I was sitting in the bathroom when the phone rang and Linda called, “PCT Hikers!”
It was Nancy Bobo calling to let me know that 3 hikers would like a ride at 11:30 a.m.
That in itself was a first. Usually, it is “x number of hikers need a ride now.”
It was 9:30. This gave the hikers a chance to do whatever in Burney and prepare for their hike. It gave me time to post an article on PG&E raising the water levels on the Pit, run over to the Casino to get my entry in for Pay Day Friday, go over to the Rite Aid to pick up a copy of the Mountain Echo, talk with Tommy George about the Lomakatsi, California Trout joint youth program with the Pit River Tribe, and then make it to the Burney Lodging.
When I pulled into the lot I was greeted by three cheerful hikers – one man and two ladies. They were all very polite. They only loaded two of their packs in the back of the jeep. I told them that they could easily fit all three but they didn’t want to crush anything so the ladies took one with them in the back seat while the man, Happy Feet jumped in the front.
They wrote down their trail names for me: Happy Feet from Los Angeles, Quick Draw from Colorado Springs, and Ducky from Atlanta.
I could feel that they were very simpatico, so I asked if they had been hiking the whole trail together. No. They had only been hiking together for one week.
Trail chemistry is one of the interesting aspects of the journey. It is very similar to traveling the trail through life. There are solo hikers and group hikers. Along the way, the pairings and groupings of the hikers vary according to pace, style, and chemistry.
Of course, families who hike together stay together. So do many siblings and friends.
But others pair up or group together and then part. Some leap frog each other on the trail. Some travel together for awhile, then part, then meet again and join up once more.
Some hikers who are compatible but hike at different rates will camp together at night, begin the day’s hike together, then separate during the day according to their pace, and meet at a designated location again that night.
It is a fluid community traveling toward a common goal at different rates coagulating in varied combinations. The relationships and rates of motion are determined to a large degree by the magical chemistry of the trail.
While hiking the PCT divorced from normal day to day to day life of work, school, and contemporary social life, time takes on different dimensions. The main determinants of time are night and day, the movement of the sun across the sky from dawn to dusk, and the seasonal changes from late spring to early winter.
Everyone hiking the trail northbound wants to reach Canada before the early snows in the Northern Cascades.
And then there are the flip hikers. One example is Tandem Trekking, who were decimated by the recent heat wave from Chester to Hat Creek Rim who decided to take a train from Dunsmuir to Washington State and then hike back south to cover the part of the trail they had skipped. Journeying South, they will cross paths with their friends hiking in the opposite direction.
Earlier, as the towns, hostels, camps and motels south of the Sierras filled up because the snow hadn’t melted yet, many hikers skipped north to hike south so they could continue hiking without delay.
About 90 percent of PCT hikers hike south to north. Ten percent are southbound hikers.
Each year the trail is different. But the combination of natural beauty, physical trial, and social chemistry always provides a magical and sometimes mystical experience tailored to each hiker.
The temperature was cooler when Happy Feet, Quick Draw, and Ducky traveled over Hat Creek Rim. They had hit the last of the heat wave between Chester and Old Station. As we drove to the trailhead we talked about some of the hikers that had passed through Pit River Country. They knew most of them and were happy to hear about how Bob the Plumber had brought Animal Style his lost shoes.
In fact, they seemed happy about everything. When I took their photo after bringing them to the trailhead, I told them that I would write that they had the three most beautiful smiles I had seen all year.
“Yay! Team Awesome!” they shouted simultaneously as they did a three-way high five.
“Team Awesome?” I queried. In their one week journey together they had assumed a group trail name.
Good chemistry. The chemistry of joy.