Angels help the weary on
Pacific Crest Trail By MATT JOHANSON
Zach Padlo hikes a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
PHOTO BY MATT JOHANSON/ 209 Magazine
our new friend called “Lizard.” Everyone has a trail name up here; his companions included Burger Meister and Forever Fifty. They weren't the last angels who blessed us on our journey. The Pacific Crest Trail runs along the west coast of California, Oregon and Washington, from the Mexican to the Canadian borders. The hardy few hikers who complete it each year take around five months. Zach, Sam and I trekked a five-day segment from Sonora Pass on Highway 108 to Echo Summit near Lake Tahoe. After Ebbetts Pass, our next segment began with a pleasant night beneath the stars at Sherrold Lake; Zach and I enjoyed it, at least. But Sam, unused to sleeping outdoors, growled at many unseen critters in the night. The next day, we enjoyed the lakes, streams, meadows and peaks of the Mokelumne Wilderness, feeling stronger as our packs got lighter. Meeting our fellow backpackers was also enjoyable. Many were through hikers who began their journeys in the Southern California desert months before. Along the way they acquired impossible strength, trim waistlines and distinctive trail names like Danger, Polar Bear and Yard Sale. Hailing from dozens of states and countries, they share a friendly outlook,
hough hundreds of hikers per year attempt the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail, my cousin Zach Padlo and I hit the wall around mile 26. We weren't rookies but the first days are always tough when starting at high elevation, like the 9,624-foot Sonora Pass. For two days, we labored in thin air under heavy packs, clearing the trail's highest pass between Yosemite and Canada while attempting an ambitious pace of 15 miles per day. As much as we enjoyed the wildflowers and rocky scenery, the last miles leading to Ebbetts Pass beat up both our bodies and morale. Then we passed a cardboard sign inviting us to “trail magic.” After a short detour, we met a PCT veteran and three companions who welcomed us into their camp and offered us cold drinks and free dinner. How could we say no? As soon as we sat down, they gave us plates of fresh fruit, and within minutes, hot cheeseburgers. My dog Sam was also offered meaty treats and a dish of water. A wonderful hour later, we continued hiking with muscles and spirits refreshed. We had met our first “Trail Angels,” the heavensent friends of PCT backpackers who greet hikers with food and drinks. “I've hiked the entire trail three times, and I want to give something back,” explained 209MAGAZINE