Tales from the PCT

CamperDan and Strawberry-Mama

This is another personal blog I write to honor people I have met on my hike; special people who are inseparable bound to my memories and my experience of the adventure.

Here’s the story about Linda (strawberry-mama) and CamperDan. I met them on day 2 at Lake Morena. I have just arrived at the campground as I stumbled across towards their little Campervan begging for some water. I’ve left Campo one day ago with only two liters of water and was happy to finally get to the campground when I aimed at the first water-source I could see. It was the hose providing their spot with water and as soon as I walked up, CamperDan welcomed me, filled my bottle with fresh, cold, refreshing water and I drank. Even though we talked only for maybe a minute or two, introduced ourselves, it sure was one with a positive heavy impact noone thought of at this moment. I thanked and went on to the reception-office of the campground. I remember my first thought of him, “What a weird guy. He already has a trail-name.”

Next time I saw them was at Julian Stagecoach RV, the place where I lost my passport and other stuff. They were the ones helping me out there with kind and wise words, helped me with ideas, with hope, with food.
Then I saw them at Warner Springs, where they agreed to store my insane bottle of soap and the extra, extra amount of trail-mix-nuts I carried for too long.
A little time later I met them in Idyllwild it was them how went a crazy long route out of their way to drive me down to the consulate of L.A. to help me get back my passport. Later they drove me back to Big Bear Lake. It took us two days. It was also in Idyllwild, where Linda had sown my tent because it ripped a few days earlier on the trail; she did an outstanding job with her sewing-machine. Later in Oregon she would sow my pants because they became too big.
In Aqua Dulce they paid my dinner because I ran out of money, again…
In Bishop Linda cooked for 5 hikers, we had Pasta in the Park. It was the last meal I had with Akuna and TwoPie, two fellow hikers who left the trail in Bishop.
I met them in Kennedy Meadows and in Mammoth Falls, I met them all the way through California. The last time I saw them was in southern Oregon at a Resort. It was Linda’s birthday, we went out for lunch. It was the last time I saw them.
A few weeks ago on facebook a fellow hiker wrote me that “they saved my ass on the trail”. And they sure did! Whereever I met them they were there for me, helping me out with big things and little issues. The two, CamperDan and Linda, were true trail-angels travelling along. Thank you so much!

Tales from the PCT! – I lost my identity

You may think this is another essay about the spiritual journey one is taking on a long-distance hiking-trail, another essay saying how one is being transformed to a new human being becoming one with nature ‘n’ stuff. Well, to be honest, everyone’s life is a spiritual journey, some learn to see it this way – others don’t. But this story is about how I really lost my identity on trail.
It was on day 5 when I  reached Stagecoach RV in Julian, about 75 miles (120 km) into the trail. This whole adventure was still new to my body & mind, so new that it was time to only take my second shower since I left my friend Susies’ house in Sacramento about one week ago. Here I was, arriving at an official campground with toilets, showers and washing-machines – boy that was exciting! I checked in, set up my tent and took my backpack with all my belongings to the laundry-room to put my few clothes into a washing-machine. In the corner in the room I found a soda vending-machine which I immediately fed with my money out of my pouch to get a nice, cold, and sugery drink. I drank it fast because a refreshing shower was waiting for me.  Afterwards I went to collect my clothes, went to my tent, cooked dinner and quickly fell asleep. The next day was supposed to be a zero day, a day without hiking. I just wanted to relax a bit. My backpack was a little too heavy in the beginning because I had packed about ten days worth of food, three gas-canisters, one gallon of soap and other stuff I maybe should have not brought. It sounds ludicrous now when I think about it now but that’s how it was back then. Anyways, I’m drifting off a little bit. What was I saying? Ah yes, I wanted to take a zero day and relax. I woke up in the morning, had breakfast, sat around for a little while and at some point decided to have another one of those delicious sodas out of the vending-machine I found last night. I looked for my pouch in my tent and found … nothing! Wait, wait, wait. It had to be somewhere, I looked again. And again nothing. I got everything out of my tent and layed it out flat on the ground, looking in every pocket but still couldn’t find my pouch. What a shocking moment! I had to realize that there is no pouch; a pouch which included some cash, my passport incl. visa, my credit-card, my hiking-permit. Everything “important” was gone! I panicked a bit, looked at every place I had been since last night and after one hour I had to admit it’s gone. My hike was over after five days. One year of preparation, one year of looking forward to this adventure was over after just five days. I couldn’t believe it!
I didn’t know what to do. At least I still had a little bit of food with me. As I tried to relax on this situation I sat down with a fellow hiker, CamperDan, and his wife, Linda, who camped close by my tent. He hiked the trail, while she drove a Campervan along and meet him every few days,  they did this adventure together. I told them what happened and after thinking for a little while Linda came up with the idea if there is no one I could call. “Hmm”, I thought, “yes there is.” This one little question she asked me got me out of my thoughtless moment and getting focused again on problem-solving. There was someone I could ask for help, someone I WANTED to ask – Michelle. A dear friend from high-school which I haven’t seen for over twenty years but when I sent her a notice that I’m coming back to the States and asked if we want to meet, she immediately said yes. While we met, she made sure that I understand that if I need any help I should contact her. Now was the time. Now I needed help. To my luck the campground provided free wifi and I contacted her, told her what happened and we discussed next steps. For my own surprise I had copies of my passport, visa and hiking-permit on my ipod. I sent them to her, asked her to print them out and send it back to me with some cash. From that moment I felt positive again. It took 4 days for the package to arrive. In those 4 days I contacted my sister, she had to cancel my credit-card and organize a new one and send it to a location I would arrive at in a few days. In those 4 days, many people have helped me out. The camp-ground let me stay for free, fellow hikers bought me food and stood by me with nice words, other campers invited me for meals and spent time with me and gave me good ideas for how to proceed. Those 4 days have shown me the kindness of people’s hearts.
I contacted the Consulate of Germany in Los Angeles, told them my story and we worked out a plan. They also helped me out very much.
Michelle, CamperDan and Linda (I’ll write a seperate essay just for you later), Christina G, El Queso Grande, Bluebird, Richard and Linda V. this is a try to thank you very much. The trail provides! Also this is to my sister who managed all my stuff, mostly financially, from back home. Without her constant support I would have never hiked this trail or La Réunion or The Camino and I certainly wouldn’t be hiking the E1 next year. Thank you, Yvonne. I love you!

