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Morena Presentations

ADZPCTKO - The Official Story

by Bob, Greg, and Tom

The Trail Angel of the PCT comes in many forms. The appearances are too numerous to count and the list of names too long to recite. It can be a multiyear commitment of what amounts to a hikers' hostel at Agua Dulce or a single unexpected act of kindness on the spur of the moment. The trail angel is a past thru hiker, a future thru hiker or not a hiker at all. The trail angel can be man or woman, young or old, single or married, human, or... well... spirit.

Probably the largest gathering of Trail Angels is at the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO) gathering that takes place every year at Lake Morena County Park. It is here, 21 miles from the trail's southern terminus, that the Trail Angels gather to help ease the daunting task of walking from Mexico to Canada.

For Greg Hummel, the Unofficial Coordinator of the ADZPCTKO, the idea that past thru hikers should "give something back to the trail" was not new. Greg describes his life as a choice between Plan A and Plan B. He chose Plan A and now has a wonderful wife and five children but the call of Plan B, spending his life on the trail, still echoes in his mind. Greg writes:

"A friend of mine from our 1977 thru-hike, Paul Hacker, and I had been thinking about treating PCT hikers for a while as something that we felt compelled to give back in return for all of the random acts of kindness that we received on our hike."

As a result Paul and Greg decided to drive a couple of aspiring Scottish thru hikers to the border.

"Standing there at the southern terminus for the first time in 21 years since our hike, on an overcast, drizzling morning similar to our first day, Paul and I silently watched the two Scots hike down into the chaparral.  We both felt a tremendous pulling force, drawing us down the trail, drawing us over the hills, across the streams, up into the mountains.  Right there, we knew, we had to do more."

Charlie Jones felt the same call. Charlie is the ultimate unseen trail angel. Quiet and unassuming, it is Charlie and his friends from the Sierra Club who drag the San Felipe water cache up to the gate every year, making that parched 22 mile stretch a little easier. 

It was left, however, to a non-thru hiker, Tom Reynolds to pose the idea of ADZPCTKO. Tom writes: 

"In fact ADZPCTKO was my idea alone. That is why the terrible name. If Greg had been involved from the start it would have a proper name." 

To understand how and why ADZPCTKO started you must understand the existence of the PCT-L. This is an Internet interest group where aspiring hikers can get questions answered about issues concerning the trail. Hosted by Brick Robbins, the PCT-L has waxed and waned, with members coming and going and ideas changing as the PCT has evolved. Generally, however, through reasoned arguments or emotional flame wars, most of the problems associated with hiking all or part of the trail have been hashed out . This is where aspiring thru hikers go to get their questions answered. Tom writes:

"On the PCT-L list, two issues surfaced. The first was the difficulty of Section A in terms of water. The second was the danger from illegal immigrants. I posed the idea of water stashing at Scissors Crossing and of having a "gathering" in Hauser Canyon to the list and Charlie Jones and Greg Hummel immediately agreed to be part of the idea."

Tom contacted Brick in order to get the key to Hauser Canyon but Brick, a San Diego resident, suggested instead Lake Morena Park, some 21 miles from the trailhead. Pete Fish of the PCTA seconded this recommendation. Tom continues:

"Charlie, Greg and I arranged to drive down to the trailhead and scout the area. We looked at Lake Morena and decided the campsites that we would use. The original 4 are very close to the trail and serve as the core location to this day. We then drove the trail to determine where to spot the water. Scissors Crossing was an easy choice. On the trip we learned from Charlie that the Sierra Club was planning to stash water in the San Felipe Hills. That left Oriflamme Canyon. After two days of driving around we figured out how to take fire roads to the trail at the top of Oriflamme Canyon. That stash still has water although we located a spot that was easier to resupply the next year."

As Greg recalls 

"As we drove around the area an idea came up that a vehicle should be created to ensure the long-term supply of water stashing and logistical support at the southern terminus of the trail.  We brainstormed through the day as we four-wheeled into the upper reaches of Oriflamme Canyon and scouted along the Sunrise Highway, looking for strategic water stashing sites. The issue clarified:  We must somehow draw in a sufficient number of supporters, like ourselves, to become involved in the long-term logistical support of hikers."

