It’s not very often someone can say they have hiked over 2,600 miles on one single trip. Not so for Demetri Stamatakis, as he has completed that incredible feat. In 2015, he took the task of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which extends from the Border of Mexico to Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada. In speaking with Stamatakis, you hear his excitement, vividly recalling his memories of the five and a half-month-long journey. You see his eyes light up as he details the kindness of people he met while on the trail. It’s nothing that the average person can say they have experienced, and that’s what makes this story so exceptional.
Stamatakis is originally from Texas but learned of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from a National Park Ranger when he was working for a conservation program in The Sierras at Sequoia National Park in California. “I really wanted to visit it again somehow, and when I learned the trail went through there, I started thinking more about it and the adventures I could have doing the trail.” From there, he found the time to venture out, starting on April 20, 2015.
Arriving in San Diego, CA, he was dropped off at the Border of Mexico by “Trail Angels,” to officially start the journey. “There is a little monument built there that marks the spot,” he said. A similar one appears in Manning Park, B.C. As for the Trail Angels, they are residents of the towns along the trail that extend their kindness by assisting and providing thru-hikers (long distance hikers) with resources and/or accommodations along the various points of the three states that encompass the PCT.
From the moment Stamatakis started the trail, he found parea. “I started by myself. That was kind of the plan from the get-go, and on the first day I met a few people and, in the end, two of the guys that I met, I finished with. I met one at the border when we were all dropped off, same time, and I met another one like 10 miles in on the first day, both guys from New Zealand, and we stuck together the whole time. Very different age ranges, one was 21 at the time and I was 26, and one was like 45,” said Stamatakis. Having joined forces with new friends, the adventure took off.
Hiking over 2,000 miles requires endurance, and a taste for the outdoors, which Stamatakis certainly has. When it came time to rest and sleep for the night, he either used a tent or “cowboy camped,” which is sleeping under the stars. Although he carried the tent, he estimates that he only used it 15 nights. “Once a week we were in a town that we could stay in a hotel…, or hostels, or Trail Angels would open their homes up and let us stay there.”
In his five and a half months on the PCT, Stamatakis embraced the highs and the lows. One particular thing he felt change? “I think it definitely helped open my mind to a lot more flexibility,” he answered. In a tone of certainty and wisdom, he continued, “I guess you could say: best laid plans seldom work. Trying to plan ahead for a six-month trip is nearly impossible in detail.”
One of the highs came in the form of experiencing the town of Bishop, CA. Stamatakis told of a memory that so beautifully exemplifies the Greek culture’s virtue of philotimo. With his friends on the journey, they found the kindness of an elderly gentleman in Bishop who gave them a ride from the town to the next trailhead. “Within five miles of the trailhead, he started to tell us that he had pancreatic cancer from Agent Orange…he served in Vietnam War….and he just found religion recently and he didn’t really have anybody in his family, except his church family…” They invited the gentleman to come with them for a night to hike a bit and camp. He continued, “We were able to convince him to flip a U-turn in the mountain road, and we drove all the way back …to where he lived, he loaded up his pack.” Together they took their new friend back to a place he once hiked, listened to his stories of his days in the mountains as a Park Ranger, and found camaraderie together. “We kept in email contact with him the rest of the way as we hiked and sent him photos…it was really moving.”
Another highlight from Bishop came in the way that the town welcomed its trail travelers. “I think we stayed there the longest, like four days,” he said. Staying in Hostel California, an homage to ‘Hotel California,’ Stamatakis described it further: “They had shirts for everybody to wear, clean “Hostel California” shirts. You could go and do your laundry and have a clean shirt to put on. They had bikes you could take out whenever you wanted and it was such a feeling of freedom to go from walking everywhere to getting to ride a bike wherever you want. It was just a fun little town…”
While there was beauty and exciting moments, there were also challenges along the way. When describing the toll it takes on oneself, Stamatakis explained the physical experience versus the mental: “Physically your body is definitely better prepared to do the task than mentally, I think, because you have a lot of time in your head. A lot of time to yourself to think and… just trying to stay upbeat and positive was a big challenge.”
In Northern California, there were a lot of wildfires in 2015, Stamatakis was never in danger but for almost a month, there was continual haze and smoke in the air. He walked within a couple miles next to Mount Shasta and could not see it because the smoke was so thick. Eventually, he got a view of Mount Shasta, when he was almost 40-50 miles north of it! Adding to this, he continued: “It was about that section of the trail that was the hardest for me. It’s also the halfway point so you realize you still have a long ways in front of you… California was a big goal. Once we got through, it was a huge weight off our shoulders.”
Since the weather cannot be predicted there’s no official ‘end date’ to finish by. “The end date is whenever the snow starts to fall. Historically, it’s in October, like mid to late October. Everyone mentally knows they kind of have to finish around that point. The latest I wanted to be done was early October so that was right where my hopes were.” On the dot, Stamatakis completed the trail in early October and arrived in Canada on October 5, 2015. Broken down, it was roughly 20-25 miles a day and hiking 2 to 2.5 miles an hour. The longest distance for one day came in the form of covering 37 miles!
Upon completing the trail and arriving in Canada, Stamatakis and pals indulged in their favorite meals, Cheeseburgers, pizza, and steak. When asked about the transition of trail life to metropolitan life, Stamatakis described being back in the swing of things: “We went to a Goodwill store and bought real clothes again because all we had were hiking clothes… it was such an amazing thing to wear blue jeans instead of hiking clothes for the first time in so long. We just kind of wandered around, most of us had big bushy beards and looked way out of place.”
After it all, would Stamatakis recommend the PCT journey? “Definitely. 100 percent, I recommend it to anyone that has ever thought of doing it,” he replied. “You gotta be the right person at the right time to want to do the trail, because it really is a time commitment. Hiking and long-distance hiking…are two completely different things. Hiking for a week is a great experience: you get outdoors, you get to enjoy nature, and get the experience of being alone in the wilderness. But hiking for five months…there’s definitely a change to you for doing something like this. It’s a journey. There’s a lot of ups and downs, there’s a lot of challenges, and at the end you can look back on that time and find rewards in a lot of different places that you didn’t think about.”
To maintain the goal of keeping to a trail of over 2,600 miles is surely a testament of character. Combining personal determination and elements of strength, philotimo, tenacity, and kindness, Demetri Stamatakis has demonstrated that everywhere you go, goodness can be found.
Email the author: Giuliana Harris