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Salvation in Skykomish

Trail Angels to the rescue on the PCT and AT. Chapter 11 from Lawton Grinter's new book I Hike: Mostly True Stories from 10,000 Miles of Hiking.

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by Lawton Grinter | 2013-01-18 00:00:00-07

Purchase I Hike: Mostly True Stories from 10,000 Miles of Hiking Today and help support the independent publishing efforts of BPL Member Lawton "Disco" Grinter!

There are people who go out of their way to help hikers. Sometimes it’s a random car ride offered to a grubby hiker by the kindness of a complete stranger. And sometimes it’s a person who lives in a town near the trail that lets hikers camp in their backyard or do laundry at their house or grab a shower to wash off days of accumulated dirt and dust. These folks are known in the long-distance hiking world as “trail angels.”

The Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail have a whole host of perennial trail angels - folks that help out hikers year after year. The Continental Divide Trail has just a few but as the CDT gains in popularity, there is sure to be more. Some trail angels are not holed up in one town; they rove and follow the wave of hikers north as they make their way from Georgia to Maine or Mexico to Canada.

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The Backyard at Hiker Heaven - Agua Dulce, CA

One of the better-known trail angel couples on the Pacific Crest Trail is the Saufleys. Jeff and Donna Saufley have been taking in hikers since the mid-90’s. Located 454 trail miles north of the Mexican Border, “Hiker Heaven,” as they call their backyard, offers a brief respite from the dusty PCT of southern California. The little hamlet of Agua Dulce in which they live does not have much in the way of amenities - no post office and no laundromat. Seeing that there was a void to fill, in addition to a happenstance encounter with a couple of grimy PCT hikers in 1996, the Saufleys found themselves in the role of trail angels before they barely had time to realize what that meant (once word gets out that a couple or family is taking in hikers in a trail town, it’s like moths to a flame).

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Efficiency is Key at Hiker Heaven - Agua Dulce, CA

What started as letting a handful of hikers stay in their spare camper one night back in 1996 ballooned to hosting 60+ hikers a night during the high season in 2008. They’ve since put a 50-person cap on how many hikers they are willing to take in at one time. Even 50 people is too much for their large backyard, in my humble opinion, but not too many for Donna and Jeff. To accommodate this many people, they have gotten really good at crowd control. They’ve orchestrated an incredibly efficient operation in the form of sign up sheets and help yourself bins full of clean towels, spare clothes to wear while doing laundry and an instruction board that requires little more than knowing how to read. There are sign up sheets for the shower, the computer, and a spare car. That’s right. They have a spare car that they allow hikers (read complete strangers) to drive to some of the larger outfitters and gear stops on the far eastern edge of Los Angeles County. And it’s all based on trust. And it works. The Saufleys have never had a single thing disappear from their house or their yard during all these years of hosting hikers. How’s that for karma?

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Hikers crowd in for Birthday Cake at The Saufleys - Agua Dulce, CA

And the cost . . . well, the cost is whatever each hiker is able to contribute to the mason jar that serves as a donation cup of sorts. Some hikers will kick in $20, $30 and even $50. Others are flat broke and pay nothing. It seems to work out, though. If it didn’t, the Saufleys would be just another family in the Agua Dulce phone book and not the best-known trail angels on the PCT.

Not all trail angels offer a laundry list of amenities and services to hikers. Some are in it just for the fun and games. Twenty-four miles north of Jeff and Donna’s place lies Casa de Luna in Green Valley. Casa de Luna is run by the Andersons and the Andersons don’t have a spare car for signing out, they don’t offer package pick-up or showers or internet. What they do offer is a guaranteed kick-ass time of beer drinking, general hell-raising and taco salad for dinner every night. I’ve been there twice now and was grateful to get all-you-can-eat taco salad both times, but I just don’t know how they eat that dish every night for the entire summer. Don’t get me wrong - I love tacos as much as the next guy but after having had them for 47 nights in a row, I’d throw them off a cliff or throw up off a cliff.

