Thursday, March 5, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 27: Hiker Heaven

DAY 27
May 21st, Wednesday
444 to 454

I woke up with a feeling of determination. My period hadn't gone away yet, but I felt less crampy and awful than the day before, and Zach and I had decided to pick up our box at the Saufleys’, a trail angel’s house that is known as “Hiker Heaven,” about 10 miles away. 

This little corridor of trail was, at the time, a bumper crop of trail angel places, mostly centered in Hiker Heaven (the Saufleys) and Casa de Luna (the Andersons). Otto, the day before, had told us that his guidebook described the next two trail angels this way: “The Saufleys’ is good for getting chores done, but the Andersons’ is good for your soul.” From this and other reports, we’d gotten the impression that the Saufleys were a bit more rigid and militant, and that we shouldn’t plan on relaxing there. However, this turned out to be completely wrong.

We left the KOA behind and hiked through a forested stream bed, up some desert hills, through a tunnel beneath a highway, and into an area called Vasquez Rocks. These rocks, huge buttresses and solid waves of sandstone, are an LA landmark and a popular filming site for Hollywood. (I learned later that Captain Kirk fought the savage Gorn in this very location!) 

We joined up with a hiking/equestrian trail that was flat, wide, and marked with interpretive signs about the geological history of the rocks. We were hot and tired and didn’t read all the signs. Okay, we didn’t read any of them. But they looked interesting.

Most of the plants in the area were labeled, too, on brown wooden signs with yellow capital letters. One sign next to a shiny-leafed bush warned POISON OAK. Further up the hill, I saw a sign that looked as if it said BLADDERPOO, and I thought it was hilarious. I sadly learned that it actually said BLADDERPOD.

We could see the outskirts of the town of Agua Dulce ahead of us, a scattering of southwest-themed houses along a hill. We still had a couple miles to go, though. We were hot and sweaty and the desert sun was merciless.

Finally the trail intersected with a paved road— and we saw the sign. “Hiker Heaven is full.” We knew that it was a first-come, first-served place, but we didn’t think that 50 people would’ve been there already. My heart sank into my toes, and suddenly the trail ahead looked like a vast barren wasteland with no respite.

“We have to go anyway,” Zach said, “because of our resupply box.”

I nodded glumly. I assumed that we wouldn’t be able to hang out there, either. Of course, I couldn’t be mad at them! They were doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. But I couldn’t help but be disappointed.

We slogged onward, walking along the shoulder of the road, into the town center. It consisted of a couple grocery stores, some restaurants, and a general store. Large banners welcomed hikers and advertised PCT discounts to the different businesses.

We took a left onto a side road to walk a mile off-trail to the Saufleys’. It seemed to take forever. At last we came up to the wooden fence around a house at the end of the road, and we lifted the latch and peeked inside.

The area was full of hikers and cute dogs, and two volunteers immediately spotted us and called, “Welcome! Come on in!”

We edged in, a bit surprised by the friendly welcome. One of the volunteers sized up us. “Oh, I think they’re a couple. Are you guys a couple?”

“Yes, we’re married,” Zach said.

“Let me see if I can get you the trailer. You’re going to stay the night, right?”

“I didn’t think you guys had room,” I stuttered. “Because of the sign.”

“Old sign!” the guy said, and dashed off. The other volunteer immediately began showing us around, and my head began to spin. We were going to get to spend the night here! They had room after all! My spirits, which had been down in my stomach, soared again.

The tour began with the Saufleys’ garage, which included a free-standing information board with free print-outs of the water report (which I immediately snatched), inspirational quotes, poems and cartoons about hiking, relevant newspaper articles, information about trail angels ahead and behind, backpacking tips, resources, and a sign-up board for REI trips (they rent a 15-passenger van for the task and just ask a $10 fee). The right wall was lined with all sorts of backpacking essentials: toiletries, medical supplies, fuel canisters, and energy bars— all sold for cost. The left wall had several free-standing shelving units packed to the gills with carefully-alphabetized hiker boxes. The volunteer quickly selected ours and continued with the tour.

In the space between the garage and the door, there was a tent with piles of bins and laundry baskets. We were given instructions about loaner clothes and told to put our clothing in the special laundry bags and note any non-synthetic fabrics, like wool. There was also stain pre-treatment liquid. Across from the laundry station was a pavilion with a literal stack of laptops for use. Several hikers sat around researching the next part of trail, ordering new gear, or writing home.

Standing with the garage on our left, we looked out at a wide and pleasant yard full of trellises, pavilions with cots, and random hiker tents everywhere. There were two RVs— “We try to give those to the couples so they can have a bit of privacy,” the volunteer said— a fire pit with hay bales around for benches, a collection of frisbees and other random toys, and a row of a dozen port-a-potties along the back, equipped with disposable wipes and Costco-size bottles of GermX. Behind that was a little pasture and stable where they kept three horses.

To our left, behind the garage, the back porch of their house was open for lounging, with wicker couches and a sewing machine. Beyond the porch was a massive row of hiker boxes— and then the hikers had their own little mobile house. The volunteer led us inside. It was a dark den-like area, equipped with a full kitchen (with free condiments, communal food, a fridge, and every pot and pan you could wish for), a living room with a TV, a piano, several couches, and a year’s worth of reading, and a bathroom in back, which had a dry-erase board on the door to say whose turn it was for the shower.

