Heroic Hiker
Breaking News: Vegan Hiker Sets New World Record While Supporting MFA!

On August 8th, Josh Garrett—a dedicated vegan and proud Mercy For Animals member—smashed the previous held world record for thru-hiking the grueling Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,655-mile trek from Mexico to Canada, with an official time of 59 days, 8 hours, 14 minutes.

But Josh, a Santa Monica College track coach and exercise physiology instructor, didn't just shatter records; he also broke barriers by raising awareness of farmed animals and funds for Mercy For Animals along his incredible journey.

Want to be a hero like Josh? Support the life-saving work of Mercy For Animals by making a tax-deductible donation today!

We caught up with Josh before he set out on his mission drive adventure to get the scoop on his heroic hike.

MFA: What made you decide to embark on this hike?

I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail back in 2009 and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. About a year ago, I met John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods. He is an avid hiker, who has section hiked the Big Three trails (Appalachian, Continental Divide, and Pacific Crest). When we talked about the Pacific Crest Trail, he was really surprised, I guess impressed, to learn that I had hiked it in eighty-eight days.

We got to talking and he had this idea that with the right support, I could probably break a hiking record. He asked me if I wanted to give the Pacific Crest Trail record a shot. I had mixed feelings. I loved the idea of the challenge, but didn't want to let anybody down if I didn't make it. And I was nervous. Hiking the trail was uncomfortable enough—painful sometimes—even when I wasn't trying to do it within any particular time limit. But, I went vegan about eighteen months ago, and have become more and more concerned about what's happening to the animals…

Suddenly it hit me that I could use this hike as a way to get the word out on their behalf. So I teamed up with Mercy For Animals and now this is so much more than a personal quest.

MFA: What can you tell us about the Pacific Crest Trail?

It is extraordinary. It goes through seven national parks and twenty-five national forests, traversing some of the most beautiful places on earth. I don't think I can describe how beautiful it is up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, how immense and grand they are. And the trail is so diverse. You are looking out over the world from 13,000 feet up at the top of the Sierras, and then you are down at sea level at the north end of Oregon a few weeks later. At the beginning of the trail, you are hiking though the desert, parched, desperate for water. Before you know it, there is way too much water—you are wading across streams, chest deep, trying not to get washed away. It is a fantastic challenge.

MFA: This kind of trek calls for immense endurance. What have you learned about endurance that people could apply to their own lives and workouts?

I've learned that sometimes you are going to feel absolutely terrible and wonder what on earth you are doing. You are going to want to stop. But if you keep going, soon enough you are going to feel better, and then great. It's really the same for all training.

MFA: What other words of wisdom do you have for hikers?

Long, light-weight hiking pants are important. A lot of insect bites can really put a damper on things. I always wear a long shirt too, even when it's hot, to protect me from insects and the sun.

And make sure you are really comfortable in your shoes. I hiked 2,655 miles without a blister because I wore the kind of running shoes that I wear every day for long runs. I think some people choose hiking boots because they think they will be sturdy, but that usually means heavy. Some hiking boots are advertised as waterproof, but when you are wading across a rushing stream, they don't keep you dry. Your feet might get wet in running shoes but running shoes are porous and dry quickly.

MFA: Any other tips?

Invest in an ultralight pack, and take as little stuff with you as possible. I'm really lucky to have Gossamer as a sponsor because they make ultralight hiking gear. I also don't bring food that needs to be cooked (being vegan is going to help there) because I don't want to be carrying fuel canisters, which are bulky and heavy.

MFA: If you won't be cooking, what will you eat on the hike?

A lot of vegan bars! Pro Bar is a sponsor. I will also be able to satisfy my peanut butter addiction using those Justin's little packets of peanut butter. I'll eat nuts, cookies, kale chips, corn nuts… That's all stuff I eat a lot of anyway.

Also, I am really lucky to have some support. A great lady who works for John named Tish (whose perfectly appropriate trail name is "Ma") is going to meet me at various spots where the trail crosses the highway. She'll replenish my bars and water, and thanks to her, I'll even get some fresh fruit and vegetables now and then along the way.

MFA: In general, what do you do about water?

There are parts of the trail where there are just no water sources and you have to carry what you are going to drink. That will be particularly true for me because I am leaving late, after most of the sources have dried up. There are people known as "trail angels" who leave gallons of water for hikers along the way at caches, but again, because I am leaving so late, the trail angels will be off duty. That's part of why I chose to accept support on the hike.

On some parts of the trail you come across beautiful, pristine mountain streams you can drink from. That is just one of the greatest pleasures imaginable—feeling parched and tired and then getting to revive yourself with such a beautiful, natural gift.

MFA: You've been vegan for about a year and half. What brought about this lifestyle change?

My first introduction to the animal rights world came about when I met two turkeys. It was November of 2011. Every year, Karen Dawn takes in two turkeys who would otherwise be headed for Thanksgiving dinner tables. She keeps them with her over the holidays and then retires them to a sanctuary. When I met them, I couldn't believe how fun and friendly they were. I just loved them.

Karen put out this little YouTube video that showed them getting bathed and blow dried, and then hanging with neighborhood kids, just lapping up the attention. But then it also shows what happens to most turkeys at Thanksgiving. It includes a section of a Mercy For Animals video in which some guy at a slaughterhouse is using live turkeys, suspended upside down on a conveyor belt, as punching bags.

It made me sick to my stomach. My consciousness started to change. The final straw was when I saw the movie Forks Over Knives, which lays out, mostly through interviews with top doctors, how bad meat and other animal products are for you, and how good a plant-based diet is. There was just no half-decent reason not to go vegan.

MFA: Did you find it difficult to transition to a vegan diet?

No. Not at all. I think the only way people manage to keep eating meat is by keeping some sort of disconnect going.

It just isn't hard to have a seitan cutlet instead of a steak, or a veggie burger instead of a Big Mac. And you can still go out and eat thai food and chinese. Just order the tofu dishes. Indian, ethiopian, and italian restaurants also have plenty of good vegan choices. Plus a lot of the food you already eat is probably vegan.

MFA: We are so pleased you are supporting Mercy For Animals and encouraging others to support us. Why are you hiking for Mercy For Animals?

Well, the very first animal cruelty video I saw, the one I described about the turkeys, was a Mercy For Animals video and it changed my life. I don't think there is anything more effective than undercover work at slaughterhouses or factory farms, and Mercy does so much of that so well. Mercy For Animals just gets so much bang for the buck. I want to do what I can to help them get some more bucks to bang with.

MFA: Can we follow you on your hike?

I got talked into going on Twitter and was surprised and very happy to find that the handle VeganHiker was available.

 

Clips courtesy of "Tell it on the Mountain - Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail". http://TellitontheMountain.com


    

 
 
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