The leading Santa Clarita Marathon runners hit the final turn at a steady pace. They look ahead at what has been stuck on their minds since the start: the checkered line and ribbon waving as an inviting banner to break above.
This moment is where all of their training is tested. Their speeds increase with the uplifting spirits of the crowd, narrowing their final stretch down to the last few feet.
Although Jeff and Donna Saufley were volunteering at their friend’s station to help distribute water to exhausted runners, they did not have the marathon on their minds. Instead, their thoughts were fixated on the homeless-looking hikers that passed their Agua Dulce residence on a daily basis.
“People were cheering on these runners when there’s someone doing a marathon every single day carrying 35lbs on their back,” Donna said while reminiscing the day this thought hit her over 20 years ago.
After reading an article on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Saufleys began to open their home annually to hikers from around the globe.
This year, the PCT celebrates its 51st anniversary as a National Scenic Trail which was designated by the United States Congress in 1968. The 2,650-mile trail, starting from the U.S.-Mexican border in Campo, Calif. up towards the Canadian border in Washington, attracts thousands of eager participants every year between the spring and fall seasons.
“I’ve thought about it [for a] long time. I started back in Germany and I needed some space for me,” German hiker Lukas Klöß (pronounced Kloess) said. “[I] thought about a lot of my friends [who] go out to party in like New Zealand and have the year off, but I want to go out, feel the nature and think about my future.”
The PCT, being the second largest trail in the U.S., is a very common bucket list item for hikers. Over 2,000 hikers resided at Jeff and Donna Saufley’s Agua Dulce residence, now known to travelers as Hiker’s Heaven, in 2018 alone.
“In 1997, we had 50 hikers the entire season and from May 31st into July and now we get more than that in a day,” Donna said.
Back when Hiker’s Heaven first opened its doors, Donna was housing hikers while her husband was still at work. Jeff would come home to around five guests each night, all who looked homeless.
“If we could have seen the crystal ball that was like ‘You will be hosting 2,000 people a year in 19 years,’ we would have probably never been like ‘Oh yeah, let’s do this,’” Jeff said.
Today, Hiker’s Heaven serves as a location for participants of the PCT to relax, eat and resupply before embarking again on their long endeavor through multiple types of terrains, including Southern California deserts, expanses of the Sierra Nevadas, through the forests in the north, and the High Cascade volcanoes from Northern California to southern British Columbia.
“Most hikers appreciate the laundry and the showers the most,” said Alex Cahoy, a hiker participating in the PCT this year that injured his foot during his travel up from the Mexican border. He now spends his time in recovery helping other hikers reenergize as a volunteer at Hiker’s Heaven.
“Just being able to feel clean for the first time in a week or maybe two is really, really nice,” Cahoy continued.
There are multiple types of travelers trekking up the PCT trail each year. Section-hikers take their time to either familiarize the trail or gather more experiencing in hiking as they only travel through a shorter portion of the entire stretch. Thru-hikers, on the other hand, are those willing to complete the entire journey. Those looking to complete that challenge tend to travel between the end of April towards mid-September.
“You can go 20 miles, I met some people that do 30 every day. There are a couple that do only 10. Everything is ok because you do it for yourself, not for anything else,” Klöß said.
Before a hiker plans to take on the strenuous journey on the PCT, people must prepare for the least expected and harsh conditions of the trail such as the weather, wildlife, rough terrains, and gear malfunctions.
“You have to read a lot about gear, and then the possibilities to change gear on the trail,” Klöß said.
With no postal office in Agua Dulce, Hiker’s Heaven set up its own mailing service for hikers to retrieve supplies necessary for the next section of the trail ahead and mail out supplies not necessary anymore.
In order to maintain an efficient, quick, and steady trek up north, hikers must maintain the weight of their bags as much as possible in order to steadily complete their travel, whether they are a thru or section-hiker.
Another way hikers stay efficient is by maintaining a good speed and using neros and zeros effectively. A nero is a hiker term where they will hike for a few hours of their day and then set up camp to rest later on. A zero, on the other hand, is a complete stop for hikers to take and recover. These days would be spent in places such as Hiker’s Heaven. Locations such as Hiker’s Heaven become such a success due to the respectful and welcoming hiking community.
“We all sort of have this connection through, like, the environment we’re going through,” Cahoy said. “So everybody’s going through the same struggles. Everybody’s doing the same things everyday. We all have the same aches and pains. We all have the same love for being outdoors. So it’s really easy to just sit down and talk with somebody from anywhere around the world and just immediately connect with them.”
Jeff and Donna Saufley, known as Trail Angels to hikers due to their comfort and hospitality, always welcome every one of their guests from around the world with the same, loving treatment. Hiker’s Heaven truly opens up a welcoming community for hikers to relax and enjoy the good company of fellow travelers before embarking once again on their journey.