I ended up taking two and a half days off in Lone Pine soaking my foot in Epsom salts, and it paid off quite well. Grawk, the crazy mushroom dealer arrested in the hostel parking lot, was no longer an issue, though I’ve since heard he was kicked out of Kennedy Meadows and was forced out of a hostel in Independence. His antics at first were ridiculously annoying, but now they just look somewhere between sad and pathetic. Hopefully things improve for him. Somewhere far away from me.
Pink Lady, a physical therapist who quit her job to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and is now on the PCT, got sick around the same time and place on the trail as I had foot issues. We ended up bailing off the trail and hitching into town to recover at the same time, and once she felt better we spent a good portion of our two days hanging out together. Ghost, one of the Japanese hikers, ended up being my roommate in the hostel. Donezo and his boyfriend came to town to resupply, so it ended up being a nice reunion with friends.
The Lone Pine hostel was the center of town for the hiker crowd, and they opened up their shop/lobby to all us vagabonds. The hostel owners hired a former PCT hiker, Tom Sawyer, to “help deal with” this year’s hikers. I’m not sure what that means, or why “normal” people sometimes have trouble working with hikers. It might have something to do with the fact that, by this point in the hike, we’re all looking and acting pretty homeless.
Bigfoot and three friends of his started in Mexico April 1, 20 days before I did, and got to the Sierra Nevada in early May. Impeded by snow, they skipped that section and started on Northern California. They returned to the Sierras the same time as I was starting that section, and I spent some days hiking with them. Outside of a grocery store, Bigfoot started going through the food he’d just bought for his resupply by removing boxes, discarding packaging, and sorting what he could into plastic bags. That removes a lot of weight and bulk from our food, which is especially important with the limited carrying capacity imposed by the (almost too) small dimensions of the bear canister. While Bigfoot was doing this, a man came up and tossed him 30 cents. He threw it back at the man and yelled, “Give it to someone who needs it, not me!”
I’ve heard similar stories of hikers being offered money or rides to the homeless shelter while hitching into or out of town. One woman had $20 handed to her while she was hitching. In the defense of the non-hikers, 70 to 80% of us are men and our beards are getting ridiculous. Our formerly new gear is showing signs of use, and almost everything we own gets caked in dirt until it rains. When we go into town, many of us haven’t showered or done laundry in a week or so. Our first priority is always always ALWAYS food, so immediately upon leaving the trail the first destination is a grocery store or restaurant.
The towns the trail passes through are usually not sufficiently large to warrant their own mail delivery system, so we’re enough of a noticeable presence for a few weeks each year that the locals and business owners are familiar with our kind. Sometimes, though, you walk into a food shop of some kind and instantly get what is dubbed “the hikertrash feeling.” You look around, a bit disoriented by the sudden presence of electric lights and air conditioning, before immediately focusing on the menu and figuring out how to order enough food to feed a small army. After ordering with a shaky tone of voice suggesting if you don’t do so quickly then everything will disappear and you’ll wake up in your tent from one of the ubiquitous food dreams, you look around and notice people staring at you. It’s quite an experience, and you suddenly feel like you look filthy and ridiculous (even if you don’t care by now). I’ve been told by multiple non-hikers that we all seem to have “these crazy looks in [our] eyes,” which in my theory comes from dealing with too much snow and rain.
Then again, normal people don’t read about a five month hike through desert, mountains, and rainforests only to immediately think, “Hmm, that sounds fun! I’m going to quit my job and put my life on hold for half a year to go live in the woods, starve myself, and carry a heavy pack all day every day.” I have to say, though, that it’s really fun and completely worth it.
Sometimes the hikers we meet are crazy even by hiker standards, as evidenced by the guy Pink Lady met who, after she introduced herself, responded, “You don’t need to know my name. Do you really have to camp near me? Why are there so many f#$@ing people around here, anyways?!” Well, that’s what you get when you camp near a bear locker (used when you can’t fit everything in your bear can), water, and lots of flat spots when the thru-hikers and John Muir Trail people are all coming through simultaneously.
There’s a weird sense of entitlement some hikers have over crowdedness on the trail, as if they’re not contributing to the crowding on trail (not that crowding is really an issue). There are thousands of trails in the US that get few, if any, people over the course of a week (my friends from working in Yellowstone know this well, since >90% of visitors to the park go no more than 100 meters from a paved surface). If you do a popular hike in peak season, then you will see people. It’s true that 3000 people requested PCT permits in 2015 compared to 50 in 1995, but I still go hours each day between seeing people and can camp solo whenever I want to do so. On average, I see 3 to 20 other people a day on the trail. The PCT can be a social or solitary experience, and you get to make the choice of what kind of hike you want.
Most of the hikers here are pretty fun and interesting people, and I get along with the vast majority. Tom Sawyer, the former hiker running the Lone Pine hostel, gave me ice cream in recompense for having to deal with that nutball Grawk. Food I don’t have to carry is always appreciated.
Speaking of giving hikers food, we’ve all started to realize how pathetic we must look to the trail angels who wait at roads and give us things like fresh fruit, cold pop, and other consumables. One told me, “We come here every Memorial Day to feed the hikers!” Kind of reminded me of the way my mother used to ask us if we wanted to go feed the geese by the river when my brothers and I were younger, and how the birds would ravenously swarm upon the bread we threw at them. One JMT hiker said he plans on doing trail magic further up the trail so he can “feel like a god when the hikers thank [him].” I’ve seen a hiker thank trail angels with a tight hug and tears in her eyes because she was given a banana. Those are very different tears from those which many of us shed in the final desert section when we independently collapsed onto flat plots of earth and wondered what the hell we were doing out there.