Nearing the end of her months-long hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, Brittany Goodson began to panic. Days of unrelenting rain had soaked her gear, and hypothermia threatened. Brittany and dozens of other hikers were forced off the trail, and eventually found their way to the only nearby town – the tiny community of Trout Lake, Washington.
Brittany shares the story of their reception there for Kind World.
BRITTANY GOODSON: I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, also known as the PCT, in the summer of 2013. I’d gone about 2100 miles approximately at this point. We were in a place called Indian Heaven, which is gorgeous, it’s around Mt. Adams.
It had been pouring for about two days. We’re up pretty high trying to get out of this storm and realized that the more we hiked, the higher we were gonna go, and the more we were gonna be in the way of lightning and thunder and all these things. We decided to stop at six o’clock, which was fairly early for us, and stopped early and set up our tents in like this just pouring, pouring rain, went inside, and tried to hide for the night.
When I went to bed that night I was expecting it to stop raining, and when I woke up, there were drops of water that were collecting above me on the poles of my tent, and just dropping like one by one straight onto my forehead. And below me on my tent floor there’s about two inches of standing water that had seeped up through the bottom of my tent. My sleeping pad was about two inches thick, and it was kind of like sleeping on a pool raft, where you’re suddenly finding yourself, like, floating in your own tent.
That’s when it really sent me into a panic mode, where I was like “Oh my gosh.” You have to start thinking, like, “What if it doesn’t stop raining? What kinds of things do I need to do to keep myself safe?”
We started hiking, um, I’m getting very discouraged. It’s going uphill, it’s the only thing keeping me warm because by now it’s hailing, it’s freezing cold. I’m looking on my maps trying to find anything. And what I found was a road crossing, which was 12 miles away from where we had camped, and there was an outhouse that was at the very front of the trailhead there. And in my head I was like, “Outhouse! Yes! Outhouses have roofs! This is good, this is good.” And it was the only thing getting me going through that whole morning. I was like, “Alright, I am gonna make it to that outhouse. I am gonna have my lunch sitting on the toilet.”
By the time that I got there, I realized not only did it have a roof, but it had a tiny, tiny little porch that was attached to it that had just enough covered space where you could hide somebody in there and you could get relief from the rain. Of course, I wasn’t the only one who thought that. By the time I got there, there were probably 16 other hikers crammed into that small little space. A lot of them, their tents had collapsed on them in the night, and so most people who had down sleeping bags, they were soaking wet. They knew they couldn’t make it another night without drying out their gear, and we knew we had to do something in order to make it better.
There was a little town called Trout Lake that wasn’t very far away. I think it was about 30 miles by car. And there was a hiker that was in town, who had heard that we were all up there. And the lady that owned the convenience store there had given him her truck. And he drove it all the way out to this outhouse, and so we’re standing there underneath the outhouse roof, jumping up and down, trying to stay warm, and all of a sudden this giant truck pulls up, and a thru-hiker gets out. We’re all like, “There’s a thru-hiker in a car.”
And so we all piled into this truck and we drove back into Trout Lake. The whole length of the town ran along this one main street that we could have walked from end to end. You know, in my head I’m thinking, “Okay. There’s nothing they can do. This little town, this Trout Lake, it’s tiny.” We needed something bigger, we needed a place to stay, we needed a place to go, but here we are in this little town that, you know, we needed help and we weren’t sure where to get it.
The lady at the convenience store pulled out a register that I think she had been keeping over the years of people in town and had started looking up people and started calling them, like, “Hey, there’s hikers in town that got forced out by the storm, they don’t have anywhere to stay. Whatever you can do would be great.”
Much to our surprise. People started showing up in cars. They start picking up thru-hikers and start taking them home like they’re adopting them, you know? And one by one these hikers just, they get taken by the people of this town. Like, all she had to do was ask, like, “Hey, there’s people here that need help.” And they didn’t ask any questions, they just showed up.
We ended up at this little ministries camp. The woman who ran it, she had already put up signs on all the doors that said, like “PCT Boys, PCT Girls,” you know, that showed us where we were gonna sleep. There were little bunkrooms. We were just like, in awe. Like, this morning I woke up and I was cold and I was wet, and now I have been taken home by this wonderful, these wonderful people who have, like, accepted me into their home, you know, without anything asked in return. And they had saved the lives of more than one hiker that would have, you know, gotten hypothermia.
It’s a life-changing memory. It’s an experience that, like today you wanna share and you wanna tell people that, you know, when you feel like the world is down and everything is kind of dragging you lower, there are people in this world that just lift you up, and even on your worst day, you can have a good day.
Kind World is a project of the WBUR iLab, celebrating stories of kindness and the profound effect that one act can have on our lives.