It's day seven of my thru-hike on the PCT and I'm sitting on the floor of a temporarily closed cafe where I'll spend the night on my sleeping pad amongst friends -- old and new. We're in Julian and have had the pleasure of meeting Carmen, the amazing lady who owns the cafe and demanded hugs from each one of us as we entered her back deck to get our hiker beer and rest our aching feet.
I just ate three-fourths of a small veggie pizza and I finally feel full. The apple pie, ice cream, and coffee didn't do the trick. Neither did the veggie sandwich and salad. But the pizza? That's done it. I think I've got my hiker hunger on -- I'm doing better than most who are still trying to force down their pop tarts and ramen noodles every day.
Sitting around the boxes of pizza we didn't even pretend to find plates for, there's lots of talk about maps and miles, blisters and shoes, and the different people we've met along the trail.
When I first began contemplating a thru-hike I was excited for the beautiful views, the pull away from busy city life and back to nature, and most prominently the people I would meet. It's a rare breed of people who can find five consecutive months to drop everything and walk from Mexico to Canada and those of us who have that ability are incredibly thankful for those who don't but manage to find ways to support us.
Throughout our first week on trail we've met some of the most beautifully amazing souls. Trail angels like Rod who boiled eggs for me after realizing I didn't eat the hot dogs he made, Legend who nearly forced us to drink way too much coffee and eat giant pancakes from dirty plates, Todd who gave us beer, burritos, and fruit salad for breakfast, and Deb who hiked miles with a full pack of snacks to give to us as we passed her by. We've met gear junkies who heal blisters, day hikers who pick up hitchers, and restaurant owners who give out free pie. We've met thru-hikers, section hikers, and overnighters.
Our first few days have been positively influenced by such amazing people, the most wonderful of whom were Al and Katherine. We met these two our first night on trail when 18 of us were crammed into a 5-tent spot about 15 miles from the southern terminus. They called it condo camping and they were our neighbors. We left the campsite quite a bit before them on the morning of day two but they caught us up the mountain when we were taking a break. Bryant was having trouble breathing so Al reminded him to take some allergy medicine as Katherine told me to put sunscreen on. Before parting, Katherine showed us a picture of their grandchildren, one in a spacesuit and one perched in an Osprey backpack.
We began referring to them as 'Grandma and Grandpa,' but were reminded time and again that they would be more appropriately called 'Mom and Dad' as they were not old enough to be our grandparents. The second night we camped about five miles from them and caught them in the morning since they had been slowed down by Legend's pancakes. As we took over their spots at the picnic table Al and Katherine hiked on, but it wasn't long before we caught up to them and Katherine dumped water over my head and put my hat on me while scolding Bryant to stop playing on an ominous rock. She was taking care of us as her own and they started calling us 'the kids.'
The next night we all camped in the same place sharing Dr. Bronner's for our clothes and Nutella for our stomachs. Wild wind shook caterpillars from the trees and onto our tents and packs overnight so we spent the next morning having coffee and breakfast while digging tiny lives from all of the crevices. Before heading out for the day the four of us discussed miles and water courtesy of Al and held hands for a prayer courtesy of Katherine.
About eleven miles later Bryant and I reached Mount Laguna where we would spend the night camping amongst other hikers -- maybe 20 or 30 of them? Al and Katherine made it to camp several hours later and after our first showers in days we joined the two of them for dinner. It would be our last meal together before their section hike would come to an end and the conversation felt like home to me. Bellies full of veggie lasagna, salad, and thin mint cheesecake and hearts full of love from the beautiful souls who had been strangers to us just days before, we passed out cozied in our sleeping quilts just after hiker midnight.
It isn't every day that you run into people so willing to open their arms and hearts to complete strangers the way Al and Katherine did and the way so many people within this trail community do. When a bunch of hikers get together and talk about the people they've met, a common phrase is something along the lines of, 'One of the best people I've met, not just on trail, but in life.' There must be something to the fact that so many people have met the most amazing people in life while on the trail. The Pacific Crest Trail must really bring together the most amazing people.
I'm only one week in and I can already feel the immense joy entering my life from the wonderful people I spend my days and nights with. I can't imagine a better couple than Al and Katherine to have kicked that off. They showed me that love is for the willing. As long as we're willing to open our arms and hearts, we will love and be loved by even strangers.