In Which I Meet Two Followers

May 5, 2018

A living stick greeted me from atop my pack this morning.

There are over 3,000 species of stick insects, ranging in length from one half inch to 12 inches. I didn’t even know walking sticks could be white! This one was about 4 inches long.

We partook of breakfast in the shade of a juniper tree while a meadowlark serenaded the morning.

Juniper tree – easy to identify with the characteristic blue berries, which many birds eat.

Numerous Joshua trees dotted the landscape. This one sported fruit, the first I had seen, and stimulated my curiosity about this unusual plant. Wikipedia informed me that the leaves, fruit and flowers were used by the Cahuilla Native Americans, and early ranchers used the trunks and branches for fence posts and fuel. Also, it is theorized that the now extinct giant Shasta ground sloth was a key to the spread of the Joshua tree, as the leaves and fruits have been found in ground sloth dung. (Side note: The giant Shasta ground sloth went extinct 13,000 years ago. Dung has survived that long??? Hikers, remember this next time you are burying your waste. The desert preserves!)

We worked for our miles today, climbing 2,000 feet of elevation, then dropping down to a stream in Tylerhorse Canyon, then climbing another 2,000 feet to end on a mountain top. Fatigued muscles protested, but wildflowers carpeted the desert, birds sang much of the day, and grace and beauty abounded.


We reached Tylerhorse Canyon at lunch time, sharing the shade of a juniper tree with a bold scrub jay.

Scrub jays are known to have a very precise memory for food caches of seeds and berries.  I’m sure this one was disappointed when we didn’t share our lunch!

At the base of the canyon, we met two sets of volunteers from ACE (American Conservation Experience) which partners with the PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association). These young people will be repairing trails for six months as volunteers! All I can say is a very humble, “Thank you!”

Louisa and Brady kindly pose for my camera.
Arthur, Zack, and Kinsey pause to graciously answer my questions.

The climb out of Tylerhorse Canyon, in the heat of the afternoon, began to take its toll. I found myself counting the switchbacks, and feeling extremely grateful that the trail did have switchbacks, instead of going straight up!

Along with counting each time the trail turned upon itself, I had to keep stopping for moments of beauty. Flowers continued to delight!


We reached our final mountain top just at dinner time. My weary legs rejoiced when I came upon a charming campsite/hiker home with folding chairs, plank counters, garbage can, and a water cache. A welcome sign from Daniel, Robert, and Patti instructed hikers to “Have a drink!”


Jay and I sat down, marveling at all this luxury, including a beautiful view!  I had just put a tin of sardines upon the chair beside me, when a truck pulled up.

Bounding out of the vehicle, a bearded man startled us with the question, “You must be Sarah and Jay. You’re not planning to eat those sardines for dinner, are you?”

How did he know our names? What was going on?

It turned out that Robert and Patti lived on this mountain, and made a habit of sharing their dinner with lucky PCT hikers at Daniel’s campsite. They also followed a few PCT blogs each year, and had chosen mine as one to follow! As they unloaded still steaming spaghetti and utensils from their truck, they told us they had been expecting us today, based upon our progress so far. I was overwhelmed with amazement and gratitude to this generous couple! After a long though beautiful day, this impromptu feast and fascinating conversation made the tough miles seem a distant memory!

“This is my mother’s recipe,” Robert explained as he spooned heavenly smelling sauce from a giant pot. “I’m from a large family, and my mother always made a huge batch. My siblings and I have tried cutting the recipe in half, but it only tastes right when it’s made with her proportions.”

As we ate (and swooned over the delectable spaghetti), Robert and Patti gave us a short historical perspective about the land through which we’d been hiking.

“We’ve been hiking past a great many windmills,” Jay observed.

“Oh yes, those ‘wind turbines,’ as my granddaughter scrupulously calls them, have been big business. Some years ago, quite a few of my neighbors leased options on their land to the wind turbine companies. Nothing ever got built up here. If the companies had asked, we could have told them that the winds are too variable on this mountain top. They never asked, though.” Robert laughed.

Patti and Robert told us about the fires, one in 2007, another in 2012. “You should have seen the dense pinyon pines up here,” Robert reminiscenced. “We harvested pinyon nuts every year. Some of those trees were 300 years old. The fire destroyed everything, including our house. We rebuilt, with the help of our family.”

I mentioned the ACE volunteers I had seen at the bottom of Tylerhorse Canyon.

“Oh, good, I’m glad to hear that section is being repaired! I’ve told the PCTA about it more than once,” Robert smiled.

“What happened? It’s pretty sketchy down there.” I leaned forward in anticipation of another story.

“Last August there was a flash flood. We got seven inches of rain in one hour here at home! You can imagine the amount of run off the canyon collected! There was a LOT of water sluicing through that constricted channel. Hikers told us they couldn’t even find the trail down there. It’s good to have it restored.”

We sat and ate and talked and ate some more. Time flew as evening shadows lengthened. I didn’t want this magical visit to end!

