Chester community welcomes PCT hikers to the halfway point
Though rugged in appearance and often considered unapproachable, hikers of the Pacific Crest Trail have touched the lives of many Lake Almanor Basin residents, and in return, those locals have touched the lives of many hikers.
The trail stretches from the Canadian to the Mexican borders. Chester is the closest community to the trail’s halfway point, which means hundreds of hikers are drawn into town every year.
Although the trail has been open since 1968, the Chester community has only grown responsive to hikers within the last few years, said Hamilton Branch resident Meridith Rosendahl, more commonly known to the PCT crowd as “Piper’s mom.” With the increased support, Chester is now commonly described by trail angels and hikers as one of the most hiker-friendly towns on the PCT.
Many local businesses and residents have offered themselves as a resource to hikers — these local people are called “trail angels.” Rosendahl attributes the increased awareness to the staff at Chester Family Dentistry.
This Drakesbad treehouse built by Georgi and Denny Heitman is an example of the hospitality provided by Plumas County residents to Pacific Crest Trail hikers. The fully functional treehouse is used as a retreat for hikers making their way along the PCT. Built from almost 90 percent recycled material, the project was estimated to cost the Heitmans $2,000. Photo by M. Kate West
In the last three years, Dr. Brent Webb and his office manager, Karen Grossjan, also known as “the tooth fairy,” have become widely known for their generosity to PCT hikers. Their work as local trail angels has spread by word of mouth throughout the town and the PCT community.
Hikers who stop by the dental office are welcomed by a large banner in their honor, and invited inside where they are given goodie bags complete with dental hygiene supplies, meal coupons and baked goods.
On one occasion, Webb even performed no-cost dental surgery for an uninsured hiker who needed two emergency root canals. Grossjan said that in August 2012, the woman had just recently hiked her way into Chester and later called the office from Oregon in search of a dentist referral. Grossjan and Webb were unable to provide a referral but instead offered to treat her if she could find her way back to Chester. The woman hitchhiked to Red Bluff where Grossjan picked her up and drove her back to Chester so Webb could perform the surgery.
“They saved her hike. The pain she was going through was hike-ending,” said Rosendahl.
The staff, as well as Rosendahl, have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of PCT hikers from around the world, including people from Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Israel, Norway, Australia, France and the United States. Pictures of the visitors are put on display in the office and rotated out every year. For the first year since Webb’s office started welcoming the hikers, a guest book is now available. In less than three months, the group collected 26 pages of signatures and thanks.
Modestly unwilling to accept the title, Grossjan referred to Rosendahl as the head trail angel for Chester. Every day she drives the 8.3 miles out of town to restock food and beverages in several coolers along the PCT trailhead.
Jacob and Tannor, two young men who had just made it to the trailhead Aug. 14 from their home in Seattle, Wash., expressed how wonderful it was to get to the halfway point and find the supplies waiting for them. Rosendahl said many hikers have relayed similar expressions of excitement; one group even admitted to running the final 2 miles to the trailhead because they knew cold drinks were waiting for them.
Rosendahl explained her reasons for setting up the refreshments have to do with what she refers to as “trail magic.” She said trail magic is “when a hiker receives exactly what they need when they need it, and they have not asked for it.”
“I do not let anyone know about me so when they come out here it is magic. I think it just means more that way — to have something that somebody needs when they need it.”
She further explained that her daughter Piper found that magic when she hiked the trail in 2008 and 2009 and because of her experience, Rosendahl wanted to provide the same for others.
Aside from stocking supplies, she occasionally allows hikers to spend the night at her home and she spends hours driving to and from the trailhead to give hikers a ride into town. She is not the only trail angel in Chester who does this, however. Rosendahl said that it is rare for hikers to spend more than 30 seconds off the trail without being offered a ride and a place to stay.
Rosendahl recalled one occasion where it was pouring rain and a local RV park took in as many hikers as could be housed in its community room. She said that, on occasion, some local angels even take in 50 hikers a night.