"The plan was to draw past thru and section hikers, supporters, and trail angels to come meet and give something small back to those that aspire to hike the trail that year.  That "something small" was considered to be a ride to the border from San Diego or LA, a meal, and water stashes.  By doing this, it was envisioned, we would ensure the long-term provision of logistical support of hikers by drawing a larger support group who could take over from us when we decided to go hiking, retire, or pass on."

This was a good plan but the ADZPCTKO gathering would not be what it is today if it wasn't for Bob Riess. As Greg tells it: 

"We began to broadcast this idea on the PCT-L list looking for other supporters. Before we knew it, Bob Riess popped up saying that he was already ferrying hikers from the San Diego area out to the southern terminus of the trail and could supply and cook most of the food for the event!"

While Greg and Charlie had the call to "give something back to the trail," for Bob Riess, there is no such call. In 1999 Bob posted a message on the PCT-L for hikers to contact him about SD-to-Campo help.  He hosted 14 hikers that first year. God knows how many he will host next year but all attempts to relieve him of his burden have been rebuffed. "This is my thing," says Bob, "This is what I do and I love it. Butt out!"

Bob recalls, 

"I saw Tom's announcement of the First Annual Day Zero PCT Kick Off.  I lurked around awhile and saw that several people were getting involved and it looked like a good event.  So I posted a message to those who seemed to be the main organizers saying I'd like to throw in with them and offered to provide and cook breakfast on Sunday."

What an offer! Bob had never met Tom, Greg, or Charlie prior to his arrival at Lake Morena in April of 1999 but had committed to show up and cook breakfast for the group -- and what a breakfast it was! Once you taste one of Bob's breakfasts you will come back next year for another, so the gathering grew and grew.

Then Anne Riedman and Jim Wermers announced that they weekly drove by Scissors Crossing going between a home in the San Diego area and a cabin in Borrego Springs and would re-supply any water stashes thereabouts.  Anne said she would make up a large pasta salad for the dinner also. Finally we had solved the problem of resupplying the water stashes. It's a big job. The water goes fast but Jim and Ann have been faithful.

At the first ADZPCTKO, Bob had set up his RV, tables were laden with food, barbecues were cooking burgers and Tom, Charlie and Greg and a few other hikers and supporters were sitting in lawn chairs in the afternoon sun drinking beer and wine.  Two hikers with large backpacks came strolling up the trail next to the campsites at Lake Morena and hesitated adjacent to us. They looked quizzically at the "PCT Golden Spike Ceremony" sign that was propped up on  one of the tables.  They walked into our campsite and asked, "Are you somehow associated with the PCT?"  As we chuckled, one of us said, "Well, yes, we happen to be cooking up some hamburgers for you and may I offer you a beer or a glass of wine?"  And so the strange aura of the ADZPCTKO began.

Tom provided nearly all of the funds for the first and second events while Bob, Charlie, Ann, and Jim provided the work. Then, of course, Greg took over and ADZPCTKO is self-supporting through his efforts.

From the start it was determined that we would attempt to prevent this from becoming a commercially supported event.  We didn't want to advertise it outside of long-distance-hiking circles, didn't want name brand equipment suppliers setting up booths and hawking clothing and equipment.  We knew that thru hikers, having put their minds into a state of wilderness appreciation slowly over a year or more of planning, would not want to come into a hyped-up market place.

What we did not see the first year was how this event would become such a huge review of home-made equipment and long distance strategies, a hiker camaraderie fest and a butterflies-in-the-stomach-killer!

In 2002 the ADZPCTKO operates a water stash before the climb into Oriflamme Canyon and near Scissors Crossing. Ann, Jim, Charlie, and company are still at it. And Charlie still schleps 5 gallons of water uphill with the Sierra Club to the gate in San Felipe Hills. Bob oversees the cooking of dinner and breakfast for two days for 260 people. Reluctantly he has accepted a little help for cooking, but not for San Diego to Campo service. Greg is still dreaming of hiking the trail again with his old buddies but he does find time to plan and organize the 2003 event while trying to fight off the bureaucracy the ADZPCTKO organization is threatening to become.

And Tom? Well, Tom, like ADZPCTKO is basically indescribable.

Originally posted on PCT-L by Tom Reynolds, May 19, 2002