August 6, 2004
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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Pacific Crest Trail hikers stop in Sisters -- for ice cream and pizza
By Jim Mitchell, Correspondent

Nacho and Pepper pause on the trail. photo by Jim Mitchell
For many, Sisters is a slow spot in an otherwise speedy drive. For two young men last week Sisters was a slow, and welcome, spot in a speedy walk.

The men, who call themselves Nacho and Pepper, started north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Campo, Mexico, on April 25 and April 22, respectively. Averaging 30 to 35 miles per day, they joined up in southern California after about 600 miles and have been hiking companions since. Their goal is to reach Canada by August 25.

Michael Vaz, nicknamed "Nacho," is a snowboard instructor from New Jersey ("Yes, there is a ski resort in New Jersey," he said). Two years ago he hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) and he is considering hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Scenic Trail (CDT) that runs through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Another possibility is Spain's 500-mile El Camino de Santiago, also known as The Pilgrim's Way and The Way of St. James.

Shawn Forry, known as "Pepper" on the trail, hiked the AT last year and has no definite plans but does expect to keep on hiking. Forry double-times, working one or more jobs "non-stop" to earn enough to travel in the summer.

Nacho celebrated his 25th birthday three days before beginning the hike. Pepper turned 23 on the day the pair passed the 1,900-mile mark on their longest day so far -- a record 40 miles.

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. It was dedicated as a National Scenic Trail in 1993. About 300 people attempt to hike the trail each year, taking about six months.

The hikers' schedule calls for hitting the trail by 6:30 a.m. Walking pretty much the whole time, they take rest breaks at about 10-mile intervals and camp wherever they are when it gets dark.

A side-trip for Nacho and Pepper took them to the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the 48 contiguous states at 14,491 feet.

Resting in front of the Sisters Post Office, Nacho was sorting through a box covered with U.S. Postal Service stickers and stamps. He called it a "bounce box."

"I keep stuff in there that I might need later on," he said. "I send it ahead -- that is, bounce it from town to town. And I'd rather have it in the box than in my pack."

They were on their way to Lutton's Ace Hardware to repair a tent pole that broke the day before. Their next goal was Ray's Food Place.

Without food and water, Nacho is carrying about 13 pounds, Pepper 6-1/2.

Their itinerary includes stops at nearby towns for food re-supply. They opted not to have food mailed ahead to them, as many PCT hikers do.

Nacho said, "It's kind of a pain to have people at home mail you food and stuff. You never know what condition it will arrive in and it takes a week for it to get there."

Pepper noted that, "Washington and Oregon are a little harder because the trail tends to stay away from any towns."

Nacho said, "Every time I get into town, all I think about is food. I'm only a little under 130 pounds and I can't seem to carry enough food."

He had lost 12 pounds by the time he arrived in Sisters. Each has gone through four pairs of sneakers.

Last Wednesday, July 28, the pair arrived at McKenzie Pass.

Nacho said, "Today we covered about 10 miles, then it took about four hours to get a ride. Everyone either looks away or thinks that we are homeless, or thinks we're going to take their car from them. We just wanted a ride to town so we could have some pizza, hamburgers and ice cream -- that's all we need."

Nacho continued, "In Beldin, California, we got picked up by this older guy. You could see every bone in his body. He could barely breathe and talk at the same time. He had emphysema and he had this machine to help himself breathe. He gave us a 20-mile hitch and the whole time I thought he was going to pass out, just keel over. I was prepared all the time to grab the wheel and hit the brake with my left foot."

He continued, "That guy told us some crazy stories. But he was a nice guy. At first he didn't want to give us a ride. We had gone up to him and asked for a ride at a rest stop. At the end he gave me a hug, he gave me his address and said to send him a photo when we finished. He gave me his phone number and a soda. That was awesome. That was a cool ride. I wish I had a tape recorder to record his conversations because he was so full of stories."

They spent Wednesday night in a Sisters home, complete with showers and a hearty meal. Then it was on to McKenzie Pass and a short 17-mile hike to Santiam Pass. The highlight of the day was passing their 2,000th mile. The next highlight of the day was hitching back to Sisters and indulging in six scoops of ice cream (each!).

Another night in Sisters, complete with pizza and movies, and they were back on the trail, intending to hike another 30-plus miles that day. One of their goals is to hike 50 miles in one day -- tentatively during the crossing from Oregon to Washington.

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