August 3, 1997

‘Precious Life’ Grandeur Of Accomplishment Lost In Hikers’ Tragic Deaths

Martin Griffith Associated Press
 

Jane and Flicka Rodman never felt more alive as they entered the final leg of their 2,600-mile trek of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Worcester, Mass., couple found grandeur and adventure on the footpath traversing the mountains of California, Oregon and Washington between Mexico and Canada.

“I am really going to miss this life,” Jane wrote her parents as the journey wound down. “I must try to continue to remember how precious life is, even when we return, because who knows how long any of us have to enjoy this.

“Life is so precious! I can’t see the point in wasting time. How can you be depressed when you are so very lucky to be healthy, loved and alive?”

On Nov. 19, 1995, just six days after Jane wrote of her enthusiasm about life, their wilderness odyssey ended in the Mojave Desert.

After crossing countless high streams and snow-covered passes, the 30-year-old adventurers were run down by a car while walking along Highway 138 near Palmdale, less than 400 miles from their goal of the Mexican border.

Nearly two years later, family and friends still are struggling to deal with the tragedy caused by a motorist who fell asleep at the wheel and drew a five-day jail sentence.

“It’s inconceivable people so full of life can be gone from this world as we know it,” said Barbara Perry of Elephant Butte, N.M., Flicka’s mother. “You can’t ask why. There’s not going to be an answer to it.”

But in an effort to turn bad into good, the 53-year-old management consultant will lead a 150-mile memorial backpack trip on the PCT, beginning Aug. 17 from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park.

The Sierra hike has a twofold purpose of honoring the couple and raising support for one of the nation’s premier hiking trails, said Mrs. Perry, who hasn’t backpacked in 25 years.

“This hike took them to a whole different level as far as their inner growth and appreciation for being alive,” she said. “What better way to memorialize them than to save this experience for others? It’s a chance to feel their presence and see the things they did. I want to go out on the trail and laugh and cry and who knows what else.”

The tragedy, the worst in the PCT’s 29-year history, was doubly difficult to accept because of the promising futures of the two, the parents said.

Flicka dreamed of being a country doctor and was in his final year at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Jane was a veterinary technician and Sarah Lawrence College graduate who planned to pursue a master’s degree in education.

The one-time high school sweethearts married in December 1993, a month after Flicka proposed to her atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin at the end of their 2,150-mile trek of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

The backpackers, who began their PCT trek at the Canadian border in July 1995, reluctantly used the Southern California highway as a brief detour in an effort to catch up with fellow hikers and make it home by Christmas.

Their road walk was surprising because they were purists who had walked every foot of the PCT up until then, Gatti said.

“The whole thing has a sort of eerie feel to it,” said Jane’s father, Dr. Frank Gatti of Amherst, Mass. “They didn’t phone that frequently, but I talked to Jane on the phone 10 minutes before she was killed.

“And the message in Jane’s letter is amazing, given what happened. It was written with a clear understanding that life is precious and should not be taken for granted. There’s definitely a lesson in it for everybody.”

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