Linda and I had just finished having lunch at the Senior Nutrition Center. We were chatting with friends outside when we saw a young blonde lady hiking out of town with a heavy pack on her back. We quickly jumped in our jeep, hustled onto the highway, and pulled up beside her.
“Would you like a lift,” Linda queried.
“Oh yes!” the PCT hiker replied. “I would very much appreciate a lift if you’re going my way.”
The cheerful young lady told us that her name is Katharina Groene. Her trail name is City Girl.
“Why are you hiking the trail?” I asked.
“Weight loss,” she replied.
“Weight loss?” I responded, somewhat surprised by her response.
“Oh yes,” she said, “It’s much cheaper that the gym.”
I told her that she was the first hiker who had told me they were hiking for weight loss.
“Lots of people hike the trail for weight loss,” she explained. “They just don’t tell you that that is why they do it.”
Katharina currently resides in Germany. She was born in Russia and has lived in several Eastern European countries. She has relatives in the Crimea. When she gets back to Germany she plans to continue her studies in Munich in Russian related studies.
In Europe she had hiked one of the trails of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The Camino is actually a network of “pilgrim ways” dating back to the Middle Ages. In the past it served primarily as a pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Recently it has become a popular trek for hikers. In Germany there is a related network of pilgrimage trails known as Jakobsweg or the The Way Of St. James.
Comparing her PCT hike to her European adventures. City Girl said that what impressed her is the vastness of the landscape.
“It takes your breathe away.”
As we drove along, City Girl shared an interesting tale of her past two weeks experience.
City Girl began her northern trek on the Pacific Crest Trail in Campo near the Mexican border. She only had a 3 month visa so she knew that she would have to take a break at some point to renew her visa.
When she reached the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch after 1400 miles of hiking she realized she had only a couple of days left before the deadline.
Under US Immigration law, City Girl had to travel to another continent to renew her visa. For some reason, Cuba is considered to be another continent. Under the Obama administration after travel restrictions had been loosened, she would have been able to fly directly to Cuba. However, since PresidentTrump had reinstated travel restrictions, she would have to go to Mexico in order to get to Havana.
“I need to find the quickest way to get to Mexico.” she told Linda Morse who operated the Ranch.
A local man named Paul Harbick offered to give her a ride to the bus station in Redding. When they got there, they realized that there was no bus. Paul drove her to the Travel Centers of America truck stop south of Redding to see if they could find a ride.
When the got there, City Girl told Paul, “Don’t worry, I will take care of this.”
She walked into the center’s store and announced that she needed to get to Mexico and needed a ride south. A Mexican man at the counter who was transacting lotto tickets said he was headed for Stockton and could give her a ride.
After he finished his transactions, they hopped into a brand new Chrysler 300 with dealer’s plates still on it and headed south. The Mexican gentleman took her to the Sacramento Greyhound station where she bought a ticket to San Diego.
The next day she rode south to San Diego. She took time to get something to eat but then realized that she had better hurry to get to the border. Her visa had be stamped by midnight. If she didn’t get her visa stamped in time, she would not be able to get a 90 day visa to enter the United States for the rest of her life. She got rides from helpful people. She paid someone $20 to drive her the last 5 miles. When the driver dropped her off, she took off at a sprint to cover the final yards. Her visa was stamped at 11:58 p.m. just two minutes before the deadline.
Arriving in Tijuana, City Girl stayed at a hostel for two days while she arranged a flight to Mexico City and a connecting flight to Havana. She had been told that Tijuana was dangerous but she personally found it pleasant and not intimidating.
Interestingly, according to City Girl, when President Trump had limited travel to Cuba, someone had started a company selling visas to Cuba at a discount rate. She was able to get a visa to enter Cuba for only $20, whereas, a visa to any other country would have cost her $50.
When she arrived in Havana, City Girl expected that she would find many people who spoke English. She did not. She didn’t know a word of Spanish. She didn’t know where to go or how to get there. Fortunately, she met a young woman from Germany who spoke fluent Spanish. The young lady had been traveling though South America and had spent the last two months in Cuba.
Apparently, in the past, it was considered very favorable for young German job applicants to have on their resume that they had spent time in the United States, Canada, or Australia. In past few years, however, the situation has changed. Companies now look to see whether the applicant has spent time in Latin America. Therefore, this young lady was traveling to improve her job resume.
In addition to speaking excellent Spanish, her new friend was able to take her by bus for only $1 to a safe and comfortable hospice where she could stay for $1 a night and introduce her to several restaurants where she could get a good meal for $1.
It took four days for City Girl to renew her visa. During that stay, she took time to visit the beach. Standing on a grassy knoll overlooking the beach, dark clouds began to form. She heard a loud clap and felt a sudden jolt like someone had slapped her sharply on the top of her head. Somewhat dazed, she looked down toward the beach where people had been swimming and saw them running up the hill toward her shouting excitedly.
As they got closer, she saw that they were pointing at something behind her. Turning around she realized that a palm tree just behind her had been hit by lightning and burst into flames.
After renewing her visa, City Girl flew into Houston. She had less that a half hour to make her connecting flight to San Francisco. However, as she came off the plane she was detained by Homeland Security. They took her to an interrogation area to ask her why she had left the United States to travel to Cuba and was now trying to reenter the United States.
She told the officer that she had been hiking the PCT and had to renew her visa and now wanted to finish hiking the trail. The interrogator had never heard of the PCT. He was extremely skeptical that such a trail existed and doubted her story.
City Girl had seen several other people lose their tempers talking to officials.
“I was pretty sure that they were not going to be allowed to enter the country,” she told me.
Therefore she did her best to remain calm and explain to the official what the PCT was and why she had had to go to Cuba. They talked for 35 minutes and the departure time for her plane passed. The Homeland Security officer remained skeptical.
Fortunately, another official overheard the conversation and stepped in. He knew about the PCT and verified the plausibility of City Girl’s story. They decided to let City Girl enter the country and she rushed to the gate where her flight was supposed to take off.
Fortunately, the flight had been delayed and she made it in time to board. After arriving in San Francisco she made it back to Burney. She checked in at WOLA church and arranged to stay there for the night. Then she went over to have dinner with Paul and his wife where she filled them in on all of the details of her journey since she had left him at the Redding truck stop.
As she was hiking out of town after spending the night at WOLA we picked her up. As we approached 4-corners, I asked her if she wanted to go to Burney Falls or the 299 trail head. She told us that she wanted to go back to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch because that was where she had left off.
“I am a perfectionist,” she said,” and I want to hike every mile of the trail. I missed one mile at the beginning and I have felt guilty about it ever since.”
So we drove her to the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch. When we arrived Linda Morse came out to greet her, happy that she had safely returned.
Before we said our farewells, the four of us said a short prayer. Rev. Morse prayed that City Girl would have a safe hike to Canada and I prayed for world peace. Afterwards, Morse said that she didn’t thinks so much about the tensions in the world because she had PCT hikers from so many different countries, some of them at odds. At dinner they all gathered and ate together in peaceful conviviality.
As Linda and I headed back to our Jeep, a smiling PCT hiker from Austria came up to thank us for giving City Girl a ride. In the spring, he had completed his law degree and then took time off to hike the PCT. His name is Fabian Gamper, trail name “Pringle.” He is hiking the trail southbound to Mexico.
Every hiker has his or her story. Unfortunately, in Pringle’s case I only got a picture.