With copies of my identity-papers and some cash I went back on trail. Two weeks later, after arriving in Idyllwild where I got my new credit-card, I went to L.A. to personally show up at the consulate. CamperDan and Linda drove me there. But this story and all the other things that happened between CamperDan, Linda and me will be covered in a separate story. So stay tuned and see how livin’ is done!

PCT! – But why?

The decision to hike the PCT was quite a long process. After I came back from La Réunion I was sure that I wanted to hike a longer trail. I started asking myself “What is longer?”. As I couldn’t answer this question with specific numbers, I started to look for the longest trails out there. I figured, that I can always stop if I feel I’m done but I did not want to decide on a 4-week-hike and be unsatisfied or going for a 1,000-km-hike and feel undone. There are quite a few long trails out there all over the world and I somehow wanted to hike them all. But that urge didn’t help me now. I needed to make a decision, I needed clues. I watched videos, read a few blogs, tried to get inspired by something, but it all failed, it all felt the same. So I tried to narrow it down to some aspects, I wanted some adventure but also security, I wanted some wild but comfort, I wanted to sleep in my tent but not being illegal. Those aspects narrowed it down for me to trails in North-America as wild-camping is not allowed in most of europe (exceptions apply but then you won’t have really long-distance hikes), Asia doesn’t have a developed hiking- and camping-culture, New Zealand was a bit too expensive, Australia too remote, Africa too wild and I couldn’t imagine South-America back then. When looking into long-distance hikes in North-America one will find three trails in particular, they are the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At first I wanted to hike the AT as it looked to be with the best infrastructure. I was still a novice in hiking as I only hiked once before, well twice by the time I finally hiked the PCT. I started to talk to friends about my plans and it felt better and better as more often I talked about it. I was getting there finding my first long-distance-hike: the AT. I remember the moment I told my friend Helmut, r. i. p. my friend, and his wife Christel about my plans. They told me that they have been in the Appalachian mountains before and they agreed on it being a nice landscape. “Nice?” I asked. “Yes, and a bit boring” was their answer. “It’s only a green tunnel, you walk through the woods all the time. It’s similiar to the Black Forest…but for six month.” Those words put doubt in my mind.
A few weeks later I happened to be in the Saxon Switzerland, maybe comparable to the Black Forest, and I decided to take a little hike there. No, I was sure after returning, I don’t want to do this for six months. I want a different trail. So it came to decide between the CDT and the PCT. Well, that was easy. The CDT was too adventurous for me (again, back then!), so I finally started to think to hik the PCT. Suddenly I could see clearly now. That’s the decision I was waiting for. Why did I not think about this earlier?  I have lived in California before, I still have friends there I haven’t seen in many years, I really like the US west coast. The PCT offers adventure and comfort as you come through towns every 5 days on average. I’m allowed to wild-camping. This one was pure perfect. And what an adventure the PCT is! Incredible! What a landscape! How many awesome people!

