My weariness began to dissolve as the warm, Epsom-salt-infused water penetrated through several layers of dirt, sweat, and blisters. I had descended six thousand feet into a sandy desolate valley where a small community sits nestled against the northern hills. A retired couple lives just a few minutes off trail and they invite hikers into their shaded and fenced in backyard. Sitting in a luxurious chair (any chair) with my feet submerged comforted me physically, but I realized something deeper hung in the midst of the moment. At times I catch glimpses of a deeper reality that exists beyond the physical moment.
I was reminded of the story when Jesus washes his disciples feet, and I could instantly relate. I think the feet of a thru-hiker resemble the feet of a first century disciple, after all, we both travel long distances through the desert on foot. Thru-hikers are disciples. We are compelled to follow a force that leads us down the trail even though we can't always articulate our obsession.
The trail angels, Ziggy and the Bear, welcome complete strangers into their world regardless of our rotten smell and dusty disposition. When I met the Bear I could see compassion in his eyes and I saw the profound beauty that resonates from their service. Ziggy and the Bear count every hiker who walks into their yard. I'm hiker 419 which means more than four hundred hikers are further up trail.
After the foot bath, hikers are free to shower, clean (or maybe I should say reduce the odor and dirt of) their clothes, and relax under one of several shady canopies. The entire back yard is covered in carpet so hikers can walk around barefoot. In the afternoon a Burger King run is organized where hikers can place orders and a volunteer will collect money and pickup the food and bring it back to the house. In the evenings, Ziggy makes a fresh green salad and for dessert each hiker chooses from six flavors of ice cream and the servings are large. In every essence of the word Ziggy and the Bear have created a beautiful oasis.
Later down the trail I heard that Ziggy and the Bear may stop their trail magic because hikers aren't donating to the cause. My heart broke. I'm not sure if hikers are becoming ignorant (typically $20 per hiker per day is an appropriate donation) or perhaps hikers become self indulgent and fall into the trap of entitlement, but either way I am ashamed that my fellow hikers are soiling such a beautiful experience.