HIKERS OF SECTION I – WHITE PASS TO SNOQUALMIE PASS: BEN & KSENIYA
Origin: Munich, Germany, and Moscow, Russia
Hiker Type: Northbound Chunk Hikers
Trail Resume: Hiked across the Andes in South American together
I actually first met Ben & Kseniya at the Trout Lake Grocery Store (which is in Section H, not Section I). I had finished all of my town chores, and while I did not want a trail angel to drive just me to the trailhead, I said that the next time a trail angel took other hikers back to the trail I’d like to join them.
As it so happens, Ben & Kseniya had not even planned to stop in Trout Lake. However, they met a man who was at a road crossing waiting for his wife to pick him up, but she was not there. They kept hiking, and at another road crossing, they met a wife who was there to pick up her husband, but he wasn’t there. It turns out the wife had gone to the wrong road crossing, and Ben & Kseniya had navigated her to the correct road so she could pick up her husband. They thanked them by dropping them off in Trout Lake. Ben and Kseniya bought a giant container of ice cream, and tried to eat as much of it as possible. They offered me some, but I’m vegan, so I declined. They could not finish it, so they left it to Barry, the trail angel who drove the three of us back to the trail. Barry had worked as a logger, then he worked as a firefighter for the Forest Service. Now he was retired, and seemed to spend all day at the Trout Lake Grocery Store, except when he was driving hikers to and from the Pacific Crest Trail.
I got a little faster start than Ben and Kseniya, but we met again at what I call ‘Bucket Spring’. They initially thought I had brought my own bucket, but no, the bucket is just sitting there, tied to a tree.
About two miles latter, I set up camp. I was hoping that Ben and Kseniya would join me, but they decided to get in more miles. Later, I was joined by Hummingbird (note: Hummingbird is the most common trail name for a female hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail – for example, the memoir Hikertrash is also by ‘Hummingbird’ and I think even this year there was both a NOBO Hummingbird and a SOBO Hummingbird). She said that my name in the trail registers looked familiar, and that as soon as she saw my tent and heard my voice she recognized me from Barrel Spring in San Diego County!
Then I remembered her – she was the young woman who arrived at Barrel Spring totally exhausted after hiking all the way from Scissors Crossing in one day. She said that the following day she planned to hike 32 miles. ‘I bet you could waltz from Scissors Crossing to Barrel Spring now,’ I said.
Anyway, back to Ben and Kseniya.
I thought they had gone past me and I would never see them again. A couple days later, when I talked to a Southbound hiker who was also from Bavaria, I asked if he had seen Ben and Kseniya, and I was surprised when he said no. Well, that evening, Ben and Kseniya passed me at my campsite near the tributary of the Cispus River – I had somehow managed to pass in front of them again. The next day, I saw them again at the notorious Knife’s Edge. That was the last I saw of them before White Pass.
Now for some backstory.
Even though I saw a lot of them, I never got around to asking how Ben and Kseniya met each other. They had hiked together across the Andes in South America. They had flown into Oakland, California, and spent their first night in the United States sleeping outside in some random railyard in Oakland (as a Bay Area native – heck, I’ve even lived in Oakland for two years – I find this amazing). They started their Pacific Crest Trail hike in Seiad Valley, just like me. Like me, they reached Callahan’s lodge, and hiked for one more day past there. However, southern Oregon was too boring for them, so they hitchhiked up to the Three Sisters Wilderness. They told me that the Pacific Crest Trail in northern Oregon is amazing. They had hiked continuously from there all the way into Washington. Their plan, when I first met them, was to go all the way to the USA/Canada border and then return south to Hart’s Pass (as a Russian passport holder, Kseniya would have had to obtain an additional visa to enter Canada and it was not worth the expense/bother for her – by contrast, as a U.S. Citizen, I did not need a visa to enter Canada, only a permit).
Ben wants to travel the world and avoid having a job until he is in his 50s – and the only reason he plans to get a job then is because he will need it to qualify for health and retirement benefits in Germany (he’s about the same age as me, in his 20s). Thus they are SUPER cheap hikers. Ben claimed that their Pacific Crest Trail hike only cost about 200 US dollars, not including airplane tickets (of course they already had hiking gear before this trip). They hitchhiked whenever they need motorized transport (no buses or trains), and Ben used two big sticks he used in the forest for trekking poles. What was more amazing was that they were carrying almost enough food to go over 400 miles to Canada. Ben said that he did not want to resupply in trail towns because food is much more expensive in small towns than cities, and mailing food is expensive too. I actually thought the food prices weren’t bad in the Washington trail towns (by the standards of small towns – obviously more expensive than San Francisco food prices), and mailing food packages isn’t that expensive either. But you know what, if someone is willing to carry enough food for 400 miles instead of paying a little more money to resupply every 75-110 miles, that’s their choice. I’d rather pay a little more money to have much lower pack weights, but hey, Hike Your Own Hike.
