I have a trail story for you …..
In 1978 the American Hiking Society, newly formed, wanted to make some sort of grand appearance in the political arena. I was the founding president of this new organization. We had a very impressive board. There was a lot of brainstorming as to what we could do to bring public recognition to AHS. We finally decided on a hike across America. I agreed to organize it. We called it HikaNation.
After two years of planning, a hearty group of 80 hikers left Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in the spring of 1980, walked across the Oakland Bay Bridge, into the Berkeley Hills and headed out for Washington DC. Monty Montgomery from Illinois was tailing the group, pulling an Airstream trailer and providing support of all kinds as he scouted for the next camp site. I was back in Miami raising money, handling the phone lines, and making decisions that needed my attention. It was then that I found Postum, a coffee substitute, as our major sponsor. They were intrigued with our plans to hike through Utah, Mormon Country, where coffee drinking is frowned on.
By the time the hikers crossed the Utah/Colorado border, they were not traveling in a tight pack, but were stretched out along the route, even days apart. The folks at Postum, now manufactured by Eliza’s Guest Foods, wanted to meet the hikers in Silverton and promote their arrival as a media event. When I got there, the town had filled up with hikers, plus family and friends who were arriving to meet them.
That first night, hikers started gathering for dinner at a casual, high-country hang-out with swinging saloon doors. The meal was just about over and I was getting ready to stand up and make some announcements, giving Postum a lot of credit and their marketing people a chance to address the hikers. Suddenly, a roar erupted. I looked around and found a hiker coming through the swinging doors. He had his backpack on, but I didn’t recognize him. It was obvious the other hikers did. What I didn’t know was that they hadn’t seen him for days and didn’t know what had happened to him. The uproar was such an intense expression of feeling that I am sure it made an impression on all the other diners that night. And it made such an impression on me that I remembered it all these years.
The hikers were trekking across America for a total of 14 months and 4200 miles, but I want to stop here and tell you about the guy who barged through those saloon doors.
Since 1980, the hikers have held a reunion every five years. I attended the 35th reunion last September in Estes Park, CO. While there, I started telling this story to a man standing next to me. At this point he smiled and said, “I have something to tell you. I was the guy who walked through those doors.” He then proceeded to fill me in on the details. His name is Scott Davis.
Here’s the completed story I didn’t know until yesterday when I called him in Michigan from my home in Florida and asked for all the details:
Scott lagged behind; what slowed him down were his boots. They started to fall apart and needed major repairs. He stopped in Gunnison and found a shoemaker who could help. But he needed “a day or two.” Scott handed his boots over to the repairman, put on some ratty tennis shoes, hid his backpack in the woods with his guitar and decided to hitch-hike in the direction of Mount Wilson for a side trip.
To help him get rides, he held up a sign that said in large letters “Harmless.” It worked. More than once a woman stopped to pick him up. Eventually a woman his age stopped, a real mountain girl from Silverton. He told his story. She said she had a house in town that her father had left her, and he was welcome to take a shower there. She ended up preparing dinner for him. He slept on the couch. The next morning she wanted to take him on a seven-mile back-country jeep ride to show him Telluride. Because the hikers were all camping under crowded conditions in a small city park in Silverton, he was happy to accept her offer. Her name was Lois MacKenzie.
Two days later, when Lois drove him back to retrieve his boots, he insisted she drop him off at the exact spot he’d stopped walking to take his boots for repair. He wanted to be certain he didn’t miss a step on his hike into Silverton, or anywhere else along the HikaNation route to DC. He also was stunned when he walked through those swinging doors and the “hurrah!” went up from the crowd there. They hadn’t seen him for days and were worried. As he stepped into the room, all could see he still had his backpack on with his guitar strapped to the pack. Once through the doors, he turned around to show his hiking friends the sign he’d slung across his guitar: “Harmless.” That’s when second roar went up.
But then he said there was a final chapter to this story. He came to the reunion in Estes Park with HikaNation hiking companion Tim Geoghegan. As fortune would have it, they passed through Silverton on their way. In the little park in the middle of town, there were public toilet facilities and Tim wanted to stop. While Scott was waiting, he saw a woman in the park and asked if she lived there. She said yes. He asked if by any chance she knew Lois MacKenzie, and she said she certainly did. He asked if there was any way to get in touch with her. She took a small booklet out of her day-pack that turned out to be a phone book for Silverton and in a minute gave him the number. Scott called her and asked if she remembered giving a ride to a hiker 35 years ago and then helping him out by offering him a shower and a meal. She said she did!
And thus, as Scott told me the story, a circle was complete.