Their entry into trail angelhood was also happenstance. Joe Anderson calls it “a serendipitous moment.” The way he told it, they ran into a bedraggled-looking couple with backpacks walking around in their town of Green Valley. This couple had gotten off the PCT and come to town to find a restaurant. The male half of this hiking duo desperately wanted some vegetable soup. The only restaurant in town was closed and he was feeling a bit blue as a result. There’s nothing more mentally devastating to a long-distance hiker than thinking about food all day and heading into town only to find the only restaurant that serves food closed.

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Early Morning at Casa de Luna - Green Valley, CA

Earlier that day, Joe decided on a whim to make a big pot of vegetable soup. No particular reason really. As a matter of fact, soup is one of the last things Joe typically prepares, a once in a blue moon kind of thing. In one of those completely coincidental instances, Joe and Terri struck up a conversation with this couple that they randomly ran into in town. “Forager” explained how he’d had a hankering for vegetable soup all day and was so disappointed that the restaurant was closed. Joe’s eyes lit up like Christmas lights and he invited them to come to their house for dinner.

Ten years later it’s not uncommon for them to host as many as 20-30 hikers per night during the high season. Some pass by the Andersons without stopping, after feeling guilty about having spent far too many nights at the Saufleys. It’s a shame because staying with the Andersons is one of the highlights of a PCT thru-hike.

Keep in mind that trail angels are few and far between on long trails. It’s purely coincidental that the Saufleys and the Andersons are in such close proximity to one another. After heading out of the Andersons, there’s not much in the way of trail angels for the next 650+ miles unless you count Hiker Town.

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PCT Hiker out for a ride at Hiker Town - Lancaster, CA

Hiker Town is like stepping into an alternate reality. It exists as a little wayside series of buildings on the edge of Highway 138 somewhere on the western edge of the Mojave Desert. The trail passes within a few feet of the buildings that comprise Hiker Town. I had never even heard of the place when I stumbled upon it back in 2004. The next 24 hours were an odd mix of getting a lift in a Rolls Royce to a convenience store, watching fellow hikers parade around the property on miscellaneous horses, being offered a shower only to find that the water was a degree above freezing, surfing the web in a dilapidated trailer that looked as though it would blow away with the tumbleweeds during the next gust of wind, listening to the howling drunkenness of one of the “caretakers” who was five times as filthy as any hiker staying there and discovering that Jack Fair, the previous owner of the place, had shot and killed himself right there in the main house.

I left Hiker Town wondering what type of crazy time warp I had just walked into. And that was after being awakened by a curious horse at 4:00 A.M. that put his muzzle about 12 inches from my face and snorted.

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The Bunk House at Hiker Town - Lancaster, CA

The current owner is a bit eccentric but not foul-mouthed and prone to fits of rage as the previous owner, Jack Fair, apparently was. Jack allowed PCT hikers to come onto the property and even stay the night but more than one PCT hiker left upset or angry at Jack for something he had said or done. One hiker, “Troubador,” recounted his brief stay at Hiker Town back in 1999 when it was simply known as “Jack Fair’s Place”:

The trail met highway 138. We crossed and walked up Jack Fair's driveway towards his house. The guidebook described Jack Fair as "A concerned citizen who has generously offered water and camping to all through travelers on the PCT."

As we approached the house a shirtless, gray bearded Jack Fair, probably in his late 60's or early 70's emerged along with “Yosemite John.” Pointing at Yosemite John (YJ, as he was called for short) Jack asked, "Are all PCT hikers retarded or is it just him?" In unison “Rerun” and I

responded, "It's just him."

Jack greeted us. He shook my hand and instantly I smelled like the cigarettes he chain-smoked. He led us to the garage to stow our gear and then invited us into the house. Jack said we could sit anywhere we liked except on the Lazyboy recliner that was dingy, dank and surrounded by cigarette ashes. He lead us into the kitchen and offered me a coke while Rerun stuck with his water.

This is the point in time when Rerun and I stepped off of the PCT and into a wind tunnel of profanity.

