FRENCHVILLE – Overcomer.
Frenchville native Scott McKenzie overcame shoe and foot issues, brutal weather and grizzly bears, but it was well worth it as his latest thru-hike journey was also both breathtaking and therapeutic.
McKenzie recently completed a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail, trekking from New Mexico to the Canadian border, which was undoubtedly the most difficult of his three, major thru-hikes to date.
“The support has been absolutely amazing,” he said. “I have gotten so many positive comments and messages on my Facebook posts. I can’t even begin to say how thankful I am to have been able to post along the way.
“Some people have shared that they were living and going on this hike through me, and I am just honored that people kept waiting for my updates and posts.”
In the early part of his hike, he faced significant snow amounts and mountainous terrains that he was not expecting or used to.
It caused a minor hiccup along the way, forcing McKenzie to take a small hiatus to return home to Frenchville, as he awaited new shoes and for his aching feet to heal.
It also provided an opportunity to get back to a more comfortable weight, something McKenzie lost a considerable amount of in the front half of his journey because of his stove-less diet.
Though he skipped part of his journey in Colorado at the time, he did return to the part of the trail he passed by after getting to the Montana and Canadian border.
In all, McKenzie hiked through areas in five states in just under five months. Most nights were spent tenting in the wilderness, and enduring some of the coldest and warmest temperatures one could experience in the United States during the summer months.
“I have no desire to hike the Continental Divide Trail again,” he said. “Next year, I hope to return to parts of it in August to really take in parts of the hike that I did not get to enjoy because of time constraints the first time.”
In the back end of his journey, he went from freezing temperatures to days in the 90’s along the Great Basin. He finished the hike with a visit to Glacier National Park, a place the U.S. veteran was quite fond of and will visit again someday.
“The Great Basin was boring and dry with a barren landscape,” he said. “It made for difficult hiking day-in and day-out, but at night, the view of the stars was truly amazing.”
McKenzie also got to experience first-hand grizzly bears – something nobody hopes to see – as he journeyed through Big Sky country.
In total, he saw 10 bears, with one even paying a close visit over several hours while he tried to get some sleep in his tent. Another time McKenzie witnessed a fellow hiker within 50 feet of one.
His final encounter was an incredible moment as he got to see grizzlies munching on some berries about 20 feet to his left, something that would easily terrify most people.
While it was not his preference to take a week-and-a-half hiatus, McKenzie admitted it did help him complete the hike, regroup and reach perhaps a level that he did not think he had in him as an adventurer.
“I was walking with size 15 shoes and I had to take the inserts out of them and walk about 1,000 miles without inserts,” he said. “My feet got so cut up and getting a size 16 really helped the rest of the way.”
McKenzie said he had to alternate each foot in a hotel room garbage can filled with ice water for an entire day-and-a-half before he caught his plane ride home.
“I could hardly walk when I left the trail and even there at the end. My shoes had gotten so destroyed and filled up with sticks and pebbles because they had blown out.”
Along with run-ins with wildlife, McKenzie also had to climb two dangerous mountain ranges that were over 13,000 feet. One mistake he made was when he chose an alternate path in Colorado.
This path tested McKenzie’s agility and strength, a situation he was glad he managed to get out of and deeply regrets ever getting himself into.
“I really felt like I was in danger a few times,” he said. “I had to hop and avoid some falling rock. Taking the alternate trail really slowed me down and was a dumb mistake.”
Despite this, he was able to overcome the adversity and finish the hike with a trip to Grays Peak in Colorado, accumulating around 90 miles over a three-day stretch.
Now back in central Pennsylvania, McKenzie is looking forward to sharing stories, knowledge and memories with the community over the coming months.
“I usually create a slideshow, bring some gear, present some pictures and have a question-and-answer session with my church and some senior centers in the area,” he said.
“It gives me a chance to reminisce and also allows me to see some people. It has felt like I have been gone forever.”
For people who may share a common goal to hike the Continental Divide Trail, McKenzie says to make sure to have extra money on-hand.
He said towns along the Continental Divide Trail were much more expensive than those along the Appalachian Trail. Towns also seemed to have fewer supplies and hotel rooms.
In either 2023 or 2024, McKenzie eyes to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, a thru-hike, encompassing California, Oregon and Washington.
Currently, McKenzie has some concerns and worries over the likelihood of forest fires, which has caused hikers to take alternate routes and miss entire parts of the trail.
His immediate plans for the rest of 2021 and into 2022 are to continue to find peace in the wilderness with some short walks and time with his dogs in the woods.
Though McKenzie has seen it all these past five months, he continues to find peace in mother nature with hiking not only providing therapy, but also the best views across North America.
“I want to thank everyone for their prayers and support,” he said, “but especially God who has given me the opportunity to go out and hike like this.”