Outdoors activities inspire Spokane reporter

Three cheers for outdoors enthusiasts who return from a summer vacation leaner and firmer than they were when they departed.

Vacations that launch out of campgrounds or head into wild, undeveloped areas beyond the sweet shops and tourist traps tend to be the healthiest and thriftiest outings a family can make.

Throwing in a good dose of muscle activity such as hiking, biking or paddling almost guarantees that you'll come home more fit and fulfilled, and your checking account won't be empty.

Inspiring stories of outdoor pursuits beyond beach chairs and amusement parks find their way to my e-mail inbox every day.

The best recently came from Richard Smart of Coeur d'Alene, who had just returned from a three-day backpack trip through the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, which butts up to the Canada border and straddles the Idaho-Washington state line.

He'd been hiking with two of his sons and a longtime friend, which must have provided plenty of good fodder for stories.

Smart was moved to let me know not about himself, but about a special niche of wilderness and two characters who would otherwise be hard to track down.

According to Smart:

"We quickly found out we had the whole wilderness to ourselves except for Garlic and Pickle, who were hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail from Glacier Park to the coast.

"About 8:30 a.m. on Sunday morning we saw these two men with trekking poles coming down the trail at a fast clip. They entered our camp and we asked them questions for an hour.

"We were very curious and they had time to talk because this was a short 20-mile day for them.

"Garlic is in his 60s; Pickle is in his 50s. Eight years ago they met in a remote restaurant that was off the electrical grid in the Sierra Nevada Mountains."

The two long-distance hikers had entered the Salmo-Priest by bushwhacking cross-country, a common occurrence on the Pacific Northwest Trail, which is not so much a trail as it is a route that links trails, roads, corridors, valleys and ridges in its three-state course.

"They'd come on an overgrown Forest Service trail that leads to Cabinet Pass and then on toward Upper Priest Lake. The route was heavily covered by snow and alder brush. Garlic's scramble through the entanglement had left big scrapes on his right arm.

"They traveled extremely light," Smart said, noting their packs weighed only 10 pounds before adding the food they needed for a given stretch.

"They had no stoves, and they did not make campfires. Some of their equipment was high-tech LIGHT, including their 1-pound sleeping bags and feather-weight rain pants they'd sewn themselves.

"They wore cheap tennis shoes and drank from plastic bottles, the kind you find in any grocery store. They liked them for their light weight, and they could easily find replacement bottles lying along the trail.

"The twosome, fueled primarily by raw oatmeal and cheese, were traveling 20-40 miles a day over this rugged terrain!

"They had hiked thousands of miles, from sunup to sundown, conquering the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

"They were walking with the same passion that Tom Hanks showed while running in Forest Gump. I would call them the human version of an albatross, the bird that rarely lands."