Michael Ivey - Life Changing Summer On The PCT

Michael Ivey Grizzly

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

My name is Michael, but most people know me as Grizzly. I’m a long distance backpacker who occasionally has to work to finance my next adventure. 

I was born and raised in a small town in Michigan and grew up outdoors playing sports and fishing. Hiking wasn’t a thing where I grew up, and I had never been camping until I was in my early 20s.

I had always loved the outdoors and certainly never backed down from a physical challenge, but what was the point in just walking in the woods? Sure occasionally I would go on a nature walk with my mom growing up, but hike up a mountain! Why?  

The big shift came when I left the Midwest and moved to Colorado with my sister. The Rocky Mountains were a huge wake up call for someone who grew up in Michigan. It seemed like there were endless places to explore and a million beautiful vistas to see.

My sister you could say introduced me to hiking. She pushed me to go on day hikes and climb 14ers with her. She stoked the flame to explore the outdoor world around me. This flame was further fanned when I started working seasonally in Alaska and was exploring Denali National Park every week. I was hooked.

I began doing longer routes and more and more days in the wilderness. I loved being able to get away from the hustle and bustle and truly explore the natural world around me. While in Alaska I met other like minded adventures, some of which who had done “thru hikes”. This really perked my curiosity.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

The Pacific Crest Trail, which follows the spine of the west coast from the Mexican border with California all the way to Canada. 2653 miles of beautifully maintained trail that also happens to pass through some of the most scenic places in our amazing country.

In 2015 I decided to thru hike the entire length of it. I had already visited many of the areas around and on the trail before. I’d hiked on the JMT and been blown away by the scenery. So why not just walk from Mexico to Canada? This sounds like something that would be nearly impossible to do, but every year people do it. They had even just made a movie about a woman who had hiked parts of it.

Talk about a life changing summer. On April 20th, 2015 I took my first steps away from the Mexican border. During the course of the summer I battled the heat of the desert, the altitude of the Sierra, the bugs and wildfires of Northern California, and the rain and snow of Washington. I was in love.... with thru hiking. I had never done anything where I was pushed so hard mentally and physically every day. 

Along the way I was meeting so many amazing people from all over the world, let alone all over the country. I was making friends with people who felt the same way about nature and that were searching for some sort of answers as I was.

What do I want out of life? Am I strange for not wanting a 9-5 job? Is walking across the country really as acceptable as settling down and having a family? Are memories more important then money in my bank account?

Everything just seems to make sense when your on a long trail. Everything just seems like it’s going to work out for the best. 

When I finally completed the PCT in October of 2015 I felt like such a different person then the shy confused man that started in Campo, California. How could I not be different, I had just walked across the country and pushed my body to if not past it’s breaking point multiple times. 

I’d hiked on the JMT and been blown away by the scenery. So why not just walk from Mexico to Canada?

The confidence gained from this was immense. Afterwards it wasn’t could I do this or that, it was how fast or how well can I do this. This wasn’t just in physical endeavors but also at work. Not situation seemed too daunting. 

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

I’ve learned through years of thru hiking that I am so so so much stronger physically then I’ve ever thought I was. I’ve also learned that sometimes I need to push myself mentally further to keep up with my body.

It’s really amazing the human body is capable of, especially if you are willing to mentally let go and push yourself.  For example hiking really long mileage days. More than once I’ve physically felt fine at the end of a 40+ mile day but I’m either fatigued mentally or bored mentally and just want to stop hiking and set up camp.

It’s something I’m still working on and hope to improve upon in the future to really see what I’m capable of physically during a thru hike.

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

My favorite item in my pack is my Katabatic Gear Sawatch Quilt.  Katabatic Gear is a local Colorado company that makes great light weight sleeping quilts that are both very well manufactured and very warm.

They have very accurate temperature ratings which is very important when choosing a piece of gear that you will depend on keeping you warm every night. 

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to fail! One of the hardest parts about a thru hike is simply starting a thru hike.

After you get to the trail head it’s just walking. You’re going to have a million questions, everyone does. You’re going to be nervous, it’s kind of like the first day of school. Everything will make sense after you start walking and stop thinking so much. You’re going to make mistakes! It’s normal and it helps you learn so don’t sweat it.

Don’t be afraid to fail! One of the hardest parts about a thru hike is simply starting a thru hike.

You’ll meet incredible, strong, motivated people. People who are just like you, and people who are nothing like you. The amazing thing is that your both trying to achieve the same goal. It doesn’t matter what your background, job, or status in life is. On the trail everyone is the same. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s a 50 mile hike or the PCT, whatever trail calls out to you go hike it. That’s one of the amazing things about our country, the national scenic trail system has a trail for everyone. Different lengths, different environments, different seasons in which to hike them. 

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

I’m lucky enough to have an amazing fiancé at home, Jenna, who has helped push me along the past three years and will continue to push me along in the future. As well as my sister, Jennifer, who has been around since the beginning of this silly transformation into someone who enjoys long walks in the woods for several months at a time. 

Outside of immediate family my biggest inspirations in the thru hiking world have been other thru hikers. Three that come to mind that continually make me want to push myself and continue to grow as a hiker are Lint ( @linthikes ), Anish ( @anishhikes ), and Legend ( @thefreeoutside ). All three of these hikers have influenced me in different ways, making my gear choices lighter, setting ridiculous speed records, or being the most humble and most accomplished hikers in the world.

When I’m at the gym or in the car and I need a thru hiking fix in the off season I listen to a lot of podcasts also. Some of my favorite thru hiking centric podcasts at backpacker radio, The Hiking Thru Podcast, and The Trail Show

Where’s your next adventure?

Next on my radar is getting married this fall. Not something a lot of thru hikers are focused on or thinking about but I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve found my forever adventure partner and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.

We will be getting married in Glacier National Park and then traveling to and thru the Canadian Rockies on our honeymoon. You better believe some of that travel will be done in a thin gravel path through the wilderness.

As far as more thru hiking plans, well I’m not sure yet. I’d love to hike the PCT with Jenna in the future, I’d also love to hike the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) again. I’m not exactly sure what the future will have in store for me, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing more trail miles. You learn to be flexible as a thru hiker and just roll with the punches. 

Where can others learn more about you?

If you want to learn more about me then please give me a follow on Instagram @Grizzly_hikes or perhaps find me on a trail in the Colorado front range.