There's a characteristic wobble – a limp that can't be hidden. It comes from overworked knees, battered feet, and the soreness of a back that's been carrying extra weight for months.
It's called the Hiker Hobble, and it's a dead giveaway for what Linda Murphy's been up to the last six months.
Murphy is back in Canada safe and sound now. She's sitting clean, comfy, and freshly showered on her living room couch, and that's part of the reason she left the comforts of her home to go earn her Hiker Hobble.
In March, the 57-year-old packed a bag weighing approximately 36 pounds and took off on the adventure — and challenge — of a lifetime. Her plan was to thru-hike the 4,265-kilometre Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), alone, and she had six months to do it.
The PCT runs from Mexico to Canada. It begins in Campo, a small town on the United States-Mexico border, and passes through California, Oregon and Washington, before reaching its northern terminus at the United States-Canada border in Manning Park, British Columbia.
Braving the elements, adventurous hikers pass through some of America’s most scenic and varied terrain, from scorching, desolate deserts to green forests and snow-capped mountains.
“You see beautiful vistas almost every single day. Sunrise and sunset, every day,” said Murphy.
To her, the PCT was the perfect challenge.
A few years ago, she was scrolling through Netflix and stumbled upon the movie Wild. She, like many others, said to herself, “I’m going to do that someday.” At the time, Murphy was a hobby hiker and had never backpacked for a whole day, let alone spent the night.
A little while later, and a lot more research, Murphy was convinced. She decided she would hike the PCT for her impending 60th birthday. Then a very close friend of hers, whom she had been talking about the trek with, passed away.
“When she died, the day she died, I said that’s it. I’m not waiting.”
She began training, spending full days using the Bruce Trail as her backdrop and hiring a trainer at the Collingwood YMCA to work with her on endurance, balance and core.
But Murphy wanted to do it for something bigger than herself.
A real estate agent with Royal LePage, Murphy had always admired and supported the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, a national foundation dedicated to funding women’s shelters and violence prevention programs.
“It’s my job to put people in happy and safe homes. Yet, here I am leaving my happy and safe home to put myself out in real danger. But there are other women who are in danger at home. They are safe out in the world and then they go home and they are at risk. I wanted to help those women,” Murphy said.
She was leaving with only what she could carry on her back, as many women escaping violent homes do, so she kickstarted a fundraising campaign last September and set a goal to raise $5,000.
Before Murphy left in March, she had raised over $20,000. She continued to increase awareness as she hiked, posting videos and photos along the way, and she has now raised well over $31,000. You can still donate online here.
My Friend’s House will receive 90 per cent of the proceeds, and the final 10 per cent will be distributed to shelters and violence prevention programs across Canada through the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation.
The thought of embarking on the journey alone scared her, but it turned out to be a blessing.
“It became my adventure,” said Murphy. “Mine to succeed or screw up, and mine to change based on the unexpected things that would happen.”
And the unexpected did happen, one thing after another.
Murphy suffered from giardia, a nasty intestinal parasite common on the PCT, dealt with a stress fracture in her foot and tore two tendons in her back. A snowstorm hit Northern California, and she was forced to bypass a significant portion of the trail. For Murphy, every day was a new, unexpected adventure.
“Looking back, that would be the advice I would give anybody doing a long-distance trail. Whatever time you allot for it, allow more. Expect the unexpected,” she said.
Murphy experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during her 171-day trek. The weather and wildlife tested her, as she faced snow-covered mountainside crossings with no end in sight. She had a close call with a mountain lion, waking up to its rumbling purr outside her tent in the middle of the night. She tripped and fell, experienced hunger and whole body ache, and long stretches of loneliness that left her downhearted. But apart from one fleeting moment of weakness, Murphy was determined not to quit. She was going to hike the whole way home.
“It became more fun and less scary the stronger I got and the more experience I got,” said Murphy.
And after six long weeks of loneliness, which Murphy said was by far the hardest part, she made a friend. Despite living completely different lives outside the PCT, the two women became two peas in a pod. Murphy and Best Western — which Murphy affectionately calls her — stuck together for the rest of the trek.
“Everybody has a trail name. When you meet people, you introduce yourself by it. Most of the time we didn’t know each other’s real name. My best buddy got the name Best Western. Her friends would call her on the trail all excited and ask where she was sleeping that night, and she would say, ‘Oh, at the Best Western,” Murphy laughed.
Murphy’s trail name was Diddly, which she acquired on the third morning outside the Mexican border for diddly-putzing in the morning.
“It sort of describes me. I was always the last one ready in the morning, and often the last one to get to camp at night as well,” said Murphy, who grew fond of her new name.
The moments she had, both alone or shared with strangers who had become friends, will be cherished for the rest of her life.
“At one point I reached a peak and looked all around, and I just wept, because it was just so beautiful. It constantly took my breath away,” said Murphy.
It also often literally took her breath away.
Murphy’s hiking days would consist of a 5 a.m. wake up call to be on the “road” by sunrise. She would walk all day, arriving at her campsite around 6 p.m. After setting up, washing up and sitting down for dinner, Murphy would be exhausted. No matter what, lights were out by Hiker Midnight (9 p.m.).
“It was the toughest thing I have ever done. Way tougher than I imagined. Even looking back on my videos it doesn’t seem that bad, because when it's at its hardest, you can’t take out the camera. It’s too dangerous, too tough. You need both hands to hold on, or balance, or cry, or yell. But it truly was the greatest adventure of my life so far,” she said.
Murphy ended up completing about 3,000 kilometres of the PCT. She planned to go back and make up the section she had missed, but due to her injuries, unexpected mishaps and impending snowstorms, she didn’t have time. She hopes to someday, though.
Murphy is already “itching” to get back out there, but first, she has her sights set on tackling the Bruce Trail next summer. For now, Murphy is still trying to readjust back into normal life, appreciating the simple things like a laundry basket and the ability to take a shower.
“There are a lot of people who are suffering from post-trail depression, it’s a real thing. Your environment has changed entirely and you don’t get the same satisfaction and endorphins that you were getting on the trail every day.” said Murphy.
Murphy credits her transition to two main things: the constant support from her family, and still being able to see gorgeous views and vistas every day, even in her backyard.
“I’m lucky because I returned home to an equally beautiful area. All I have to do is stroll down to the Bay or step onto the Bruce Trail, and I’m still surrounded by beauty.”