Jack Fair was a former motorcycle rider. He drove his motorcycle almost everywhere in North America and now describes himself as a philosopher. As I looked through his trail register, he dropped some articles and papers in front of us which he asked us to read. Rerun skimmed them slightly while I stuck to the register. Jack said, "Okay, @^#$*$& read them, or don't %#&$*%^# read them. What the %#^@&$^ do I care. You have to live your own @^#%$ life . . . I'm talking to my #&$%#% self now. So if you #&$^#%@ interrupt me, you'll be *^^#%#*%%#* interrupting a private *&%#$@#* conversation."

After a pause he explained his rates for the use of his house and facilities. "For $1 I'll drive you down the road to the store. For $5 you can camp in the garage and take a shower and I provide the towel. If you just want to hang around for a little bit then it will be $5." Rerun and I looked at one another as if we had been scammed.

We asked Jack for the $1 ride to the store and got into the back of his car. His dog rode up front with him. As I moved to get into the car I glanced at the seat and found it covered in all manner of dirt and grime. Rerun and I looked at each other. Rerun said, "Don't ask."

As we drove down to the store I inquired about the fare. I wanted to be certain of the rate since we had just been duped. "Jack, is it $1 round trip to the store, or $1 each way?" I asked, feeling it was a legitimate question. There was a pause as Jack looked at me in the rearview mirror and said, "Are you some sort of &#^$%@^ @&#^%@^%?" I took that to mean $1 round trip as Rerun laughed hysterically.

Still shaken from the verbal dressing down, I entered the store and made my selections. Rerun did the same and Jack waited outside. I felt pressure to get and pay for my stuff quickly. I hurried to the car and we were on our way back.

Jack was yelling and cussing up front. The noise of the car with all the windows down kept us from really hearing what he was saying. We both nodded and agreed nonetheless.

Since Rerun and I had been duped out of $5 for just hanging out, we decided to stay for a while and retreated to the garage with our store purchases.

Jack came from the house to the garage in a huff. He yelled, "Okay who was the last #%@&@% @@^#%@^ to use the sink in the house to take a shave?" It was obvious it was neither Rerun or myself as we both had beards. "Perhaps it was YJ?", Rerun offered. "Well, whoever the #&$%$%#& it was pushed the @&@^#@& stopper down on the #^@@#%#% drain and now I can't get it #&%$@&#*$^ open," Jack screamed. His eyes looked away for a moment and his level of rage jumped up five notches.

"WHO THE #%$* OPENED THAT @#$&&#^$% DOOR!?!?!?!?" he yelled at the top of his lungs throwing his hands in the direction of a door behind Rerun. "THAT DOOR HASN'T BEEN OPENED IN 10 #^$%@%#$@& YEARS! ANY IDIOT KNOWS THAT IF YOU WANT A #$@^#%#$& CROSS BREEZE YOU GOTTA OPEN THIS #^$%%@%# DOOR!"

Jack slammed one door shut, and then opened the other. Rerun deflated the situation somewhat by offering to look at the sink. Tradja, Neil, Wahoo and YJ walked in as Jack and Rerun were about to depart to the house. I could see the rage forming in Jack as he was preparing to unleash it on YJ. "Did you take a shave in the house?" Jack jabbed at YJ. "Uh, no Jack, I've got three days beard on my face. I was planning on taking a shave, but I haven't gotten to it yet," replied YJ in a half laughing tone. "Well, it's too #%##&& late, I've already blamed you for breaking the #^$%&3% sink," Jack said as he swung into full profanity to explain the situation with the sink again.

At this point I was ready get out of there. Rerun returned from fixing the sink and Jack paid him with two power bars for his services. We then handed Jack the $10 for sitting in his garage for two hours and got some water from the sprinkler.

I would have been really angry about the money Jack charged and the way he went about it, but Smokey had come into Jack's with only a Discover credit card. And when the store - despite having a large Discover sign in their window - declined to accept it, Jack, to his credit, covered the charge.


