La Crosse (WXOW) – Soren Johnson is someone who elevates the phrase “thinking on your feet”.
This is a story of wonder and wander, a journey that would take the La Crosse native over 14,000 feet in the air, across 138 days and 2,650 miles.
Only about ten percent of people who attempt to hike the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail go south bound from Canada to Mexico. That’s the route Soren Johnson chose, though he admitted, “I didn’t feel like I was super prepared when I was starting out.”
Before he could even get to the starting line Soren had to finish a capstone, get his diploma, move out of his college house and try to find some time to train for what would become the most challenging hike of his life. “I sort of planned out the first few weeks and got an idea of what I’d need,” he recalled. “I didn’t spend too much time figuring out what’s going to be the best, lightest stuff that I can get. I just tried to find stuff that I thought would work and went from there.”
That brand of blind faith isn’t easy to understand. Facing an unfamiliar journey many of us might descend into a Googling frenzy, trying to plan and prepare, to learn anything about what might be down our respective trail.
But Soren learns by doing. Need proof? He’s a self-taught photographer. He also taught himself to ski and learned the skill of mountaineering on his own. On the trail, he wore his first pair of shoes until they fell apart. It was then he learned he’d need a new pair about every 500 miles. He went through five, shipping each pair to a post office he’d eventually cross on the trail.
Soren ambled through Oregon and Washington, typically hiking 14 or 15 hours each day. “In the mornings when I was a lot more alert and not tired I would normally not listen to anything on my phone,” he said. “That was when I was able to have the most productive thoughts.”
When he needed some motivation to keep moving he’d often turn to audio books. “I actually listened to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It took me about two weeks,” Soren recalled. “Every day I’d listen for about four or five hours.”
When Soren accelerated into California he knew he was up against a deadline. He needed to get south of the High Sierra Mountain Range before early season snow arrived. “I had a lot of doubts,” he admitted. Soren wasn’t only carrying the weight of that worry. At times his pack, loaded with gear, food and water, hit 50 pounds.
“What would really be hard was realizing that I still have 2,000 more miles to walk, and I have a deadline and I might have to pick up my miles even more,” Soren said. Add in a tight IT Band, a sore ankle, and an Achilles flare up and Soren said there were moments of uncertainty. “Those were the moments where I was like, ‘Wow. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this.’ At what point do I say, this is enough. I have to get off.”
His strategy became one day at a time, one step in front of the other. “Just one marathon at a time,” he laughed. “Because 26 miles a day was a pretty typical day for me.”
138 days after he began walking Soren arrived at the southern end of the PCT at the Mexican border.
Now, at home in La Crosse he’s sharing some of the incredible photos he took and sharing the lessons he learned while on the trail. “Focusing on the present and not dwelling too much in the future or the past,” was a big takeaway, Soren said. He also said he’s trying not to spend time just mindlessly scrolling on social media and instead, spend more time with friends and family.
“It’s easier said than done and I’m still having a hard time with that,” he admitted. “It’s a unique opportunity to spend all that time on trail and have that time away from the internet and away from work or school to really sort out your goals and how you want to live your life day to day.”
Would he do it again? Soren says no. But, that’s only because he’s ready for the next challenge. He has his eye on an 1,800 mile hike in New Zealand.
And you might think he is happy to be sleeping in a real bed, but Soren says he’d prefer a sleeping bag under the stars. That’s what he misses most about his time on the PCT.