PICO BOULEVARD — Hiking a 2,655-mile trail through remote sections of California’s mountainous terrain sounds difficult. Beating a record time in the process is more than a challenge. Doing it while eating nothing but plant-based foods might be a mark of insanity.
Josh Garrett doesn’t think so.
The 30-year-old Santa Monica College track coach embarked on the epic hike to raise awareness for Mercy For Animals, a nonprofit that advocates for the humane treatment of animals and against the cruelties of factory farming.
In the process, Garrett hopes not only to defeat his own personal best of 88 days on the trail, but also to bust the existing 64-day record set by Truckee resident Scott Williamson in 2011.
Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey got behind the project, providing food, water and hiking gear, according to a release.
Garrett sees his vegan diet, which he’s followed for the last 18 months, as an asset rather than a hindrance to his goals. When he tackled the trail in 2009, he was less discriminating about his food choices.
The teacher was an animal-loving carnivore before he saw a Mercy for Animals undercover video in which a employee used live turkeys suspended upside down over a conveyor belt as punching bags.
That video and a blossoming relationship with Karen Dawn — a Pacific Palisades resident who made the papers for her turkey dinners at which turkeys were guests rather than the main course — made him reconsider his diet and how it impacts the world.
That’s the idea behind Mercy for Animals, said Ari Solomon, director of communications for the group.
The group was excited when Garrett approached them with the idea for the hike, which they see as both a great way to get the name of the organization in the public eye and advance the cause of the vegan diet.
“We think it will give him the energy to do this,” Solomon said.
While it’s not impossible, being a vegan hiker comes with challenges, said Susan Dopart, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist based on the Westside.
Garrett hikes from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day in an attempt to hit the 41-mile average he needs to break the existing record. With that kind of stress on the body, he needs to consume at least 2 grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body mass.
That’s a lot for someone who eats meat, much less a person reliant on nuts, beans or tofu, Dopart said.
Depriving the body of protein and other nutrients when it needs them most can have dire consequences.
“Systems in the body can break down,” she said.
The trail is one of the most arduous hikes in the country. It runs from Mexico to Canada, passing through California, Oregon and Washington state in the meantime. Hikers cross desert land, the Sierra Nevada mountains, forests and even volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range.
The experience hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows for Garrett. Heatstroke took him out of the game for 26 hours on his third day hiking, and Dawn reports that he’s been troubled by blisters.
“I keep reminding myself that no matter how hard it gets, how crappy a day I’m having, it’s nothing compared to what animals are going through in factory farms and slaughter houses,” Garrett said.
Garrett has already raised $4,825 for the cause, but hopes to reach $26,550 in total, $10 for every mile he must hike to defeat the trail once again.
To contribute to the cause, visit mercyforanimals.org/veganhiker.