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Must love hiking


An outdoor recreation manager at Evergreen Lodge in Stanislaus National Forest, Lesli Brown, BS ’03, walked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 and fell in love with her hiking partner along the way.

In the 2,650 miles that make up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), hazards include rattlesnakes, blisters, dehydration, steep slopes and hypothermia. For Lesli Brown, BS ’03, add to the list falling — for her hiking companion.

Brown met Eric Hawkins in 2006 on the job at Evergreen Lodge in Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park, where they both work as outdoor recreation managers. He had recently hiked the Appalachian Trail, and after viewing photos from a friend’s trip across the PCT — it extends from Mexico to Canada — Brown and Hawkins looked at one another.

“We just said, ‘Well, that’s our next adventure,’ ” Brown says.

The two began as friends at the trailhead in Campo, Calif., near the U.S.–Mexico border. Over the course of four and a half months and by the time they finished at Manning Park, British Columbia, their relationship had blossomed. They married May 2. Brown’s book, Light Hearts and Heavy Packs (Ladybug Publishing, 2009), recounts the journey.

But the trip wasn’t just roses and romance. More than 300 hikers a year start the trail, but only about half finish. From May 1 to Sept. 23, 2007, the two endured the sweltering California desert, the rugged Sierra Mountains and the rains of the Northwest.

“One time we were off trail for 26 hours with only a compass and a really bad map,” Brown says. “We saw several bears.”

 At another point, the couple ran out of food. Burning 6,000 calories a day and ingesting only 1,000, they were forced to hitch a ride into town for supplies.

Despite the hardships, the trek was positively life altering.

“When you’re on top of the mountains, looking ahead of you and looking behind you, I remember thinking, ‘Why settle? There’s so much out there,’ ” Brown says. “I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t remember something from the trip.” — Marcus Wilkins