It was about 9:30 am and we continued to climb the single lane road with our truck loaded down with goodies and the anticipation of what the day might bring. We were just North of Mt. Hood in Northern Oregon and had set our sites on an abandoned campground named Indian Springs to do our Pacific Crest Trail Magic. We wound our way up Forest Service Road 1310 toward Wahtum Lake, after 11 miles we reached the lake and veered left onto a rutted gravel road to continue to the crest of the mountain. Three miles later we descended from the ridge and the gravely, rocky, road dead ended in a small circle drive with a wooden picnic table just a few steps off of the trail. It was perfect.
We had been planning this day for roughly a month. After a few email exchanges, Cusa Tea decided to send us 100 taster packs of their single serve tea as well as a fifty percent off discount code for the hikers to use. Another outdoor brand, Wild Zora, agreed to sponsor the event and sent us a donation to help us purchase some supplies, and we covered the rest. We bought 32 burgers, 36 hot dogs, 82 beers, 30 Gatorades, buns, oranges, and bananas to hand out to hikers as they passed through our secluded area near the top of the mountain.
The day started quickly, as we rolled into the spot at 10:00 am, a sleepy hiker poked his out of his one man tent, staring at us groggily, most likely wondering if he was still dreaming. I hopped out of the truck and asked if he would be interested in a burger or hot dog for breakfast. “Of course!”, He said as his face lit up, “I’m Snooze.” I chuckled knowing that trail names were a part of the experience and giggled at how fitting his was. There were a barrage of characters who stopped by over the morning. We had two from opposite sides of Canada, who had been hiking together since Kennedy Meadows. They came in early and devoured a couple burgers explaining to us they had just done the 24 hour challenge a few days before and were still recovering. The guy had hiked 71 miles in 24 hours with no sleep, while the girl had done 61, its no wonder they were hungry. Then we had Jet-Pack and his friend Dish, followed by Aurora, who they claim had been “following” them since they met. Jet-Pack was from Connecticut but spoke Mandarin. This allowed him to translate as Aurora was from Thailand and didn’t speak or understand English quite as well. This led to Jet-Pack only translating what he felt was important, and talking about her in English when he didn’t want her to know what he was saying. There was much head shaking about Aurora and though I’m not sure they really wanted to hike with her, most of the ribbing was in good nature.
As our morning group gathered up their gear and said goodbyes the clouds started to descend on the ridge. A coolness set in and mist started to fall around us. It was nearly 3:00 in the afternoon and we had roughly 20 very appreciative hikers stop by. We waited a few minuets longer but as the cold started to set in we began to pack up the coolers, pick up any garbage that was left out, and put the grill away. Just as nearly everything was loaded into the truck two younger guys stumbled out of the woods. I looked at Tara and our friend Becca, wondering if getting the stuff back out was worth it.
“You guys want a beer!?”I called over. “Uhhhh, I mean, HELL YES!”. Was the answer I got in return. I asked if they thought anyone else was behind them and they said 5-6 of their friends weren’t too far behind. That was enough for us. We unpacked the grill as more and more hikers trickled in to help dispose of the 12 burgers and 16 hotdogs that we had left. I have no doubt they would have eaten more if it were available.
It took me back, sitting there in the damp cool weather to my time as a thru-hiker. I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and cool wet weather was a lot more frequent than they are on the PCT. I thought about all those times when I split a hotel room with people I met in the woods, when we shared a laugh about something dumb, or complained about wet feet and tired bodies. Some of my favorite memories involve trail magic and the utter joy and appreciation I felt at having a warm meal, fresh fruit, a beer, or even Little Debbie treats left in a cooler. I would like to say it saved me from having to cook those nights, but let’s be honest, I probably ate again anyways, as I’m sure most of these hikers did too.
As the crew sat in a semi circle around the tailgate of the truck, washing down burgers with the cold beer, they laughed and talked excitedly about town. When only one burger was left, a hiker from Berlin turned to his friend from the East Coast and asked with his German accent, “You want to split it? You take a bite, I’ll take a bite?”. “Why don’t you just tear it in half?”, his friend said laughing. “What!? You afraid of my germs? We’re family, right!?”, giving him a big smile as he offered the burger with a bite already missing.
That’s the bond that is formed on a long trail. You spend time with people you didn’t know the day before you started, and two or three months later you consider them family. It’s a special experience and many memories are made along the way. I hope we were a part of that, if only for a day.