PCTA bids farewell to Greg “Strider” Hummel

“Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die.” – Babe Ruth in the Sandlot

His gait, the incredible distance between his boots, gave 6-foot, 9-inch Greg Hummel the trail name “Strider” when he thru-hiked the PCT in 1977. Legend has it that nobody could keep up with him.

The nickname came to mean so much more later in life as Strider became a tireless giver, year after year, to PCT newcomers through the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off, or ADZPCTKO, the event he co-founded in 1999. He served as Kick Off president since its inception and is a past president of ALDHA-West, the American Long Distance Hiking Association.

The PCT community lost this pioneer, advocate, legend and friend on Dec. 31st.  Greg “Strider” Hummel of Diamond Bar, Calif., died following a battle with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was 58. He is survived by his wife Laurie and five grown children: Amber, Kyle, Molly, Dana and Travis.

Photo by Monte Dodge

Photo by Monte Dodge

“If you hadn’t ever met Strider you probably knew him as the really tall guy at Kick Off, and to be honest, that’s how I first knew him, too,” said Anitra Kass, PCTA regional representative in Southern California.

Over the years working for PCTA, Anitra said she got to know Strider really well. She noted his infectious smile, optimism and strong spirit.  “I know his affections for the PCT and the tribe of long-distance hikers. I know that I am better for having known Strider and that I’ll miss him dearly. I feel honored to be able to call him a friend.”

The Kick Off was his vision. He and Paul “Backtracker” Hacker, who also thru-hiked in 1977, felt compelled to give back in return for all of the random acts of kindness they received on their hike. The first Kick Off was held on April 17, 1999. Trail Angels, enthusiasts and hikers gathered in four campsites at Lake Morena County Park east of San Diego, 20 miles from the Mexican border. The event now fills the park and is the largest gathering of long-distance hikers in the West.

Carl “Kelty Kid” Siechert, secretary-treasurer of Kick Off, said Strider was very dedicated to the concept of giving back. “I don’t know that anything made him happier than seeing new thru-hikers, hearing their stories, and offering advice when he could,” Carl said.

“It’s all about kindness. Humans being kind to other humans. Nothing more and nothing less.” declares the Kick Off website, words Carl said Strider lived by.

Greg-Hummel-2

Photo by Monte Dodge

Anitra said she started out as a nervous but excited hiker at the Kickoff in 2005. Strider helped calm those nerves.

“His presence and enthusiasm made everyone feel like things would be great – that we were going to have the adventure of a lifetime and we were going to love it,” she said. “In a subtle way he comforted our fears and fanned our excitement.”

A year later, Jack Haskel, PCTA’s trail information specialist, met Strider at Kick Off as he was embarking on his own PCT thru-hike. He called Strider a PCT’er in the most welcoming, friendly and inclusive way imaginable.

“Greg and his friends in the class of ’77 are role models to all of us that went to Kick Off or the ALDHA-West Gathering,” Jack said. “He showed us how to stay friends off-trail, how to keep the PCT close to heart, how to give and have fun and stay involved in the long-distance hiking community. Greg left real footprints. We’ve lost a giver and a friend.”

In 2000, PCTA presented Strider with an Award of Merit for his work creating and maintaining Kick Off.

Liz Bergeron, PCTA executive director and CEO, met Strider more than a decade ago, when he stopped by the Sacramento office on his return from a PCT class of ‘77 reunion. She was fairly new in the job back then.

“I remember that his passion and enthusiasm for the PCT was infectious,” Liz said. “The PCT community has lost an incredible advocate. His interest in giving back to the trail community is evidence of his generosity. We will miss him and his wonderful approach to life.”

Strider, a geologist by trade, clearly was a champion of the PCTA’s mission. He often spoke to audiences at Kick Off and PCTA Trail Fest about the geology of the crest, from the granite of the Sierra Nevada to the volcanoes of the Cascades. In his presentations, he often reminded people that they were made of the same molecules that make up the geology of the PCT.

“He was well-grounded, reminding us that we are dust, and to dust we will return,” recalled Chris Sanderson, PCTA volunteer and a Kick Off director. “Certainly his passion for geology transcended science to the realm of our beginning and end. I always thought that was a great perspective.”

Greg-Hummel-3

Eric Ryback, PCTA board member, and Greg Hummel at ADZPCTKO. Photo by Monte Dodge

Chris worked with Strider for 10 years to coordinate Kick Off presentations from volunteers, organizations and agencies so a new class of hikers would be well informed about the PCT. He said Strider was always the first to laud the efforts of Kick Off organizers and volunteers and his cheerful disposition was infectious.

“Strider shaped me as a volunteer,” Chris said. “His mission was to give back what he received from the trail. He inspired me to do the same. He believed in me and I can’t say how much that meant. Strider was personable and always took time to sit down and visit me, even in the midst of the chaos that was the Kick Off.”

As he battled his disease, Strider took the challenge head on, with grace, strength and humor. He knew what was coming but never gave up on life. “My angle of repose is getting lower these days. I’m old dog but still wanting to play!” he wrote on Facebook on Oct 16.

He often wrote about his beloved PCT, noting a recent return to Osa Meadow in California with family, where he stopped for several days on his 1977 thru-hike to help replant trees burned in a fire.

He signed his emails: “No Regrets, No Fears, No Worries, No Tears.”

“But the tears still come,” Anitra said. “I miss my friend.”

***

A Celebration of Life has been planned for: Sunday, Feb. 8, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Diamond Bar Center, 1600 S. Grand Ave., Diamond Bar, Calif. 91765. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations may be made to WalktoDefeatALS.org, Team Name: Strider77.

Paul Hacker and Greg Hummel, co-founder of the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO), cross the Bridge of the Gods during their 1977 thru-hike. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman from the collection of Greg Hummel.

Paul Hacker and Greg Hummel, co-founder of the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO), cross the Bridge of the Gods during their 1977 thru-hike. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman from the collection of Greg Hummel.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is PCTA's Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. Formerly a reporter for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore., Larabee is a nationally recognized journalist, part of a team of reporters and editors who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton