My college girlfriend had hiked the Appalachian Trail before coming to college, and inspired me with stories from the trail. Over the years, I had heard stories of “Trail Angels” – people who help out hikers in some way or another, perhaps with a ride to a town, food, or a cold beer. A couple years ago, I dreamt up the idea to serve free tea to hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). As my journey through Northern CA was shaping up, I decided it was a great time to meet up somewhere with the trail. So, I poured over maps to find a place where the PCT intersected a road that Edna could get to.
On Sunday, I left a campout my friends were having in Chilcoot, CA and headed towards Gold Lake, where I saw a road that connected to the PCT. As I arrived the road late in the day, I realized that it was a 4-wheel-drive kind of road and there was no way Edna would make it. A fellow vehicle traveler, Michael, pulled up in his sweet Sprinter van and we looked at some maps together and he pointed out a spot above Packer Lake that might be a good spot – paved all the way out, at least.
I worked my way up towards Packer Lake, as the sun was getting low. The road was relatively easy at first, but just as I was getting close, the road got extremely steep. Edna already smokes a bit in higher altitudes, especially since she is pretty heavy, but here at 7500 feet, she was puffing black smoke coming up the steep grades. Fortunately, it wasn’t that long of a haul and I made it to the top just as the sky was getting orange. There was a perfect spot there where I could pull Edna right next the PCT and serve up some tea.
The next day, I hitched a ride down to Sierra City to try and contact my friend Ally, who was coming to meet up with me to serve tea. She picked me up there, we got some ice, and headed up to Packer Saddle, where Edna was parked. Our two vehicles work nicely together in wagon circle formation, with my half parachute strung between, and rugs laid out in the middle. It amazed me how much sweeter the setup was with another vehicle, extra rugs and cushions, and some little tables. It’s great to collaborate.
The first day Michael came by with his Sprinter and offered a hand in setting up. He’s also a video guy as well as a vehicle traveler, so we geeked out on each other’s rigs and talked video. It was super fun. Once we were set up, our first tea guest was Brock. He was a great guy and super appreciative of the tea zone. We had goldfish and crackers that were left over from the campout I had just left, as well as chocolate chip cookies and no-bake chai cookies that Ally had made, iced sun tea, hot water and pick-your-own tea bags, filtered water, and ginger ale (donated by my new friend Neo).
As the day progressed, Brock left and we got Epic and Buckwheat (their trail names), a wonderful couple who were hiking the trail while in transition in life. As it got later, more hikers (Roadkill, Hook, Marshall, and Pippen) showed up and everyone decided to camp with us. It was so great! We drank tea into the evening and prepared our own little dinners, which we enjoyed together. We shared stories and got to know each other. As it got later, we pulled out my computer and had a movie night with all of us gathered in our sleeping bags on the rugs under the parachute. The stars above were brilliant.
Having so many people around was so beautiful. Our morning consisted of sharing tea and our guests leaving, somewhat hesitantly. That day we only got one PCT hiker, Rooster, who was a character. A day hiker named Elias stopped by and shared some tea, and came back later in the evening with wine, beer, and goat cheese. We ate our dinner while hanging with him. It was such a pleasure to be so far up in the mountains, but still have little communities of people around, sharing stories and wine.
One of the conversations we kept having on while up in Packer Saddle, was about the kindness of strangers, which PCT hikers seem to experience pretty often. The charities of Trail Angels (who perform Trail Magic) seem pretty prevalent up and down the trail. Often, people will setup and give cold beers, Gatorade, food, and rides to people who need it. Sometimes people will post signs coming off the trail into a town that tell hikers to call them for rides or showers. This is all so amazing.
I had noticed that a larger percentage of people would stop by the bus here on the trail than when I am parked, say, on the city street. From talking to people, it seems like since people are often especially kind to hikers, it just felt genuine seeing the FREE TEA sign when walking up, whereas in the “real world” the word free doesn’t really mean free anymore – there’s always a catch. Many hikers were worried initially that this may be the case, but were relieved and excited once they found out this wasn’t true. However, even out here in the woods, there were many people who didn’t even consider coming to our comfy zone for tea. A group of Christian high school girls and their leaders actually sat on logs and dirt, rather than enjoy our cushions and iced tea, which is just so weird to me personally. But, I guess I understand that everyone has their own thing…
Why is it that when we step out of our regular lives, we’re open to life’s adventures, whether in giving and receiving? Why is this generosity called “magic” on the trail? Does that mean that giving is magical? Why is it that when we leave our regular lives that we are more able to allow magic to happen in the form of generosity? Why is generosity from strangers called magic on the trail? But in the real world generosity from strangers is judged as an unreal promise with a catch?
Many people who came by for tea actually felt like the kindness of strangers on the trail was inspiring in a way that they would bring that giving philosophy back to their “normal” life. I liked this…
Our third day brought us The Kid, Booty, Number One, Number Two, Mismatch, a couple day hikers from Placerville, and a whole group of high-schoolers from Davis. Everyone was stoked. The high-schoolers had been on an epic adventure up the Sierra Buttes, down to Young America Lake where no path leads, and back up the their cars by our zone. They were famished, had a lack of water, and were explosively appreciative of what we had brought up there. It was super fun to have them. Their young energy, present even after their adventure, was fun to be around. It picked me right back up.
We stayed for two more days with more hikers and guests coming for tea, and taking our own adventures up to the top of the Sierra Buttes (highly recommended). It was nice to hike and get a feel for the trail. The epic sunsets with views of the Buttes, the serenity of walking through nature with no engine noise or city bustle, the starry nights with the Milky Way bright and beautiful – all these things made the days and nights so wonderful. Overall, I’d say more than 30 PCT hikers, and 15 others stopped by over the 5 days we were there. Thanks to all the folks who came. It was a pleasure to be of service to y’all!