hike blog

peeps of the PCT: John, general store owner

Sometimes, you need to spell things out explicitly so people get the point.

In a few days, I’ll return to the surgery center at Summit Orthopedics in Eagan, Minnesota to have my right hip replaced with a titanium ball, socket and post. Osteoarthritis runs in my genes and I feel incredibly blessed to have walked around 7,000 miles since I first felt any pain.

The left hip is rock solid and I feel pretty confident my awesome surgeon will have good success with the right, which right now is officially bone dust.

It’s all been a huge drama, though, with my developing painful neuropathy from a bruised nerve during surgery that should go away over the coming months. Plus both Richard and I caught Covid in the first week of recovery from the left hip replacement. Thankfully, it was a ‘mild’ case with only non-stop coughing, fever, headache and life-draining fatigue – though never requiring a hospital visit.

The virus, at least, is behind us, and there does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel as I replace the tools I need to keep walking long distances. Starting from the vantage point of my beautifully healing and strong left hip, the time has come to put my game face on for Thursday morning’s procedure.

John has seen over 2,000 PCT hikers come through Mount Laguna.

The time off from walking more than a gimpy two miles on flat ground does put me in mind to revisit my hikes. I love these conversations I had on the Pacific Crest Trail at the instigation of my friend and supporter, John Reamer. For sure, there were interesting people everywhere, but it was usually the locals, who attended to us very needy hikers, that turned out to be the most interesting interviewees.

I’d heard about John at the Laguna Mountain Lodge and Store from my brother Eric, who lives close by in San Diego, California. John is a gregarious character and Eric was curious about the increase in the number of PCT hikers after the film “Wild” was released.

John answered his question by sharing the ‘10% rule’ theory, the one that says 10% of people in a group are going to be jerks. To Eric’s surprise – and my relief – John said it was more like 1% of hikers who he’d consider jerks.

Just another bit of hiker trash hanging out on the porch and day drinking. (John, the owner of Mount Laguna General Store, is on the right)

The PCT passes around the beautiful village of Mount Laguna, though it’s easy to take a side trip for a milkshake, a meal, resupply or a bed. John and his brother own the general store, a hangout that sees over 2,000 thru-hikers (including wannabes) each season. When I walked the trail in 2019, he told me there was a day in the spring when he counted over sixty of us ‘hiker trash’ hanging out on the store’s beautiful covered porch amidst the soaring Jeffrey and Ponderosa Pines.

In typical fashion, John made me laugh about some of our shared foibles and how ridiculously seriously we take ourselves sometimes. I was definitely heartened to hear that he finds most of us thru-hikers a pretty nice bunch. It’s all a good reminder to me as I head into a bit of a trial over the coming weeks and months of two good rules to live by:

1. lighten up
2. be nice

Bonita is the friendly innkeeper at the Silver Pines, a very accommodating hotel for backpackers.
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peeps of the PCT: Benita, Idyllwild Innkeeper

Stylish Benita made us feel welcome on a "zero-day" stop in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild.
Stylish Benita made us feel welcome on a “zero-day” stop in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild.

It’s Thanksgiving 2020, and like so many Americans, we’re home, grateful for a “warmish” day of 45 degrees and sunshine so we can sit in our courtyard and lift a glass – at a safe distance – with a few neighbors.

Last November, I was walking in the Southern California desert, slowing my pace to enjoy stops along the way and mingle with locals. It’s inconceivable in this moment to consider the freedom and assumptions I made back then – eating in restaurants, shopping at the supermarket and staying at a historic inn without wearing a mask or maintaining distance.

Heck, I even hugged hiker friends who I hadn’t seen in weeks who suddenly showed up in my space. Besides Richard – and my doctors – I haven’t touched another soul in nine months.

Staying at the Silver Pines lodge was one of the highlights of Southern California.

It was just a year ago that I completed the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d dreamed of walking it for a long time, but thought maybe my first thru-hike ought to be something exotic and far away. The reasoning was I could hike on my home-turf anytime, but to travel half-way around the world was going to take much more planning.

And then I was suddenly “boss-free” and at the urging of my husband, who seems to understand me better than I understand myself, I flew out to Washington state on a one-way ticket, joined a gang of hikers and headed up to Hart’s Pass in the North Cascades just to see how far I could go.

By Day 127, I was nearly finished, and headed down the Devil’s Slide to visit the charming mountain town of Idyllwild. A hiker friend had joined me for this section, and while we still put in a good number of miles on those short, autumn days in the high desert, after climbing 10,000 feet up and over San Jacinto Peak, we felt we deserved a day off in this truly idyllic place.

