My life immersed with the Pacific Crest Trail …..It’s hard to describe the way the pulse of the culture nourishes and sustains my heart and soul. When I get in the midst of the swilrling, whirling universe of hikers and trail angels, and the forest and the trail itself I know that I belong. I belong to something much bigger than myself; to something that I care deeply about: wild spaces and people being transformed by surviving together in them.
My small acts of kindness go so far in a crowd of exhausted, hungry, dirty, sometimes injured, or emotionally defeated hikers. A ride, a free cold drink, a hug, a brief dance party on the side of the road, or sharing a story can change someone’s experience in a quick moment. Especially when life is boiled down to basic survival and living out of a small backpack – little things mean so much. Creating a safe haven for people to rest and recover, nourish, and connect is a huge gift and responsibility to carry. To make a space that feels like home and to provide a creative, safe container for freedom of expression where everyone is welcome allows the windows of the soul to open. People who have walked hundreds of miles and come from around the world connect and share their perspectives, revelations, and stories of their life-changing journeys in my yard everyday.
Watching the way groups come together and friendships are forged and witnessing hikers reconnect after hundreds of miles are some of the true joys of this work. I joke that there has never been a fight at the Crossroads Hiker Hostel, as the camaraderie and peacefulness is pervasive. There is an element of gifting; food & drinks are often shared, hiker boxes are constantly being added to and taken from. There is a daily dose of random acts of kindness in this culture. People look out for each other and the gratitude is immense.
A few times I have experienced hikers paying for each other’s stays, in very touching ways. This summer there was a night where a particularly tight and fun group came together. I made the exception to my rule of going to bed early enough to keep myself functional with the intense pace and demands of the work; I really wanted to get to know some of this crew who had come to stay in my adult summer camp. We shared stories and laughter into the wee hours of the morning.
The next day when check out time came, one hiker paid for 2 of the new friends he had made in the brief span of the evening and then paid for the one he hadn’t really connected with who was waiting to pay me next. There are plenty of moments on the trail where hikers’ morale and drive wanes. This special hiker, who paid for his new friends, was in one of those low places. He told me that the last section had been very hard on him mentally and that the night he had with us and making new friends to hike out with had completely turned his experience around and given him a new drive to continue on.
The number of times I heard these kinds of things was astounding. Hiking 2,600 miles is physically challenging no matter who you are, but staying in the mental game for that length of time is not possible for everyone. A feeling of home, a sense of community and camaraderie, and a place to rest where all of the basic human needs are taken care of was a game changer for so many. The Crossroads Hiker Hostel mended the spirits of hundreds of people during the past few summers.
This summer I began to realize how much it had mended my own spirit. Even though this was one of the most exhausting and physically demanding jobs I have taken on, it was also equal parts nourishing. Being seen and appreciated for how much I gave and being loved by people from all walks of life fed the mothering part of me who was feeling quite lost in my nest empty for the first time in 24 years. (I often joked that I had to fill my empty nest so full so that I could really be ready to empty it.) The anonymous loving texts I’d get from hikers, postcards, kind words in my guest books, and the deep, personal connections that were forged sustained me in a time where I felt quite broken and defeated by life.
There was also a huge, undeniable element of the project that was an integral piece of my journey of grieving Jameson’s death. His life was so interwoven with the trail culture – from thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail to his career of working on trail crews – he emanated the spirit of the forest. Creating a hostel that catered to the PCT community was a dream we had tossed around for our years together, and forging ahead and doing in it in the place where he had taken his life was an incredible challenge. In the first year after his death, I resisted it, saying the dream had died with him. Yet there was something stirring deep in my soul that couldn’t stop this from moving from a vision into reality.
I knew clearly at the beginning of this season that I had created something that needed a partner to run it – and the only person I really wanted to do that with was my dead boyfriend. When I began another season feeling wiped out and alone, and let down by the young man who had said that he would come to help for 3 months, I knew I would likely be rocking it gently to sleep at the end of the summer. It was my year to be creative, patch-working together a long list of work-traders to help keep things afloat. It was a beautiful thing to witness how every one of us benefited. I learned a tremendous lesson in trust, as often I had no idea where the next help was going to come from when one person left, and I certainly could not go more than a few days without help when suddenly I could have 15-18 unexpected house guests.
Once a man walked down my driveway to see if I wanted to hire him for yard work. He looked up at my Crossroads sign and asked, “What is this place? A rehab center?”
Quickly the answer rolled off my tongue, “Nope. It’s a rehab for humanity.”
It was true and it stuck with me. Yes, it was certainly a place that fed the human spirit of connection and kindness and filled a void in the lives of many people who walked though my door. At this point there are a few thousand of us who experienced the magic of the Crossroads – a place of the worst tragedy of my life, but with the help of many strangers, a place transformed into a rehab for humanity.