PORTLAND, Ore. – Stacey Kozel, who is paralyzed from the waist down, inspired viewers across the country after KGW and many other local and national media outlets covered her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to British Columbia.
Kozel began her journey on March 28 and said she finished the 2,650-mile-long trail on Sept. 5. She used braces to support her legs, which are paralyzed due to lupus.
The 2017 PCT was one of the most difficult for hikers as snow in California and wildfires in the Northwest impeded trails.
“It was a very tough trail this year. Because of having lupus, in Washington the colder nights were starting to get to me and when I had spasms, I had to hike through the night a lot. In Oregon, I had to hike through the night a lot because of the fires,” she said. “I just felt like I had to keep pushing along on the trail.”
Kozel said she stayed ahead of the fires in Oregon and earlier this month saw the finish line: A stone monument on the border of Washington state and British Columbia, marking the Northern Terminus of the PCT.
“I was just happy to see that monument,” she recalls.
Kozel is now back in Ohio, where she lives. The PCT is the second remarkable hike she’s accomplished, after finishing the Appalachian Trail in 2016.
But after she finished the PCT, she received criticism from some hikers online who questioned whether she actually completed the hike. Those questions escalated after Kozel’s story was shared by ABC News this week.
Some Pacific Crest Trail hikers questioned how Kozel could have completed the trail during such a difficult year and alleged that hikers did not see Kozel on the trail. Some called her story a hoax.
The Pacific Crest Trail does not track hikers. Scott Wilkinson, marketing and communications director for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, explained that while many hikers sign log books along the trail, it’s not a requirement. Furthermore, the organization doesn’t track who signs the book. PCTA posts a list of people who report they completed the trail on its website, but that is based on the honor system. So far only a handful of people have contact the PCTA to report they completed the trail this year, although far more have likely finished at this point.
“It’s such a long trail and the fact that it takes months for people to do it – it passes through very remote areas – there’s no systematic or coordinated effort to track hikers,” Wilkinson said. “It would be difficult bordering on impossible to prove whether somebody finished.”
Kozel maintains that she finished the through hike and said the online attacks have been upsetting after such a significant accomplishment. She took down her Facebook page and website she used to document her journey due to the online attacks.
“There’s a lot of people that seem to be saying a lot of stuff, and people that are saying stuff weren’t even on the trail,” she said. “It’s very hurtful.”
Kozel said she shared her story to help other people reach their goals and the online attacks marred what she intended to be a positive message.
“It’s been hard for me to share my story. I’m a pretty private person,” she said. “I felt like I wanted to help other people who might be going through something. I don’t want people to give up. It seems like people are taking away my integrity and changing the story in a way that it won’t help people.”
Kozel said she’s most upset by how others may interpret her journey now that it’s been questioned publicly.
“I’ve met so many people along the way and they kept me going out there on the tougher days,” She said. “It’s sad to me that people might feel like I let them down because of this negativity. That’s what hurts the most.”