Day 87: The Day I Was Mistaken For a Homeless Person

Around midday today, Bucket and I were sitting underneath a gazebo of sorts in a park in Reno, waiting for our clothes to dry. (We’d sprayed them with Permethrin, an insect repellent, and it takes them a couple of hours to dry.) We had our clothes spread out around us, and our backpacks with us. Our rental car was parked not far away.

After a while, a woman in her mid-thirties pulled up in a fairly beat-up car, and got out with her three adorable daughters — maybe three, five, and six years old or so. They sat on the other side of the gazebo; we traded smiles, particularly with the cute daughters, and then I thought little more of them.

Eventually, though, the girls came up next to me, and the littlest one — who was absolutely adorable — stuck out her hand with several dollar bills in it, clearly offering them to me. I was totally confused at first. Was she trying to buy something from me? Did she want something? Why in the world would a three-year-old girl try to give me some money? I have plenty of money — this makes no sense at all.

I looked over at the mother, who said, “it’s OK — go on, take it”. I said, still not understanding, “no, I don’t…”. She said again: “really, it’s OK, take it”. That’s when it finally dawned on me: she genuinely thought Bucket and I were homeless, drying our clothes underneath this gazebo, and wanted to offer us some help.

It was at once enormously sweet and yet so, so completely backwards: here I am, sitting with a brand-new $300+ backpack and at least $3,000 in hiking gear, ready to go back from our hotel room in Reno to rejoin the Pacific Crest Trail…and this woman was offering me money. I was honestly completely touched…and, of course, was never going to take it. I laughed a little and explained to her what we actually were: through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I still feel bad that she got so embarrassed that, after not long, she and the girls got back in the car and left. It was actually just an incredibly kind, generous thing she was doing, and I think very highly of her for doing it — not only for giving us the money, but for teaching her daughters to be kind to the less fortunate, too.

Many, many miles ago, near the beginning of our trip, I saw the following graffiti underneath a bridge frequented by PCT hikers: What’s the difference between a through-hiker and a homeless person? Trekking poles. I guess it’s really true. Even more ironically, she was seeing us at our very cleanest — I can’t imagine what she would’ve thought had we just come off the trail.

Actually, of course, we’re far, far from homeless. We woke up today, gorged ourselves on more delicious breakfast, took care of spraying our clothes — mosquitoes, begone! — and then headed out of town. Along the way, we picked up a friend of Rally’s, Penny Lane, who was also in Reno and heading back to South Lake Tahoe.

It was fairly late in the day by the time we got back to South Lake Tahoe. I’d never been there on a Fourth of July weekend before…that place is an absolute madhouse. There are tourists absolutely everywhere, and the main road into town (fortunately, not the one we were on) was a traffic jam for miles and miles. It makes being a hiker in town even funnier: there are tons of young women in short shorts and little tops, tons of young men in shorts, T-shirts, and baseball caps, and everybody’s clearly trying to flirt or look their best…and here we are in our beat-up hiking clothes and trekking poles, wandering around town just like them. Hilarious. After seeing Tahoe this weekend, though, I’m pretty sure I want to completely avoid the place at times like this — it’s just far too crazy to be my kind of place.

However, while we were in Tahoe, we got to pick up Rally, who we hadn’t seen since a very, very long time ago! It was wonderful to see her again, and I have high hopes that we’ll see her more often. So the four of us — Bucket, me, Penny Lane, and Rally — all set out to hitchhike back to the PCT. This was actually something of a difficult hitch, and we had to take three separate rides to get us back there (Echo Lake Chalet, where the PCT crosses, is about twelve miles out of town), but we eventually made it. Days like this I’m so grateful to be hitchhiking with three women — if I were by myself, or, even worse, with a group of men, it’d take so much longer.

It was after 7 PM by the time we actually got back to the trail and started out, which meant we didn’t have much time to hike. We spent about an hour and a half making our way back along the trail, but that meant the sun was setting the whole time, making the evening absolutely beautiful. I actually was on this little segment of the PCT once before, several years ago, when I was working with Couchsurfing — we had a company getaway to Tahoe in the summer, and we came up to Echo Lake — and so it was pretty cool to see the trail once more, particularly in the beautiful light of the sunset.

We’re camped tonight just inside the Desolation Wilderness boundary, which is the first place it’s legal to camp after Echo Lake. Tomorrow, we need to get up and make some serious miles. But, in the mean time…wonderful sleep!

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