The inspiring story of Zelzin Aketzalli.
The first Mexican to complete the Triple Crown of thru-hiking.
On the 2017 Pacific Crest Trail a myth spread of a tiny young Mexican woman with an Aztec name who hiked alone. She didn’t speak any English and hiked so fast that if you blinked you’d miss her. You’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of her brightly colored earrings as they flashed past.
Eventually those earrings and their tireless flight along the trail would earn this enigmatic hiker her trail name, which she shares with a brightly colored bird found in Central America: Quetzal. Her full name is Zelzin Aketzalli and she’s the first Mexican person to finish the Triple Crown of Thru-hiking, walking from Mexico to Canada three times, along three different routes.
Zelzin sets out on a life-changing journey.
People sometimes ask Zelzin if she gets scared, being out in the wilderness alone. Her upbringing taught her that the nature she should fear most is human nature. She’s had to watch her back since she first started working, carrying heavy loads to market at home in Mexico when she was just 11.
Zelzin had to fight those who picked on her in the streets. She’s seen people killed in front of her more than once. To Zelzin, the natural world is a refuge from the harsh threat of other people.
By her early 20’s Zelzin had cultivated a love for the mountains, especially mountain biking around Mexico City. As the only woman on most rides, and a physically small woman at that, Zelzin grew tired of the guys having to wait for her. She took to training and exploring alone. It was during these rides that Zelzin grew comfortable with solitude in wild places.
“You’re crazy” they say, “you can’t go that far today, you’ll never make it.” But make it she does, day after day.
After finishing university, when her friends headed to party towns to drink away their savings, Zelzin set her sights on a more ambitious goal. She decided she would ride a bike from Mexico City to Patagonia. It took a day-long training ride in pouring rain to realize that this wasn’t for her, after all.
This experience taught Zelzin that no matter how determined you might be, it takes a real passion for something to complete enormous undertakings. That passion was something Zelzin would soon discover.
Zelzin first heard about the Pacific Crest Trail from two Californians she was guiding on her local MTB trails. 4,265 kilometers (2,650 miles) of hiking from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon and Washington. She didn’t speak any English. She wasn’t used to hiking much. She had never seen snow. But in November 2016 Zelzin decided she would hike the PCT. Her visa was approved two months later and in April 2017 Zelzin began an adventure that would uncover her true passion and change her life fundamentally.
Zelzin had never experienced snow before embarking on her PCT journey.
Zelzin began her journey with the only backpack she could get her hands on – bought on the Mexican black market. The pack was so ill suited and ill-fitting that it rubbed her skin raw. For the first three weeks on the trail, Zelzin didn’t meet a single person who spoke Spanish. She couldn’t speak to anyone to share her experiences or ask advice. She would learn English slowly but surely through disconnected conversations with different hikers on the trail.
The language barrier didn't always matter, but sometimes it did. By the time Zelzin reached the Sierra Nevada she still didn’t understand enough to heed the warnings of snow. She met Germans, Swiss, French and Americans, mountaineers and hikers with plenty of experience in snow. When they turned back, or settled down to wait for better conditions, Zelzin, a 23 year old Mexican woman alone, pressed on. She learned to use crampons and an ice axe on the trail and crossed 480km (300 miles) of snowy mountains. A baptism by snow, if you will.
For all her inexperience it quickly became clear that Zelzin has a natural propensity that sets her somewhat apart from others on the trail. All PCT can walk, but Zelzin can really, really WALK. She covers around 25-35 miles per day. As she passes people on the trail they ask her how far she’s headed. “You’re crazy” they say, “you can’t go that far today, you’ll never make it.” But make it she does, day after day.
While others stop to rest and recover in the comfort and convenience of towns along the trail, Zelzin stops as little as possible. Staying in an American town means spending American money, which doesn’t come cheap when you’re funded by Pesos. Raising funds in Mexico has been a challenge for Zelzin for a few reasons, but chief among them is the misconception that if she’s traveling to America she must be part of Mexico’s wealthiest elite that can afford extravagant holidays.
Added to that is the heavy baggage of coming from a deeply patriarchal society that often regards her rightful place as being a home-maker. She faces distrust and disapproval at every turn, and yet she perseveres to do what she loves most. Zelzin is keen to point out that Mexico is full of incredible athletes who could achieve great things if only they had the support and opportunity to do so.
Not everybody is lucky enough to discover a passion in life quite like Zelzin Aketzalli. Fewer still have the bravery and determination to pursue that passion in the face of enormous obstacles and fear of the unknown. Since embarking on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017 she has hiked more than 14,000km (8,700 miles). Only physical injury could stop her.
Zelzin wears SOLE Active Thick with Met Pad footbeds.
In the winter of 2020 Zelzin suffered a collapse of her transverse arch. She had terrible pain in her feet that lead to back pain as she tried to recover. She tried prescription orthotics that set her back hundreds of dollars she couldn’t really afford, but they were painfully rigid. “I shouldn’t have to mold to these insoles”, she thought, “the insoles should mold to me!”
We’re delighted to provide Zelzin with custom heat-moldable Active Thick with Met Pad footbeds to support her feet where they need it, including the transverse arch and her metatarsals. We look forward to being taken on many incredible adventures to come in the future.