I work in a town in which Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers often venture down into. Depending on which place they thumb it from, it’s anywhere from a 30 to 45 mile hitch. I’ve met several thru-hikers this season and have dutifully given a few rides across town and/or back to the trail. Recently, I met a solo thru-hiker destined for the PCT’s northern terminus. It was during our brief companionship, that the so-called fire burning for my next thru-hike was set to an uncontrollable blaze.
Appropriately, this hiker is known by the trail-name Fire Hazard. He was, without a doubt, a pleasure to meet. His trail-name, spurred from the fact that he was on a fire-crew in Darrington, Washington, is the nickname that he’s known by whilst hiking along the 2,655-mile trail stretching from Mexico to Canada. I first met Fire Hazard when he walked into the shop I work at. He was towards the front of the store, inquiring with another employee as to whether other thru-hikers had come to town and also as to where he might find a hostel or inexpensive place to stay. It was obvious from his clothing, gear and posture that he was a thru-hiker. I immediately abandoned anything that may have been important at the time and walked over to introduce myself.
After spending a few minutes catching up about the ways of the trail, I arranged for him to stay with some other trail folk. (My place is VERY small to host hikers, and more importantly I wasn’t able to host because of previous engagements). That said, I sent him on his way, happy to know I’d done my part.
That night I was volunteering at our local kayak shop for a fundraising event. Situated next to the Deschutes River, I was selling tickets for admission on a beautiful, careless evening. The line was beginning to get busy, with several anxious groups gathering in front, when I scanned around for any potential volunteers that might assist with the deepening crowd. As I did, Fire Hazard—still without shower and donning a rain-jacket on an otherwise pleasant evening—, walked up from behind. Without hesitation, I asked for his help. I’m sure it helped that I mentioned that as a perk, he’d receive free beer for the duration of the night. Within seconds he was greeting people, taking their money and helping lessen the length of the line that you would expect at an O.A.R. concert and not a local, laid-back bluegrass event. Regardless, we tag-teamed the riverside ticket booth, entertaining ourselves with trail stories during the brief moments of downtime. Then, once 7PM rolled around and our relief staff took over, we took to the grass to enjoy the acoustic rhythm of a Portland-based bluegrass band called Wayward Vessel. After filling our tummies with good food and entertaining ourselves with others from the trail community (Bend has quite a population of veteran thru-hikers), we headed to the dance floor, which was held in the grassy backyard of the kayak shop. We danced, drank merrily and let time tick on.
A couple days later he stopped in the shop. We agreed to meet for drinks after my shift and together walked over to the Summit Saloon. There we sat back in our chairs, sipping on our beers, all the while in which I felt he was a life-long friend. I let myself be quiet for once—I know, odd, right?—and instead requested that he tell me his story. There, on the sidewalk of the Summit, I was both intrigued and impressed by the historically rich story that he had to tell. Depending on the generation, Fire Hazard’s family once walked alongside revolutionary leaders like Poncho Villa and Cesar Chavez. They fought, rioted and rallied to bring their cause and concern into awareness. Fire Hazard gave me a history lessen, reminding me of the profound stories that have since shaped our world. I felt very proud to be in his company, and at the same time I wished I’d paid more attention in my history class.
Fire Hazard himself was born in Seattle, a long way from Mexico, but this twenty-two year old possessed a strong tie to his family roots. He is a passionate story-teller, one in which like me, seems to draw in life experiences that few will ever live to tell. What I think drew me most toward Fire Hazard was that we are two people in which unusual and interesting things simply seem to happen to. Life is full of interesting things. We let ourselves experience these. We meet unique people. We travel to intriguing places. We let the stories tell themselves.