The Appalachian Trail has its trail angels too. Bob Peoples was so enamored with the long-distance hikers that would pass by his place in Tennessee that he built a huge log cabin bunkhouse to accommodate them. Donation based pricing once again. Hikers are offered a daily shuttle down to Newport, Tennessee . . . the closest town to his Kincora Hiker Hostel. Additionally there are showers, laundry and kitchen facilities. Not bad for a $4 suggested donation per night.

“Dizzy B” was a gruff but nice lady who lived near the AT trail town of Glencliff, New Hampshire. She would drive out Atwell Hill Road every evening during the summer to an abandoned Park Service building known as the “Atwell Hilton.” If any hikers were tenting on the lawn, she’d back the truck in and unload firewood. She’d also pull out two coolers: one full of beer and one full of soda. If you want to win over the hearts of long-distance hikers . . . offer them beer and soda. She’d build a fire and chat for a couple of hours with everyone and then take off only to repeat the sequence later the next day and the day after that. The Atwell Hilton has long since been torn down and Dizzy B has moved on, but it was sure nice to get a couple of ice-cold sodas from her in 1999 when I was hiking through.

I once popped out on Pennsylvania Highway 33 at a place called Wind Gap during my AT thru-hike to check my map for directions. At that same exact moment two bicyclists pulled over to check their map for directions. They asked me where I was hiking. I told them to Maine. They gave me that look of disbelief that I’d received many times before when telling folks I was walking from Georgia to Maine. One of the guys pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to me. He told me to go to the bakery in the nearby town of Delaware Water Gap and have some pastries on him. They rode away and I was left there standing with a $20 bill in my hand, dumbfounded that a complete stranger would hand me money for walking. The pastries were fantastic.

In 1999 on the AT, I kept running into this guy who called himself “Desperado.” He was a New Jersey State Park Ranger, I believe, and knew all about the thru-hiking community. He even knew who I was without ever having met me. Apparently he would ask hikers he met who was behind them and write down their trail names so he wouldn’t forget. He told us that during a typical hiking season, he ended up meeting about half the thru-hikers that came through New Jersey.

The first time I ran into him, he gave me his business card. It simply read “Desperado” in bold font. For occupation it said “Trail Angel.” There was a phone number in the bottom corner. The funny thing is that Desperado wasn’t operating a business - or at least it didn’t appear so. He was handing out slices of pizza on the trail and offering rides to town and info on New Jersey’s stretch of the AT. I never needed a ride but some other hikers that got a lift from him told me he had a tape of The Eagles singing Desperado that he played continuously while he drove them around. I guess if you were still uncertain that his name was really Desperado after seeing it in bold font on his business card, The Eagles would make sure you knew it was so.

“Meadow Mary” is another well-known roving trail angel on the PCT. I’ve run into her many times and even got an hour-long ride to a bus station from her back in 2004. She made me change my clothes. Apparently she is quite sensitive to scented detergents. I had just done my laundry and the detergent I used did not agree with her olfactory preferences. She had a spare set of her husband’s clothes in her RV luckily for me. I desperately needed a ride to the bus station in Red Bluff, California, in order to get to the Sacramento airport to fly back east for a buddy’s wedding. I would have ridden in her camper van naked if it meant getting to that bus station.

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Trail Magic along the PCT - Southern California

The other form of trail angelling that is somewhat common is “the lone cooler.” The lone cooler is true trail magic in its purest form; trail magic being what trail angels offer to hikers. A random cooler on the side of the trail full of goodies free for the taking. No fees, no donations, no flat rates and no need to change clothes. Whatever is in the cooler has no strings attached.

Some coolers are chock full of beer, soda, candy bars, chips and cookies and some are empty after getting cleaned out by hikers that had already passed through. You never know what you are going to find until you open the lid. In the case of the cooler we came across in 2008 on the PCT at Santiam Pass in Oregon . . . I’m still not sure what the reddish brown liquid and chunks actually were; however, judging from the shredded wrappers, claw marks and distinct paw prints in the mud beside the lid, my guess is that a bear ate everything in the cooler and then proceeded to barf it all back into the cooler.

