Guthrie Nutter's legs, honed from years of walking New York City streets, are powering him through some of nature's greatest spectacles.
Nutter, a 33-year-old Rogue Valley native, is walking the crest of the West from Mexico to Canada.
His trek along the length of the Pacific Crest Trail so far has presented him with up-close glimpses of rare desert flowers for his camera and enough poison oak for a lifetime. Some days soaring eagles are the fauna du jour. Last week, he met eyes with a large cougar on the trail not 40 feet away.
Shooting stars have soothed his daily worries about cougars and sent him to sleep, while at other times the fickle skies have pummeled him with rain and sleet, making a summer on the Pacific Crest Trail feel as much an adventure as a sentence.
"The experiences on the trail are all mutually amazing and horrible at the same time and for difference reasons," Nutter says. "And I still can't hear the rattlesnakes."
The PCT is tough enough for those used to roughing it, but this Spanish Harlem resident who had never backpacked longer than a one-nighter is living out his dream by soaking up the biggest walk the West has to offer — but with just four senses.
Nutter is legally deaf, relying on a mix of sign language, lip reading and some sounds from a new hearing aid to communicate in his regular world — and now on one of the natural world's greatest stages.
This Crater High School grad and occasional television actor has put on hold his days of giving deaf tours of the Guggenheim and of Broadway theaters to gut it out across 2,650 miles of Southern California deserts and some of the Northwest's more hardscrabble mountains.
It's a journey that germinated as a dream 20 years ago and came to life in March almost as an impulse. Nutter didn't painstakingly plan his trek nor bother to pre-package food and supplies in boxes to be shipped to trailside post offices like many PCT "through-hikers" do.
Instead, he picks up supplies in the mountain towns that dot the trail. He has blown through four pairs of shoes along the way.
Nutter's trail name is "Hand Poet," referring to both his sign language and his fascination with written language, and he doesn't know how the next stanza of this epic will read.
"I don't know what's ahead of me," Nutter says. "I can't communicate with the hikers coming past me so I don't know the conditions of the trail. It's just me, by myself. And it's pretty amazing."
He's two months into his five-month walk, taking a break this week at Mt. Shasta City with his mother, Elizabeth Rossi, of Medford.
A 50-pound backpack flopped off his 150-pound frame Wednesday when he paused to rest, bathe and refuel. He visited a Mt. Shasta greasy spoon to shovel sausage and eggs into his mouth, apologizing for the scraps on his chin, saying he's never before eaten in front of anyone with his beard this long.
He's tired, he says, yet he can't wait to get back on the trail.
"My ego wants me to go, go, go," Nutter says. "My legs want to stay, stay, stay. So I let my stomach make my decision. It's going to eat, eat, eat."
By all accounts, Nutter picked the wrong year to tackle the trail.
The snowpack in the Sierra Mountains is 180 percent of average, with the Cascades snowpacks in Oregon and Washington also well above average. Normally, when one is high the other is low, allowing hikers to skip heavy snow sections in the spring and summer, then return to finish those legs in the late summer or early fall.
"This is far and away the worst snow year," says Barney Mann, a Pacific Coast Trail Association board member from San Diego.
About 500 people have tried to tackle the entire trail this year, and that's about twice the number from five years ago, Mann says. Normally, anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of those attempting a through-hike make it, but Mann expects only a quarter to a third will make it this year.
"People are just getting beat up, not just physically but psychologically," Mann says.
Nutter has taken his lumps and realizes his late start and slow progress mean he might not be among the percentage who will make it to Canada this year.
But his pace has its advantages. He's not obsessed with keeping to a rigid schedule of 30-mile days, doing more 20-mile days that includes stops to soak in the vistas and collect tiny rocks like flakes of mica discovered along the way.
"I wanted to actually see where I was instead of looking at the trail," Nutter says. "That's like being on a treadmill."
In some ways, the trail is strangely similar to the rat-race of New York City, he says.
At home, he slips acting gigs, most recently in the Showtime drama "Nurse Jackie," around his museum-docent duties, consulting work and teaching of American Sign Language.
He carries an iPhone, texting and emailing when he gets signals, and starts his mornings by reading the Mail Tribune online before heading out for his day's work in solitude.
"There are a lot of strange parallels," Nutter says. "Anonymously riding the subways, there's a sense of being alone. That experience kind of mirrors my experience on the trail."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.