Spend time around Bend at all in the summertime and you may notice an influx of dirty, skinny, disheveled-looking people carrying backpacks around town. These are thru hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trail that spans from Mexico to Canada. Nearly 1,000 people from all over the world set out to do this hike every spring, starting at Mexico and crossing through California, Oregon and Washington, eventually finishing at the Canadian border. The entire journey typically takes about five months and is extremely challenging both mentally and physically.
One of the things that motivates hikers to keep going and makes the PCT so interesting are all of the town stops along the way. Hikers typically hitchhike into nearby towns every few days to shower, laundry, eat, or take a rest day. After long days in the wilderness, nothing feels better than a hot meal and a real bed!
Bend, a Trail Town
Bend happens to be one of the most anticipated and popular stops along the entire PCT. The trail passes through the Three Sisters Wilderness, and hikers typically hitch hike the 30 minutes into Bend at Elk Lake resort or Santiam Pass. Bend is a popular spot for the incredible beer and food options, of course, but more than that, it has an amazing reputation for being one of the most hiker-friendly towns along the trail. This can be attributed to businesses and kind locals.
Local businesses offer free beer, discounts, and gear repairs to thru hikers, though the hidden heroes however are the ones you don't typically see or hear about. These are the people I want to highlight: They're called Trail Angels (and for good reason).
Trail Angels in Bend
When the trail has taken its toll, this special group of people can be a huge blessing for weary hikers, dedicating time, money and energy to help out hikers by offering rides, food, drink, a place to spend the night, laundry, showers and more — all for the joy of it, with no expectation for payment.
There is a whole Facebook page of Central Oregon PCT Trail Angels who make themselves available for hikers.
One trail angel, Leslie Brown, said "My husband and I were looking for a new way to contribute to our community. We believe in making someone's bad day better, and we believe in helping people. We have enjoyed meeting people from around the world and sharing our knowledge of our unique landscape. We have only been doing this a short time but have reveled in being the right person at the right time. For example, there are many more foreigners on the trail this year. My husband's first language is French. As we picked up a hiker in adverse conditions in a remote area, another hiker, a Frenchman, approached us trying to get more information. It was such a wonderful coincidence that we were there and able to communicate with him in his native language," Brown said. "The long journey on the trail will present challenges to the hikers tackling the PCT. You never know if the spare gear gathering dust in your garage, your detailed knowledge of the trails, the languages you speak, etc. will be the piece of trail magic that will transform the Oregon miles into a fabulous experience for a fellow adventurer."
A current PCT hiker who goes by the handle, "Ted Talk," shared her unexpected love story with a trail angel. "Back in August, a local trail angel drove me and my trail family around Bend to mail our packages, grocery shop, go to REI and run other errands. In the process, we became friends and stayed in touch when I kept hiking. I visited again on my way back to the Sierra Nevada from Washington, and that visit pretty much solidified the fact there was something between us."
A former thru hiker turned trail angel who goes by the name "Sneaky Pete" shared his reason for wanting to help hikers.
"For me, it's giving back. I hiked southbound along the Appalachian Trail back in '71. There were a few times when we wanted to quit. And then, lucky us, we stumble upon two angels, an older couple at the base of Mt. Washington. They were grilling hamburgers and had cold watermelon slices and lemonade, too. It's what we needed. They said they were proud of us for getting this far. Being a trail angel now, I get to help out and be a morale booster myself."
Current PCT hiker Erica Ess shared their experience of community.
"I got a ride from Michael at the beginning of my journey in Oregon from Bend to Elk Lake, where I went northbound til' Cascade Locks. Michael is going to drive me from Sunriver to Bend today (he's the trail Angel taking me to get pants at REI) so this is the second time he's offering to help me on my journey. I could not have done it without this community, and plan to pay it forward whenever I can!"
Kerry Witterschein, a local trail angel, shared about why she looks forward to hosting hikers. "It's so exciting to be part of PCT season each summer. Bend is an awesome town, and we are so happy to welcome them in to our homes and town and be a part of their trail experience."