When Junkyard sold all his shit, crated up his dog and flew to Seattle, a little bit of the South Bay died forever. Okay, a lot of it.
And it died in about as crazypants a fashion as you could ever imagine. With almost no planning, no logistical support, zero physical conditioning, and a love all things comfortable and soft, Junkyard embarked on a 2,600-mile journey to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.
All of his fake Facebag friends #kudoed and #attaboyed and #shit, but privately more eyes got rolled than dice in Vegas. It simply wasn’t possible, everyone agreed, and the question wasn’t whether he’d complete the hike but whether he’d ever even find the trailhead.
Junkyard was directionally challenged, and the first warning they give you about hiking the PCT is “take a compass because your GPS signal will fail.” This same Junkyard, who got lost for an hour in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara finding the Gibraltar climb that he’d been up on a bike 20 times, was now going to strike forth with his dog and cross the continent.
But he wasn’t simply going to cross it the easy way, a 2,600-mile hike of the most brutal sort from Mexico to Canada, a holy hiking grail for which people train for years and that only a few who begin ever complete, no, not Junkyard. He was going to hike first from Washington to Canada, flip a uey, and then hike to Mexico from north to south … in winter.
That’s a route, everyone remarked, that simply doesn’t exist. So deep and treacherous is the ice and snow that you can’t make the logical checkpoints for provisioning. No one does it because, save for a tiny minority perhaps of the very best, no one can.
Of course Junkyard was undeterred, which is the beauty of having neither plan nor experience. You simply go. Fate will deal out what fate deals out, and you will deal with it, whether you will or no. I’d tried something similar to Junkyard’s sojourn in 1985, starting the PCT outside of Medford. I lasted four days and would have died were it not for a very, very good Samaritan.
The thought that a 58-year old creature accustomed to comfort would be able to make that trek never seriously crossed my mind, to say nothing of the impossibility of the dog making it. For a few days we followed his newly created IG account, @jnz_onthe_pct, until it became clear that the only person more skeptical than the home crowd was Junkyard himself.
In short, he took forever to even get to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass, and then, when he was supposedly on the trail, there were no pictures of the trail save one jolly video segment showing him hiking along a fire road. In glorified sneakers. Surrounded by green lush low-elevation vegetation.
When the humble brag posts about successive hikes of 16.5, 16.5, and 10 miles popped up, I stopped rolling my eyes and simply shrugged. You and I both know that an untrained 58-year-old flatlander with a 45-lb. pack can no more backpack those distances than he can ride with the peloton during a stage of the Tour. Shortly thereafter, he went silent. As far as I know, no one’s heard from him since, and wherever he is, you can save yourself the effort of looking on the Pacific Crest Trail. A donut shop in downtown Seattle, maybe.
And yet …
Buried right near the surface of this crazyquilt non-plan, this folly writ large, there was something amazing. First and most impressively, Junkyard had gotten everyone in the South Bay talking about him instantaneously, non-stop.
Every party, every gathering, every ride was punctuated with questions, comments, opinions, declarations and declamations about WHAT THE FUCK WAS JUNKYARD THINKING?
He became and has remained the single most talked about cyclist in the South Bay, ever. And he isn’t simply the focal point of attention, he’s pulled it off without even being here. The fame and notoriety of Junkyard, a man who had already invented a presence far larger than his actual life, had surpassed even that work of fiction and projected his existence into the stuff of legend.
Because as incomprehensible as it seems, he has struck a blow for humanity. Although it may be Into the Donut Shoppe more than Into the Wild, the act of cashing in, moving out, and hitting the road with your dog, unencumbered by the weight of the past, is a beautiful and inspirational thing that strikes a chord deeply within us all.
You can negatively analyze his reasons for the walkabout, but you can’t deny the monolithic fact that he has gone. On his terms, on his time plan, and for reasons that, fully private, only he will ever know.
Based as it is on the fake social media of Instagram and Faceboooooook, he has nonetheless left those things behind and wandered into a primeval land of man, animal, hunger, path, and the uncertainty of even getting one’s daily bread. Who among us can do that, and who among us has not wished they could?
It matters not whether he ever finds the trail, hidden as it is in the Internet, in GPS coordinates, maps, guidebooks. It matters not whether his camp is high on a ridge or snugly nestled in a county park, just ’round the corner from an In ‘N Out. It matters not whether he dies in a ravine, returns lean and fit, or returns 20 lbs. heavier with a groaning credit card balance from weeks of living off the fruits of the land and Denny’s.
Inventive, imaginative, creative, and driven by the Muse, he simply went. What matters is that he walked out the door in the time and place of his choosing, and no one else’s.
And you know what? I, and a whole lot of others, wish we had what it took to walk out, too.