I was having a particularly tough day on the AT back in 99’ coming out of the Nantahala River in North Carolina. This section of trail had a LOT of ups and downs. “Puds” as some would call them, which is short for “pointless ups and downs.” It started with a 3,400’ climb and then a bunch of steep descents and more steep ascents. When I reached Stecoah Gap, I was beat and demoralized, not sure if I could move another inch. Just across the road I spied something red in the bushes. Upon further investigation, I realized it was a cooler. I bounded across the highway and whipped open the lid to find freshly made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips and soda. I went from feeling like road kill to a million dollars in the matter of five seconds. I’ve never been that excited to eat peanut butter and jelly in my entire life.

Feeling reenergized, I was able to make my way to Brown Fork Gap Shelter by dark. Other hikers at the shelter all told me similar stories; they had been beat and tired and the cooler saved their lives! The great thing is that the cooler was left there on the side of the road by a former AT thru-hiker named “Fanny-Pack.” Fanny-Pack left a note in the cooler stating that he received a lot of really great trail magic during his 1996 AT thru-hike and wanted to pass the favor forward. It’s not uncommon for thru-hiker alum to come out and deliver trail magic during subsequent years. This wouldn’t be the last Fanny-Pack cooler I came across while on the AT that year. And each time it would be at a crucial spot just after a long climb where I was feeling exhausted. It’s as if he knew . . . and he did.

Although the lone coolers were fantastic, the best trail magic that I have ever experienced on a long hike occurred in 2004 in central Washington. It had been raining for weeks and there was no let up in sight. A cold, windy, hypothermic rain. Every day. Rain, rain, rain. I had been hiking in a loose group of half a dozen people and we were all on the same pace to finish at the Canadian Border in late September.

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Alpine Lakes Wilderness along the PCT - Central Washington

The night before “the greatest trail magic ever,” we had all camped near Deep Lake in central Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. We went to bed with rain and woke up to rain and by the looks of the overcast and clouds, we’d be hiking in rain all day. I was a late riser and hiked out of camp last; the bad weather had drained every last ounce of my motivation. A quick perusal of my PCT Data Book told me that our campsite was 30.5 miles from Stevens Pass and Highway 2. Highway 2 leads west down to the town of Skykomish and more importantly to the Dinsmores’ “Hiker Haven,” which was our next town stop.

Following the lead of the Saufleys, Jerry and Andrea Dinsmore started hosting hikers at their abode in 2002. They have a great home on the banks of the Tye River just outside of Skykomish and would pick up hikers at the Pass to bring them down for a stay. We had heard there was a pay phone at the Pass from which you could call them . . . you simply had to get yourself to the Pass.

I didn’t want to hike 30.5 miles though. I mean I REALLY didn’t want to hike 30.5 miles that day. Actually, I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag, but I did because that’s what hikers do; we get up and hike even if it is cold and wet and miserable. My hope was that the rest of the group didn’t want to hike 30.5 miles either. I was mostly going with the flow at this point in the hike and if the entire group hiked all the way to Stevens Pass, I probably would also. But I REALLY didn’t want to.

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Snack Break under the Umbrella - Central Washington

I never caught up to anyone in the group that day. The past few weeks I had been hiking with an umbrella, about which I received heaps of ridicule and mockery. The umbrella was worth its weight in gold, though, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It gave me the opportunity to lollygag a bit in the rain. See, most hikers walk very quickly in the pouring cold rain to generate heat and stay warm. Granted, most waterproof jackets keep the rain from seeping in but the cold rain zaps the heat from your upper body through convection. It’s just a simple fact of allowing cold water to land on your chest and shoulders for hours on end. With the umbrella, the rain never hits your chest and shoulders and subsequently allows you to stay warmer; it is like walking with a small tent over your head all day. The other thing that hikers wearing only rain jackets typically don’t do is they don’t take breaks. Who wants to take a break in the pouring rain on the side of the trail only to get more soaked and more cold? I took breaks every hour or so with the umbrella. I could squeeze in and get my entire body under the umbrella’s perimeter. It was great, but the more breaks I took and the more I lollygagged, the further behind the crew I got.

