I prescribe to the idea that in every person there is an in-born good. For years this was a difficult concept for me to understand and apply to life. However, if there is one thing that hiking has taught me, it is that people are almost always willing to help someone in need, regardless of circumstance. So often we just need to ask.
Trail Angel- Anyone who offers assistance to a hiker while on trail or getting on/off trail, including any monetary, housing or mental assistance.
-taken from Toodles Trail Dictionary in his head.
During my first week of hiking the California Coastal Trail, I have already met a number of kind individuals who embody the spirit of giving and community. Dan and Amanda are two of those people.
I met them during my stay at the Requa Inn, near Klamath, CA. They had noticed my guidebook and asked me about my travels (that guidebook is Hiking the California Coastal Trail, written by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols, two of the first group of hikers to officially complete the trail. This guidebook is still the most up-to-date guide for the CCT.) We spoke about hiking and they told me they were proud to be from Humboldt Co. and to be so near all the natural beauty of the North California coast. I specifically remember telling them that the key to not going bankrupt during a long distance hike was to never take a full zero day and to limit hotel stays. After finishing breakfast we said our good-byes, and I figured that would be the last time I would see them.
But days two and three were painful and had left me with six blisters on my feet (two of which I still have, nearly 10 days later.) To make things worse another violent storm was due the next morning. So in truly hypocritical fashion, I paid for the extra night and thanked the Inn Keeper. Little did I know that I would see Dan and Amanda more than just once.
Day two at the Requa Inn was not just pleasant and relaxing, it was necessary. No matter how tough some hikers seem, it is always important to rest when rest is needed. Don’t let pride take you over. I left the kitchen after having made some awesome Mac & Cheese and found myself face to face with who else but Dan and Amanda. Dan’s surprise was palpable. Of course he figured I would be gone, I told him it was imperative. So after a good ole, why are you still here, we sat and chatted about trails and portions they had walked before, as well as any side-trips I should make in RNP.
During our conversation they opened a bottle of champagne. I asked about the occasion, and they informed that they celebrate every year when Big Lagoon (which I would be passing two days later) breached and shared it’s waters with the ocean. Just days earlier, it had breached. That is outstanding! Any occasion can be made into a occasion of celebration and happiness. It also happened to be Dan’s birthday. Two celebrations were in order for the night.
While chatting about dirt, mud and the great outdoors, Dan and Amanda offered to let me to stay at their place if I was passing through their area soon. I thanked them and told them I would be passing through and would email them if I needed a place to stay. Even though I never place all hope on an offer of kindness, I was eternally grateful for the offer itself.
I arrived at Clam Beach County Park almost four days after first meeting Dan and Amanda. Clam Beach was a miserable campground that I can only describe as a place where a needle could have poked through my tent (I actually found two needles at this campground, in different places.) After a poor night’s sleep I set off for the Hammond Trail and what was supposed to be an excellent portion of trail. The Hammond Trail was once voted best hike/bike/horse path in Humboldt Co. Also, this would put me on pace to reach Eureka that same day. After what was a great trek on an amazing stretch of trail, I was forced to walk along highway 255 to Samoa Bridge which would lead me into Eureka. That morning I had emailed Dan to let him know of my ETA but had not heard back from him. So I figured I would get to Eureka and if worse came to worse I would rent a hotel room.
When I was three miles from Eureka and two from the bridge, rain started to come down sideways and gusts of 30 mph smacked me across the face, quite literally. How dare I forget that this was winter. Mother Nature has a way of reminding us all that this is her domain. Eager to get out of the rain, I took shelter at the Lighthouse Market in Manila, CA. They also have a laundromat and I was thankful to just dry my wet, stinky clothes. During my wait Dan called me, as I had left him my cell #. He said that I was welcome to stay and Amanda was making dinner around 8. I was wet, tired and the day was miserable with the long road walk, but this warmed my body and soul.
That night I sat in the comfort of their house and ate a meal that they had prepared, all the while thinking to myself that these two individuals, this couple that were nearly strangers to me but a week ago, had offered me a form of friendship that seemed rare in our society. But I assure you that the kindness, the sincerity and the love that these two people showed me still thrives.
The next day I was to be ushered by a kind Ranger to Ferndale, CA. This would allow me to bypass the deadly yet beautiful Eel River which I could not ford. After having a breakfast made by Amanda (it was quiche and it was amazing. She used Humboldt Co. black mushrooms in it…mmm), the kind Ranger, Alex, picked me up from their house. This was all arranged by David Lafollete, a long time Coastwalk leader and a very kind man. He too is a distinguished trail angel. A big thank you to David. It turns out that Dan and Alex actually knew each other, as they both specialize in fisheries and both worked for BLM at one time. It is a small world after all!
Alex and myself left the warmth of the trail angels home and headed for Mattole Rd., an intimidating stretch of 28 miles of road walking to reach the Lost Coast section of the CCT. Alex and Dan echoed warnings about the intense elevation gains and losses, a lack of shoulder space on the road, and the possibility of snow along the way. To compound these issues was the fact that no campgrounds exist for the whole 28 miles of road. I would have to illegally camp in the foothills of Humboldt Co. if I was to walk it. In light of this information Alex offered to take me directly to Petrolia. That gesture of kindness is far more than was expected or deserved. And that my friends is an act of a true trail angel.
I had one issue upon my arrival in Petrolia. There are no hotels or BNB’s or air BNB’S available in the winter. After saying goodbye to Alex and reiterating my thanks, I asked a kind lady at the market where I might go for accommodation. She recommended that I speak with Phil, who owned a BNB 200 feet away. Phil is a great older man who understands much more about life than I could possibly hope to know at this point in my relatively young life. We spoke about genes and the fact that technology will likely allow for us to master gene manipulation and prevent disease before birth. It’s a cool topic. But alas, Phil could not offer a bed as it was not serviceable at the time.
He received a phone call from a girl while we were talking and when she arrived she offered to take me to the community center. Petrolia has a farmer’s market (very small) and a community gathering with meals on Sundays. She said that would be my best chance to connect with someone who may have a place for to stay.
I could have walked 5 miles to the trailhead along the Lost Coast, but I would have had to walk back for my resupply and bear canister the next day, making the whole trip roughly 15 miles. This I could not accept.
So she dropped me off and I entered a hall filled with smiling faces and a few booths with vendors selling various items. Unity was who I was supposed to talk to first according to Phil. The first booth happened to be Unity’s, a local photographer. She said she may know the owner of a BNB around 9 miles from Petrolia who was in the hall at that time. But alas, we were not able to find him, and I started to lose hope.
After minutes of waiting she returned and told me to speak with a man named Cedar, who was wearing a fedora. I introduced myself and let him know that I was hiking and trying to raise money for children, as well as trying to give Coastwalk an idea of the state of a trail in the Sinkyone Wilderness, nearly 50 miles south of here. I also let him know it was an excellent fedora he dawned. He told me that he had an RV next to his home and that I could stay the night. I could not believe the generosity. This man had no idea who I was, no idea that I was telling the truth, no idea that I would be no harm to his young son and daughter. But he still made me this offer out of the kindness of his heart.
And that very RV is where I am writing to you from at this moment, just a stone’s throw away from the Lost Coast and what may be the most exciting and rewarding portion of the CCT.
The moral of this story friends? Be a trail angel, not just a trail angel but an angel, who offers assistance to those in need not because it is praise worthy, but because kindness to others and compassion towards our fellow men and women is fuel for a healthy soul. I say a little thank you in my mind every time I can remember in the hope to honor all those men and women who help hikers or anyone in need. Until next time, Happy Trails. 🙂