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Hiking over 2,500 Miles up America’s West Coast

Alex Asai, civil engineer on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Vancouver, Wash. spent five months in 2011 hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Here Asai is on the Willamette National Forest in Eugene, Ore. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Alex Asai, civil engineer on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Vancouver, Wash. spent five months in 2011 hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Here Asai is on the Willamette National Forest in Eugene, Ore. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Not many people can say that they took six months off from work to hike from one country to another. U.S. Forest Service civil engineer Alex Asai did.

Asai, who works on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, spent almost half a year on leave without pay from the Forest Service to hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. During the 2,650-mile excursion, Asai hiked through a variety of terrain, including desert, snow, forests, mountains, and he crossed through 25 national forests.

After playing soccer for Oregon State University for four years, the natural athlete decided he should broaden his sporting interests, and he began running, backpacking and hiking, which spurred the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

“I had known about the Pacific Crest Trail before but I hadn’t really heard of people hiking it until I talked to some friends who did it in 2007,” Asai said. “It sounded like a really fun thing to do.”

In April 2011, Asai left the Pacific Northwest and with his parents, drove down the west coast to the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off, Asai and his parents met about 200 to 300 ambitious hikers, including fellow employees of the Forest Service. After his parents hiked with him on the first day, Asai ventured up the trail with a backpack that carried a minimal list of supplies to sustain him over the next 2,650 miles.

“I was with people basically the whole time,” he said. “During the first 450 miles, I was with a group of people. After that, I hiked with three others. During the final stretch of the trail, I hiked with one other person.”

The hike took Asai five months, which included hiking through national forests, mountains, deserts, and snow, as well as frequent stops in towns to resupply him with food and other necessities.

Asai remembers hiking under moonlight on grand, sloping mountains in California, where sometimes the water in creeks was so cold that his shoes froze overnight. In Oregon, Asai recalls hiking for miles at a time through flat forested lands, and then arriving at Crater Lake, known for its intense, vibrant colors and magnificent views. And finally, hiking through Washington was a treat, especially when Asai hiked through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where his coworkers surprised him and greeted him to their forest.

“I felt a sense of pride,” Asai said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is where I work.’”

See what else Asai has to say in the Forest Service special feature Faces of the Forest, a bi-weekly feature of the Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within the agency.

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