If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” – Frank A. Clark
Along the PCT, the long-distance “thru-hikers” come and go at incredible speeds. On Day 1 of our trek, we hit the first little lake and saw small groups of backpackers eating and replenishing their water stores. A young lady bid farewell to the group just as we were passing by. “I’ll catch up with you later”, she yelled to them as she hopped back onto the trail. The wild flowers and should-high greenery seemed to swallow her up as she crossed the little creek. I looked down while moving my feet from stone to stone, then looked up again as I reached the other side. But she was nowhere in sight.
Twenty minutes or so later, I spotted her leaving a sign for the rest of the group. Clearly the sign she was leaving for her friends was the only reason I caught her. With 18-20 miles covered for the day, she was abandoning her original plan to continue to a further destination upon seeing Kinney Lake. Her name was Emily (I forget her trail name) and we would later find out later that she was known (by the other thru-hikers) for her speediness. If I remember correctly, she started later than others and was rapidly closing the gap and/or passing many of them. She had trekked about 400+ miles by the time I caught up with her.
They ALL were much faster than I am — even on my local well-rested days hikes. As we trekked along the PCT, we would see these hikers along the way. We encountered them from both directions and generally didn’t say much more than a quick little greeting, although some asked about the smoke. On our first night, we were fortunate enough to share a campsite and eat dinner with Jandles and Woods. Jandles was visiting from New Zealand. Woods was a Molecular Biology teacher (from the states) who was spending his summer break on the trail. Both of them were delightful to chat with and each of them smart as can be. We talked until the daylight was gone and then retired for the day. By the time we rose in the morning, Jandles was all packed up and headed out. Woods was finishing off his breakfast and left well before we had our tent down. Their efficiency in everything they did while with us (setting up camp, cooking, cleaning up, and packing up) was impressive. I especially enjoyed hearing some of the unique experiences they have encountered while hiking.
Raymond Lake being about ½ mile off the PCT, and rather large, we did not share our campsite with anyone on Day 2. Nor did we on Day 3 at Kinney Lake. On our final day on the PCT, I passed Wizard as she left a message in the dirt for another thru-hiker. “I’m just leaving this note to tell him that I love him,” she said as she continued onward.
A short while later, sitting on a log, I met the intended recipient of the message. Asking if I’d seen her, I replied, “Yes, I did. She left you a message.” “Ohhhh?” he exclaimed asking what the message was. “It’s on the ground; be sure to look down when you pass the big sign about fire safety.” His trail name is Nemo
Since meeting these hikers, I’ve been more interested in finding out about them. I have now added #PCT2018 to the hashtags I follow on Instagram. Additionally, I found and listened to a couple of podcasts interviewing some of these thru-hikers at points during their hike. It was cool to hear the additional stories unique-to-thru-hikers describing the “trail magic”, “angels”, and of course just the general way they have become more than just people who pass each other along the way. They are “family.”