In 1996, Sarah LaRue (aka TurtleGirl) almost gave up on hiking after a miserable attempt at climbing Mount St. Helens in Washington. It was early in the season and she was out of shape, unprepared and had never hiked or camped in the snow before. It took her a while to get back out on the trail again after that, but she eventually did and since 2008 has become a frequent hiker. Sarah spends most of her trail time hiking solo, or with an occasional companion, around the Columbia River Gorge, Central Oregon and Eastern Washington. “I like to stop a whole lot and take photos of everything,” she says. This year, Sarah took her first solo section hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from Elk Lake to McKenzie Pass.

What inspired you to try a section hike on the PCT?

LaRue: I got hooked on watching documentaries about Lewis and Clark, and about exploration and wild places. I was fascinated when I learned that there was a trail that went from Mexico to Canada. When I quit my job of 7 years, I thought maybe I should try that: hike for awhile, test myself. I didn’t. I got a new job and went back to school. But trying to hike the PCT always stuck in the back of my mind. This year, I finally managed to do a section. It was the best three days ever.

What did you enjoy most about spending those days in the wilderness?

LaRue: The quiet. The unhurriedness of the wild. The forest air that fills my lungs. How quickly I can let go of luxuries and just be.

As a new PCT hiker, what did you learn from your experience?

LaRue: I packed WAY too much food for my trip. I figured it would be better to eat too much than not have enough. I ended up giving half of my food to a southbound hiker on the morning of my last day.

What is your ideal hiking day like?

LaRue: I like to get up just before sunrise and lazily make coffee and oatmeal and munch on animal crackers. Then I explore whatever area around the campsite I didn’t see the night before and take photos. Then I pack up and hike until I run into someone else and chat for as long as I can convince them to stop. Eat. Take more photos. Hike some more. Stop for lunch and pics and to check for blisters. Hike some more, then find a good campsite early in the evening and set up. While eating dinner I like to scout around for the best sunset spot. Take more pics until the stars come out, then lay in my tent and watch the stars because you can’t see sky like that anywhere else.

What advice do you have for fellow PCT hikers?

LaRue: Listen to the veterans advice, but follow your own path and make your own mistakes. Learn to trust your instincts. And always stop and look around. Don’t be so focused on making miles that you miss what you went out into the wild to see to begin with.
PCT hiker Sarah LaRue on Koosah Mountain in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness.

Now that the Pacific Crest Trail hiking bug has bitten, Sarah has plans to keep up her hiking through the fall and winter in Oregon’s coastal mountains. Then next year, she’s back on the PCT again, with plans to continue her journey from McKenzie Pass to Olallie Lake. You can follow Sarah’s hiking adventures on her blog, Words of Randomocity, and check out her trail photos on Instagram.

Would you like to share your own experiences, insights and helpful tips with your fellow PCT and Oregon hikers? Take the PCT: Oregon Hiker Survey and join the Trail Talk conversation.

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