At the Surprise Lake Trail junction there was a note in a plastic bag on the middle of the trail. My heart sank. I knew this note was going to be from someone in the group saying they had decided to push all the way into Stevens Pass because of the weather. We had gotten in the habit of leaving notes for one another when the group got split up so I knew it was from one of my people.

I hesitantly walked up to the note, bent over in the heavy rain and picked up the plastic bag. The note read:

Hikers, Tremor and I are taking the Surprise Lake Trail down to Highway 2. It’s a shortcut. We are going into Skykomish to get a room tonight come hell or high water. Hope to see you all there. -Trainwreck

Ugh. No! I simply couldn’t allow myself to take the Surprise Lake Trail and leave the PCT either. I had set a goal when I started my PCT thru-hike at the Mexican Border that I would hike every inch of the PCT if possible. Taking the Surprise Lake Trail down to the highway would mean leaving the PCT and skipping a 13-mile stretch of the trail. I looked at my watch and it was four-thirty. It would be dark by eight and if I was going into Skykomish today, I’d be hiking in the dark on the PCT to Stevens Pass. I had 13 miles to go. After a quick snack, I embraced my fate and hiked into the pouring rain.

I had originally planned to camp with everybody that night at Josephine Lake, which lay five miles south of the Pass. We would get up early the next morning, hike to Highway 2 and be in Skykomish for breakfast. Or at least that had been the plan this morning. Now the prospects of my camping at Josephine Lake solo in the rain were quite real. I thought that perhaps two of the other hikers in our group, “Jupiter” and “Shep,” would still go to Josephine Lake and camp. If they were camped there, I’d definitely stop and camp there.

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Tye River - Skykomish, WA

I arrived at Josephine Lake around dusk. It was bleak, didn’t have much in the way of trees for protection from the weather, and Jupiter and Shep were nowhere to be found. I looked at my watch, which told me it was just after seven o’clock. I scarfed down two candy bars while scrounging around for my flashlight. My fate was most definitely sealed. I was hiking into Stevens Pass tonight. As I left the lake behind me, it began pouring again. This was going to be swell.

So here I was hiking at night in the pouring rain with a little keychain flashlight to illuminate my way. Pretty dumb really. If I tripped and fell or slipped and broke an ankle, I’d be in a hypothermic and dangerous situation within minutes. Everyone would assume that I had camped for the night and no one was with me to know otherwise. I had already walked 26 miles (a marathon) and was a bit worn out. Realizing there was no room for error, I focused on every single step and I slowed down a bit. Rushing down the trail in the pouring rain in pitch dark would get me nowhere but hurt.

I remember smiling and laughing a bit as I made my way down to Stevens Pass with umbrella in hand in the middle of a tempest that night. I think I was likely in an exhaustion-induced delirium and would have had my sanity questioned if anyone had happened upon me out there. But there was no one out there . . . why would there be?

The trail spit me out into a dirt parking lot. It was the trailhead parking lot at Stevens Pass and there were no cars there. Anyone who had any kind of sense was at home under a dry roof and not out here in this monsoon. I could see the dimly lit highway just ahead and an 18-wheeler pulled over on the road shoulder. I vaguely remembered someone saying that there was a pay phone at the Pass from which you could call the Dinsmores and they would come pick you up. That payphone wasn’t in the trailhead parking lot so I guessed it might be down at Stevens Pass Ski Area, which was about °-mile down the road to the west.

I walked down to the ski area to find a series of buildings that were well lit but no one was milling about which made sense given that the ski area didn’t open until November and it was September. I thought that maybe, just maybe, there would be an unlocked door and I could steal the night away in a dry janitor’s closet or bathroom floor. I spent the next hour walking around the base area and must have pulled on a hundred door handles. The entire place was locked up tight. It was almost ten o’clock and I had to figure out something. The thought of setting up my tent was just too depressing to consider at this point. Maybe the driver of the 18-wheeler had a cell phone?

