Kindness is a window into the soul of mankind. It is not ambiguous nor does it pass judgement; it does not boast nor does it ask for thanks. It is a friend and a teacher, a role model and a leader. Kindness is strength. To be kind is to be human.
I just entered Sonoma County, my home county, and have successfully hiked through Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino Counties. Along my way I have encountered acts of kindness that I am not fully deserving of, but I will forever be thankful for and never forget all the people who have been kind to this lonely, solo hiker. If I could write a book about all the kind things that individuals have done for me in the last 300 miles of hiking, it would fill hundreds of pages.
The first act of kindness occurred after hiking only four miles on my first day. I could not cross Smith River as it is a large river, so I took to hitch-hiking as a way around. Five minutes later a kind man picked me up and drove me to the trailhead at Tolowa Dunes State Park which saved me more than seven miles of highway walking. The second came when I stayed at the Requa Inn. Two hikers staying there offered me a place to stay in Eureka and drove me five miles to another trailhead. I wrote about that event in a previous blog, “Trail Angels.” The third came when a Coastwalk Leader, David Lafollette, arranged a ride for me to cross a difficult and dangerous road-walking section. I have been offered rides, given food, cheered on, befriended and more. Tonight I would like to share with you an incredible act of kindness by an incredible man named Chris.
Soon I will be completing a blog about the awe-inspiring hike I took along California’s Lost Coast. The trail’s southern terminus is at Usal Camp off Usal Rd. in Humboldt Co. When I arrived I was exhausted but still on a natural high from the rewarding 20 miles that I had walked. Immediately I was drawn to the beach. All I could think about was taking off my shoes and socks and soaking my tired, sore feet in the cool ocean. On my way a man came walking past with two perfectly formed walking sticks made out of wood. I would never pass by a man or woman who took that much time to shape a walking stick without a hello or at very least a nod of the head. As he passed I complimented him on his effort, and we began talking about what both of us were doing before we met. We spoke for 20 minutes then he showed me to a grassy campsite that offered a view of Elk grazing in the morning.
After settling in and setting up my tent, we talked for at least another hour. Chris was a hiker and had walked portions of the CCT and PCT before, so we had a lot to chat about. That night we fired up our cook stoves and ate dinner together. We talked about the CCT, the John Muir Trail, equipment and all things hiking. We were having such a good conversation that neither of us noticed that it was nearly 11:00 PM. I had to hike in the morning and he had to track a herd of Elk that were shedding their horns, so we said good night and headed off to sleep.
Chris recently began tracking, researching and surveying a herd of 7 male Elk who make the Lost Coast their home. He studies them and notes various intricacies about their nature. He does this all for fun and has documented hundreds of hours of their mannerisms and habits. He hopes to write a book about them or produce a documentary about his experiences. He is also an avid mushroom harvester. Suffice it to say that this was enough to completely intrigue me.
The next morning I awoke at 7:00 AM and found the herd not 20 feet from my tent. He was walking behind them about 300 feet and I saw him wave to me with his walking stick. He came over, said good morning, and we ate breakfast together. Chris was car camping at Usal and out of the blue he offered me a ride to Westport which would save me almost 10 miles of road-walking. When we reached Westport and realized there were no campgrounds and only one hotel (which was closed), he offered to take me to Ft. Bragg where I could rent a cheap hotel room and wash my dirty clothes and body after the most wild section of the Coastal Trail. However, I was keen to finish a portion of the trail that followed the beach 10 miles north of Ft. Bragg. Chris had done a tremendous amount for me already but upped the ante and offered to come back and drive me the ten miles to the start of the section the next morning. I thanked him by doing the only thing I could right now, eating! We had a truly American breakfast together that day at Denny’s and I refused to let him pay. After he drove me to the trailhead the next morning, we exchanged our information and said our good-byes.
While I was hiking the southern section of the Lost Coast trail, I had lost my down jacket (I had hung it from my pack to dry, a classic mistake). Chris could tell I was a bit upset and knew that that jacket meant a lot to me, but neither of us spoke of it again. I felt it was best to put it out of my mind.
Two days later I embarked on a hike that would finally take me on a stretch of trail not along Highway 1. I would be walking through Pomo Bluffs SP, Point Cabrillo SP and Russian Gulch SP. That night I would camp at Van Damme SP campground. The hike itself was less than ideal. The severe rains that battered California this winter left the trails muddy, overgrown and riddled with downed trees. After hours of hiking I was wet, tired and needed to stop for a resupply in the small town of Mendocino. After picking up my resupply at the post office, I headed to a local Irish Pub for a quick cheeseburger. After ordering, a man came up to me and asked if he could take a seat at my table. I was surprised but told him to please take a seat. His interest was sparked when he saw my Osprey Backpack sitting to my left. He asked me about my adventure and we spoke about why they were in Mendocino (It turns out he and his wife were running a 10 kilometer race the next day). They also picked up my bill at the pub, yet another example of an act of kindness on trail. Near the end of our conversation I received a text from Chris with some amazing news.
After returning to Usal Campground and finding the herd exactly where they were the night before, Chris took more pictures, jotted some notes, and decided that his goal that day was to find my down jacket! So he packed his bag, grabbed some food and ventured forth into the most challenging section of the entire CCT. After more than four hours of hiking, he found himself more than eight miles in, around Anderson Cliff. Just as he began his descent on the north half of a gulch, he saw a wet and battered jacket lying on the ground. He had found my jacket! That is when I received the text, “puffy in hand. on my way to usal campground.” The look of elation on my face must have been obvious.
Chris had searched eight miles for a young man’s jacket. He hiked nearly 20 miles in total and even came to meet me with it the next day. This extraordinary act of kindness is something that will be forever ingrained in my memory. His friendship means the world to me. Anyone who is so selfless deserves nothing but good in this world. Words cannot truly describe how thankful I am, not just at getting my puffy back, but for having such a kind and caring friend.
Chris and I already have plans to hike together in the summer along the Pacific Crest Trail. Every moment we spend together seems to reaffirm the bond we share. I might not be a Christian, but Chris is, and he is the most genuine example of a man following in the footsteps of the Lord that I have met in all 30 years I have lived on this earth. I am not insinuating that an act of kindness such as this should be commonplace or that we all need to go to such lengths, but myself and everyone in this country can work to follow the example of people like Chris, who teach us lessons in life about how kindness positively affects those around us. Thank you Chris, for more than just a jacket, thank you for being a friend and helping me to understand what I can do to be kind to those around me.
Until next time, Happy Trails.
Derek “Toodles” Shanks