July 18, 2017
By John Rezell
From Baring, Washington
Some 14 years ago, a few scraggly, unkempt strangers sprawled out on the lawn outside the cafe in Skykomish as Jerry Dinsmore strolled out from his daily visit.
“They looked like bums — homeless guys,” Jerry said. “I asked them what they were up to and they said they were planning to sleep on the lawn there. I felt kinda sorry for them, so I invited them to come up to the house. I said we’d sit around the campfire and tell stories.”
Jerry didn’t think ahead. He just relied on his good nature.
“I get this call from Jerry and he tells me he’s bringing some men home to spend the night,” Jerry’s wife, Andrea, said. “I thought, what’s he thinking? So he’s bringing them over and I’m hiding the beer, money, car keys — anything valuable.”
The retired couple lived in Skykomish, about 50 miles east of Everett along Highway 2 for five years unaware that their village of 200 residents was a standard drop-point for supplies along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
“They were old, dirty, stinky guys,” Andrea said. “I figured they were hunters or something. They were grizzly, dirty — scary! We just took them in and had a real nice time. Three doctors and a lawyer!”
Start Spreading the News
That refreshed and rejuvenated foursome headed southbound on the PCT with news to share about a couple of “trail angels” — a term used to describe those who go out of their way to help thru-hikers on long-distance trails — and the Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven got its start.
“Word of mouth, it spread around,” Andrea said. “We grabbed 12 hikers that first year, and each year since we’ve added about 50 hikers a year. Our biggest year was 700 hikers.”
In 2015, John Teegarden came out from a small town in Kentucky to hike the PCT. Along the way, he kept hearing all about the Dinsmores.
“Even though there’s no cell reception [on much of the trail], the hikers on the PCT are like their own internet,” Teegarden said. “You see hikers, you stop and talk. I heard so much about them — the Dinsmores are legendary to the hikers — that all I wanted to do was make it to here. And when I got here, I wasn’t disappointed.”
Since 2006, the Dinsmores have called the tiny town of Baring home. It’s just seven miles farther west down Highway 2 than Skykomish, but hikers find their way. At least 526 did last year.
When they arrive, they find a bunkhouse with six beds, a stove, refrigerator, TV and DVDs, a private shower, bathroom and laundry — not to mention a beautiful yard with a fire pit for those endless campfire stories.
There are plenty of trail angels all along the 2,650 miles of the PCT. Only a few, like the Dinsmores, offer complete accommodations.
“What you have here is a retired couple who take in strangers from all around the world and help them out however they can,” Teegarden said.
And it all started with a simple gesture.
“It just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover — or smell,” Andrea said with a hardy chuckle. “I don’t think any of the major trail angels had any idea what we all were getting into. I guess we’re either angels, or suckers.”
The hikers know the true answer to that.