It was a sunny, dry day with a slight nip in the air when Benita welcomed us to the Silver Pines Lodge, handing us a change of clothes while we washed our hiking outfits, and giving us the run of the beautiful grounds . She told us, she’s seen her share of us ‘hiker trash’ but says we enrich the lives of her village.

Days like that, where we don’t have to worry about getting sick or making others sick, will return, I promise you, and they’ll be more precious than ever. Listening to this conversation with Innkeeper Benita, makes me feel strong and brave to face the coming months, knowing I’ll be back on the trail soon enough. I hope some rubs off on you, too.

Suicide Rock from the "Devil's Slide" above Idyllwild in Southern California.
Suicide Rock from the “Devil’s Slide” above Idyllwild in Southern California.
Bob is the caretaker at one of the oddest places along the PCT.
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peeps of the PCT: Bob, Hiker Town

People say that you’re going the wrong way when it’s simply a way of your own.

Angelina Jolie
Bob is the caretaker at one of the oddest places along the PCT.
Bob is the caretaker at one of the oddest places along the PCT.

Along the 2600+ miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, there’s an abundance of trail angel generosity surprises.

A few that come to mind include Broken Toe’s encampment where he parked for two weeks at Hart’s Pass just to greet SOBO’s with a warm fire, a fresh vegetables and good hiker beta. Also Big Lake Youth Camp that made it part of their mission to help us hikers with kindness so deep they set aside a building just for us to hang out replete with fresh baked cookies, showers, even a box of second hand clothing to change into while our dirty ones were being washed.

In California, it was a string of pearls of hospitality like Casa de Luna near Green Valley, and Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, owned by otherworldly souls willing to open their homes and back yards to hundreds of smelly hikers over literally decades.

By far, though, one of the strangest places I came across was Hiker Town. It’s smack dab in the middle of tumbleweeds, jumping cholla cactus and Joshua trees, mountain lions stalking and rattle snakes sunning in the middle of the trail of Southern California desert. I reached it after walking the California aqueduct, water closed in by concrete rushing below me and only available for my bottles at a single faucet before an 18 mile stretch in the blazing sun.

A tour of Hiker Town with its caretaker, Bob.

I had not heard good stories about Hiker Town, mostly that the owner is known to ask inappropriate questions and come on strong to young female hikers. He wasn’t around when I arrived – or if he was, after taking one look at me, he must have decided not to bother. I felt reasonably safe especially wince my friend Callum was right behind me on the trail.

Hiker Town’s sprawling acreage abuts a busy highway. There’s one modern house shaded by trees with a spiffy little patio, but all the others are tiny cabins, seemingly left overs from of a B movie of the Wild West variety. There’s a bank, a sheriff’s office, a school, the mining supplier, even a brothel.

I wandered about and finally found Bob building the outdoor shower. Wisps of hair on his grown and full, neatly trimmed gray beard, Bob appeared harmless enough in a black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, far more appropriate for the Venice boardwalk than this dusty place. A videographer who won three Emmies for his work on Columbo and The Rockford Files, Bob has lived here over a decade and greeted thousands of hikers. When I asked him how he liked living in the desert, he replied resignedly, “It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.”

Bob doesn’t move fast, but he got me quickly settled in my own private cottage, one without designation aside from a sign reading, “If you’re lucky enough to be at the beach, you’re lucky enough,” underscoring my Venice Beach association. The space was barely big enough for a brass bedstead holding a lumpy mattress and a creaky old chest of drawers missing most of its knobs. Good enough for this thru-hiker, I decided, and dumped my stuff heading to the newly constructed outdoor shower before the sun went down and the air chilled.

One of the "cottages" at Hiker Town lifted from a B movie set.
One of the “cottages” at Hiker Town lifted from a B movie set.

Callum arrived just as I dried off and was ushered to his own cottage and shower. Bob drove us (without incident) both fifteen minutes up the road to the convenience store for a mini resupply and dinner. It was dark by the time we returned. Three other hikers had arrived to stay, along with a couple I’d met on day two back in Washington. We sat out on the patio to share a soda before they head into town.

“Why not just stay here?” I asked before they left. “We’re right on the trail.”

They repeated the disturbing stories I’d heard, and, as if to put a finer point on the situation I faced, asked if I’d looked under the bed yet. What could possibly be under the bed!? They gave few clues before their ride arrived but I wan’t about to look all by myself in the dark.

So I headed to Callum’s cottage, who was already in bed at 7:30 since everyone knows that 7:30 is “hiker midnight.” Even so, sweet Callum obliged bringing his headlamp. He got down on his knees on the dusty wooden floor to get a better look. “Ah, there they are!”

They??

“Black widow spiders. But don’ worry. They won’t hurt you unless you agitate them.”

I never got around to asking Callum how many spiders were calling my ned home, though I realized he was right. Those black widows had zero interest in me. So far on this hike I’d walked in a snowstorm, been visited by a bear, stirred up a rattlesnake and walked a helluva long way without incident. I was pretty sure the local residents were going to leave me alone.

And just like that, I fell deeply asleep.

The tiny cafe in Neenach about fifteen minutes drive from the trail.
The tiny cafe in Neenach about fifteen minutes drive from the trail.
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peeps of the PCT: Casey, Sonora Pass Resupply

In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.

Elizabeth Gilbert
"Goldilocks" picking up her bear canister and resupply at Sonora Pass resupply.
“Goldilocks” picking up her bear canister and resupply at Sonora Pass resupply.

It was a cold, blustery day with dark clouds threatening as I dropped down to the highway at Sonora Pass late last September on the Pacific Crest Trail. The wind was so intense, it literally took my breath away even as I paused to take pictures and enjoy this sensational scenery right on the edge of Yosemite National Park.

Ahead was the Emigrant Wilderness, an exposed crossing of over ten miles at high altitude and I was fairly certain this was a no go day for me, but I needed a resupply and that would require a hitch deep down into the valley. With weather like this, the trail was empty.

At the tiny turn out, a few scattered picnic tables stood watch over the approaching weather, along with a single RV. On its door read Sonora Pass Resupply. The proprietor, Casey Cox, was cozy warm inside with his beautiful, blue-eyed dog named Lucky.

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peeps of the PCT: Joshua, fire manager

Firefighters never die, they just burn forever in the hearts of the people whose lives they saved. 

Susan Murphree
Joshua was leading a crew building a firebreak on the Pacific Crest Trail through Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.
Joshua was leading a crew building a firebreak on the Pacific Crest Trail through Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.

Last September, I walked through the final bit of the Cascades heading south, or SOBO, on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The hike through Lassen Volcanic National Park took one day, but it was a heavenly day of sunshine and cool air, most of the park all to myself, shared with with my thru-hiking friend, Klaus.

The park is full of lakes, and, though chilly in the morning shade, I was urged on by his jumping straight in, to ever so slowly wade into the deep azure of Lower Twin Lake. At that moment, my friends, I felt I’d never been so clean and refreshed in my entire life.

Yes, the best part of hiking south is that the trails were nearly empty in the fall and I finally found solitary campsites and deeply longed for quiet.

Lassen was no exception.

Judy met a guy with a much lighter tent while hiking the Appalachian Trail and it was not a "coffin" but rather, a palace. That just pissed her off, so she went designed her own ultralight palace.
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peeps of the PCT: Heart Fire, tent maker

Long distance hiking is not a vacation, it’s too long for that.

Ann Zwinger
Judy met a guy with a much lighter tent while hiking the Appalachian Trail and it was a palace. That moment pissed her off, so she designed her own ultralight palace.
Judy met a guy with a much lighter tent while hiking the Appalachian Trail and it was not a “coffin” but rather, a palace. That just pissed her off, so she went and designed her own ultralight palace.

At a tent site high up on a ridge in Washington, I met two women sitting on logs next to their individual mineral green tents and passing a small flask betwixt themselves. They lifted their outstretched legs as I passed, since that was the only route to a tiny spring – described as a “crisp, cool, mystical, scoopable pool of water” below the trail.

As it goes with all backpackers sharing a space, the two were friendly, eager to share about their day’s hiking. For them, it was a return to familiar ground, which last summer had been shrouded in smoke with no views available at all of splendid Goat Rocks or Mount Rainier himself, shining high above.

Fortunately, it had been a gloriously clear day, so all had been rescued – and that might have explained the celebratory Scotch which was eventually offered to me.

Melinda and Henry planned to hike the PCT from south to north, but came across deep snow and dangerous river crossings in the Sierra, so flipped up north to Washington and headed south to meet the spot where they left off.
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peeps of the PCT: ‘flippers’

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.

Simone de Beauvoir
Melinda and Henry planned to hike the PCT from south to north, but came across deep snow and dangerous river crossings in the Sierra, so flipped up north to Washington and headed south to meet the spot where they left off.
Melinda and Henry planned to hike the PCT from south to north, but came across deep snow and dangerous river crossings in the Sierra, so flipped up to Washington and changed directions.

Change is not easy.

Most of us would prefer to keep things right where they are. We’d rather not, thank you very much, risk change that might bring on unsettling feelings of having no clue what we’re doing, or worse, having to start all over again. Kind of like when you choose that card in Monopoly – go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

When I started walking the Pacific Crest Trail last July, it was all about survival of my spirit. If I could just get out of town for a few weeks and start walking again, I might clear my head and maybe the drastic changes happening in my life that were making me sit bolt upright in bed every night in a state of panic, would just go away.

