PCT hiker supported after backpack stolen

Skye Kinkade
Sondra Hardie and Rachel Knight, of East Dallas, Tex., were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail when they decided to take a short break in Mount Shasta. While they were enjoying dinner at Lalo's Restaurant Wednesday, June 29, Rachel's pack was stolen from their campsite at the KOA. Now the community has rallied around them to help Rachel recoup her losses.

Members of the Mount Shasta community and beyond raised more than $2,000 to help a Texas hiker get back on the Pacific Crest Trail after all her belongings were stolen from a KOA campsite Wednesday.

Rachel Knight and her friend, Sondra Hardie, both of East Dallas, Tex., are in the midst of hiking from Old Station to Manning Park, Canada – a trek they estimate will take 90 days.

“We thought Mount Shasta would be a cool place to chill, hang out, and wash some clothes,” said Rachel, 25. When she and Sondra, 23, got into town around 4 p.m. on June 29, they checked into the KOA, stashed their packs in the brush at their campsite, and headed to Lalo’s for dinner.

When they returned at 6 p.m., Sondra’s grey and black backpack was where they left it, but Rachel’s red Osprey pack was nowhere to be found.

They immediately reported the theft to KOA manager Bill Pierce, who also happens to be the Mount Shasta Police Department’s Community Services Liaison.

Mount Shasta Police Lieutenant Joe Restine said this is a grand theft case because the value of the stolen property is more than $1,000. All of Rachel's possessions were inside the backpack or attached to it, including a blue REI sleeping bag inside a black case, an orange REI self-inflating bed roll, size 9.5 Solomon hiking boots, and a hatchet with an orange para cord wrapped around the handle, as well as her cook stove, bug net, solar charger, and clothing.

Of all the things in the backpack, Rachel says she’s most sad to lose her journal, which she had planned to keep throughout her journey.

“If I could get anything back, the journal would be it,” she said. “Everything else in (the pack) are just things.”

Though their hike started just three weeks ago, on June 16, Rachel and Sondra said they've already had some awesome adventures. At a hot springs in Big Bend, they met people who call themselves “home free,” and “they were some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” said Rachel.

With their home free friends, Rachel and Sondra ate yak meat, lentils, and some kind of superfood. They threw in their Ramen noodles and tuna fish and enjoyed a feast together, they said.

“Before we got big kid jobs, we thought we’d save some money and take off on a big adventure,” said Rachel, who met Sondra when they were both teaching outdoor education to fifth graders at a YMCA camp. “That’s what this hike is all about, to figure these things out.”

At first, they came up with the idea of kayaking across Texas, but quickly learned they didn’t really enjoy kayaking. “We thought about it, and we were already hiking 15 miles a day. So, we figured, why don’t we just put all those hikes together and hike the PCT?” Sondra said.

They’d heard about Mount Shasta as a beautiful destination from others on the trail, though they were warned about the transients, said Rachel. Their favorite thing about the area? “The view,” they both answered, gesturing at the mountain.

“Also, the community support has been unbelievable. People are so nice. We were in Rite Aid, and some guy came up to us and asked if I was the one who had the backpack stolen. I said yes, and he handed me a $20,” Rachel said.

The KOA found a site for them to stay for free until they got the necessary equipment to continue their journey.

What they thought would be a quick stopover became an interesting pause in their trip, said Sondra. They planned to stay through Tuesday in order to watch the fireworks over Lake Siskiyou and experience the Fourth of July, Mount Shasta style.

A plea heard across the US

After the theft was reported, the Mount Shasta Police Department put a post on its Facebook page, looking for leads in the case.

Two days later, the post had garnered hundreds of likes, 63 comments, 436 shares, and had reached nearly 20,000 people.

One of those people was April Yamaichi of Burlingame, Calif., who decided to set up a Go Fund Me account for Rachel. In 24 hours, she’d collected more than the $2,000 goal.

“I felt so incensed... how many times have I left my pack somewhere? I’ve never worried that someone would take it. It’s like a code. You just don’t do that,” said Yamaichi, who follows several hiking groups, including Ladies of the JMT, or John Muir Trail. That’s where she initially saw the post about Rachel’s pack.

“I thought, ‘I can’t let this girl go home to Texas because some idiot took her stuff,’” Yamaichi said, adding that it’s her philosophy to pay it forward, and all she asks from Rachel in return is that she someday does the same.

Though the Mount Shasta Police Department has had some leads on the pack, it hasn’t been recovered. Restine said Facebook is a great way to get the word out, and it’s a tool they began using in January after the attempted robbery at The Tree House.

“It gives us the ability to reach a lot of people, and if we can get some leads on a suspect, we will use it.”

Because of the postings, “There is a perception that there's a big crime wave in Mount Shasta since cases have been showcased on Facebook, but that’s not the case,” Restine said. “But people can now see what has been happening all along.”

If you have tips about the case, call the MSPD at (530) 926-7540 and refer to case number 16-4207.