One thing I really enjoyed before hiking was thinking to meet my dear friends again. Friends I almost forgot about, I must admit. Friends I haven’t spoken to in a long time, I must admit. Friends I wrote to a few weeks before arrival in San Francisco and they welcomed me with open arms. Friends I will never forget! Thank you Susie, my sister from high-school. Thank you Michelle, a great friend back in time and now. Thank you Chris, also a great friend through the times. I should mention many other and please, if you read this, be sure you are not forgotten. We share many valuable memories.

Tales from the PCT – I almost quit.

It is what it is!

Maybe it’s not the best idea to start writing about the PCT with the thought of quitting. Maybe it’s more fun to write about the stunning beauty of nature. Or trail-angels. Or fellow hikers I’ve met. Or maybe I should write about my planning-procedure or gear. But maybe not! Maybe I should start with the time where I almost quit, because, well, I only ALMOST quit. And because of ALMOST it raises the question on “Why didn’t I quit?”. The answer to this is a story of beautiful, kind and nice people who where there just at the right time. They came to me like angels telling me the story that everything is taken care of, when one is on the right track. Here is my remembrance to them.

Oregon was hard for me. After four month in California fighting the desert and the Sierra Nevada mountain-range, after enjoying the heat in beautiful northern california, Oregon is placed somewhere in nowhere. Just like everyone else I was excited to finally leave California. It had the feeling of a new beginning. Still about 1.600 km (1,000 mi) away from the finish-line, hiking in Oregon was just plain work for me. While many/most hikers talked about crushing miles in Oregon, 30 mi + (50 km) each day, I barely managed 20 mi (30 km) on average. Most of Oregon, at least in my memory, was burned down. Nature was ruined by lots of wild forest-fires, the landscape wasn’t too appealing also and I struggled with lack of motivation and funds. Under those conditions I reached, approximately half way through Oregon, Elk Lake Resort. Initially I didn’t want to go there. I already took quite a few zero days in the last two weeks and I didn’t have enough money on me to spend it on restaurants and expensive Resort camping-places. I remember hiking my way through another miserable Oregon-day when I passed the sign leading the path to the Resort and thinking to myself that I should just keep on going, so I did. It wasn’t much after that when I turned around and foolishly decided otherwise. “What the heck? If I do quit, at least I can spend my last money in a resort enjoying myself and who knows…!” Well, who knew? I hiked down to the resort looking for a nice quiet spot to pitch my tent in the dark so no one would spot me. Yes I was trying to camp there without paying, shame on me. But, as I walked towards the Resort entrance, I met a fellow hiker I met before and he told me that the Resort offers free spots for camping for PCT through-hiker. Encouraged by his words I walked up to the reception and asked the lady behind the counter if there’s a place for me to pitch my tent for free. She told me that usually they don’t offer free camping but today was my lucky day. She told me that a group of motorcyclists made reservations for three spots but ended up using only two and they donated the free spot to PCT hikers and that I can pitch my tent there for free. Luckily and happily I walked to the designated spot just to find out that it was already taken. Miserable as I was with the recent roller-coaster ride of having – not having – having – not having a camp-site I was close on giving up. Maybe I was mistaken? Maybe! I spotted a couple on the site which I thought was for me (the site, not the couple!), walked up to them and asked if they may have taken the wrong spot. They smiled and told me that the signage is a little bit confusing and misleading and that my spot was the free one right next to theirs. What a relieve! I excused myself and pitched my tent. After I finished, the couple and I introduced each other; their names are Sarah and Jeff! At that point I wasn’t much into talking, I just wanted to take a shower and relax, so I took off quickly leaving them behind as they where setting up their site.
I walked down to where the showers and the restaurant where. After taking a shower I saw quite a few fellow hikers sitting on the restaurants porch and I was about to walk up to join them when two stranger, obviously a couple, passed my way and started one of those polite american small-talks. “Are you a PCT-hiker?” – “Yes, sir, I am” was my response. “Are you going all the way?” – “That’s the plan” I answered even though I was still uncertain of what I am actually going to do. “When did you start?” – “March 29th”. “Your accent, where are you from?” – “Germany” I said. “Oh, that’s nice. We have friends in Germany and have been there many times. Where from?” – “I’m from a town near to Cologne, it’s called Wuppertal.” “We know this town” they said excitedly. I was as surprised as they where to find someone at the other side of the world knowing the town I come from. “Yes, you have the suspension rail-way, this mono-rail thing where you hang upside down as public transportation. What’s it called again?”. “It’s the Schwebebahn” I answered with a smile on my face not knowing how to react to this whole situation right now. It instantly put me in a good mood and made me forget all my miserability. We talked for a few more minutes and introduced each other with names before we split again. Their names are Jim and Jane.