I walked back up to the Pass as the downpour strengthened. My only chance was to go knock on the door of the idling big rig and hope that I didn’t scare the **** out of the driver. I simply had no other options. I started for the truck and noticed a dimly lit streetlamp on the other side of the highway. I followed the lamp down its supporting post with my eyes. It illuminated a metal box. A telephone booth! I was elated but felt like a big idiot having just walked around the ski area for an hour when all along the phone had been on the other side of the highway.

I ran across the empty highway and dodged into the phone booth. The roof was solid and at least I could make this call and figure out what to do out of the rain. The Dinsmores had posted a business card inside the phone booth - what luck! Occupation: Trail Angels. Phone number on the right hand corner. Maybe all these trail angels were using the same business card service? I looked at my watch. It was 10:15 on a Monday night. I paused. Should I really be calling these folks this late on a Monday night? What if they were asleep? What if I pissed them off by calling so late? How could I possibly ask them to come pick me up given the weather and the time of night? I stared out the dirty glass of the phone booth into the rain and contemplated my predicament for a moment. There was nowhere decent to camp and I’d be setting up a wet tent - wet from the previous couple days of rain. Grim at best. It was time to roll the dice.


“Um hello. Is this Jerry?” I asked politely.

“Yep, this is Jerry.”

“Hi, this is Disco. I think some of my hiking partners may have come down to Skykomish earlier today,” I offered, dancing around the fact that I desperately needed Jerry to come get me. I guess I didn’t want to seem that desperate just yet.

“Oh yeah. They were expecting a Disco to call. I picked them up a few hours ago. Let’s see, I’ve got Jupiter, Shep, and GT.”

“Oh that’s great. I figured they were there,” I said trying to figure out how I would go about asking Jerry for a ride.

“Where are you at?” Jerry asked me.

“I’m up here at the Pass. I hate to ask you this late at night but it’s pouring up here and I could really use a ride down to town,” I offered in a pathetic tone.

“No problem, I’ll be right there,” Jerry declared without hesitation and that was it.

Twenty minutes later, Jerry pulled up in his big truck and I suggested I get in the back since I was so wet and dirty. He told me not to think of it and to get into the front seat. He had the heat cranked up and I spent the better part of the ride down thanking him profusely for saving me from a miserable night in the cold rain.

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The Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven - Skykomish, WA

I arrived at Jerry’s house to find all my friends in dry clothes, freshly showered watching the weather channel. Forecast was for more rain and snow levels coming down to 5,000’ - essentially that would mean most of the PCT heading north into Glacier Peak Wilderness, which was our next stretch of trail.

I walked into the kitchen after having left my sopping wet pack and rain jacket at the door. There was a plate of food on the kitchen table and Andrea Dinsmore was smiling at me.

“Eat up,” she said with a big grin.

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My post-phone booth lodging at The Dinsmore’s - Skykomish, WA

I was floored. I sat down and started in without hesitation. After 30 miles of tramping around all day in the pouring rain, I could have eaten a horse the size of an elephant. I may have eaten seconds and thirds . . . I can’t really remember . . . the next ten minutes was a flurry of talking to Andrea, Jupiter, Shep and GT in between mouthfuls of food. They told me the other half of our crew was at a motel in town.

“There’s a hot tub upstairs if you want to soak,” Jerry said, as if almost forgetting he had one.

My eyes practically popped out of my head. I finished my plate and thanked Andrea a few million more times. I grabbed an extra towel off the bathroom shelf and headed up the stairway to the second story deck. A light drizzle greeted me as I tiptoed onto slick wet wood. I turned off the hot tub lights and hopped into the 104-degree water. I slid in and let out a big long sigh of relief. I stared up at the night sky and could see a break in the clouds off in the distance. Only one short hour ago I was standing inside a phone booth in the middle of nowhere, soaking wet from having walked thirty miles through the rain. Now I sat in the warm waters of the Dinsmores’ hot tub with a full belly admiring the irony of it all. It is truly amazing how our fates can change at a moment’s notice.

