Pacific Crest Trail

Elizabeth “Grapefruit” Ketterer hiking with Calvin “Burgundy” Rhodes and Will “Banjo” at dusk near Cabazon, Calif. The three are hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

While the Pacific Crest Trail has new sights every day, the aspect of life on the trail that has surprised me most has been the strong community. The number of people hiking trail sections or attempting the entire trail this year is rumored to be at about 4,000 people. I won’t see all of those people, but I have met at least 100 people so far.

My encounters with others depend on hiking paces and how much of the trail someone is walking. Hikers also vary greatly in the number of “zero” days they take. Zero days are rest days, when a hiker is supposed to rest. Rest days often feel hectic, though, between laundry, showering, replacing gear and making contact with loved ones.

Being on the trail is like being part of a family. There are extended family members one sees here and there or on special occasions (i.e. a “zero” day in a town). Then there are those whom you see on an almost daily basis.

As the trail progresses and my hiking speed flexes due to my own body’s needs, my trail “family” flexes, too. Yet, regardless of whom I am hiking with or passing by along the trail, there is a sense of safety in knowing that they are watching out for me and keeping tabs on where I am.

In a day of cell phones, texting and Twitter, it’s refreshing to know that a message can be passed from one hiker to another just by word of mouth. It’s not uncommon for me to find my hiking buddies’ whereabouts just by asking other hikers who they have seen on the trail that day. I even discovered the location of my missing cooking pot when a couple of hikers saw me on the trail one day, recognized me, and gave me a specific message from a friend who picked up my pot and was carrying it for me until I got to the next location.

Community of sharing

The sense of sharing is overwhelming. When one hiker is in need of something, there is always someone else who is looking to off load that exact item or food. My first experience with this came in the first week of my hike when I met Banjo.

A small group of us were having lunch by a water source. As we all pulled out our food, I noticed Banjo had an odd collection of food pulled out to eat. It turns out he had packed all his resupply boxes on a time crunch in the U.S. just after flying from his home in London to start the trail, but didn’t think about the fact that he needed food for the first week to start with in his pack. So his food supply for Week 1 did not include hot meals, or anything with much nutrition.

He did not want to take any food from anyone, but was open to trading.

At the same time, I was talking about wanting to buy a small sitting mat to use when I take breaks. Banjo quickly piped up to offer to cut off the bottom of his sleeping mat for me to have the perfect sized sitting mat; he had debated the idea previously, so he could cut down on weight. I countered with an offer to trade two of my homemade dehydrated meals for two squares of his mat. It was a deal. Banjo had a hot meal, and I had an awesome sitting mat. I use the sitting mat numerous times a day and think of the great trade every time.

On the trail, it is rare for a hiker to wait long for something they need. The need is always met just shortly around the corner by another hiker’s generosity.

Elizabeth Ketterer of Cle Elum is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from the California-Mexico border to Canada.

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