Day 32 – May 5, 2022
Mile 508.1 (Horse Trail Camp) to 517.6 (Highway 138/Hikertown)
9.5 trail miles | 9.2 tracked miles | 955 ft elevation gain | 78.8 F / 26 °C
Today’s 10-mile jaunt took me to Hikertown, a quirky unofficial hiker hostel located next to the trail near Neenach, CA.
Hikertown is a popular stop on the Pacific Crest Trail: it is not only a convenient resupply stop, but also a place to regroup, both physically and mentally, ahead of the daunting Aqueduct walk through the flat expanses of the Mojave Desert.
I woke up early this morning in anticipation of a hot day. The views were somewhat repetitive, but the trail was gentle and well graded. I walked swiftly and took the lead, ahead of Christie, Joe, and Michael.
The 2,700 foot descent took just over two hours, then the scenery changed dramatically. The green rolling hills vanished, and made way for a desolate monochrome landscape. My destination, Hikertown, was literally straight ahead, on the horizon.
I reached highway 138 before lunch time. Across the deserted highway, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, stood the modest entrance to Hikertown.
Hikertown is the stuff of legends. An unlikely hiker heaven near of one of the most inhospitable stretches of the PCT. An insalubrious, likely illegal hostel. A semi-abandoned house. A junkyard. A creepy movie set. Or, perhaps all of the above.
A private residence turned into a crash pad for weary hikers, Hikertown is a desert plot with a house surrounded by a recreation of a western town. Highlights include the sheriff’s office, a hotel, a school, a theater, a church, and a saloon. The place is fascinating, odd, and creepy at the same time.
Rumor has it that Richard, the owner, is a retired film maker and producer, a former California commissioner under Governor Schwarzenegger, a businessman, and an environmentalist. He supposedly acquired the property to store movie props and his car collection, and decided to honor the previous owner’s tradition of welcoming PCT hikers. He doesn’t live at Hikertown; he owns multiple businesses and pops in once in a while.
Martha, the caretaker, works tirelessly sweeping floors, cooking fresh tamales, and keeping things running smoothly. Another associate runs the “post office” and operates the outdoor shower. Both live in trailers on the property grounds; the main house appears to be inhabited.
There’s no charge to come in and rest, although donations are encouraged, and there’s even an ATM on site. Food, showers, package pickups, and cabin rentals come at a cost, cash only of course.
I met Richard during my stay and he was equally welcoming, friendly, elusive, and aloof. In any case, Richard seems to be doing fine; his car collection includes a Ferrari. Seeing this luxury vehicle among discarded parts and random junk was a bit surreal.
Hikers can rent a “cabin” (one of the themed shacks) should they wish to stay overnight. Most rooms have no electricity; all are equally dusty; and none have toilets, water, AC, or bed sheets.
Since I inquired early, I was able to book a larger room with electricity. My cabin (the “theater”) is outfitted with thrift store furniture, a single lamp, and no less than two power outlets. Without air conditioning, it was uncomfortably hot inside, though any reprieve from the biting sun is a blessing. I paid $30 cash—a deal for a hotel, a steep price for this rustic accommodation.
Hikertown has a single toilet with a broken sink for dozens of guests. For $5, patrons can revel in the luxury of an outdoor shower that runs on an instant gas heater connected to a propane tank. Rumor has it that hikers might get more than they bargain for when showering at Hikertown, but I’ll leave it up to readers to do their own research.
There’s also a laundry setup, which consists of a washboard with a garden hose. The drain dumps the dirty water and detergent straight into in an adjacent field. Richard is an environmentalist indeed. I washed my socks—it was a scene that came straight out of a horror movie and a perfect fit for Hikertown.
Other amenities include a gazebo, fences that double as laundry lines, and a few trees that serve as male toilets—since there’s only one bathroom, men are encouraged to do their business elsewhere.
How could any of this be remotely legal is largely a rhetorical question. In fact, Richard openly alluded to the fact that the county wanted the place torn down, though the authorities seem to have bigger fish to fry than to take any action.
That being said, everybody is very friendly and accommodating. Martha, the housekeeper, always has a smile on her face despite working to exhaustion, and the other staff member promptly located my resupply package.
Hikertown runs an hourly shuttle to Neenach Market—which, as I understand, is one of Richard’s businesses. At Neenach Market, I found shelves stocked with Costco products explicitly marked as not-for-resale, all without a single price tag.
The PCT is a parallel world sometimes. Officially I’m in California, but in reality this might very well be the twilight zone.
Hikers get free ice cream, perhaps as compensation for the exorbitant prices. I have no complaints; I was able to buy fresh fruit and use Wi-Fi for a bit. Fortunately I had the foresight to send myself a resupply box; others who didn’t are still feeling sticker shock.
Christie, Joe, and Michael joined me early in the afternoon, and we hung out with other hikers. Much of the conversation revolved around tomorrow’s unforgiving Aqueduct walk—a brutal, hot, exposed, dry stretch in the Mojave desert.
We had agreed to spend the night at Hikertown and then start hiking in the wee hours of the morning in order to avoid the unbearable midday heat. Somehow, though, other hikers convinced Christie, Joe, and Michael to hike overnight instead. In fact, most of the herd decided to leave at 6pm.
I’m not one to get swayed by peer pressure, and besides I already paid for a room and I feel that it would be prudent to rest prior to the next segment. Also, I have poor night vision, which makes hiking overnight uncomfortable.
With this in mind, I will stay behind the rest of the gang, go to bed early, then leave around 2 or 3am. My cabin is cooling down somewhat, but it is still stuffy. I will sleep naked with my camp towel as a pillow “case”—it’s cleaner than my bed.