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Hiking the PCT with an Umbrella in a light rain - Central Washington

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Near Stevens Pass Ski Area - Hiker Beware !

Salvation in Skykomish - 15
Heading into Glacier Peak Wilderness - Northern Washington

Lawton Grinter is an author, documentary filmmaker, forester and veteran long-distance hiker having completed end-to-end hikes of the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail and two hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail. In addition to the “Big 3″ he has also hiked the John Muir Trail and Colorado Trail in his 10,000+ miles of long-distance hiking since 1999. He filmed, edited and produced the trail documentary entitled “The Walkumentary” which covered his 2006 southbound Continental Divide Trail hike. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife and fellow long-distance hiker Felicia Hermosillo and their dog Gimpy. I Hike is his first book and can be found at

Purchase I Hike: Mostly True Stories from 10,000 Miles of Hiking Today and help support the independent publishing efforts of BPL Member Lawton "Disco" Grinter!


"Salvation in Skykomish," by Lawton Grinter. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2013-01-18 00:00:00-07.


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Salvation in Skykomish
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Salvation in Skykomish on 01/18/2013 00:52:29 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Salvation in Skykomish

John McAlpine
(HairlessApe) - M

Locale: PNW gotta love Trail Angels on 01/18/2013 13:03:33 MST Print View

Great read..... Dinsmore Hiker Haven is no longer where you remember. They relocated further west along Highway 2 to the town of Baring. They now have a large barn to put thru-hikers up for the night. They have a shower, bathroom, internet, TV, bunk-beds, etc. Great people. Across the railroad tracks is a small post office/deli that has great food and beer! Everytime I head for Stevens Pass I make sure to stop off at Dinsmore's to see if any thru-hikers need a ride to the Pass. All the hikers I give lifts to are happy as can be to get a lift, but more importantly having a nice warm welcome from a trail angel.

Sorry the weather was so wet for you. I always seem to luck out and get sun.

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
pack cover on 01/19/2013 06:53:58 MST Print View

I see you use a pack cover. Did it keep everything dry, or did water get in through the straps/back panel? Where did you keep your water when using the pack cover?

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: Salvation in Skykomish on 01/19/2013 10:33:59 MST Print View

You thru hikers are a rad lot.

Is that Eric Payne in one of the photos, Lawton?

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Typo on the Picture on 01/22/2013 12:22:52 MST Print View

There is a type on the picture (should be Glacier Peak, not Peaks).

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Salvation in Skykomish on 01/22/2013 18:51:36 MST Print View

Glad there are those willing to be trail angels out there. Interesting stories.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Typo on the Picture on 01/22/2013 19:50:39 MST Print View


There is a typo in the body of your post (type should be typo).


Daniel Pittman
(pitsy) - M

Locale: Central Texas
Hitchhiking on 01/22/2013 23:00:51 MST Print View

During my hitchhiking trip from San Diego to NYC, I relied on the kindness of strangers for my rides, and I always asked them why they had stopped to pick me up. The answers I got varied widely, but shared a commonality that seems to be true for 'trail angels' as well. These are people who see someone trying to do something difficult (hike a long trail, travel without money), feel a need to help, and most importantly actually do something about it. I had people buy me food, offer me short-term work to make some cash, flat give me money, drive miles out of their way to drop me in a safer spot, and all sorts of other stuff. There really are some good people in this world. You still gotta watch out for the assholes, of course, but most assholes aren't the type to do anything about it. They might throw a bottle at your head, as long as they don't have to stop the car to do it. It's too much work for them to really ruin a person's day.

Anyway, I enjoyed the read! Keep up the good work.

Lawton Grinter

Locale: Rocky Mountains
RE: Salvation in Skykomish on 01/23/2013 20:24:40 MST Print View

@John G - I no longer use a pack cover. Just the umbrella and an inside waterproof pack liner bag.

@Eugene - That sure is Eric "Hearsay" Payne in one of the photos!

@Daniel P - Thanks for sharing your insight. Lots of good folks out there ... a lot more of them than the bad folks.

Thanks for all the comments and feedback everybody!