“Will you be camping here tonight?” Robert finally asked.

“It looks like we still have an hour of daylight. We should probably walk a bit further, just to give our stomachs time to digest.” Jay patted his midriff gingerly. “I was hoping there might be a small campsite down the mountain a ways.”

Robert glanced doubtfully at Patti. “It gets pretty steep once you drop off the top.” He thought a moment, then his face brightened. “Actually, about halfway down, there is a bit of meadow where the ridge extends out a ways. There might be a piece of flat ground for you.”

“Perfect!” Jay exclaimed.

Regretfully, we gave Patti and Robert hugs, took a quick picture, and watched them drive away before shouldering our packs. What an incredible encounter!

Patti and Robert – trail angels!

As we hiked through the last of the evening, spotted towhees called from trees and bushes. For the first time, I connected the sound of the squeaky-door-hinge-call to the towhee. Birds have so many sounds! It’s hard to keep them straight. I also saw three rabbits slipping into the brush as we passed. This mountain held an abundance of life!

The Real Heroes

July 16, 2017

The AT has more than its share of mythical figures, inspiring stories, people seeking and finding redemption, peace, direction.  Earl Schaffer, the first AT thru-hiker, laid to rest personal demons from the war.  Grandma Gatewood, age 67, persevered to become a celebrity in the 1950s, after forest rangers told her, “Go home, Grandma.”   Bill Erwin hiked the trail blind, depending upon his own wits and determination as well as his guide dog, Orient.  Stacey Kozel conquered incredible difficulties as she thru-hiked with paralyzed legs.  These are the stories that draw people to the AT, these are the stories that shine as a beacon when people grope through dark times.

However, the real heroes of the AT are a small group of dedicated volunteers, spread thinly across 2,196 miles of mountains.  Trail maintenance crews make possible the dreams of thousands of hikers.  Without the service of these incredible people, the trail would quickly cease to exist.  For the love of the trail, these folks keep our path safer, more reliable, and navigable.

Today we were hiking through the trees, following a route of rocks and roots and mud as usual.  Suddenly the sound of metal striking metal rang through the woods.  We rounded a couple bends in the path and came upon three men laboring over a series of logs crossing a long morass of mud.

Peter Rodrick, head of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC), stopped to chat as we admired their work.  “I’ve been wanting to get a boardwalk over this section for several years,” he gloated.  “It’s good to see it happening!”

“Those logs look pretty heavy!  How did you get them in here?” I asked.

“Well, we had a bunch of volunteers this morning, trucked the logs up to the nearest road, and they all carried them in.  Then the three of us, Shamus LaPerriere, Scott Quint, and myself, have been working the rest of the day, laying out and securing this walkway.  You know, the MATC is going more and more towards bridging these swampy places with rocks.  But the boardwalks are a good deal faster to build.  If made from cedar, they’ll last 20 years.  I reckon the rocks might last 100 years though.”

We watched, fascinated, as Shamus and Scott used brace and bit to drill holes, then secured the last log with a couple of metal spikes, tamping them in with the back of an ax.  “You two can be the first hikers to walk this,” they invited us.

It seemed to me that such a moment needed more than just two grubby hikers prosaically walking over the mud.  I stepped up on the first log.  “Ta-ta-ta!  Ta-ra-ta-ta Ta-ta-ta!” I played on an imaginary trumpet.  Then, spreading my arms for balance, I crossed, enjoying the level boards, dry feet, and ease of passage.  “Wow, this is wonderful!  Thank you, thank you!  You are awesome!”


July 17, 2017

Today as we were hiking, once again we heard the sound of metal striking upon metal.  There were five in the trail crew, bridging a long mucky stretch of trail, this time using large stones.  Once again we stopped to proffer our thanks and get educated on the methods of trail building.

“How do you move such huge rocks?” Jay asked as he eyed the boulders, some easily the size of a Galapagos giant tortoise.  “They must weigh 500 pounds or so!”

“We mostly roll them, using these steel pry bars,” the crew leader answered.  “Yesterday we mined 72 stones from the forest.  It was a good day!”

“I guess you always try to get the rocks from the uphill side of trail then,” Jay laughed.

“We met a trail crew yesterday.  The leader told us that these walkways made with stones could last 100 years,” I remarked.

“Well, I haven’t been around long enough to know if that is true,” the crew leader smiled.  “But hopefully they will last a long time.  It’s slow going, getting the rocks put in.”

“I think it is amazing, the way you lay them so close together, and all level!  It makes it really easy to walk upon.  Thank you so much!” I told him.

“You can be the first hikers to walk these 15 stones that are already laid,” he invited us.

As we walked excitedly over the stone path, I thought, ‘Wow, 15 rocks out of 72.  They’ve got a huge job today!’

We took their picture, thanked them again, and continued, marveling at the dedication and commitment of these volunteers.  Yes, these are the real heroes on the AT.