“That’s Tom,” said my daughter from the kitchen, pointing toward me as I walked in.
A tall, thin, balding and bearded young man reached out his hand to mine. “Nice to meet you, Sir. I’m Parker.”
“He’s hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I invited him over.”
“Great!” I said. “Welcome.”
“Thank you for having me.”
There’s a biblical verse from Hebrews I’ve always deeply appreciated. It goes something like, “Be kind to strangers; you may be entertaining angels unawares.”
Our daughter Jolie has always been exceedingly kind to strangers. She met Parker while volunteering for the Bend Brewfest. Parker told us how he began hiking the PCT in early June; starting near Lake Tahoe with a goal of arriving at Cascade Locks on the border between Oregon and Washington by the end of August. He shared lots of pictures on his phone. This past week he developed shin splints and needed to take a break to recover before hiking any further. He was camped at Odell Lake, about 65 miles southwest of Bend. On Friday he hitched a ride into Bend to check out our little slice of heaven and learned he could volunteer for the Brewfest on Saturday, which he did, where he met our daughter, which in turn led to her inviting into our home for the night.
Late afternoon flowed into evening. Jolie and the girls showed Parker their worm farm. Cold beers led to salmon and salad for dinner. What also flowed throughout were the stories. Parker told of adventures on the PCT, the 500+ miles he has hiked, of camaraderie among hikers, his surprise face-to-face encounter with a bear, losing the trail hiking through snow and ice, and the community of people of like-mind and purpose supporting each other along the way. I shared the story of my longest hike on a portion of the PCT just out of high school. My friends Tim McGlasson, Craig Stock, Bart Stock and I completed all 221 miles of the John Muir Trail from the base of Mt. Whitney into Yosemite. That hike remains one of the grand accomplishments and fond memories of my life. Tim, Bart, Craig and I remain close friends to this day.
Parker and I talked about how much equipment has changed in the past 44 years; how much more lightweight things are. How technology has shifted to allow hikers to stay in touch with family and friends from the back country, and how the push of a button will contact the nearest emergency services if someone is alone and in trouble. And how the closest I’ve been to hiking on the PCT in the past four decades was being an extra for a day in the movie Wild, with Reese Witherspoon. He laughed when I told him only my right knee and elbow made it into the film with Reese.
Our granddaughters told Parker about their camping adventure at Lake Tahoe last summer, showing him pictures and talking about bears. They talked about banana slugs and how gigantic redwood trees are. We stayed up far past the girls’ normal bedtime. Then mommy tucked them in while Parker took a shower and then set up his sleeping bag on the lawn in our back yard. We offered to have him sleep inside but he preferred the view of the stars and appreciated the softness of the grass.
In the morning the story sharing began anew. I made oatmeal for breakfast. Jolie made lunches for her and the girls for their planned excursion to a lake for paddle-boarding on this warm summer day. She also made lunch for Parker. His plan was to hitch a ride to Cascade Locks; a very friendly place for hikers, to wait for his leg to heal so he can hike more of the PCT, or simply wait till the end of the month for the conclusion of his adventure.
He had help in making the best hitch-hiker’s sign ever; it will be the “envy of all” he exclaimed. Our oldest granddaughter road-tested it and pronounced it fit. Shortly before noon, some 20 hours after he arrived, I drove Parker to REI, where he would seek out a “trail angel” to help him out with a ride to the best spot on the highway to hitch a ride north.
Who knows if our paths will ever cross again? I do know we made the most of our time together. I’m grateful to my daughter Jolie and to our new friend Parker for the experience and the lesson. I had a lot of work I planned to accomplish while Parker was with us. As we hugged farewell and he walked into REI with his backpack on, and I drove back home, I realized this is the work.
Be kind to strangers.
Take care of each other.
(You can see larger versions of the pictures, plus more here)
What a great experience for all of you.
It sure was, Momma. Now our granddaughters want to go backpacking and hitch-hiking! We're making sure they get ALL the good influences! ;o)
Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience.
You're welcome, Gale. Thanks for reading!
What a great story Tom, thank you for sharing.