Chester, California: A Hiker-Friendly Town

As Piper’s Mom has noted, “trail angels come in all shapes, sizes and descriptions.”  We have included stories about the Saufleys, Casa de Luna, and the Dinsmores in previous posts. But, Meridith Rosendahl shares an unusual trail angel story from this small trail town south and east of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

I might add that for a number of years Meridith has been a wonderful trail angel maintaining a cache of goodies where the PCT crosses Highway 36 in addition to hosting a number of hikers each year.  And, some years back, she and her husband Lowell, gave me and three friends a ride all the way from Highway 36 to Belden (on their anniversary, no less) following some unexpected foot problems.  

Thank you, Meridith.

By Meridith Rosendahl aka Piper’s Mom

Trail angels come in all shapes, sizes and descriptions.  Some take in hundreds of hikers a year, some just a few, some none.  They might provide a hiker with a place to shower, wash a hiker’s dirty clothes or offer laundry machines for self-service.  Or perhaps they’ll just give a hiker a ride or a cold soda.  

The most unique trail angel I know of is in Chester, California, near the half-way point on the Pacific Crest Trail.  His name is Dr. Brent Webb, DDS, a family dentist in this hiker-friendly town.  His office manager, Karen Grosjan, is known by hikers as the Tooth Fairy.  A large blue banner hangs on the front of his office saying “Welcome PCT Hikers.”  

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In 2012 Dr. Webb and his staff saw a need to give assistance to hikers, and as hikers entered the post office across the street a staff member would walk over and ask the hikers to come visit for a bit.  They would give each one a little bag with toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, and some other dental goodies, and a monetary gift to spend in town.   For the PCT Class of 2013, they’ve included a voucher for a meal at one of two local restaurants, and in their office added a guest book, cookies and a hiker box.  There’s a shady table set up on grass in the back yard where hikers can sort through their packages or just rest a while.  

Dr. Webb does it just for love.  No strings.  He is a hiker himself, has hiked the PCT from Mt. Whitney to Canada and continues to hike the PCT.

In early August 2012 a hiker whose trail name is Swiss Cheese called me and said his hiking partner had a horrible tooth ache and they needed to get back to Chester from Ashland, Oregon to see Dr. Webb.  They got as far as Red Bluff that day, and Mrs. Grossjan and her son drove down to Red Bluff to pick them up and brought them back to Chester.  Bone Lady’s appointment was at 8 the next morning.  She had two root canals, two temporary crowns and two fillings.  Dr. Webb declined to ask for payment.   The pain Bone Lady was suffering was hike-ending, and Dr. Webb saved her hike.

Dr. Webb has smoothed chipped teeth, consulted on possible abscesses, filled cavities and taken x-rays.  No charge.  Of course, if hikers have insurance or have a non-emergency situation, normal charges may apply.

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Chester is fast becoming one of the most hiker-friendly towns on the PCT.  The town is compact with a number of choices of places to stay, eat or resupply.  The dirtier the hiker, the more likely one or more residents will stop and ask how the hike is going. The town is becoming more and more aware of hikers and the journey they’re on, and I believe that most of this is due to Dr. Brent Webb and his staff.  If there are patients in the dentist’s reception area they’re likely to clap and congratulate hikers for making it half way.  Then they go home and tell their neighbors.  Who tell their friends.  

As I dropped a group of hikers at the market a few days ago a man in a big pickup truck honked and cheered as the hikers gathered their packs.  A while back a hiker was walking down the street looking for a place to stay and a local resident scooped him up and took him to her home for the night.  Almost every day I hear about a hiker-resident story that warms my heart.

Just this morning I met a hiker named Broken Toe.  Broken Toe’s shoes were too small and he had cut holes in the toes to make room.  His new shoes were supposed to be delivered to a motel in Chester which isn’t accepting packages this year.  I suggested that he try the post office and he found that his new shoes were to be delivered to the Chester post office today.  There were short delays waiting for delivery and while incoming packages were sorted, and this afternoon a post office staff member personally took the time to telephone Broken Toe to let him know he could pick up his package.   This is not the only example of how hikers are treated at the Chester post office, just the most recent.

I love this town.