Ben Shmaruk is an avid outdoorsman and hiker. The 2017 Staples High School grad owes those passions to his father, Alan. They hiked together locally when Ben was a child; at 8, his father took him up Mount Washington.
Soon they ranged farther: Peru and New Zealand. When he was old enough, Ben did a month-long expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School.
In September of 2019, Alan was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. The news shook his family — including Ben’s mother Dawn and sister Julianna — to its core. Yet Alan’s fighting spirit transformed nervousness and uncertainty into positivity.
His chemo ended in January 2020. But now the cancer has returned, and Alan is once again undergoing treatment.
Ben says, ” I know his attitude will carry him over the line again.” He’s doing his part to help.
When Ben learned last summer that Lafayette College — where he was a rising senior — would conduct all classes remotely, his father encouraged him to take a gap year.
Ben’s longtime dream was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The 2,650-mile route from Mexico to Canada — through barren desert, over snow-covered mountains and around beautiful alpine lakes — is as daunting as it sounds.
It’s no ordinary trek. Then again, Ben is no ordinary hiker. He’s using the 5-month journey to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research, through the non-profit organization PCT 4 PC.
“Each step I take is not only one step closer to the border, but one step closer to early detection methods that could save thousands of lives,” Ben says.
He’s documenting his hike online. Julianna — a sophomore at Lafayette — is handling Ben’s social media.
Just before he began — late last month — Ben wrote:
Writing this post is a completely surreal feeling. I have been thinking about tomorrow for months and to a lesser extent, years, and now here we are. I’ve spent the last couple days staying with my (vaccinated) Great Aunt Ilene and Uncle Donald outside of San Diego, preparing for the trip. After a last minute REI run and my first food shop of the trip, I am all ready to go tomorrow.
Currently my emotions consist of alternating excitement and nervousness, as I look to settle into a rhythm over the next few days. I hope to update this page weekly with detailed reports of my hiking. That said, if I go a while without posting, it is likely due to service issues, so please do not think the worst has happened.
As for the rest of the night, I’m planning on taking a nice warm shower as it could be my last in a while. When I wake up tomorrow it’ll be time to realize a lifelong dream, and I intend to make the absolute most of this experience over the next few months.
Ben has posted 3 times so far. The first covered Days 1 through 6, from the Mexican border to Mountain Valley Retreat. That was 100 miles. “Only 2,550 to go!” Ben wrote.
His second report, through Day 12, brought him to Idyllwild. The highlight was the chance to eat at Paradise Valley Café, reported to serve “the best burgers on the Pacific Coast Trail.”
But it closed at 3 p.m. A blistering pace over 17 miles brought him there in time for a meal that — fortunately — lived up to its reputation.
Ben’s third post — through Day 19, at Little Bear Springs — recounts his inflamed ankle tendon. Clearly, this is not a walk in the park.
It is, however, vital — to Ben, his family, and pancreatic cancer research.
Click here for Ben’s website, including his trail reports. There’s a “Donate” button on the home page. (Hat tip: Francis Costello)