Trail Tax On The PCT


May 10th, 2012 Mt Baden Powell Summit- From left to right: Gourmet (me), Salt Monster, Scalpel, Voices

Big Bear Hostel was a great stop and a great chance to meet new hikers on the trail. It was there that I bumped into a hiker named “Scalpel” who was an unmistakable thru-hiker. Originally from St. Louis, he was tall, and lanky with no weight to lose. His outfit was complete with extravagant Italian pink sunglasses and full on 80’s brown mullet. His enormous stride could eat up the trail the way a thru-hiker destroys an all you can eat buffet. He earned his trail name by carrying a scalpel to cut off blisters which seems a bit random but hey, whatever works for you. There were several hikers gathered outside the hostel drinking beer and talking about everything trail related. Scalpel was quite knowledgeable about all kinds of gear including all the latest solar panels for recharging your electronics and lightest gear for backpacking. I am thinking how could you not like this guy? It turned out that he worked at Adventure 16 a small outfitter in Los Angeles. He was telling me he had some tricks to setting up a tarp-tent which is an ultra-light single walled tent that uses a single trekking pole. He immediately agreed to assemble my tarp-tent in the yard adjacent to the hostel. He had some great ideas on how to properly adjust the guy out lines so the tarp-tent could better withstand the wind. I was pretty excited to learn something new about my fidgety tarp-tent that takes some finesse to set up.

After Big Bear, the PCT has a stretch that… well, lets just say it’s not the most flattering part of the trail. We were winding through dusty hills at mile 299 on the PCT which is partially forested with dirt bike trails going in every direction. We could hear whizzing of motor bikes all around us, but no bikes in sight. I came to a trail junction and there was a forest service road that intersected the trail. A  big blue and white F350 pickup truck coated in dried mud was backed up right on to the trail. I think to myself “Why would someone just park their truck on the trail?” I looked down the forest service road and noticed a parking lot perhaps 300 feet away with a few cars parked there. In the back of the truck there was rigging for two motorcycles, some random tools, and a red and white cooler. I could hear the bikes off in the distance again. Perhaps they were a mile away. I didn’t think much of it. I scooted around the back of the truck and back up onto the trail, and that’s when I figured out what happened. The bikers had backed their bikes from the truck and onto the trail as a result of the trail being elevated off the road. They hadn’t bothered to move the truck to the parking lot. They just left if there. Bad etiquette, but not surprising. I was kind of annoyed having to navigate around a vehicle to get back on the trail. I knew my buddies were ahead of me so I picked up the pace hoping to catch them on a break. Ten minutes later I am bopping down the trail and I come upon Scalpel, Voices, and Salt Monster sprawled across the trail drinking three cold Bud Lights. They all smile in unison and then say “Happy 300! Hey Gourmet! Happy 300!” (our mile marker) I was amazed. The three of them were laughing sitting in the shade with backpacking gear scattered around them. “Guys! Where in the world did you get the beer?!” I hadn’t had the wonderful, cold beverage in days. In Seattle we have a myriad of wonderful micro brews to choose from so admittedly I am spoiled by all the local varieties. Being that my trail name is Gourmet means that under normal circumstances I’d never drink Bud Light ever. In fact I’d sooner drink warm weasel piss before I’d drink a Bud Light. However, it was stifling hot out, and the magic beer had appeared from nowhere. I was so thirsty. I could imagine the tiny bubbles on my tongue and the cold liquid sliding down my throat. My jaw was on the ground with my tongue hanging out. “Dudes! Where in the world did the beer…You didn’t…” I look up at the three of them who all have guilty looking smiles on their faces. “Guys, that’s not right. You stole the beer from the cooler in the back of the truck! Never mind that. Let me have a sip!”  The guys erupt in laughter. Scalpel hands me the beer. It is indeed still cold! I sipped it, and I have to admit, it tasted like liquid heaven. I thought the whole situation was funny myself. Scalpel said “Hey man, its not like we stole anything from their cab. We didn’t jack the dudes car stereo. We didn’t take anything of value. It’s just a few beers. We were thirsty.” Salt Monster laughing slowly repeats “we were thirsty.” “Well… uh… that’s still stealing. It not really right, but the beer is sooo fucking good!” The guys are fall over with more laughter. I wondered if the motorcycle guys would find us and demand payment or worse. We finished the delicious beer and started hiking down the trail. A few minutes later there’s an uncomfortable silence. Scalpel pipes up and says “Hey Gourmet, I am starting to feel a bit bad about taking that beer.” “Hey bro, you did just kind of take it, but look, I been thinking. That truck back there. They parked their truck right on the trail. That’s not right.” “Ya, that was lame for sure.” “So here is my new concept. If you park your truck directly on the trail so its more convenient to unload your motorbike and then leave your truck parked there instead of moving it to the parking lot, then you have to pay a trail tax. In this case it cost the motorcyclists three beers. What do you think of that?” He thought about it for a minute and liked my idea. I think both of us felt a bit better about swiping the beers. The four of us laughed about it all afternoon occasionally repeating the delaying catch-phrase “I was thirrrrrrrrsty.” From then on Scalpel and I always hollered to passing cars on forest service roads “Do you have any beer?!” I thought it would be much funnier to scream “Help! I need help! Helllllllllllp! Oh please! Help! We need beer!