"I don't like getting somewhere. I like being somewhere. I don't consider hiking a sport like some people do. Hiking has a style."
For Kolby Kirk, it's not about the destination or goal; it's about the journey itself and everything that you can see and experience along the way. Kirk is all about taking the time to stop and observe along the trail—any and every trail. And along the way, he faithfully creates detailed journals of words and drawings.
"I'm writing it down in a way that, hopefully, when someone reads it later, it will be good data for them," he says. "When I write my journals I write for someone who might be reading this 50 years from now."
Kirk's website, thehikeguy.com, contains words, photos and drawings inspired by his hikes and travels. There's also a book in the works.
Kirk says his grandparents moved to Bend with his infant father in 1947, making him a third-generation Oregonian. He lived in Eugene until the age of nine, and since then has lived all over, he says, from Minnesota to California. He estimates that by the age of 17 he'd lived in 17 different houses.
He landed in Arcadia, Calif., where he had a job in research and development for the matchmaking website, eHarmony— from which he was laid off in 2011. Kirk says that he knew what he wanted to do within a week of being unemployed: hike the Pacific Crest Trail, move to Bend, meet a girl and get married. He started on the south end of the 2,650-mile PCT and headed north, making it about 1,700 miles before "the weather kicked me off in October," at Etna, Calif., near the Oregon state line. He's lived in Bend ever since, and last September married wife Jasmine.
"What I was looking for on the PCT I've already found. Being on the trail is like life; it's different for everybody."
— Kolby Kirk
From that 2011 PCT jaunt Kirk ended up with 7,700 photos and 650 pages of journals, including prose and sketches. Earlier this year, his words and drawings began to grace cans of Crux Fermentation Project's PCT Porter. He's now in the midst of transcribing all those notes (some 176,000 words) into a book scheduled for publication in 2019.
Kirk's day job is working as a content specialist at local marketing company G5, which, Kirk says, "is ironic because my website sucks right now." He attributes that to neglect, as he works full time at G5 and strives to meet book deadlines.
When asked if he ever wanted to return to the PCT to hike the remaining miles he missed, Kolby is uninterested. However, he says he fell in love with the Sierra Nevada mountains and did return in 2012 to explore side trails and areas that he missed the first time. "I'm still waiting to see my first mountain lion. I know they've seen me. I've seen countless bears, usually their butts running the other way.
"What I was looking for on the PCT I've already found. Being on the trail is like life; it's different for everybody. I always say that the people who are out there on those long trails are either trying to find something or lose something." Kirk says besides the wonders that nature has to offer, he also finds humanity from fellow hikers and others with whom he comes into contact.
Along the way, Kirk has earned a certificate as an Oregon Master Naturalist, a program offered through Oregon State University. And for the past three years he has been a volunteer for the Deschutes Land Trust. He also has been running his own outdoor journaling program, encouraging others to journal about their own adventures. He says he tries to capture thoughts and scenes by sketching.
Kirk says he is inspired by the journals of pioneer explorers Lewis and Clark, as well as Charles Darwin's writings about the Galapagos Islands. "We're in the golden age of science, still."
As we sat and talked in the shade in downtown Bend, Kirk noticed a longhorn beetle. Its antennae are longer than its body, making for an awkward flight pattern that's easy to notice, he noted. This year, he's focusing on learning about beetles and ants. Last year, he says it was lichen. "I like to say I'm a citizen scientist. I just love learning about everything. I am a life-long learner."
Kirk, 42, says he has been a world traveler since he was 25, and has since visited 30 countries. Most recently, he and Jasmine went on a 16-day honeymoon exploring Italy by backpack, journaling all the way.
At 6'3" and over 300 pounds, Kirk runs roughshod over the stereotypical image of a hiker (although he did lose 90 pounds on that 2011 PCT hike). "I'm carrying all this weight." Then, he adds, with a laugh, "I'm like a mule but sometimes I act like an ass."
Asked how many miles he thinks he's hiked in his life, he can only venture, "Thousands."