Pacific Crest Trail Week 3: The Pulse of Humanity

Photo by Suzanne Hessler
I met a trail angel on my very first day.

One of the many reasons I decided to quit my job and head into the woods alone for five months is my constant struggle with social interactions. I am bad with people. I like them and I think most people are innately good. But I always say the wrong things, and I talk too little or too much. After 4 1/2 years in San Francisco, I needed some solitude.

What I didn’t expect was that my faith in humanity would be regained through the kindness and compassion of others.

The way I see it, I am taking a five-month vacation which shouldn’t resonate with anyone or attract the compassion of others. But I haven’t experienced disdain or contempt from people. What I have experienced is love and help from strangers who expect nothing in return. The trail is a great way to connect with the pulse of humanity and the small towns are like islands of smiles and hugs.

Thru-hikes are often reliant on hitch-hiking. This makes you self-aware of how dirty you are and can be awkward for someone who doesn’t like to rely on others. So far I have only had to wait an hour or two. People who have picked me up have gone out of their way and above and beyond to get me where I need to be.

One kind (and awesome!) family from Missouri not only gave me a ride into town, but bought me a salmon dinner. They made me feel like part of the family. We exchanged stories. My spirit was raised from self-introspection to wanting to help others myself. The hard, calloused shell I had built around myself in the city melted away with their happiness and sharing.

“Trail Angeles” and the awesome people who work in the little towns of Washington have also broken down my humanity shield. These people accept dirty hikers and invite them in without judgment or snobbery. We are strangers and they treat us like we belong. I’m not sure it’s possible to hike the Pacific Crest Trail without the help of these people.

Photo by Robyn Purchia
Robyn Purchia of EdenKeeper treating me to a dinner on the trail.

Going south you have very few regular interactions with other hikers. When I have run into others on the trail they have been willing to share information, joy, and grief. I have gone five days without seeing anyone. When I would see someone all of a sudden it was exciting and reassuring. Two hermits meet upon a lonely road and a happy exchange is shared.

I am not far into this long journey but I have already seen the kindness of strangers. Not only is it reassuring to be treated so well on the trail and road but it makes me look forward to “passing it on.” Good karma will be with those who have helped me and I hope I am offered a chance to help others. I can only look forward to those I have yet to meet.

Thank you to everyone I’ve encountered and those that have helped me from home!

** Editors Note: EdenKeeper actually had the chance to meet up with Suzanne on the trail. We heard all about her adventures and made sure to treat her to a chicken dinner, crab dip, and big slice of cheesecake. Although her pack was soaked after hiking through days of rain, she was still all smiles and full of exciting stories about people she’s met on the trail. 

Read the rest of Suzanne’s adventures:

Week 1: Approaching the Adventure
Week 2: Falling Down, Climbing Up
Week 4: Beware the Grouse
Week 5: Being Zen (or Not)
Week 6: Crouching Bobcat, Hidden Mosquitoes
Week 7: Appreciation
Week 8: The End?

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About the Author

Suzanne Hessler is a connoisseur of odd jobs and misspent adventures. She can often be found wandering the countryside or hiding from everything in her tiny mid-city apartment. She is currently attempting a long-distance backpacking trip starting at the Canadian Border of the Pacific Crest Trail and heading South. You can find her on Google + and Facebook.
  • Randi Purchia

    Enjoyed Suzanne Hessler’s reflections on the trail angels and others that have responded in such kind ways. Her comments seem to echo earlier wanderers in nature and poets like Whitman.