Hikers “Tinkerbell,” “Roadrunner,” “Iceberg” and “Pacer” travel the Pacific Northwest Trail from Glacier National Park to the Pacific, stopping in trail towns like Republic for supplies and human contact. Photo by Artie McRae.
Trail Towns Offer Business, Friendships
By Artie McRae
In 1970, a Georgetown University student named Ron Strickland envisioned the Pacific Northwest Trail as a “national scenic trail.” In 1977, he founded the nonprofit Pacific Northwest Trail Association to develop, preserve and protect the trail. It was first thru-hiked in 1977.
Each year hundreds of adults and youth volunteer on the trail. One of the hikers, “Davinci,” volunteered by working on maps for almost 200 hours before starting the trail this year.
Most of the PNT is still unmarked and involves serious challenges like bushwhacking and route finding that other more popular thru-hikes do not have. That is part of the reason it is gaining in popularity with serious thru-hikers, admirably referred to as “hiker trash.” When asked, “Why this trail?” they tell us they are drawn to the thrill of the challenges and the fact that it is less populated than the other thru-hikes leading to a bigger chance of spotting wildlife and having a more serene trek.
I have always been fascinated by the thru-hiking community and have made a point to get to know its members when they come into the post office. After meeting many of these fascinating people I was moved to get involved. Last year my family and I started giving hikers rides to trailheads. After the season was over we talked it over and decided we wanted to be listed as “trail angels” in the 2017 guide book.
The PNT crosses three national parks and seven national forests including the Rocky Mountains, Selkirk Mountains, the Kettle Crest, Pasayten Wilderness, North Cascades, Olympic Mountains and Wilderness Coast. It has the only saltwater ferry crossing on a national scenic trail at Puget Sound. This trail is among the most scenic in the world and is high on views and adventure. It’s also a pathway that connects people to small rural communities of the Pacific Northwest.
There are eighteen “trail towns” that the PNT travels through or close to. These towns are very important to the hikers for food, supplies and rest. They can’t wait to have some real food after eating mostly dehydrated food or tortillas and peanut butter!
When hikers reach Republic—a very important resupply as there are three different entrances into town—they have been on the trail since Orient and the next stops are Bonaparte Lake and then Oroville. After Oroville they enter the Pasayten Wilderness and will not reach another resupply for at least eight days.
The entrances into Republic are at the top of Sherman Pass on the Kettle Crest Trail, on Highway 21 at Thirteen Mile and on Highway 20 West at Sweat Creek. This is unique to Republic and makes it a special location for hikers as they might meet up with others that could be a few days ahead of or behind them, but still in town at the same time depending on which trailhead they came from.
Hikers really enjoy this and sometimes have so much fun in town they end up in the “vortex” and stay for multiple days. Most hikers only cross paths with a select few that are in their “bubble” except for in Republic. A bubble is a group of hikers that are within a couple of days of each other who might meet up occasionally during the eight- to 10-week journey.
Some of the wildlife along the trail include grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, lynx, mountain lions, bull trout, salmon, bald eagles and orcas. Also very common are deer, raccoons, picas, osprey and, along the coast, shellfish, starfish and sea anemones. One of our guests, “Dirty B,” was laying down with his head on his pack taking a rest when he heard what he thought was a dog. He was excited at the thought of someone on the trail that might have a dog with him. Much to his surprise, around the corner walked a large gray wolf with a rabbit in its mouth. There was a stare down and when Dirty B aimed his bear spray, the wolf jumped over the bank. It was an adrenaline rush! Danielle (“Caribou”) saw a cow moose with two calves and a bear with two cubs near the Thirteen Mile trail. There are countless stories of wildlife.
Before they start the trail, hikers mail packages to trail towns for resupply. Some of the items they send are food, shoes, socks and water filters. I have always been fascinated by the thru-hiking community and have made a point to get to know its members when they come into the post office. After meeting many of these fascinating people I was moved to get involved. Last year my family and I started giving hikers rides to trailheads. After the season was over we talked it over and decided we wanted to be listed as “trail angels” in the 2017 guide book.
