On a 300-mile trek across eight wilderness areas, Steve Marsden's goal was to create a regional trail through wilderness areas, alpine heights and watersheds.

Before stepping out to begin the longest cross-country journey of his life, veteran distance hiker Steve Marsden felt butterflies in his gut.

He had done his share of long hikes, including multiple crossings of the challenging Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

But nothing matched the roughly 300 miles of mostly rugged terrain from the Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness west of Red Bluff, Calif., north to Agness at the mouth of the Illinois River in Southwest Oregon.

"I had a lot of trepidation, maybe even a little fear," he recalled. "When you look at hundreds of miles ahead as you first start out, you wonder, 'Can I actually do this?' "

But with each step, doubt faded along what Marsden dubbed the "Bigfoot Trail" through the Trinity, Marble, Klamath and Siskiyou mountains. Beginning the trek on July 7, he followed a route he had designed, using existing trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

His goal was to create a regional trail through wilderness areas, alpine heights and watersheds.

"I had to put together different trails to make the route," he said. "Where there were no trails, I bushwhacked. But it would be relatively easy to hook up the existing trails to make a regional one."

He completed it in 27 days on Aug. 13, not including layover days.

"Bigfoot was a reccurring theme for the hike because this is the area where people have reported a lot of Bigfoot sightings over the years," he said.

Marsden, who celebrated his 55th birthday on the trail, is a stock trader who lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their 8-year-old daughter, Ayla, in Cave Junction.

"Ever since I was a kid, I've always liked to walk," he explained. "It's a good thing to do just to think. There are no distractions. It's almost meditative.

"Hiking adds a lot of perspective to the rat race we're all in," he added.

A former environmental activist who has a degree in biology, Marsden was joined for 10 days on the trail by Williams resident Spencer Lennard, director of the Big Wildlife conservation group. Lennard hiked with Marsden for about 100 miles.

They would skirt wildfires and step around rattlesnakes. They saw everything from bears to butterflies. In the Trinity Alps, they could see Thompson Peak, which contains one of the last remnants of glaciers in the region.

All told, the entire trek crossed portions of six national forests, eight wilderness areas and one national monument.

"I've wanted to create a through trail through the region of my own design for years," Marsden explained. "The PCT is its own thing. This hike was more about the place — particularly the Klamath Siskiyous — and not about 'Can I do 30 miles a day?' When you get on the PCT, it's like the freeway of hiking trails."

Marsden was quick to say he has high regard for the globally-known trail and the hikers it draws from around the world.

"I admire people who can hike 2,600 miles, border to border," he said of the Mexico-to-Canada trek. "That's incredible."

But he wanted to go at a pace which allowed him to study the land.

"I tried to leave no trace of my presence there," he said, noting he uses a small portable gas stove for cooking.

He would fall asleep under a canopy of glittering stars.

"When you are out there, you start getting in tune with the phases of the moon," he said. "You know where it's going to be and when it's going to be there.

"When you are outside that long, you get off the clock completely," he added. "I would get up before sunrise and walk in the morning before it got hot. I would go to bed when it started to get dark. I'd fall asleep watching the stars."

Lennard, 49, agreed.

"When you are hiking all day, 15- to 20-mile days, you lose track of time," Lennard said. "You get into the zone. Your begin to feel what's important in the big picture. All of the clutter settles out."

"This area is the place where we live," Marsden said. "This wild place, which people are so detached from now, shaped who we are. It shaped our ancestors. If you never go there, you can never feel the wildness they felt."

In the beginning of the hike, he followed the mountain crest north between the Sacramento and Eel river drainages.

The first community he hiked to was appropriately called Wildwood on Highway 36 between Red Bluff and Peanut.

"There was one establishment — a pub," he said. "That was it. Nothing else."

From Wildwood he followed a blister-making road to Peanut, Hayfork and Douglas City. The latter was the largest with about 100 souls.

His wife and daughter met him in historic Weaverville where they spent a few days relaxing. That was also where Lennard joined him in his journey.

One of the highest points they reached as a site known as the "Tri Forest Pass," a divide about 7,300 feet elevation which separates the Klamath, Shasta and Trinity national forests.

At one point, the two stopped at a resort that was holding a wine-tasting dinner. The hikers were invited to join them.

"The wine was very good — best wine on the trail," Marsden said. "I had been out 10 or 11 days, of course. And it was the only wine on the trail."

A heavy rain fell that night, soaking the two hikers until they found relief after midnight under the overhang of a cabin near the resort.

After crossing the road between Calahan and Cecilville, they encountered the PCT which they followed as far as Seiad Valley. Once there, Marsden hitchhiked about 30 miles west on Highway 96 past Happy Camp to Clear Creek where he followed the Clear Creek Trail into the Siskiyou Wilderness Area.

But he had to bushwhack across the mountains to reach the Red Buttes Wilderness. He met his wife and daughter at the Oregon Caves National Monument where they stayed in the chateau for a few days.

After a few days resting in their home, he caught a ride from a miner to the lower Illinois River west of Selma where he walked through the northern portion of the Kalmiopsis wilderness. He followed the Illinois River Trail over Bald Mountain and down into Silver Creek drainage.

He ended his hike at Agness, then hitchhiked to Gold Beach where his wife and daughter once more joined him.

Looking back down the trail, he is both encouraged and concerned about the region.

"There is a lot of degradation of the meadows in the wilderness areas where they still graze cows," he said. "Some of the worst of that was in the Marble Mountain Wilderness."

Yet he saw ample deer and other wildlife in many areas.

"Chipmunks were everywhere," he said. "I saw the most mountain lion scat in the Kalmiopsis. And I saw Bigfoot in Happy Camp."

That would be the tall metal statue, not the hairy animal, he said.

Marsden is already is planning a hike for next summer.

"I want to circumnavigate the Klamath Mountains by following a coastal route," he said. "Somewhere around Arcata or Eureka, I'll head inland and finish back at Yolla Bolly."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at pfattig@mailtribune.com