July 31, 2017

Seattle doctors hike the PCT

By Kris Parfitt

Retired family practice doctors Bill Affolter and Henry Mustin don’t fit the conventional mold of medical professionals. That’s why the duo has the trail name, Pair-A-Docs.

Stereotypically, when many people think of retired doctors, they imagine endless days of golf or high-end global travel itineraries. But hiking the Pacific Crest Trail?

Affolter and Mustin both settled in the Pacific Northwest during the 1970s and met while working at Group Health. Each have a son, a daughter and spouses who love the outdoors. Both families spent years going on family hikes, kayaking and backpacking trips together but hadn’t been doing any long hiking trips since the kids left home after college.

The two men missed the family adventures, and in 2012 — when Affolter was 69 and Mustin 64 — they decided to hike 70-plus miles from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Retired with Plenty of Time

“‘Can we still do this?’ was our main concern,” Mustin said.

“We hardly trained,” Affolter said. “We started in late August and hiked 10 miles a day, each carrying 25–30 pounds. We had our aches and pains, blisters and doubts; it wasn’t easy but it also wasn’t anything we couldn’t do.”

Henry Mustin (left) and Bill Affolter and the southern terminus monument at the Mexican border.

Along the way they met section hikers — those who were trekking long-distance sections along the trail. They also met thru-hikers — people walking the entire 2,650 miles between Mexico and Canada. These people were hiking 25–30 miles a day.

“They talked and we listened,” Mustin said. “I thought a lot about it and proposed to Bill that we become PCT section-hikers, suggesting we begin at the Mexican border the next year.”

“It didn’t take much urging,” Affolter said with a laugh. “I was retired; I had plenty of time.”

Once the flame was lit, they planned for a late-April start in 2013. Mustin researched the best gear to bring. Affolter read books, blogs and watched videos about hiking the PCT.

“The result from our research was that there wasn’t a right or wrong way to prepare for a long-distance hike,” Affolter said. “You just figure out what works best for you.”

It’s About the Experience

Since their first section-hike from Mexico to Mammoth, California in 2013, the Pair-A-Docs have hiked from Mammoth to Lake Tahoe (2014) and Ashland to Willamette Pass, Oregon (2015). In 2016, they attempted to hike 600 miles from Lake Tahoe, California to Ashland, Oregon, but stopped halfway through due to scorching weather and clouds of bugs.

“At our age, you get less goal-driven,” Affolter said. “It’s more about the experience and if you’re not having a good one, do something else.”

When Seattle-based freelance writer Kris Parfitt Travers isn’t traveling and meeting interesting people to interview, she’s writing about it.