Zach and I stared, blinking, at everything before us, unable to comprehend how awesome it was. Forget anything ahead of us— a place with these resources was plenty good for our souls!

It didn’t take us long to get to work. Zach grabbed the first shower and I signed up to be after him. We grabbed some loaner clothes. As usual, there were free body care products in the shower. I scrubbed myself down and washed my hair, feeling absolutely decadent for taking a shower two days in a row. Then I put on the loaner clothes— a cami, a pair of loose-fitting shorts, and (blessed heavens!) a dress. The clothes were made of cotton. They were loose and clean and airy and COTTON. Holy cow, cotton! Was there ever a more comfortable, ethereal, incredible fabric in the history in the world?!

I also had to put on a sweatshirt because, even though we were in the middle of the desert, a cold breeze was whipping up.

Zach had already signed up for a trip to REI if one could be arranged, but as he was rooting through the huge row of hiker boxes, he made a discovery: a canister stove, apparently in perfect shape. It was a bit bulky and heavy (although still light enough to be marketed as “lightweight”), which might explain why someone decided to get rid of it, but we saw our chance. Zach looked it up online and found that it was an $80 stove. He crossed his name off the REI list, bought a canister of fuel from the for-cost store, and we had a new (legal!) stove.

Zach borrowed one of the bikes and rode to town to buy some supplies. I dumped our resupply box in the RV, which had indeed been secured for us, then went to write a group email at the laptop station. While I was there, some people I knew were looking up information about Poodle Dog Bush. Chop Chop, a lovely thin woman with cow-licked short hair and piercing gray eyes, gasped in disgust as she pulled up an image of the blisters that PDB can give you. Her boyfriend, Prospector, grimaced at the photos beneath his crusher hat. Toto, a guy I’d seen once or twice with broken glasses, blue hair, and a nose stud, took a glance as well. I refrained as the three of them grimaced in horror and disgust, flipping through photos. I decided it was better not to know. 

I lounged in the RV for a while. It was decorated in 70’s style, with rough upholstery and russet and yellow colors, with thick-slatted faux-wooden shades. The bed was in a loft over the driver’s end. It was outfitted with a comforter (COTTON!) and two fluffy pillows (MORE COTTON!). Hiker Heaven was aptly named!

I also took care of some miscellaneous chores, like sewing Zach’s pants. I couldn’t figure out how the sewing machine worked, but Mad Hatter came to my rescue and threaded it for me. I chatted with Mom while mending the huge L-shaped tear on the knee of my pants. 

We also learned that Hiker Heaven was a place to party, and this was evidenced when Waxy showed up. Tired of hanging out at Trail Angel Mike’s (and, apparently, Deep Creek hot springs), he had arrived here by motorcyle to spread his particular brand of hippie happiness. His mustache, as bristly and wiry as ever, jiggled as he talked, his blue eyes aflame with mischief.

Zach and I ate mac n’ cheese for supper, made in the communal kitchen. It was a bit strange with olive oil instead of butter, but I realized I could get used to it.

We talked to some people about the hikers who had already had to quit the trail or take time off. Apparently there had been several people pushing themselves so hard that their bodies burnt out. Reportedly, one guy had come in a week ago with a blister that had turned into a gangrenous foot infection. He had insisted he was okay, and the Saufleys all but dragged him to the ER.

I met a guy named Just Another Guy, or JAG, who was Donna Saufley’s son, and his wife, Beauty Shop. She was gorgeous, with flowing blonde hair, a strong but feminine jaw, and dreamy blue eyes. Her belly was heavy with a baby, which was due very soon. She said my eyes were beautiful.

Waxy started a fire, and a woman we learned was Donna Saufley yelled at him, saying that she had to contact the fire department if she was even thinking of starting a fire. They turned on the hose and kept it near at hand, as well as a shovel.

We saw that Angry Bird was there, and he sat on a straw bale next to the fire with his latest acquisition, a mail-order camp banjo. It was small and frail, but played well enough, and he sat, looking like a Union soldier with a makeshift banjo on the front lines. He plucked some tunes and sang in a soft voice.

Waxy sat on a straw bale nearby and talked about how he’d nearly gotten beaten up by a bunch of angry locals in Wrightwood because of a misunderstanding about the price of a cabin. He also mentioned one of his codes of ethics— no matter how many dirty stories he told about his sexual escapades, he would never give names. “Hey, if I’m fucking your wife, I’m not gonna be the one who gives it away.”

Zach and I both agreed that Waxy was the kind of guy who could stand to get beaten up by some angry rural people.

That night, we went to bed with a sense of pleasant exhaustion. We curled up on the soft mattress, only dimly aware of the loud talking and laughing around the fire just outside. The cotton made me feel like I was floating on a cloud. It didn’t take long until we both fell into a deep and beautiful sleep.

Several months later, when I was back home and surfing the web, I discovered that the Saufleys finally made the call to end their trail angeling. They had served the PCT community for 18 years, and I feel so grateful that Zach and I were able to experience their generosity. It truly was a slice of heaven for us.



  1. Well, that's a bummer...I was already looking forward to Hiker Heaven :) Maybe some other wonderful person will take up that badge of honor (trail angel) and have something similar in that spot or nearby. That was a wonderful service for 18 years. You and Zach were blessed.

  2. I'm reading an interesting article on Hiker Heaven in Backpacker magazine and I was disappointed to learn that they closed in January 2015. You and Zach were blessed.