I met a thru-hiker on the trail who, after resupplying in Bend, looked for a job, found one, and is moving here after reaching Canada. Bend is incredibly charming.
I roam around, eat, and then return to 123 to lie in bed with the AC blasting. Cracker Jax is on FB asking for a place in Bend to crash. I post about the room. He arrives, jacked up on coffee, with Slow Gin in an Astro Van driven by Black Death/Hoff Zombie/Lewis, an Aussie hiker temporarily off trail because of an odd illness. Black Death bought a van in Ashland and figured he would shuttle hikers until he can get back to hiking himself. After loading in gear and taking showers, Black Death/Hoff Zombie/Lewis takes us to the outer reaches of Bend to get external batteries for our devices. You’ve never seen people so excited about battery packs until you’ve seen hikers find 13000mAh lightweight cells for $60! We do modern dance interpretations of joy in the store.
High from our power purchases, we go eat enormous food at a brewery and then head to dance at Dojo: sushi restaurant by day, club by night. A DJ that I like is spinning.
We have a fantastic time. Cracker Jax comes up with a completely ridiculous elephant dance that we then convince most of the club to copy. The vibe there is casual, but not “hiker casual”. We stand out (plus we are dancing like elephants). After a while, a woman comes up to me and asks me if the sneakers I’m wearing are Cascadias. I nod. “Yes, they are.” She asks me if we’re thru-hikers and I say “yes.” She starts jumping up and down. “Oh my god, I love you guys!” “Thru-hikers are the best!” I’m embarrassed and confused. People come up to us all night. They shake our hands and hug us, ask for our email addresses and for our gear opinions. They tell us they could never walk for so long, could never make the time, don’t have the money, or have too many commitments.
Somehow, at least in that tiny moment, we are celebrities. We don’t know how to respond.
Hikers commonly and affectionately refer to each other as “hiker trash”. Some of us are indeed homeless, both before and after the hike. Others ditched an apartment for 5 months in order to hike. I’ve met many unemployed people but also miners, pipe fitters, geologists, opportunists, opera singers, drug dealers, ex-marines, doctors, baristas, students, and retirees. I’ve also met hikers on this trip that stopped hiking in order to work as carpenters, beet farmers, and weed trimmers so they could scrap enough money together to continue the trek.
Thru-hikers differ from day hikers. Our gear is beaten, bought used, or bartered from companies in exchange for blog posts. There is also a strong “make your own gear” undercurrent. Anything from packs to sleeping bags to stoves can be, and often is, handmade.
Since we’re so used to living out of our packs, hikers often just continue this in town – finding stealth spots in parks or “dirt-bagging” it behind buildings. If we’re lucky, a trail angel will invite us over for a shower and a spot on the floor or in their backyard. Laundry and showers are often one in the same.
Our diet is heavily ramen based. However, if you do find yourself at a restaurant and the table next to you leaves uneaten food on their plates, you can grab a plate and eat the food – totally acceptable thru-hiker behavior.
Maybe this is part of what these people like about us. We’ve have serious honey badger game and more than anything we’re committed to this thousands of miles long trek.