I bought a one-way ticket to Bellingham, Washington and planned to carpool with a trail angel who organized a caravan of rented vans. She ferried thirty hikers to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass. I was surprised by the number of us and soon learned that there was only a handful actually starting the trail. Most of the hikers were what we called “flippers,” hikers who needed to change their intended route because moving forward was impossible.

The metaphor in that bleak moment of my life was not lost on me. Circumstances beyond their control forced them to reckon with the situation, make a decision, and act. Not everyone was happy or comfortable with what needed to be done, but they figured things out and finally placed themselves over a thousand miles from where they left off.

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peeps of the PCT: Milk Jug

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation. 

Pearl Buck
"Milk Jug" was the youngest solo thru-hiker on the PCT in 2019.
“Milk Jug” was the youngest solo thru-hiker on the PCT in 2019.

As I headed into the Blisstudio this morning to do my eLearning workout homework, I thought of a wonderful quote I read a while back about youth. I have to admit, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself starting all over in something new at age 55, needing to adopt a “beginner’s mind” while taking lessons from someone younger and more successful than me.

These are humbling times for all of us and I think it’s worth contemplating these words right now. They’re attributed to Luella F. Phelan, of whom I sadly can find absolutely nothing about on Dr. Google. If you have followed my blog at all, you’ll notice nearly every quote I refer to is from a woman. And if you know anything about women, our histories are often lost to time.

But at least we still have this amazing statement.

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind. People grow old only by deserting their ideals and by outgrowing the consciousness of youth. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul…. You are as old as your doubt, your fear, your despair. The way to keep young is to keep your faith young. Keep your self-confidence young. Keep your hope young.

Luella F. Phelan
Rounded edges of 1950's cars appear like faces crowding the lot on a summer's eve.
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peeps of the PCT: used car salesman of the border

Home is the nicest word there is.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’re home tonight after the concert we planned to attend was cancelled due to Covid-19. This is all a bit unnerving and scary, but hopefully drastic measures will help the medical community get control of things.

Frankly, I don’t mind a little social distancing at home. Richard and I still have a few more tasks to take care of on the voice recording booth. But first, we walked hand-in-hand to the local market, the evening clear and brisk with no snow on the ground as winter gives way to spring. We then put every Billy Joel album we own on the stereo, one after the other, singing loudly to our favorites as we sawed and glued. Home is a good place, especially when you have love, memories and hobbies surrounding you.

It made me think of meeting Sam Risjord last summer, a man who moved back to his home in Southern Washington when he really could have lived anywhere. He likes it in Stevenson, a place his family has called home for generations. Somehow its sweetness was more acute after being gone for so long.

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peeps of the PCT: Tammy & John, caretakers

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

Margaret Mead

“Don’t mind the dust, we’re remodeling.”

It was thick forest and I was heading down – finally – on the last descent in the state of Washington, careening towards the Columbia River. It’s a natural boundary and I’d cross the Bridge of the Gods before heading straight back up again towards Mount Hood and all of Oregon. The rain let up this far south, though mosquitos were out in full force and I had no plans to linger even though I was surrounded on both sides by multitudes of black-, blue- and huckle-berries, all within easy reach. I felt happy and so alive, punch drunk that my intention of walking a little wisp of trail had grown to my being on the verge of checking off an entire state.

A rough section of dirt and rock loomed in front of me, a landslip that appeared to have just been cleared. Unlike hardcore tramping in New Zealand, a landslip of this magnitude was never going to be left there for hikers to climb over. Someone took it upon themselves to dig right into the side of the mountain and create a wider, more stable path. Aside from a bit of dust on my La Sportivas, I barely broke stride.

A Pacific Crest Trail worker in the North Cascades shows off her muscles and tatoos.
A trail crew worker in the North Cascades taking pride in her gritty job.

Ahead, two people covered head-to-toe in long sleeves, long pants, gloves and helmets were lumbering along, snipping away at errant bushes and kicking loose stones aside. Their manner was focused and meticulous, like a proud home owner. It wasn’t just respect and reverence they exhibited for this gorgeous patch of trail, they acted as if they owned the place.

And to be fair, they earned that attitude.

Tammy and John are caretakers of the PCT – perhaps more precisely, of eleven miles of the 2,653 mile-long PCT. For the past sixteen years, they’ve set aside their free time to ensure the trail is walkable by removing downed trees and limbs, cutting back overgrowth and fixing any damage like the huge landslip I managed to simply float over. Why do they do it? That’s simple – because they want the trail here.

Neither of them identify as long distance backpackers. Just like thru-hikers desperate for a break in town every so often – they begin to miss beer and flush toilets.