Before I finally walked up to join fellow hikers on the porch I decided to bring my shower-stuff to my tent and get some money. A few minutes later I joined a couple of hikers. One of them turned to me and handed me a business-card and said “Here, this is from Jim and Jane. When you walk through their town, you are invited to stay at their place.” I took the card, thanked and put it in my pocket. Later that evening I walked back to my tent already in a way better mood than before. As soon as I got there it was Jeff and Sarah who invited me to join them for a cold beer and some talking. It was a lovely evening! They told me that they live up north not far away from the PCT and if I make it through there I am also invited to stay with them.
How lucky I was to stay at Elk Lake Resort! How lucky I was that I was guided there!
The next day I enjoyed beautiful weather at the lake, some swimming and relaxing. I refused to think about tomorrow and about the worries about hiking. But, as time goes by, this day had to come to an end and I had to make a decision on what to do. Free parking at the camp-site would come to an end after tonight and my motivation wasn’t up again yet. That’s the situation I laid myself to sleep in.
The next morning I woke up pretty early. I don’t quite remember what I decided to do but I do remember meeting this guy I talked with for a few minutes and he said something like “Something good can only happen when you say Yes to opportunities!”. After that I made up my mind, walked up to Sarah and Jeff to ask them when they leave, where they would go and if they could give me a ride to Bend, a city close by from where I could contact Jane and Jim to follow their invitation to their home. Their answer was a surprisingly perfect. They where putting their things together, they want to leave in 30 minutes, they need to go to Bend anyways and yes, they want to give me a ride. 30 minutes later we sat in their car on the way to Bend. They dropped my off at a Starbucks where we enjoyed a coffee together and before they took off they handed me a can of fine tuna. I ate it a few days later after another tough day – how delicious it was, how much energy and motivation it gave me! Anyways, now here I was in Bend at a Starbucks trying to reach Jane and Jim. As I didn’t have a phone I sent them an e-mail. They responded soon and later that day he picked me up at a certain place he asked me to be. I stayed two days with them. They were awesome. I don’t want to write too much about what we talked about, but I want to say that they are two interesting, far traveled, kind people. I planned to stay for only one night, because I felt bad for taking advantage of their hospitality. But they hosted another hiking couple, too; actually it was the couple who handed me the business-card, and in the morning after the first night they asked if they could stay another night. As I still didn’t feel very motivated, I joined in and stayed another day and night. The whole day I was lying in the garden enjoying the beautiful view of the Three Sisters. After those two nights sleeping in a real bed, listening to Jane’s and Jim’s stories I was reborn. I was ready to hike again. I was now sure than ever that I now can finish the trail and that it doesn’t matter what happens next. I finally understood what I only heard so often on the trail before: “IT IS WHAT IT IS!”, simple as that. Jim gave me a ride back to the trail and even though Oregon was still a tough time, I was finally happy again.

About two weeks later I came to Washington and I called up Sarah and Jeff. They came and picked me up and they, too, let me stay in their home for two, or was it three?, nights. We again had nice talks about cooking and food and politics, we went for a walk, cooked together and shared stories together. After they brought me back to the trail back in Oregon I crossed the Bridge of Gods leaving Oregon for good and facing Washington state for my last 800 km (500 mi.) of my trip on the PCT.

I would have not finished the PCT at the Canadian border if I wouldn’t have met Sarah and Jeff, Jane and Jim. If they wouldn’t have opened their hearts and homes for me, I would have just quit somewhere in Oregon. It’s because of them I can tell stories of how I finished the PCT and it’s because of them that I can think about going on future hikes. I am forever thankful for them being part of this adventure and, because of this, part of my life.
Please, Lord, bless them always!