Journeys North – a new book about the Pacific Crest Trail by Barney Scout Mann

In Journeys North, trail angel, thru-hiker, and outdoor advocate Barney Scout Mann spins a compelling tale of six hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2007 as they walk from Mexico to Canada. This ensemble story unfolds as these half-dozen hikers—including Barney and his wife, Sandy—tread north, forming relationships and revealing their deepest secrets and aspirations. They face a once-in-a-generation drought and early severe winter storms that test their will in this bare-knuckled adventure. Only a third of all the hikers who set out on the trail that year would finish.

Scout, I’ve been lucky enough to travel with you through the writing process. It’s been a thru-hike! Journeys North has been a dream of yours for a long time. Being a writer was the dream, right?

Jack, Journeys North is actually the culmination of a 40-year dream. In 1980, I put my law career on hold and set out to write the next great American novel. I was 28. For three years my wife and I scrimped and I wrote. Our one furniture purchase was a table and chairs from the damaged freight store. My finished novel had interest in New York. “We want to see your next.” Two editors from Viking wrote two single-spaced pages of changes. But then we had our first-born. When he was eight months old, with no book contract yet, I moved on.

Twenty-six years later, in 2010, I retired from my San Diego law firm. That day, my long-time partner called expecting profound retirement thoughts. I told him: “I haven’t thought about it once today. My first deadline for Backpacker magazine is at 2 p.m.”

Since then I’ve published over 40 articles and two coffee table books. But all the while, Journeys North was the book I wanted to see in print. And all that while, I held onto a dream from my 28-year-old self: That someday I will walk through an airport and see someone reading my book.

Scout with his new book.

I think of you as a hiker, an advocate, a volunteer, a PCT historian, a lover of trails and a trail angel. Far cry from your days in three-piece suits as a lawyer. Journeys North is your third book – you did it. When did you start writing it? I’ve seen a little of your process – the long passionate years in your little library, talking about your dream with hikers you’re hosting and fellow volunteers at PCTA, the re-writing, the finding supporters, allies and partners. Tell us about the process. How did you get Journeys North to the point you were ready to publish it?

We live a lifetime on a thru-hike. Capturing that lightning in a bottle requires hard choices. During our 2007 PCT hike I kept a journal, 400 to 600 words a day, and then I spent nearly two years interviewing and researching. I interviewed over 70 people, many multiple times. I write best when I have fifty to one hundred times the material I need. Making those tough choices gives me the hope of producing something worthy.

Scout at work on his book. Photo by Patrick Beggan.

Edited out: the Andersons, trail angels extraordinaire. Edited out: a chapter where I saved a hiker’s life. The first draft took over three years. Then I thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 2015, and two years later the Appalachian Trail. In between there were repeated cycles—edit, cut, rewrite. I started seriously pitching the manuscript in 2018 and signed the contract with Mountaineers Books in 2019.

No bluffing – I’ve read a lot of PCT books. Yours is such a wonderfully human tale. Can you tell us about who’s in the book? And how the trail can impact our lives?

Journeys North follows my wife and I, and four much younger hikers, Tony and Nadine and Blazer and Dalton. Blazer had been a three-sport, high school athlete, but at age 24 she was living out of her car three weeks before starting the PCT. Tony left a 14-year marriage in the rearview mirror to hike the Appalachian trail, but when he started the PCT two years later he was seeking what eluded him on that first thru-hike. They were all brave to let me tell their stories. I had to match their bravery in Journeys North telling mine.

The Pacific Crest Trail in Washington’s wild and wet Glacier Peak Wilderness. Photo by Patrick Beggan.

How did the trail change our lives? When Blazer completed the PCT she came back and reclaimed her life. In 2015, my wife and I officiated at her wedding. As for me, I regard every warm shower as a miracle and people smile at me more. But here’s the thing, you do not have go out for five months. Whether it’s a week, a weekend or an afternoon, or whether you simply walk out your own door heading to the park, you are open to change. The simple act of walking under an open sky, shedding those distractions that claw at us, leaves you open for change. Take that first step.

How’s Journeys North being received?

