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Pacific Crest welcome wagon

Jacksonville barber Ed McBee takes special pleasure in sitting along the Pacific Crest Trail and surprising weary hikers with hot dogs, melon, chips, nuts, jerky, pop and beer as they enter the much-longed-for state of Oregon, a huge milestone on the trek for people hiking from Mexico to Canada.

“It’s kind of like fishing. You throw your line into the stream and wait for them to come by,” says McBee, author of a book called “Oregon Backroads Guide to the Pacific Crest Trail." He'll use interviews and photos of hikers for an upcoming book, “Humans of the Pacific Crest Trail.”

Hanging out on “the 20 Road” in the shadow of Dutchman Peak is part of his role as a “trail angel,” says McBee, 62. “They’re all just so happy to be in Oregon. It’s a big deal for them, walking 1,700 miles from Campo (the trailhead near the Mexican border), and they’re so excited now to be only 30 miles from Callahan's (Lodge),” where they will sleep on a green lawn and have a sumptuous dinner, beer and lots of camaraderie.

McBee follows many of the hikers on their online blogs and even drove to meet some of them last spring in the south Sierras, about 700 miles into what would likely be the big adventure they could brag about all their lives.

His dog Brio and his humble makeshift counter, seats and coolers on the tailgate of his rig all beckon them to “cowboy camp” (pitch a sleeping bag on bare ground) and share their many tales. Most hiker stories are hilariously anecdotes about “what they eat and their bodily functions.” One said he had found the ideal trail diet: tuna fish, noodles and peanut butter.

“I talk with them about my book project as an attempt to draw a complete portrait of the men and women on the trail and those who help make it work every year, including search-and-rescue personnel, volunteers from the PCTA, business owners who assist hikers, and trail angels who give food and other things to the hikers for free. Hikers call those who provide assistance in any form ‘trail angels.’ Trail angels perform ‘Trail Magic,'” McBee said.

“The hikers are mostly really quality people,” he adds. “It takes a special kind of personality to do this, and it filters out the jerks. They look you in the eye. They’re down to earth, and the trail is like a living organism, ever generating a new cast of characters.”

Last Sunday at McBee's makeshift welcome wagon, hikers used words like "amazing" and "an unexpected surprise," offering profuse thanks for the cafe, said McBee.

“When asked how she felt upon encountering a ‘café’ as she entered Oregon, Dribbles (her trail name) said, ‘I'm so happy.' And when told I had watermelon, her eyes lit up as she told me she 'was dreaming of watermelon just yesterday on the trail.'”

He works his cafe, which he calls the Pinnacle Bar & Grill (he hangs an old crate panel from the Pinnacle Orchards in a tree), mostly on the weekends, sometimes assisted by friends.

“I love the peace and quiet here, and no one has to twist my arm to be here,” said McBee, a Kansas native.

This is the peak time for northbound thru-hikers crossing into Oregon, McBee said, adding he had heard reports of a "herd" of hikers about a week's march south of Oregon. As many as 40 to 50 hikers may cross the line on any given day. Last Sunday, he greeted 19 people as they entered Oregon from California, but not all were thru hikers.

McBee said this may be the last weekend he mans his welcome center this year because too many hikers can overwhelm his resources.

"I've had a couple of friends help out, but without more support I'll have to abandon post," he said.

His barber shop in Jacksonville dates back to 1881, he said. His earlier books describe road connections to the often-elusive PCT, so people can go do a day hike or assist LASHERs (long-ass-section hikers), who knock off the trail in pieces of 400 or 500 miles.

“Operating the Pinnacle is exactly like fishing, right down to the shouts and yoo-hoo I hear as they cross the border a few miles south of here and start walking in Oregon.”

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.