In the cool Tuesday morning air of October 23, the town was aflame not with forest fires but with the beautiful red orange hues of the autumn leaves. After picking up the latest edition of the Mountain Echo, I decided to make a brief stop at the Word of Life Assembly of God (WOLA) church. A fall on Sunday had resulted in a bloody three inch gash in my leg. I had washed it with hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol and bandaged it up, but I was still concerned lest it become infected. WOLA has a great prayer team so I decided to put in a prayer request that the wound would heal without complications.
As I approached the door, I saw a pack with hiking poles leaning against one of the wooden posts. I was surprised. I didn’t expect to see any more Pacific Crest Trail hikers this late in the season.
After talking briefly with Kathy Newton to put in my prayer request, I espied a spry man with a full grey beard, wearing a blue knit hat and a blue sweatshirt getting a cup of coffee from Bon.
“Might you be a PCT hiker?” I inquired.
“Yes I am,” he responded.
As he returned to his table, I noticed that he had an attractive young dog accompanying him The dog advanced with her tail wagging to give me a friendly greeting.
The dog, a two and a half year old mix of pit bull, boxer, and lab, is named Abby. The man’s trail name is “Abby’s Person,” otherwise known as Todd McBride from Eugene, Oregon. They have been hiking the trail together southbound toward Campo since August 1. They began their hike at Steven’s Pass where Hwy 2 crosses the Pacific Crest Trail in the Washington Cascades.
Abby has her own little hiking pack, a Kurgo. Todd added the water bottle holders and made some alterations to make the pack ride better. Abby carries 4 pounds of food. The water bottles are empty. Todd uses them for long carries.
Todd recently retired from a career as a wildland firefighter. His children had grown up and left home. Having spent his whole life near the PCT, Todd decided that it was a good time for Abby and he to hike the trail. He loves the wilderness, and he loves the PCT.
“You walk around a corner and you say, ‘Oh my God!'” he said.
Todd had just celebrated his 54th birthday the day before on the cusp of Libra and Scorpio. He shared that he had been conceived here when his mother was living in Burney and working in Lassen. He ruminated that life had come full circle just as he is approaching his second Saturn return.
The first rain he experienced on his hike was in Northern California after crossing the Oregon border. There had been some fires along the way in Washington State, but from his perspective as an experienced firefighter, they were not so bad.
“Not as bad as the fires you had down here this year,” he said.
When I asked about animals on the trail, McBride claimed that he had seen an endangered blue fox. He had seen no cougars or bears but lots of tracks. He told me that he and some of his friends keep track of each other by their shoe prints. On one occasion he had seen mountain lion paw prints dead center in the footsteps of one of his trail buddies.
Tod and Abby are planning to hike south to Truckee and then explore alternative trails south avoiding the approaching harsh weather of the high Sierras. Then they will follow the trail through the desert to Campo. When they finish they plan to hike the Arizona trail through the winter and then the Appalachian Trail from March to July. He plans to come back next summer to hike the PCT again.
As we came to the end of our conversation, Bonn informed me that one of the Pastors, Larry Hagar, wanted to see me in the office. Larry was concerned about my leg and offered a healing prayer and encouragement.
When I returned, I saw that Bonn was now chatting with another PCT hiker, a young lady from Butte Montana named Cierra Dauenhauer aka “Happy Feet.”
Having grown up in Montana myself and graduated from Helena High School, we reminisced some of the glory days of the Irish Butte copper-mining culture. Cierra’s dad is German but her mother is Irish. Hard working men, tweed suits, cozy homes and Irish lace. We talked of the ups and downs since the mile-deep Berkeley Pit had been closed and much of the downtown area had sunken into the ground.
Butte is a close knit town. Cierra told me that she had met a hiker on the trail who said he had a friend from Butte. He asked if she knew her.
“Of course I knew her,” she said. “She was my younger sister’s best friend.”
“It’s a small world,” Cierra said.
But Cierra’s world has not been small since she graduated from high school. She attended college at Gonzaga University in Spokane where she graduated with a degree in biochemistry and a minor in religious studies. After graduating she worked in a Jesuit volunteer program for a year helping special needs children in San Antonio, Texas . Then she went with two other friends to Chicago to work with autistic children in Chicago. Her work stimulated her to apply for admission to medical school to pursue a practice in developmental pediatrics.
While applying, Cierra took a break to hike the PCT. She has been a skip hiker. She hikeed north from the southern PCT terminus at Campo to Yosemite. Then she took some time off from the trail. In August she resumed, but this time hiking south from the Canadian border. She hopes to reach Truckee by November 1 and then fly home. If possible, she will return next year to complete the portion of the trail through the High Sierras between Yosemite and Truckee that she didn’t hike this year.
Bonn said that she could give Cierra a ride out to the trail when he got off work that afternoon. I wished Cierra and Abby and Abby’s Person all “Happy Trails.”
On my way to my Jeep in the parking lot, I met Pastor Ken Frazier. I told him why I had stopped by and he immediately prayed for a speedy infection-free recovery for my leg. I had accomplished my purpose and much more. The visit had been full of surprises and peppered with good company.
Seems like every time you walk around a corner you say ‘Oh My God!'”