The local post office has also been known to provide personalized service by calling hikers when their supply packages are ready for pickup.
“Almost every day I hear about a hiker/resident story that warms my heart,” said Rosendahl.
Jacob and Tannor had similar praise for the town of Chester and its angels. They said that not 10 seconds after sticking out their thumbs for a ride, someone pulled over to take them to Chester. “Chester is my favorite place so far. It is the friendliest town we have come across. From the moment we stepped onto the highway there were signs welcoming us and people ready to give us rides,” said Tannor.
Looking over to Rosendahl he said, “It is people like you that make our hike possible.”
Jacob said, “We are from Seattle, which is a big city. You do not really get a lot of people who are friendly but out here, everybody wants to talk.” He extended his appreciation to those on the trail, saying, “I have nothing negative to say about a single person on the trail. That is what blew my mind the most — it has been full of great people and great experiences.”
Rosendahl added, “There is an inner quiet that hikers have. It is just amazing.”
The men started their hike April 12 and as of Aug. 14 they hiked a total of 1,335 miles. Even though the men, who are in their early 20s, ran into a little speed bump when Tannor’s bag was stolen, they kept journeying forward with the goal of finishing the trail.
They have walked an average of 22 miles per day and expect to complete their hike by October. Their expedition was influenced by the death of a close friend. Tannor said, “We were thinking of if it were us who had passed. We would have wanted to accomplish something and have been remembered for something.” Jacob suggested hiking the trail and they immediately decided to quit their jobs and head out. Within two weeks they were taking their first steps onto the trail.
“It has really begun to put some meaning into life. If you are not doing something like this and putting yourself out in nature, you are wasting your life,” said Tannor.
Jacob said, “When I was back home I had the same routine every day. What I love most about being down here is that every day is different.”
Rosendahl said that being a trail angel has “opened my eyes to how good the hiking community is. It is a very close community. To be able to help these guys realize their dream is a warm and wonderful thing to be a part of.”
Grossjan said, “That community of people is one of the most grateful populations of people I have ever met. I am thankful to Dr. Webb for giving me this opportunity big-time.”
Rosendahl will not be available to serve as a trail angel next year. She is currently looking for someone to whom she can “pass the torch” in her absence.
To find out how you can help the hikers call Dr. Webb’s office at 258-2201. To view Rosendahl’s article on the Pacific Crest Trailside Reader visit http://tinyurl.com/n5vbge4.
Recognizing PCT hikers
The PCT hikers are not the only dusty travelers who appear in town. Thus, the question may arise, “How do I know how to recognize this group compared to other groups?”
In an article in the June 17, 2009, issue of Feather Publishing Co. newspapers, Drakesbad residents and trail hikers Georgi “Firefly” Heitman and Ed Fiebiger explained their approach.
Heitman said, “When I see someone on the road that I think might be a PCT hiker, I stop and roll my window down about 2 inches and I ask questions. I ask them if they are through-hiking or section-hiking. If they look confused at my question, they are not hikers.”
“When you see them at the trailhead, offer them a ride into town,” said Fiebiger. “These are people who have money to spend in your restaurants, stores and motels.”
Heitman said PCT hikers know exactly what you are saying and defined through-hikers as those that will travel the entire Pacific Crest Trail in one year.
She said section-hikers are those that will eventually travel the entire trail but will do it in more than one year by traveling one section at a time.
She said other trail lingo that can be used when questioning hikers includes the abbreviations of NOBO (northbound), SOBO (southbound) and YOYO, which refers to traveling from one end of the trail and back again the same way.
PCT hikers John-Michael Hernandez and Sarah Holt said another way to differentiate among the individuals you see traveling to town on the roads is the type of clothing they wear.
“PCT hikers don’t wear Levi’s or cotton,” said Holt. She said hikers wear lighter clothing that wicks.
She also said, “When we dedicate ourselves to doing this for 5-1/2 months we don’t have a support system in place, therefore we hitchhike. If you see a backpack you know we’re not too crazy.”