I have to pinch myself—Journeys North was an Amazon No. 1 New Release for five weeks. It’s a Banff Mountain Book Festival finalist for Adventure Travel. It was just mentioned in the October National Geographic magazine and a six-page excerpt will be in the next Backpacker magazine. But what’s important to me are the daily emails I receive: “I laughed, cried and found myself biting my nails—something I’d given up as a teenager.” “I can’t wait to read it again.” “I kept on saying “one more chapter” in bed, and then my husband finally had to reach over and turn out the light.” “Journeys North is what kept me going the last six nights.” Writing is such a lonely pursuit—during all those long hours, I only hoped the book might have this kind of reception.

Shifting gears. These are difficult times – from the pandemic, to turmoil around racism and injustice, the election, our devastating wildfires and we all have personal lives as well. How are you and Sandy doing? What’s keeping you going?

On March 15, Sandy and I canceled our 2020 hiker hosting season. It was a wrenching decision. Four days later we boarded a deserted jet to Washington, D.C. to help our eight-month pregnant daughter. We sheltered in place with her, her husband and our two-year-old grandson for three months. It was a huge silver lining.

Loading hikers into cars at Scout and Frodo’s house for a ride to the Southern Terminus. Photo by Patrick Beggan.

We are doing okay. What keeps me going are: two grandkids. Sandy’s hugs. Zoom. I focus on what I can affect—promoting my book, serving as president of the Partnership for the National Trails System, and backing those causes I feel are important.

The Pacific Crest Trail evolves. All told, we’re a young country and an even younger trail. In the arc of the trail’s history, where are we? What brings you hope?

I see in my mind’s eye two things. I see a cluttered basement office in 1926 where teacher Catherine Montgomery first proposed the idea of a Mexico to Canada trail to Joseph Hazard. And I see myself two days ago at the Mexican border, and there, leaning against five, grey-painted fir pillars, I look north at an actual 2,650-mile trail. I’m an optimist by nature, but here’s what I’ve written about the PCT: “Trails don’t disappear in a generation; trails disappear overnight.” But here’s what gives me hope, at every juncture when the trail has been threatened—and there have been many–one person, a small group, stepped into the breach. Today that small group is you and me, part of the PCTA’s 15,000. I believe that in the year 2050, people will still be able walk to that small rise at the Mexican border, touch those pillars, look north, and think, “this trail runs to Canada.”

You and Sandy are hoping and planning on hosting hikers for one last season next year should the pandemic allow. You’re full of a million stories, like Journeys North. Can you leave us with a story of how hosting hikers impacted your life?

We’ve had over 6,000 hikers, each on the brink of the journey of a lifetime, and you want just one story? I’ll share the story common to all—in 15 years, I never heard one harsh word and nothing has ever been taken from our house.

Over the years each of our three kids have received emails like this: “Are your parents Scout and Frodo?!? Do you know they’re legends?”

Hikers, all who’d stayed at Scout and Frodo’s house, start their own Journeys North.

But you asked for a story: One evening at dinner, European hikers were dominating the conversation while a young man from Portland sat silent. In a lull someone asked him a question. When he answered everyone grew quiet. “I got out of the Army two days ago.” Four years before in Iraq, his days consisted of 12-hour shifts as a Humvee turret gunner. One night back at base, he chanced upon a PCT trail journal website. He was hooked. That’s when he decided to thru-hike. As the young man picked up his fork again, he looked us all in the eye and said, “Why am I thru-hiking? When I look back, I don’t want Iraq to be the seminal event of my youth.”

 Find out more about Barney Scout Mann and his book on his website and follow him on Instagram as well.

Barney Scout Mann, author of Journey North: The Pacific Crest Trail.

Barney Scout Mann, author of Journey North: The Pacific Crest Trail.

Author: Jack "Found" Haskel

As the Trail Information Manager, Jack works to connect people to the PCT. He's involved with a wide variety of projects that help the trail, the trail's users and the community that surrounds the experience. He has thru-hiked (Pacific Crest Trail in 2006; Colorado Trail in 2008; Continental Divide Trail in 2010) and is an obsessed weekend warrior.