On Tuesday, August 4, I was sitting at the computer checking my Email when I got a call from Nancy Bobo. Nancy manages several motels for Burney Falls Lodging. She also has been assisting hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for more than five years.
Nancy has a list of “angel’s” to call if hikers need a ride to or from the trail. If they need a place to camp or stay in town, she helps to arrange that. She also provides a drop box for hikers who want to leave something for others hikers to pick up later. Numerous volunteers in Burney enjoy meeting the people who hike the trail and assisting them.
I’m on Nancy’s angel list. She was calling to ask if I could give a hiker a ride. I told her I would be happy to and went over to the motel where Sky Eyes from Ashland, Oregon was waiting for a ride to Burney Falls State Park. The trail passes through the park right near Burney Falls.
Sky Eyes is his trail name. When hikers hike the trail they adopt a trail name that they use for the duration of the hike. When I showed one hiker a pictures of others I had met at Baum Lake, he said he recognized them, but he didn’t recognize their names because they had given me the names that they used in their normal life.
Over the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with a dozen or so hikers and have given a number of them rides to parts of the trail and directions to various places. The ones I’ve met have come from Arizona, New York, Oregon, Washington, San Diego and New York.
The picture that emerges from my conversations is different than the idea I had of a long solitary trek through the woods. One hiker told me that there are an estimated 14,000 hikers on the PCT this year, three times more than normal. He had met people not only from the United States but from all over the world, particularly Europe.
“When you hike the trail, you become a part of the Pacific Crest Trail family,” he said. “You meet different people from all over the world. You hike together with some of them. You camp together. You share food. Relationships are deeper than in normal life because you’re free from all of the business of the world. Everybody has the same needs.”
A lot of hikers also enjoy visiting the small rural towns along the trail. Many of the towns have “angels.” People post messages on the trail with helpful information. Burney is a particularly convenient place because it has a Safeway store, a Laundromat, a health food store, and a well-stocked sporting goods store. Two of the hikers I gave a ride to I met at the McDonald’s. Several others were happy to hear that there was a pizza parlor.
Most hikers set a daily pace of 22 to 25 miles a day and plan on five months to hike the entire trail. A “zero” is a day that a person adds no miles. A “nero” is a day that a person logs half or less miles than his normal pace. There are designated camping areas, but one hiker told me that “all you really need is a flat space near the trail.”
Hikers also encounter a lot of wildlife on their 2650 mile trek through the wilderness. One hiker told me his encounters were primarily with deer, but he had met several hikers who came across a bear on the trail.
One of the reasons more people are hiking the trail this year is the December 2014 release of the movie Wild starring Reese Witherspoon in December 2014. The movie is based on the 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed that reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Strayed was a section hiker in 1995. She hiked 1,100 miles from the Mojave desert to the Bridge of the Gods crossing into Washington. Most of the hikers I’ve met this year are hiking the whole trail Mexico to Canada. The trail begins at the wall that divides Mexico from the United States.
As I gave Sky Eyes a ride to Burney Falls, he told me that he hadn’t actually been able to touch the wall. He said that to do so you have to hop a fence about thirty feet from the wall. When he began his journey on May 25, there was a border patrolman guarding the wall.