I met up with Ben and Kseniya again a few miles north of White Pass (finally in Section I!) I had spent an expensive night in White Pass (I didn’t want to hitchhike but it was really nice to sleep in a bed for the first time since I had entered Washington), whereas they had hitchhiked all the way to Yakima and some people let them stay overnight in their home for free. This was around the time that Washington was getting smoky from all of the fires in British Columbia. Ben and Kseniya reported that in Yakima the air quality was so bad that people were advised to stay indoors. Since White Pass is at a higher elevation the air was better, but still not great. They were considering going back to California because of the air quality. I said that done serious exercise in polluted air for years in Taiwan, and I figured that continuing the hike in Washington would be no worse for my lungs than that experience.
The next day, I met with them again at a water source. That evening, we all ended up camping by Dewey Lake, though Dewey Lake has a ton of campsites and we chose different campsites.
The next day was rough (I’ll probably write more about that in a later post). One of the reasons it was rough was that there was 8 miles without water on hot, rough, rocky trail. We kept on leapfrogging each other. We took at break at the same shady spot at the same time, and I later saw them taking a break at a sunny yet windy spot. We also got to the water source at around the same time, which was a cause for joy. They pitched their tent to take a nap, while I kept hiking on. Since I was worn out by this rough day, I pitched my tent at Martinson’s Gap. They got to Martinson’s Gap an hour after I did, but they had so much energy after their nap that they decided to keep going.
The next day, I met with Ben & Kseniya again at Urich Cabin, where we enjoyed trail magic together. This is when they first learned that I am vegan (I turned down the sandwiches because they all had meat). Before I met the people giving food, Ben described them as ‘they are nice, but they have guns’. And indeed, one of the guys offering food was surprised that we didn’t have a gun. I explained why carrying a gun does not make sense for Pacific Crest Hikers.
American gun culture seemed to particularly freak out Ben. He had assumed that I had a gun in San Francisco (he really did not understand San Francisco culture – we are less likely to own guns than just about anybody in the United States). I also think that gun culture in the United States is dysfunctional, certain classes of guns need to be completely banned for civilians, etc., but I was not nearly as freaked out by the possibility of meeting people with guns as he was. I suppose it’s like the people who are scared of going to San Francisco (or Japan) because of those scary earthquakes – people tend to get more freaked by unfamiliar hazards than familiar hazards.
A few miles past Urich Cabin, I met Ben and Kseniya again at the last water source before a 12 mile waterless strech. After our experiences the previous day, we were intent on filling up. There was also an ultralight thru-hiker there who claimed his base weight was just 7 pounds and he was only carrying one liter out with him into the 12 miles without water (Ben, Kseniya, and I all felt that one liter was too little, but since he was a thru-hiker, I figured he knew what his body could handle). That was the last time I saw Ben in Kseniya in Section I.
Ben’s hiking shoes were falling apart. I strongly urged him to hitchike to Seattle from Snoqualmie Pass to buy new shoes. He said that would be too expensive (realistically, getting good new hiking shoes when you’re in a hurry will probably cost at least 80 US dollars in a major US city), and that he could get good used hiking shoes in Germany for 30 US dollars. Though I generally accepted, and even admired, Ben and Kseniya’s ultra-low-budget hiking style, but this was one area where I felt he was being very penny wise and dollar foolish. Hiking over 200 miles in shoes which have soles that are falling off is dangerous, and any kind of hiking injury is not worth saving 50 US dollars. I told them that I was changing shoes in Snoqualmie Pass (I new my first pair of shoes would not last until Canada, and I had to plan the shoe change in advance to avoid making my own shoe-shopping trip to Seattle). Ben commented that my shoes were still in good shape (they were in okay shape because I intentionally did the shoe change before my first pair would fall apart, though I knew my first pair was nearing the end of its durability). I think he understood that going on in bad shoes was dangerous, and he was desperate enough to consider taking my shoes when I did the switch. That wasn’t going to work because we had different shoe sizes, AND it also was not going to work because my first pair of shoes were going to fall apart before Canada.
I was worried about Ben and his shoes. I did not see them at all in Section J.
I got a ride out of Stevens Pass to Baring, Washington. I was trying to reach the Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven, but I had misremembered the directions. The driver decided to ask for directions, so he went to the first pedestrians he found … who turned out to be Ben & Kseniya! I was so happy to see that they were all right. They did not even recognize me in the car – they only realized it was me when we met up at the Dinsmores.
It turns out that the guy who had given Ben and Kseniya a ride to Baring had a spare set of old hiking boots, and that he had the same shoe size as Ben, so he got free replacement boots. I suppose their ultracheap strategy worked out this time.
They had arrived at the Dismores one day ahead of me, and they were in the middle of their zero day (I took a zero the following day). It was good to see them once again.
I never saw them again after they left the Dismores. I did not see their names in any of the trail logs, not even the trail log at the USA/Canada border. Maybe they just didn’t sign any more trail logs, or maybe they had returned to California to hike in the Sierras after all.
I had more repeated encounters with Ben and Kseniya than with any other hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. I am grateful that they gave me a chance to have a bit of what many thru-hikers experience when they keep on running into the other hikers who are going at a similar pace, forming a loose trail tribe.
Next time, I will write about my designated hiker of Section J: No English.
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