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High desert heaven

Posted: June 27, 2016 12:10 p.m.
Updated: June 27, 2016 12:10 p.m.
Hiker Water Boy removed his shoes to give his dirt-stained feet some air on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Hiker Water Boy removed his shoes to give his dirt-stained feet some air on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Hiker Water Boy removed his shoes to give his dirt-stained feet some air on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Death Wish, left, and Brad, right, show off their blisters while drinking Coors on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Death Wish, left, and Brad, right, show off their blisters while drinking Coors on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Death Wish, left, and Brad, right, show off their blisters while drinking Coors on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Sun Chaser rests in her tent as she ices her ankle and reads Robyn Davidson's "Tracks" on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Sun Chaser rests in her tent as she ices her ankle and reads Robyn Davidson's "Tracks" on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Sun Chaser rests in her tent as she ices her ankle and reads Robyn Davidson's "Tracks" on May 11. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
A hiker refills his water bottle at an outdoor fountain at Hiker Heaven before heading with a group to REI. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. A hiker refills his water bottle at an outdoor fountain at Hiker Heaven before heading with a group to REI. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
A hiker refills his water bottle at an outdoor fountain at Hiker Heaven before heading with a group to REI. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Captain hugs Saufley goodbye before he and Legs head back out onto the trail. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Captain hugs Saufley goodbye before he and Legs head back out onto the trail. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Captain hugs Saufley goodbye before he and Legs head back out onto the trail. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Hiker Captain, right, shakes hands with hiker Thor, left, as Captain's wife, Legs, laughs. Captain and Legs had heard of Thor on the trail, and recognized him because of his long blond hair when he showed up at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce on May 4. On the trail, it's common for people to get to know others long before meeting in person. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Hiker Captain, right, shakes hands with hiker Thor, left, as Captain's wife, Legs, laughs. Captain and Legs had heard of Thor on the trail, and recognized him because of his long blond hair when he showed up at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce on May 4. On the trail, it's common for people to get to know others long before meeting in person. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Hiker Captain, right, shakes hands with hiker Thor, left, as Captain's wife, Legs, laughs. Captain and Legs had heard of Thor on the trail, and recognized him because of his long blond hair when he showed up at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce on May 4. On the trail, it's common for people to get to know others long before meeting in person. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Volunteer Burning Daylight, right, opens the rented mini van's doors to unload a group of hikers he picked up in Agua Dulce.  Volunteer Burning Daylight, right, opens the rented mini van's doors to unload a group of hikers he picked up in Agua Dulce. 
Volunteer Burning Daylight, right, opens the rented mini van's doors to unload a group of hikers he picked up in Agua Dulce. 
Tents fill the Saufleys' backyard during a particularly busy night in May. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Tents fill the Saufleys' backyard during a particularly busy night in May. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Tents fill the Saufleys' backyard during a particularly busy night in May. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Volunteer Country Gold kneels down to hug one of the Saufley's seven dogs in between loads of laundry. Country Gold is from North Carolina, and has worked at hostels along the Appalachian Trail, and plans to hike the PCT next year. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Volunteer Country Gold kneels down to hug one of the Saufley's seven dogs in between loads of laundry. Country Gold is from North Carolina, and has worked at hostels along the Appalachian Trail, and plans to hike the PCT next year. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Volunteer Country Gold kneels down to hug one of the Saufley's seven dogs in between loads of laundry. Country Gold is from North Carolina, and has worked at hostels along the Appalachian Trail, and plans to hike the PCT next year. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Moses wraps his lower leg up with a homemade ice pack on May 11. He says he'll continue his hike in the morning regardless of the pain. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Moses wraps his lower leg up with a homemade ice pack on May 11. He says he'll continue his hike in the morning regardless of the pain. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Moses wraps his lower leg up with a homemade ice pack on May 11. He says he'll continue his hike in the morning regardless of the pain. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Donna mixes a pasta salad -- her mom's recipe -- before serving dinner to the volunteers, and husband, Jeff, left, in their garage in Agua Dulce on June 9. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Donna mixes a pasta salad -- her mom's recipe -- before serving dinner to the volunteers, and husband, Jeff, left, in their garage in Agua Dulce on June 9. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Donna mixes a pasta salad -- her mom's recipe -- before serving dinner to the volunteers, and husband, Jeff, left, in their garage in Agua Dulce on June 9. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
A new hiker arrives at Hiker Heaven via a "hitch" he hailed after his foot became too swollen to continue his hike on June 9. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. A new hiker arrives at Hiker Heaven via a "hitch" he hailed after his foot became too swollen to continue his hike on June 9. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
A new hiker arrives at Hiker Heaven via a "hitch" he hailed after his foot became too swollen to continue his hike on June 9. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Hikers sit around a fire in the Saufley's yard on May 19. Donna calls the fire chief every night to get permission to have a camp fire. When she called that night, the chief told her about meeting some hikers at the local pizza place who were about to leave because they couldn't afford it -- until the chief and his wife offered to pay for their meal in exchange for trail stories. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze. Hikers sit around a fire in the Saufley's yard on May 19. Donna calls the fire chief every night to get permission to have a camp fire. When she called that night, the chief told her about meeting some hikers at the local pizza place who were about to leave because they couldn't afford it -- until the chief and his wife offered to pay for their meal in exchange for trail stories. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
Hikers sit around a fire in the Saufley's yard on May 19. Donna calls the fire chief every night to get permission to have a camp fire. When she called that night, the chief told her about meeting some hikers at the local pizza place who were about to leave because they couldn't afford it -- until the chief and his wife offered to pay for their meal in exchange for trail stories. Signal photo by Katharine Lotze.
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The hikers will tell you the trail always provides.

But before they get to Hiker Heaven, they don't know just how much the trail provides.

"It's stupid when you say it," said volunteer Ron Vaughn, more commonly known by his trail name, iPod. 

Vaughn is one of several volunteers who travel to Agua Dulce each year to help Donna and Jeff Saufley at Hiker Heaven, a haven for through hikers taking on the 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail. 

"I'm sort of like the backstage manager," said Donna, who is known to hikers by her trail name L-rod. She's been opening up her backyard to hikers since 1997, when she came across a pair of hikers at a local eatery and offered them a place to stay for the night. 

In 2008, Donna went back to school and two women volunteered to help out at Hiker Heaven while Donna was in class. 


"That was the birth of the volunteer program," she said. 

Now each season starting in about March, volunteers from around the country come to Agua Dulce and stay through the season to help launder hiker clothes, clean up the single-wide trailer where hikers shower, drive hikers in a rented van down to REI in Northridge, and ferry groups to and from the trail at Vasquez Rocks. 

"It's a labor of love," Donna said.

This marks the 19th year the Saufleys have hosted hikers. Hiker Heaven closed in 2015 due to a claim that the stop-over was bottlenecking hikers along the trail -- that problem, only compounded by the trail's increasing popularity, was in part due to the film "Wild," about the trail, that came out in 2014. Neither the Saufleys nor the hikers believe Hiker Heaven was the cause of a bottleneck.

The closure was anticipated to be permanent. But Donna couldn't stay away for long.

They re-opened for the 2016 season, but with far less equipment than before. Most of Hiker Heaven's equipment, like tents and bikes, had been given away, passed along to other trail angels, as they're known.

But the hikers don't mind. There's still a shower, several charging stations, rides to REI, and epsom salt baths for tired, blistered hiking feet -- all things that the Saufleys' are happy to provide. 

"I get to be a part of it," Donna said. "It's easy to share."

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