at least once a week with a friend or with one of my children. I have also started going on 24-hour hikes with each of my parents, who are 80 and 75 years old, camping out in nature and reflecting on life. My next thru-hike will probably take me to the US again, as I hope to embark on the Continental Divide Trail from Montana to New Mexico. It’s either that or the Israel National Trail. But time will tell…
Find out more about Tim Voors’ adventures at randomtrailtales.com