What is a trail angel? A trail angel could be described as a fairy godparent to thru-hikers providing assistance, love and a home-like welcome. That assistance could be as little as an occasional ride to a trail head or as much as offering a bed, a shower, laundry and loaner clothes, a meal, Wi-Fi and companionship after a long stretch without human contact.
For us, it meant opening our hearts and our home to complete strangers. What it has done for us is unexplainable. Allowing ourselves to trust the hikers has been one of the best choices we have made. In return we have received gratitude, love, new friendships, laughter and a feeling of being part of the PNT team. Our summer has been spent relaxing in our yard listening to adventure stories for hours and learning about what they pack, how they eat, how they plan, and what inspires them. We have had them sing, play guitar and even read stories to us. We have taken some to float the Kettle River, to Yoga class, and to parties. Our assistant-trail angel and friend, Rob Gorycki, even took some of them to Canada to explore. We also had assistance from Mike Martinoli and Chad Rummler, Seth Krohn and the Koffel family. We are grateful to them and are hopeful that more Republic friends will jump on board next summer. Long after the views blend together, the hikers will remember the people they met and connections they made.
The trail community has its own culture and language. It has been interesting to learn the lingo and to find out about trail names. Trail names—nicknames for individual hikers—are part of the culture. They usually come organically along the trail and there is a story behind each one. Blue’s Clues earned his name by finding things people accidentally left behind on the trail and carrying them until they were returned to their owner. Tinkerbell had something clanking together in her pack; Crocs earned his name by only hiking in Croc shoes.
Some examples of trail names we’ve known are Cheddar, Night Walker, Simple Sole, Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Shutterbug, So Good, Caribou, Tickled Pink and Dust Bunny. These people have come from all over the United States and even Canada. We now have offers of hospitality all over North America!
Visitors started us a “hiker box” where guests leave things they don’t need for the next hiker. They take care of each other in a special way like a big family.
For us, it meant opening our hearts and our home to complete strangers. What it has done for us is unexplainable. Allowing ourselves to trust the hikers has been one of the best choices we have made. In return we have received gratitude, love, new friendships, laughter and a feeling of being part of the PNT team.
We have assisted or hosted a doctor, physical therapists, traveling nurses, a geologist, massage therapists, college students, retirees, teachers, a physicist, artists, environmental engineers, outdoor recreation specialists, business owners, a blacksmith, a librarian, a West Point graduate, computer science specialists, a computer programmer, an informatics specialist, military veterans who were “walking off war” and many others.
These are intelligent, motivated men and women of all ages and abilities who have figured out a way to make this happen. We have had nineteen year olds, sixty-eight year olds and everything in between. Some hike up to thirty miles per day! Imagine walking a marathon each day for ten weeks! Now you can understand why they might need a rest (“zero”) day occasionally in a fun trail town like Republic!
We have had great feedback from the hikers regarding Republic. They love the many restaurants, the brewery, the coffee shops, the motels, the grocery stores, the health food store, the pharmacy, the thrift store, the hardware store and the clothing and sporting goods stores. They frequent the library and have enjoyed the city park. They have mentioned shopping at almost every business in town and say Republic is one of their favorite stops along the entire trail and it is easy to stay longer than planned. They are great for our community and it is exciting to see the trail grow.
Fourteen of the hikers we hosted have reached Cape Alava. They kept in touch with us along the way and we received postcards, letters, text messages and occasional photos. So far we have been blessed with close to fifty guests. They start the trail near the beginning of June and usually end in September. They don’t hit Republic until the second week in July and trail traffic winds down by mid-August.
If you are interested in hearing more about the hikers or in helping in any capacity please feel free to email me at email@example.com or get in touch with the PNTA at www.pnt.org. Many of the hikers have blogs (listed below) and I highly recommend checking them out to see their photos and read about their experiences. We have also compiled a list of items that would be beneficial for hikers if a local store could offer them and we will share it with local merchants.
The number of hikers on the trail will grow dramatically in the future as they tell us thru-hiking is addicting. We look forward to seeing the many ways Republic can benefit from being a PNT trail town.
Blogs: hikesfordad.com; willhikeforcheeseburgers.com; www.cheddarwalking.wordpress.com;
williambuckleyy.wordpress.com; tinkerrun17.wordpress.com; injungleheat.wordpress.com;
(This article has been reprinted with permission from the Ferry County View)