Three days ago, my backpack tore itself apart. Or, at least, tried to: the long metal “stay” running up and down the spine broke free of its enclosure, and punched a hole through the bottom of the bag. It wasn’t trip-ending, but it was concerning: not only did I not have the support I needed from the stay, but, well, holes in the bottom of the bag containing all the possessions you need to survive are generally frowned upon.
So, I did what any enterprising through-hiker these days would do: I hiked about ten minutes up the trail, pulled out my iPhone, and called the company that made it. Right there, from the trail, in what any reasonable person would call “the middle of nowhere”. There was no water on either side for ten miles, no civilization of any kind within sight…just enough cell-phone service to make my iPhone alive, and that was it.
One huge advantage of buying ultralight gear is that you’re often buying from very small companies — or even literally one-person companies, running out of a garage — and the person I talked to not only knew exactly what’d happened to my bag, but exactly where I was on the trail, what towns were next, where there was a post office, and so on. Oh, and this was at 11:00 AM — on a Sunday.
Once we’d ascertained the right move, he arranged to ship a new pack forward to a resupply point we were going to stop at anyway. And he had me send him a photo that Clare took, right then and there, of me, hiking in my pack, from the side. Using this, he told me my pack was probably a bit small for me anyway, and that I should get the next size up. “OK, sounds great.”
And that’s how, just four days later, I’m sporting a brand-new backpack, picked up at the post office in Warner Springs, CA, shipped to me straight from Utah. We even traded a few emails back-and-forth over the trail in the intervening couple of days, making sure everything was properly lined up.
I realize I work in technology, but sometimes it really strikes me as incredible just how much it really has changed our lives — and, as I’ll continue to talk about, the experience of hiking a trail such as this one. Ten years ago, I maybe could’ve called the company from a cell phone, but they never would’ve been able to get a photo of me wearing it and see that it was too small for me. Twenty years ago, I would’ve had to wait for the next town stop, call them, hope they were open, read out a credit-card number over the phone, and so on. Fifty years ago, I would’ve been on a days-long hunt for a ride into the nearest town, in hope of someone who could sew up the hole in my pack. And so on.
The trail these days just keeps changing, and it’s truly beautiful. We’ve come down out of the hills once again…this time into broad, rolling expanses of golden-brown grass, a single thread of trail winding among them, tracing its way over the horizon. There are these beautiful, weatherbeaten old “PCT” signs (mostly) still standing, and they’re amazing.
Today, we stopped for half the day at Warner Springs, which is a small town with few amenities — save the unbelievably good Warner Springs Community Resource Center. This time of the year, they staff it with volunteers who can provide hikers with a meal (double cheeseburger, yes!), a shower, a spot to camp, a place to charge their iPhones, and a huge hiker box. All the money they make from these amenities goes right back into the community — this is ground-floor, rubber-meets-road community service, and they’re amazing people, every last one of them.
The woman who drove us from the post office back to the resource center, provided us with towels for our showers, helped feed us, answered all our questions, and was generally just incredibly helpful and great to us, Mary, is…well, I know better than to ask a lady her age, but let’s just say she told me that her grandchildren are 40 years old, and she has four great-grandchildren. She’s just incredible.
My deepest gratitude, and heartfelt happiness, towards Mary — and everybody else who helped me out today. I launch off into miles 110+ of the PCT sporting a brand-new, much better-feeling pack, supplied with lots of great food we picked up at the post office, a belly full of delicious food they made me, and a wonderfully-clean body from their showers. Many thanks to all the great folks in Warner Springs. I’m feeling grateful tonight!