This is the third installment of Hannah Kiser and Chelan Pauly’s epic journey of their planned 2,660 mile trek to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. To see the first installment click here or to see the second installment click here.
Trail Culture
 by Hannah Kiser and Chelan Pauly

Trail angels, trail legs, trail magic, trail names. Can you pick up on the pattern? Thru hiking the PCT has introduced us to a fascinating and distinct trail culture. This community is complete with its own vocabulary, local foods, breed of people, and subset of particular habits. Long distance hikers are wildly diverse folks from all walks of life, but the strong thread of the trail quickly weaves our lives together to develop this cacophonous culture. Here are a few explanations for the hiker jargon we have learned in the last month.

Hannah is also known as Spatula

Chelan also known as Wasabi, with her signature snack.

Trail Names: Wasabi and Spatula. Chelan’s new name is Wasabi and Hannah goes by Spatula. On trail, in town, as contacts in people’s phones… everywhere we go Wasabi and Spatula are our new identities. Wasabi comes from the fact that Chelan will carry 50 pounds of wasabi soybeans as a snack over the course of the hike. Obviously that means a lot of sharing and asking “Want some Wasabi?” Hannah’s name comes from her brilliant invention of a small spatula stabbed on the end of her spoon. This spatula makes cleaning the pot an easy and enjoyable chore. It is quickly catching on and may become the next hot fad in the ultralight hiking community. Trail names are generally adopted within the first few weeks and represent the refreshing new community and lifestyle that come with long distance hiking. They can be self-chosen but are more often given by another hiker based on a funny story or particular habit. Strider, Lego, Don’t Panic, Refill, Ripper, FROG (Freaking Really Old Guy), Mooch, Dorthy, Cake, and Neon are just a few of the fun ones that come to mind.

Trail Angels: These are some of the most generous, wonderful people we have ever met. Some are hikers, some are not, but all of them open their homes for a month or two during hiking season to help support the thru-hiking dream of reaching Canada.

Wasabi and mobile trail angel Coppertone. He follows the main pack of hikers for several weeks each season giving out much appreciated root beer floats.

Trail Angel in Julian. Carmen opens her home to hikers all season long! This sign says it all.

Nearly all of the resupply towns along the PCT have one or more houses well known to the trail community. Trail angels usually allow hikers to do laundry, shower, and sleep in the backyard. They often buy food and cook giant meals for the hungry hikers as well. The ethic is to leave a donation with each trail angel to cover the costs for future hikers. However, the time and energy that trail angels give us is an absolute gift. It encourages the idea of “pay it forward” and helps renew our faith in the goodwill of humanity. The last trail angels we stayed with were named Mountain Mama and Papa Smurf. They had a very modest house but a willingness to share anything and everything with hikers. A few of the more handy hikers spent two days and undertook a huge remodeling project in their bathroom… tearing out moldy drywall, installing a fan and two light fixtures, painting etc. We were able to leave them with a sparklingly clean house and a brand new bathroom as a small way of saying thank you. It was a beautiful example of the give and take between trail angels and hikers.

Trail Magic: This can be planned or impromptu but often comes in the form of food. I have received oranges, snickers, doughnuts, root beer floats, baby carrots, pancakes, and a fully catered dinner all as forms of trail magic. One day, as we spent the afternoon at the hot spring everyone offered us their leftover snacks as they got up to leave. Clearly the locals were quite accustomed to the presence of hungry thru-hikers.

Trail magic comes in many forms- a dumpster with soda and cookies and a couch to sit on!

Other times the trail magic is announced and spreads through word of mouth on the trail… “pancakes at the Whitewater Preserve!” or “Coppertone is leaving tomorrow… better hurry to highway 73 if you want your root beer float!”  And sometimes interesting conversations with day hikers result in long stories about our journey to Canada and they decide to slip us an extra snickers. Whatever the case we are always grateful.

Zeros, Neros, and Heros: Getting to town and resupplying your pack with food is an important part of thru-hiking. There are several ways of going about it, and it all depends on how much time you like to spend in town. Are you a hiker who wants a full day of rest, lots of time in wifi world, and has extra cash to spend? Then it’s probably time for a zero. That means two nights in town and a full day of flip flops with zero miles in your hiking shoes. Are you a hiker who wants a shower and a hot meal but also wants to keep moving? Maybe a nero (nearly zero) is right. 5-10 miles in the morning and then the rest of the day spent in town. Or are you someone who avoids civilization like the plague and is sticking to a budget? A hero day means hiking 5-10 miles into town, buying food or going to the post office for a resupply package, and then doing another 5-10 miles to get out of town. Hero days are ridiculous!

Trail Legs: Our first 2 weeks on trail we restrained ourselves to only hiking 12-17 miles a day. We wanted to ease our legs into the pounding of a 25lb pack and slowly acclimate to the desert heat. We quickly discovered that our background in running allows us to hike a reasonable pace while still taking plenty of snack, swimming, and nap breaks! Over the last 10 days, we’ve done no less than 21 miles, including a 29 mile day to get to a McDonalds. At the beginning of the trail this seemed impossible, and although it wasn’t without challenge, it will become a staple of our mileage in the weeks and months to come. Gaining our trail legs over the last 350 miles has allowed us to hiker faster (usually 3 miles an hour), further and, longer day, after day, after day!

28 miles and I have to hike .4 more???

Cheers to drinking syrup with our friend “So Crepes” after clearing several plates of food.

Hiker Hunger: This term references the extreme hunger and brain power dedicated to thinking about all things food on trail and in town. Sometimes our mileage is planned around when nearby restaurants are open! Whenever we get into town, the first thing we address is food. Not finding accommodations, not laundry or showering, just food. Although we each carry 3000-5000 calories a day on trail it’s almost to impossible to carry enough to keep up with our hunger. The lack of fresh fruits, vegetables, cold drinks, and ice cream make them common cravings as well as extremely high calorie foods like lasagna and enormous cheesy omelettes! In the most recent stop, we immediately went to breakfast and ate every morsel of food on our huge platters, including toasting our syrup cups and drinking it like juice. Even when we don’t feel hungry, the food simply disappears before our eyes.

This post was originally published on 9/3/2021.

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