A dear friend once wore a pin that read "you can't make this shit up." That simple phrase has been stuck on repeat as my mantra over the last few weeks. Between the nonstop walking and the snack breaks in outrageously scenic locations and my new found appreciation for picnic tables and restless and aching slumber in our little tent that has managed to hold strong during fierce winds, hail, and below freezing temperatures, there have been a handful of exhausted and frustrating near-melt downs.
When a case of the cranky sets in- which isn't too often but when it happens it is mighty- something magical seems to kick me in the face. I try not to get too new age-y (ie: #blessed) but when it boils down to it, the universe does provide.Whether they're former thru hikers or just old hippies who live near the trail and have spare time, a yard that can fit some tents, and/or a big heart, these people provide things that are as simple as water caches to more complex and generous operations that involve donating their homes and property as a haven for smelly hikers to sleep, bathe, do laundry, and rest.
Out here in the great "wilderness" that is the PCT (there are often roads very nearby and a ton of other hikers, despite feeling like you are so very far from civilization so very often), there are "trail angels" who provide "trail magic." These are people who are being nice to people for the very sake of being nice to people. That, in itself, is magic.
Trail Angels provide rides, meals, coffee, Internet, and a glimmer of joy for the tired masses that careen like northbound zombies through the desert and over mountain passes with nothing but the packs on their backs. Nomadic turtles heading for Canada. Just for fun.
First there was "Mike's house," which we encountered after a hot and grueling day of climbing up and up. Mike was no where to be found, but the groundskeeper, Tom, and his tough looking sweetheart with the purple hair cooked spaghetti dinner (with garlic bread!) for almost 30 hikers who spent the night camping all over the property. Which was in the middle of no where. Literally. No where.
Mystery "Mike" seemed to be a mild hoarder, with his garage piled high with sound equipment, old records, ATVs, BB guns, Radio Flyers, and various collectibles. His backyard was littered with clay-pigeon launchers and bowling pins and other various target practice items peppered with bullet holes. He also had a hammock and a cooler of beer and a hiker box that had a pair of wooden clogs and some Magnum condoms in it that were up for grabs. Andy and I spent the night sleeping in an old RV on the property that was essentially a time capsule, complete with wall paper and an electric can opener and a cabinet full of pristine white visors emblazoned with the 1984 Olympics emblem.
Then there was Ziggy & the Bear's house. Complete opposite of Mike's place. All I wanted was a cup (or pot) of coffee after walking under a busy overpass and along some rusty train tracks beneath some crackling power lines for miles. This sweet old couple had a whole list of rules for their backyard- which was completely carpeted!- which included no foul language. They accept hiker resupply boxes and provide hot showers and hot coffee and sold fruit and candy bars to hikers. You could stop in, spend the night, wash your clothes, and even nap on their outdoor couches. This very organized operation has been helping hikers for about 18 years.
Then, perhaps the most crucial trail magic that has happened to us so far, occurred at the Coon Creek Cabins deep in the San Bernadino Wilderness. We had been hiking for nearly 10 miles at an elevation above 8,000ft through a wet, freezing, windy, hellish cloud. It was bitter and horrible and completely shitty. I was wearing all of my multicolored layers and was still shivering like mad. It was too cold to stop and we were hiking quickly and furiously and all I wanted was to curl up in a ball in the sleeping bag forever but there was no where to do that. Just as I was reaching my breaking point and was on the brink of a fit, there were signs reading "trail magic," which we hastily followed.
There, in the middle of the woods was a massive campfire surrounded by about ten of our fellow thru hiker friends who cheered as we sauntered over. Some people had brought up hot dogs to grill, as well as fresh fruit and veggies and beer and soda. A fire! Literally minutes after I had dramatically whined to Andy that I felt like I was gonna die. A freaking fire.
And just like that, everything was okay again. "Peachy ginger," to quote a friend of mine. Sighs of relief all around.
We spent the night hunkered down in our tent just a few miles past that magic scene and waited out the hail storm that ensued. And the next day, the sun came out and all was right with the world.
But this trail magic stuff, wow.
Then the next day some friends of some other thru hikers we had just met let us smash in the back of their "bitchin' Camaro" and gave us a ride from the trail head down to Big Bear Lake, where we've been soaking in our big jacuzzi bathtub ever since.
Moral of the story: be nice for the sake of being nice. The gratitude and appreciation of those on the receiving end is immeasurable. Now excuse me while I go eat some chicken pot pie.