Health, Science, Environment
4:08 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

What Is Ichthyosis And Why Has It Led One St. Louisan To Hike 2,600 Miles?

 Brian Gass is a bit different than many of the people he encounters hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. He spends a lot more time concerned with his skin. Gass has ichthyosis, a rare genetic skin disease that manifests itself as thickening or thinning of the skin, sometimes giving a scaly appearance or becoming very dry, flaky and itchy. For Gass, it requires copious amounts of lotion, long-sleeves, and frequent night-hiking to avoid the sun. Gass talked to St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh earlier this week from Lake Tahoe.  

Ichthtyosis causes his hands to dry out, crack and flake.
Credit Brian Gass

The disease is one of the reasons he’s hiking the 2,600 mile trail that runs from Mexico to Canada.

“I wanted to use the hike as a platform to empower other young people and adults with ichthyosis who may be socially afraid … or physically afraid to do these adventures, because of their skin, and I wanted to show it was possible,” said Gass.

He has succeeded in raising awareness and funds for FIRST, the Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types. 

His other reason for hiking the trail is a desire to spend time in undeveloped nature after a semester teaching in Beijing.

“[The trek is] rewarding in the beauty of the Sierras, but it’s very difficult, hard hiking,” said Gass.

The terrain includes everything from snowy mountains to desert, and the weather varies drastically from sweltering heat to temperatures cold enough for frost to collect on his sleeping bag.

Gass is hiking about 30 miles a day with an eight-pound pack (if food and water are removed), a few pounds lighter than most hikers on the trail who have about 12 to 15 pounds to carry without food or water. The 21-year-old  was able to lighten his pack by leaving items you might include on a week-long trip at home. He also decided to forgo a stove and dishes. He picks up food like instant mashed potatoes, ramen, tuna, and candy at the towns he stops in along the way.

The Pacific Crest Trail
Credit Brian Gass

Gass plans to return to college when he finishes the trail in August, but first he has another 1,300 miles to go.

“I think most people crave the adventure, and they just love the idea of the long-set goal of walking all the way to Canada, but I think it kind of evolves as you hike and it changes into a lifestyle, something that is so fun to wake up and do every day.”

He’ll continue to document his trek on his blog: Hike On The Good Foot.

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