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Megan Leedom ’98 met all weathers during her five-month through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Alumni Profile/Happy Trails to Megan Leedom

For nearly four decades, Megan Leedom ’98 had no idea she was a long-distance hiker at heart. Perhaps she should have realized sooner. After all, she grew up in Oregon, a state known for outdoor adventure and trails galore that include some 460 miles of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It didn’t dawn on her at St. Norbert in 1994, either, even though the campus is a short drive from the 1,200-mile Ice Age Trail. It wasn’t until the early 2010s, when living in Seattle, that Leedom began hitting the trails in earnest. And her inner hiker emerged.

“I got hooked on hiking,” she says. So much so that she quit her odd-lot jobs picture-framing and working in restaurants, moved to Bend, Ore., and earned an associate’s degree in forestry, praying to land a job that would plant her in the woods. She did, when the United States Forest Service hired her as a LIDAR technician. (LIDAR is a remote-sensing application that uses a pulsed laser to measure distances to Earth.) Leedom loved her new job, but it still wasn’t enough. For Bend is a trail town – a frequent stop for those thru-hiking the nearby PCT, which runs from Mexico to Canada via California, Oregon and Washington. Leedom spoke with many of the hikers about their epic journeys, which had taken an average of five months. A seed planted long ago began to grow.

“When I was a kid, I remember being on some trail with my dad,” Leedom says. “I remember him telling me about this other trail that went all the way from Mexico to Canada. I remember thinking that was the craziest thing – that if I got on that trail, it would just keep going.” That trail was the PCT, the same trail all of the Bend thru-hikers were following. It wasn’t long before Leedom decided she wanted to join them. In fact, she would start out the following year, in April 2017. Thankfully, her boss was supportive. “Basically, he put my job on hold for me,” she says. “He said, ‘It’ll be ready whenever you get back.’ That was really fortunate. A lot of people have to quit their jobs to thru-hike the PCT.” 

With just a few months’ preparation gathering and testing gear, Leedom hit the trail with high hopes for an adventure like no other. She wasn’t disappointed. The scenery, not surprisingly, was gorgeous. But also tough and sometimes fraught with peril: The PCT runs through desert and forest, and along the rugged and wild Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. Leedom found herself climbing steep passes, trudging through snowfields, scaling ice walls with crampons and an ice ax, and wilting in 100-degree heat.

No day was perfect, and most had tough moments that tested her physically and mentally. Yet going home was out of the question. “I never once wanted to quit, even in my lowest moment when I was by myself, lost in the snow and then fell into a stream.”

Despite all of the challenges, she loved the trail and the journey. “I started alone and thought I’d enjoy the solitude,” she says. “But what I enjoyed most was all of the people I met. They were from all over the world, and we had an instant bond because we were sharing such a unique experience together.”

By the time she hit the Canadian border in September, Leedom was a changed person. “I learned I’m a lot tougher than I thought I was. Hiking the trail has given me much more confidence. I know I can handle anything.”

March 20, 2018