|PCT trail angels Mica and Rutabaga, Crater Lake Lodge. Photo courtesy of Indie.|
Indie and I first met Micah and Rutabaga at the Crater Lake Village store, where we had just arrived to pick up our resupply packages. It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp, cold, morning. Indie told me a story of how one of his buddies, back home in New Jersey, would pretend he was a movie star or something like that, encourage his friends to do the same, and then take pictures of themselves strutting in public. The trail can make you a little crazy, and perhaps a little bored at times, so this is what we did to entertain ourselves while hiking into Crater Lake.
I remember the resupply at the Village store was chaotic as usual. My resupply had been delivered to the Crater Lake post office, several miles away. When I attempted to call the post office, the pay phone outside would not accept any of my quarters. I ended up asking to borrow the store's phone. Thankfully, they agreed, and the post office said they could deliver my package to the store free of charge, a couple hours later. That was a huge weight off my shoulders.
Indie, on the other hand, became a man on a mission. He decided that he needed to mail a bunch of things home that he was not using. While the post office was coming to me so to speak, Indie had to get to the post office. He began soliciting folks in the parking lot if they wouldn't mind giving him a ride. He wasn't having any luck. I'd never seen him look as distressed as he did that morning.
There were showers at the Village Store, as well as washing machines. The showers were heavenly as usual. The washing machines cleaned my clothes better than anything ever has, past or present. The woman at the store claimed it was the detergent. To this day, I can't remember what the detergent was, and I think about it every time I have to shop for the stuff.
While all of this was occurring, Micah and Rutabaga were there with us, also doing resupply, however they were just out hiking for a few days. They were traveling on vacation. We shared the usual hiker small talk. They both seemed fascinated with the idea of thru hiking the PCT.
Eventually, Indie scored a ride to the post office, my package arrived, and Micah and Rutabaga went on their way. I loaded my backpack and talked to a couple other folks lounging around the store. Before leaving, Indie mentioned an "all you can eat buffet" that he had read about at the Crater Lake Lodge. We were planning on finishing resupply, then hiking the 5 miles or so the the rim of the Lake, go to the lodge for a dinner feast, and then be on our way. I couldn't wait. At this point in the hike, we couldn't get enough food.
Indie eventually returned from the post office and arrived back at the store where I was waiting for him. His chores were done, as well as mine, and we were ready to hit the trail. It was late afternoon, and we had a couple hours to hike to the Crater Lake Lodge, where we both were dreaming of the buffet. We were going to arrive just in time.
Unfortunately, we got into a deep discussion about something I can't remember, and somehow we took a wrong turn on the trail. We ended up hiking 2 and a half miles in the wrong direction. That meant we had to retrace our steps another 2 and a half miles. A 5 mile detour. We were going to be late for the buffet! This was a crisis of epic proportions. We double stepped our approach to the rim and lodge of Crater Lake. It was a steep climb and my freshly cleaned hiking shirt was again drenched in sweat.
We arrived at the rim of Crater Lake just as the sun was setting. Indie and I were in a state of stunned silence as we gazed upon one of the most incredible scenes along the trail.
After taking photos, we snapped out of our revelry when our stomachs rang the dinner bell. We hustled over to the Crater Lake Lodge only to find out there was no all you can eat buffet! The buffet was actually at one of the restaurants by the Village Store where we had just hiked from a few hours earlier. I was so disappointed I can barely put it into words. Soul crushing! The lodge did have meals, but were way out of our price range. We simply couldn't justify ringing up that kind of bill for a dinner on our meager hiker budget.
Indie and I walked out of the lodge into the open air and attempted to discuss a plan B. There was a cafe near the lodge where maybe we could score a quick bite to eat. It had just closed. We cursed ourselves for taking a wrong turn on the trail. The sun was setting, and it was starting to get really cold, really fast. Our spirits were low, low, low. We weighed the pros and cons. The cons were way ahead at this point. No buffet. No cafe. It was getting cold fast. We had a night hike ahead of us. We were going to have to search for an illegal campsite along the rim. We would be hiking in the dark therefore missing one of the most scenic spots on the trail. We had a 26 mile waterless section ahead. That meant at least 6 quarts of water to add to an already stuffed and fully resupplied backpack.
We had to get our 6 quarts of water so we walked back into the lodge. At least we would be out of the cold for a little while.
The Crater Lake Lodge was stunning. The atmosphere was one of absolute comfort (at least to us hikers.) There were folks sipping wine, dining on gourmet food. There was a big fireplace with folks sitting in plush chairs, many on their computers, phones, pads, and other electrical devices. The lighting inside is dim, warm, and cozy. Many folks were sitting around talking about their travels. Indie and I felt like wild animals in comparison. We surrendered ourselves to be merely spectators. We found the water fountains and bathrooms and started filling our bottles, reluctant to leave the comfort of the place.
Suddenly Micah and Rutabaga came over and said "hi!" They saw us refilling our water bottles at the fountains. They mentioned that they had a room that Micah's father had bought for them to spend a couple nights in as a gift during their travels. They offered us to stay with them for a night without hesitation. They told us to think about it while they made dinner reservations. Indie and I did not want to impose and we discussed it for a few minutes. When Micah and Rutabaga returned we asked for their reassurance that they did not mind. They assured us that it was OK. Indie and I were stunned. It was an incredible, overwhelming act of generosity. Our spirits immediately were soaring towards the heavens once again, and all I could do was shake my head in disbelief. Who are these people? Who are these folks that offer a helping hand to a couple of strangers? Would I do the same in a similar situation? The term "Trail Angel" is an appropriate description.
Micah and Rutabaga went off to dinner and showed us the room. Indie and I found spots on the floor to sleep for the night. The cold wind howled outside the window. Indie and I were so grateful to be indoors this particular night. We had a long day ahead of us in the morning. We planned to be out before first light. When Micah and Rutabaga returned to the room after dinner, the four of us talked for a while, Rutabaga had a flask of whiskey she shared with us. I had a package of Twizzlers. All of us were tired from the day's hike and the party did not last long. Eventually we put down the Twizzlers and whiskey and fell fast asleep. As planned, Indie and I were up before the sun. We packed up our backpacks as quietly as we could and prepared to leave. Rutabaga woke up and heard us just before shutting the door and wished us good luck on our journey. We thanked her once again, and wished her well too.
After filling up on coffee courtesy of the Crater Lake Lodge, Indie and I were once again on the PCT on another crisp, cold, gorgeous morning. The sun was just beginning to rise over the rim. We felt like a million bucks. There were so many reasons to be grateful. First and foremost we had Micah and Rutabaga to thank...