Little did I know how drastically my life would change when I accepted an invitation to spend a weekend in 2010 camping at Drakesbad.
I knew nothing about Drakesbad, but it didn’t matter because the part of the invitation that had captured my attention was hiking to destinations with intriguing names such Devil’s Kitchen, Boiling Lake and Terminal Geyser, all located within Lassen Volcanic National Park. I soon learned that the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was not only nearby, but that Drakesbad was within a couple miles of the trail half-way marker, making it not only a supply stop, but more importantly a celebratory destination.
My weekend hosts were Beth and Gary, both intimately familiar with not only the PCT but also Drakesbad and it’s infamous caretakers, Ed and Billie. I was soon peppered with stories about the PCT thru-hiking culture. As we hiked toward Devil’s Kitchen, I met my first thru-hiker, a guy from Israel. Still a few miles from Drakesbad and looking a bit hungry, I offered him one of my homemade trail bars. He happily accepted and I learned I had just provided what is known as “trail magic.” Over the weekend, I met many more hikers, with the highlight being the night we had dinner at the lodge sharing our outside picnic tables with the many celebrating their completion of 1,325 miles and 3-4 months on the trail.
The stories danced in my head, I became addicted over the winter, reading PCT-related books and journals, learning everything I could about the terminology and lifestyle. By April, I had subscribed to many hiker journals, and followed closely as they prepared to begin their journey, with the majority participating in the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff (ADZPCTKO). I impatiently waited for them to pass through the desert, then the sierras, through Tahoe, and finally celebrating the half-way marker and heading north.
I was excited to try my hand at providing some trail magic, on my own, without the guidance of Beth and Gary. I invited my friend John to join me for this little adventure. It was the end of July, another HOT, over 100 degree day. We filled our coolers and packs with cold sodas, frozen treats, some fruits and sweets and headed toward North Lassen in search of PCT hikers.
Driving the highway toward our rendezvous spot, we missed our forest service road causing us to turn around at a vista point near Old Station, which must have been serendipitous because we found Chili and Pepper, a father/son thru-hiking team from Florida, in need of our help. Chili, a 14-year old, had a stress fracture and needed some time to heal. Pepper had arranged for recovery in Etna, but was feeling quite challenged about finding transportation between these two remote locations separated by about 150 miles. After a few phone calls we had a plan in place with a couple more trail angels earning their wings in the process.
Upon reaching the trail crossing, we barely had time to gear up before our first hiker, Steady, broke through the trees. It was great fun surprising her with some goodies. As we hiked south, we shared our bounty with about ten other hikers, all so appreciative of cold drinks and treats on this very hot, dusty section of trail. After learning that most magic is provided near a road, I dubbed us the Roving Trail Angels. Selfishly, we needed to hike, so having a dual purpose made it that much more fun.
The successful and rewarding first experience prompted me to quickly post an event on my adventure group’s calendar. It would be another Roving Trail Angel outing, with our destination Porcupine Lake. I loved educating my fellow hikers about the PCT, thru hiking, journals, experiences, etc. The surprise was on us, however, as about a mile into our hike, we came upon another angel, Quake, providing magic to a large group of hiker trash (an affectionate term) with beer, hot and cold food, comfy seats and as a previous thru hiker a special camaraderie. With our plan to hike north, and most hikers spending time at Quake’s camp, we visited with the hikers and shared our goodies, giving my new angels a chance to experience the culture.
I became acquainted with the angels who maintain Cache 22 on the Hat Creek Rim, as a result of the connections I made while assisting Chili and Pepper. I learned they were in need of clean refillable gallon water bottles. It just so happens that my family has to buy water, thus they became angels by supplying the 60-80 empty water jugs needed for refills. We now have a PCT Cache 22 facebook page were we coordinate transportation of the bottles and communicate regarding the need for refills. See how the PCT Trail Angel network grows?
I stepped outside my comfort zone in 2012 by hosting hikers, Dancing Feet and Not So Bad, at my house, and living on the wild side by picking up hitch-hiking PCT’ers in Castella. My life has been enriched by meeting and assisting these individuals. I love their trail stories, life stories, gear reviews and so enjoy making friends around the world.
For my 2013 event, I recruited my friend John again with the plan to provide a magic camp at Quake’s 2012 location. After stopping in Castella to see if anyone needed a ride to Mt Shasta, now part of my I-5 traveling routine, it was time to meet another hiker I’d befriended, Weeds, who we were helping to slack pack (we carried her gear, she carried snacks & water) the 26 miles from Castella to our magic location, including a 4,200’ climb.
Arriving at our destination, Mile 1532 it started hailing (it’s July 26th), not quite what we had planned on for this camping/picnicking magic. Soon enough cold, pummeled hikers were hustling down the hill. We quickly hung a tarp and got the coffee going. Before we knew it, we had a dozen hikers in our camp ready for our warm meal, comfy chairs, and a flat spot to camp. About 7pm, another vehicle arrived, and weren’t we surprised to find it was Quake himself. We joined forces and together spoiled many hikers over the next couple of days.
On our return south, we stopped in Castella to retrieve Muk Muk, who I was hosting at my home. She was so much fun to spoil! John washed her sleeping bag which hadn’t been cleaned since she started the trail nearly five months earlier. I meanwhile fattened her up, helped with errands and chores, encouraging rest so she’d be ready for the next leg of her journey. More wings were found when a friend volunteered to give her a massage on a Sunday. .
Just as I thought I’d put away my wings for the season, I found an opportunity to provide a little more magic. While on vacation hiking the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, I met Zelda and Tarzan, a couple who needed a ride to Portland. I also met Half Liter and Marmut Bait who are hiking south with the plan to end their hike at Castella in mid October; they too may need an Angel, and if so I’ll be there!
Having lived near the PCT for most of my life, I have a strong affection for it, hiking many pieces but never knowing about thru-hiking or the culture until I was introduced in 2010. I share my love of hiking and backpacking with my friends and adventure group, and now I share my love of the thru-hiking community by taking flight as an angel.
This post was written by former Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadore Jan “BeeKeeper” McEwen.