It is, to some extent, a two-way relationship. The hikers spend money at the grocery store, hardware store and restaurants. Some spend a night or two in local motels. And there’s another, less tangible benefit when people from all over the world come through a small town to share their stories about the challenges of life on the trail.
Every summer they come trooping through Dunsmuir, dust-coated folks with trail names like Tarzan and Waffle Stomper. They’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and they come into town looking for a meal, supply packages, free internet service, socks and insect repellent from the hardware store – and a chance to mingle with friendly natives.
What they discover is an informal support network, sometimes beyond their expectations.
It starts even before they get to Dunsmuir. India West (trail name “Caboodle”) and her boyfriend Chris Bryant (“Babs”) started at the Mexico border and spent a tough month slogging through the snow in the Sierras. Now, here they were hanging out in front of Ammirati’s Market in Castella when a man approached them and offered the two Texans a ride into Dunsmuir.
“It was amazing,” said West. “We got a ride without even having to ask for it.”
It’s the season when local “trail angels” come out in force, giving PCT hikers rides back and forth between the trail and town.
Hiker George Haley hit the jackpot with his trail angel, Dunsmuir Brewery cook Kevin Rodericks. Rodericks not only gave Haley a ride but let him stay the night at his house. Haley came through Dunsmuir a little late in the season, but was still hoping to make it to Canada.
The Dunsmuir Post Office keeps a logbook for PCT hikers to sign in and make comments about their experiences on and off the trail. The post office sees a lot of hikers coming through to pick up packages filled with food, new shoes, and other supplies.
Two hikers with trail names “Faucet” and “Natty Light” had this comment: “This was the BEST post office customer service experience we’ve had! They really helped us when we were in a bind! BEST POST OFFICE ON THE PCT!”
Post office employee Dave Miller found a ride for them after discovering that the package they thought had been delivered to the Dunsmuir Post Office had been delivered to the one in Castella instead.
A little later in the season Miller spent an hour on the phone after a hiker morbidly allergic to bee stings found that the package containing her medicine had not arrived in Dunsmuir. Miller alerted post offices in California and Oregon to look for the package.
According to Miller, the hiker finally caught up with their package at the Lake Tahoe Post Office.
“I was impressed how helpful and supportive they are at that post office,” said West. “It’s not like at other post offices where they treat hikers coming in for their packages as some kind of burden.”
Over at the Dunsmuir Library hikers use the free internet service to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. Even those with smart phones use the computers to download photos, according to library manager Karen O’Quinn.
They take naps on the rug in the children’s area and wash up in the restroom. O’Quinn passes out phone chargers donated by patrons, and smoke masks donated by the local Lion’s Club. She notes with pride that one of the library’s book club members is a dedicated trail angel.
The hikers also use the library as a place to network with other hikers, sharing their adventures and information about trail (and, nowadays, smoke) conditions.
It is, to some extent, a two-way relationship. The hikers spend money at the grocery store, hardware store and restaurants. Some spend a night or two in local motels.
And there’s another, less tangible benefit when people from all over the world come through a small town to share their stories about the challenges of life on the trail. It certainly adds some color and life to the humdrum rhythms of daily life.
Dave Miller, who’s met a lot of PCT hikers, describes them as “really high-quality people.” And if the comments from India West, Faucet and Natty Light are any indication, the feeling is mutual.