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Trail Blazer - Journey Of A Lifetime Yields Unexpected Results
Five months and plenty of blisters later, Eddie Nunes has a real appreciation for what he truly needs in life.

The 2007 Escalon High graduate set out along the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in mid-April, a journey that turned out to be one of self-reflection and self-discovery. He started the trail near the Mexico border and followed it up through California, Oregon and Washington, reaching the end near the border of Washington State and Canada. His journey began April 15 and ended Sept. 14, with the former resident covering roughly 20 to 25 miles per day, carrying what he needed with him and learning a lot about himself along the way.

"I mainly wanted to see what was essential in my life," said the soft-spoken Nunes, his tanned face a bit weathered from spending several months out in the elements on a full-time basis. "I also wanted to gain a little self-reliance."

Setting off with just the basics, things he needed to survive along the trail, Nunes found adventure, solitude, found people cheering him on from time to time, and met plenty of folks in little towns along the trail where he would occasionally have to stop for supplies. He kept a journal, writing something every day of his trek. He did not take a radio, an iPod or a camera, leaving the electronic trappings of civilization behind.

Many people walk some of the National Scenic Trail. Some manage to do the entire route but few do it as quickly as Nunes did. He didn't set a timetable, he said, but just went every day as long as he felt he could. Some days were tougher, especially early on, when he was getting used to walking and lugging his own gear.

"You would often go between four and seven days in between towns, before you could re-supply," he said of learning how to ration himself and make sure he had plenty to eat and drink along the way.

Not that he did much fine dining; he's had his fill of dehydrated soups, trail mix and energy bars for a while.

One of his sisters knew people that hiked part of the trail and the idea of pushing himself, of seeing what he was capable of, appealed to Nunes.

"You met some people along the way but I mainly hiked by myself," he said.

The long hours offered time for introspection and Nunes said he discovered that he would like to have a career that puts him in the outdoors, perhaps something to do with fish and wildlife, and he was constantly amazed at the beauty and silence he found.

He did have a trail guidebook that helped him stay on course, in addition to a compass.

"I was surprised at how secluded the trail was the whole way," he added.

He packed in a small stove and fuel so he could do some on trail cooking and keep his energy up.

"I would normally start hiking about 6 a.m. and stop at about 7 p.m., sometimes I would take a long lunch break," he said.

By mid-afternoon, he was looking for a good place to stop for the night, which could just be a large clearing by the side of the trail, as long as it was flat. His sleeping bag was equipped for sub zero temperatures and he had a free standing tent, but the weather was fairly cooperative most of the way. There was some snow, some rain, a few hot days but nothing that Nunes couldn't handle.

"At first, I really had a lot of foot problems, I had a lot of blisters and sore feet," he said of his biggest issue on the trail. "Then you kind of condition yourself, you go farther and farther every day. I just loved the scenery and being out there."

Central California had a lot of snow cover while he was on the trail, those days saw him go about 20 miles a day. In northern California and Oregon he was able to pick up the pace, going about 30 miles a day.

"You just get really worn out," he admitted of the daily routine. "I had no problems falling asleep."

After each re-supply stop, his pack weighed about 40 pounds, but got lighter as the days progressed until it was time to stop and load up again.

There were also wild animal sightings from time to time, although he said most stayed out of the hikers' way.

He also was amazed at the support the hikers got from people in towns close by the trail.

"At towns alongside the trail, they would set up caches, people would put out water and soda, even a beer sometimes, and snacks," Nunes said. "People were really supportive along the way."

He counted eight rattlesnakes in southern California and also saw foxes, coyotes, six black bears, some elk and more.

He was able to let his family know he was okay with a special GPS device that would send out a sort of 'homing' beacon to keep them updated on his progress.

"Surprisingly, toward the end is when it became the most difficult," he admitted. "I was getting so close ... I just was kind of dwelling on the fact that I was almost done and everything became an obstacle instead of something to enjoy."

But once he made it and sat atop the marker at the end of the trail, it was all worth it.

"I thought just about how fortunate I was to be out there, that I had no health problems and that there was no reason I should be unhappy," he said.

His family threw him a 'welcome home' party following his completion of the trail and now he will settle back in to his job in Eugene, Oregon with more knowledge of himself than most people gain in a lifetime.

He is happy to have kept his journal, proud he never missed a day making an entry, but said he regrets not taking a camera, wishing he'd had one "so other people can see what I've seen."

He also wouldn't trade in the blisters - since they came with life lessons.

"I've always felt like I lacked confidence," Nunes admitted. "The trail helped me realize that if I dedicate myself, put my mind to something, I can do anything."