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Embracing the spirit of the Pacific Crest Trail: A call to support hikers


Michael Puffer (middle) with other hikers.

As spring blossoms into full bloom, so too does the allure of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), beckoning adventurers from far and wide to embark on a journey of discovery, challenge and camaraderie.

Stretching a staggering 2,652 miles from the sun-drenched hills of Campo, California, to the rugged wilderness of Manning Park, Canada, the PCT offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in the raw beauty of the western landscape.

Tehachapi has two trailheads on the PCT. The first is at Tehachapi Willow Springs and Cameron Road (mile 558 on the PCT). The second is at Cameron Road and the 58 freeway (mile 566.1).

Every year between 6,000 to 8,000 hikers from all corners of the globe set foot on the PCT, fueled by dreams of adventure and a thirst for exploration. Armed with nothing more than a backpack weighing between 20 to 40 pounds, these hikers brave rugged terrain, unpredictable weather and the challenges of the trail, all in pursuit of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Beyond the physical journey lies a vibrant subculture known as the "thru-hiker culture." Within this community, hikers adopt trail names – unique monikers bestowed upon them by fellow adventurers. I received the trail name "Split" during my 2022 thru-hike attempt, and the trail holds a special place in my heart. As a long-time trail angel, I have hosted over 500 hikers, and given countless more rides in the last eight years, offering them respite, nourishment and hospitality along their journey.

Trail angels play a vital role in supporting hikers during their time in town. From providing rides to hosting weary travelers in their homes, these generous individuals offer a beacon of hope and hospitality to those in need. As I reflect on my experiences, I recall the countless conversations shared and friendships forged over shared meals – a testament to the transformative power of human connection.

For the town of Tehachapi, the presence of PCT hikers brings not only a sense of vibrancy but also economic opportunity. As weary travelers arrive in town, they seek out local restaurants, hotels and grocery stores, injecting much-needed revenue into the community. From indulging in hearty meals to stocking up on supplies for the next leg of their journey, hikers contribute to the local economy in meaningful ways, bolstering businesses and generating vital sales tax income.

As the trail winds its way through Tehachapi, locals are encouraged to embrace the spirit of hospitality and extend a helping hand to hikers in need. Whether it's offering a ride into or around town, or simply sharing a kind word of encouragement, every gesture makes a difference in the lives of those on the trail. After all, behind the sun-kissed faces and weathered backpacks lie stories of resilience, determination and the unbreakable bonds forged amidst the beauty of nature.

So, the next time you encounter a weary hiker walking the streets of Tehachapi, don't hesitate to lend a hand. Though they may be a little smelly and tired, their spirits are boundless, fueled by the unwavering support of a community that welcomes them with open arms. Who knows, you may just find yourself with a new friend and perhaps even a trail name of your own.

For those interested in becoming a trail angel, the Tehachapi Pass Trail Angel page on Facebook offers a platform to connect with hikers and provide assistance along their journey. As any trail angel can attest, the rewards of giving back to the trail community are immeasurable, leaving a lasting impact on both hikers and hosts alike.

As the sun sets on another day along the Pacific Crest Trail, let us join together in celebrating the spirit of adventure, camaraderie and the boundless generosity that defines the PCT experience.

Michael Puffer is a retired air traffic controller and dedicated trail angel who has hosted over 500 hikers and given countless more in the last eight years, providing them with shelter, sustenance, and support along their journey. A passionate advocate for outdoor exploration and community service, Michael also volunteers at Have a Heart Humane Society, embodying the spirit of giving back in all aspects of his life.