You might imagine a hiker’s heaven as an oasis—a big pool with an open bar; a wait staff bringing you drinks in hollowed-out coconut shells and pineapples; a personal masseuse for each and every hiker’s aching shoulders and wary feet; an endless supply of big, fat spaghetti noodles and red sauce, toasted and buttery garlic bread, and a banana split stacked high wth strawberry ice cream, caramel sauce and hot fudge, whip cream and maraschino cherries (yes, this is the meal I crave more than anything on the trail). You might imagine hiker heaven to be something straight outta a travel magazine.
Hiker Heaven is simply the home of Donna and Jeff Saufley, in Agua Dulce around PCT mile 455. You walk through the gate and you’re immediately greeted by a volunteer who instructs you to put your dirty laundry in a color-coded sack and points you towards a large selection of spare clothes to put on while your sweat- and dirt-caked hiking outfit becomes wearable once again. You pick up your resupply package, log onto the WiFi, sign up for a shower and pitch your tent in the small yard near the horse corral. Eight dogs sift around the 40+ hikers, who smoke and strum on one of the three available acoustic guitars.
No, Hiker Heaven is not a beachside resort. But after walking 100 miles from Wrightwood, summiting a mountain along the way, dodging 20 miles of Poodle Dog Brush, suffering an angry, hot sun on steep, exposed climbs, laying on a wooden park bench in the sun, talking to my mom on the phone—THAT is hiker heaven. Sitting on the bench with Storytime, singing Top 40s hits and knowing you don’t have to walk anywhere for the rest of the day—THAT is hiker heaven. Scoring some fresh salad decorated with craisins and saturated in zesty Italian dressing—THAT is hiker heaven.
The past five days have been closer to hiker hell than hiker heaven. The trail has been hard, hot, boring and ugly, winding through scrubby sage brush and burned trees. A tick scare left us itchy and long miles, frustrated. Poodle Dog Brush loomed near the trail, threatening a rash that put one hiker in the hospital for six days. Two rattlesnake appearances in one day had us (literally) jumping.
But as with all things on the trail, so much good comes with the bad. For one, my knee pain is virtually gone. For another, we spent a night on top of a butte, overlooking California city lights with a backdrop of deep purple mountains, backlit by a dark pink sunset. The North Fork Ranger Station gave us two cans of Mountain Dew, two of Orange Crush, two root beers and a Coke. The local pizza place delivered pizza and beer right to the KOA campground. Rolling into Agua Dulce this afternoon brought a chicken chipotle sandwich, Barbacoa French fries, a caprese salad, a side of fruit, two pints of Blue Moon and two shots of Patron—because why the hell not?
I’m leaving the official Hiker Heaven early tomorrow morning, but the beauty of this trail is: whether it’s in the form of an unanticipated can of soda, a spike of cell phone service, or a stunning and awe-inspiring sunset—another hiker heaven is just around the corner.