Three years ago, Cameron Hockenson was a working artist and art teacher in Paros, Greece, in the process of relocating to an art community in central Mexico. With art installations all over the world, he was working on a project with his dad, Bill. Cameron’s specialties include ephemeral art.
Father and son were completing the installation of Cameron’s commissioned interactive natural-environment work art on top of the new Facebook building in Menlo Park. The project was finished by the end of August and Cameron took a couple of weeks vacation for “exploration of the beauty of this natural world.”
The young artist looked throughout the world — Turkey, Thailand, Greece, etc. — for spectacular, out-of-the-way, places of discovery. “It could be the tiniest spot between two trees or a breathtaking vista in some far off place,” said his aunt, Jill Spears.Cameron was wrapping up one last explore out on the rocks off Big Sur before he was to meet his Dad. The two men were going to drive to Quincy together to attend a Memorial Service for Bill’s sister, Audrey, in early September.
Cameron did not arrive.Bill made the trip alone, but not before notifying authorities. “We were in the Quincy Methodist Church celebrating my sister while also sick with worry about Cameron,” said Jill. “He never would have missed it. Never.”
Bill got a call later that day. “We know he was on his way to Bill’s, but must have sensed just one more spectacular vision out there in the juxtaposition between land and sea. He pulled over, climbed down and out onto one of those huge boulder hills out there, slipped on the dewy wet rocks and fell to his death into one of the crevices,” said Jill.
Cameron was seen wedged between rocks a day later by a beachcomber after the tide had gone out. As a strong, fit, 6-foot 4-inch man, Cameron had made a thousand spontaneous excursions during his life. On his final day, he made one last quick stop.Flip-flops, a foggy morning and wet slippery rocks were likely critical factors.
Bill and his son had plans to go on a big hike together during Cameron’s next trip to the states.Bill planned to start conditioning to get ready for it.
It had been decades since Bill and his son had planned a trip. So in trying to search for a solution to his pain, Bill thought he would do the hike they had planned to do together.
After a year of preparation, Bill made ready to start that trip alone, to honor his son, in the last days of April. The Pacific Crest Trail would provide ample solitude for reflection and plenty of space. “I want to show the world the depth of love I have for my son, and the magnitude of the loss that it is,” said Bill before the hike. “What was going on with me at the time was I was grieving the death of my son, still after a couple of years.”
The PCT was indeed full of distractions and astounding sights. Bill documented the whole trip as he made his way. During the hike, Bill’s sister Jill said, “Bill is also taking this trip hoping that as he says goodbye to Cameron, he will be able to again say hello to his family and friends with his usual joy, zest for living and love.”
Travelers from all over the world met the senior hiker and heard his story. The tale of the father’s tribute to honor his son spread along the trail. Strangers shared some of the most memorable experiences of their lives on the trail. Exchanging food and supplies, receiving support and messages from Trail Angels, experiencing extreme weather variations and equipment challenges were all shared with people met and known only on the trail, and perhaps never to be seen again.
PCT hikers often choose trail names. “Some people have their name the first day,” said Bill. “Snake Charmer” chose her name because she saw lots of snakes. “Detour” got his name from getting lost and being found by a ranger. Hockenson used his simple first name, “Bill,” for the majority of the adventure, but eventually others chose a name for him: Tribute. “At first I didn’t take to it, but after a few weeks, it made a lot of sense,” said Bill.
The physical trek began at the border of Mexico in Campo on May 2 and ended for Bill at Muir Ranch in Yosemite, about on a parallel with Fresno on day 49 of the hike. Bill took himself off the trail on June 25. His injuries were such that traveling out via horseback was his best option. After 5 miles on horseback and a ferry ride across Florence Lake, Bill waited at the Fresno train station for his wife Chris to arrive. They traveled home together.
“It’s really a great group of people out there, it’s a great representation,” said Bill.
Beginning the monster adventure May 2, Bill finished his trip after witnessing 857 miles of the trail first hand. “The people that were out there helped him process the grief,” said his sister Jill, “and brought him back to his family.” The goal was achieved.
“Bill’s PCT Hike” documents the memorial hike “Tribute” took to honor his son Cameron Hockenson. There are 244 slides and dozens of inspiring videos well worth the time at sites.google.com/view/billspcthike.
“As I bemoan the need to lose weight, yet again for the millionth time, my daughter says: Channel your inner Uncle Bill,” said Jill. “I just laugh and continue to live vicariously through him, like I have my whole life, with great joy and pride.”