Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
Last week’s photo and mention of a 37-year-old Bob Behrens having just completed hiking the Continental Divide Trail resulted in a visit to the offices of the Great Bend Tribune last Friday. Bob and wife Ruth agreed to sit for a short interview, and told us about their adventures since Bob’s first real long-distance hike.
When we went looking for more information, we were pleasantly surprised to find that 10 years ago, Behrens was in the local news again, having just completed hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. That trail was featured in the bestselling memoir made into a 2014 movie, “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed.
Raechel Manley reported in her Oct. 17, 2008, Great Bend Tribune feature “Hiker suffers setback, still fulfills lifelong dream,” that in addition to completing the hike, the last eight-day, 130-mile stretch was undertaken on a broken leg and injured ankle.
“Hiking for months and only days away from completing a life-long goal/dream, the unexpected happened. Behrens, while traversing a downhill path, stepped on a rock that had been used just moments before by his hiking partner. The rock gave way, causing Behrens to fall backward while his foot stayed rooted in the path.
“He fell off the edge of the path, sliding down the hill, grabbing at whatever vegetation was within reach. Pain shot up his leg as he heard what sounded like a gunshot, and he realized something was very wrong.
“After shouting out to Koby-Burley (his hiking partner), the two were able to get him back on the path and assess the damage. No bones were sticking out, but Behrens’ ankle had already begun to balloon. Being in a remote location, several days away from any road, Behrens had a choice to make.”
Behrens opted to continue the hike to the finish.
That hike marked the completion of what dedicated hikers refer to as the Triple Crown. Since completing the Continental Divide trail in 1988, he completed the Appalachian Trail in 1998, and topped it off with the Pacific Crest Trail, all by the age of 57.
“According to the American Long Distance Hiking Association, Behrens is among fewer than 100 people in the world who have completed all three of the long-distance hikes,” Manley wrote.
Well, today we would call that an understatement. We visited the website for the ALDHA, and found that he has indeed hiked the Triple Crown multiple times. At 67, he’s now logged over 20,000 miles hiking. Check it out here. Find him under the handle, Bob “Trekker” Behrens. It is guaranteed to blow you away.
Ruth said when the two married in 1972, Bob shared with her his goal to retire early so he could hike the Continental Divide. When he turned 37, Ruth said, she encouraged him to do it early.
“At the rate he was going, I was worried his knees would give out,” she said. “I honestly thought then that he would get it out of his system and that would be that.”
But, it turns out, Bob was just getting started.
Ruth recalls seeing his hiking partner, Joe Hoyt, for the first time.
“I was convinced he was a hippie, and I told Bob I didn’t think he should hike with the guy, but Bob was certain it would be okay,” she said. “It turned out to be a good match.”
Over the years, the Behrenses and Hoyt sent a few Christmas cards. Then, last year, they received a letter from Hoyt out of the blue. Bob called him and they talked.
“They were like boys again, and talked for hours,” Ruth said. They decided then they would take a “short” hike along the Sierra High Route in California. The ALDHA describes the 195-mile Sierra High as, “more a route than a trail, often following rock cairns. The route is not open to stock travel.” In other words, it’s a little off the beaten path. He’s enjoyed several other short hikes too, including the Colorado Trail (469 miles), the Ouachita Trail (223 miles), the Arizona National Scenic Trail (800 miles), at least one of the two Tahoe trails (180 and 165 miles), and more.
Bob doesn’t always leave his family behind on these long hikes. In 2000, he and Ruth retired, their two children, Jason and Jennifer, took leave from their careers, and the family hiked the Appalachian Trail together.
They started out planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail together. A few weeks in, they had to stop. The dry climate there was too much for their daughter, Ruth said. They packed up and drove their old 1979 RV across the country and hiked the Appalachian Trail instead.
Since Ruth wasn’t home to send supply drops as she did in 1988, this is what they did: Ruth would hike in with them in the morning, and then hike out on her own and drive the RV to the next stop, then hike in to meet them and lead them back to the RV where they camped together almost every night. Sometimes, they camped overnight if the stretch of trail they were on was longer.
Around 2009 or 2010, Bob and Ruth traveled to Alaska and spent about a week hiking in Denali together.
Bob and Ruth make a point of hiking somewhere every year now in retirement. They live a modest lifestyle, still living in the start house they bought so many years ago.
Bob describes his hiking as “his catharsis.” Ruth says hiking gets into your blood. Now that she’s done it, she understands why Bob can’t get enough.