Coming into town can be such a treat for thru hikers, often daydreamed about and highly discussed for many miles before actually arriving. Most towns require hitchhiking to get there from the trail, but occasionally the route goes straight through civilization. Some towns don't really know much about the trail or thru hiking, but other towns are eager to have hikers come through. We need gear, shelter and resupply, and our hiker hunger needs satiated. We gather in towns, meeting and catching up with other hikers, sharing stories, meals, and of course a few beers. Collectively, we spend a lot of money at local businesses and many of those businesses will go out of their way to take care of hikers. The generosity and welcoming nature of these places always warms my heart and makes being out here feel even more special.
Unfortunately, not all hikers are kind, grateful, or respectful of local businesses, and those negative interactions can ruin the relationship between those businesses and the trail. There are many things that can hurt that relationship, and then all the hikers that follow will have to suffer the consequences and work to rebuild. You can often tell when a business has had a bad experience with hikers and I feel frustrated that those hikers have poorly represented our community.
It really is easy to maintain these special relationships. A hostel owner in Montana put it very simply: "You know, just clean up after yourself and don't be a jerk." Sounds easy, right? Be kind. Don't "stealth" camp illegally in town. Don't buy alcohol at the gas station and drink it on a restaurant's patio. Don't resupply your toilet paper from business's restrooms. Don't bathe in the sink. Don't expect free things or discounts just because you are a hiker. Don't be impatient or unkind with servers at restaurants who are trying to manage your hiker hunger. These things may seem like common sense, but I have seen hikers do all of these things and have heard many other stories.
The magical relationships between trail towns and hikers are both delicate and unique. They are examples of true community, where people come together to welcome and often offer help to complete strangers. I think there is a lot that can be learned from these relationships and the trail community itself. The most basic takeaway: Just don't be a jerk.
When I resupply, I look at how many miles I need to hike until my next stop and what the terrain is like to determine how many days' worth of food I will need. The more I hike, the better I get at this calculus, but sometimes I still get it wrong. On this last stretch through the Gila River Wilderness, I definitely got it wrong and my hiking partner and I ended up a bit at odds, having some severe food anxiety for days and being VERY hungry. How did it go so wrong?
Usually I make my food before I leave home, dehydrating and measuring and preparing every meal with nutrition, calorie content and weight in mind. I sort all of my food into resupply boxes and label them for post office drops along the way. Sometimes, however, things get messy. A box gets lost in the mail. I arrive on a holiday weekend and would have to wait 3 days for...
Honestly though, this hike has been worlds apart from my thru hike of the PCT. The trail itself has a very different feel, the people are different, and I am a different hiker than I was on my last journey. This hike has been such a unique experience from any of my other hikes and I am so grateful for it.