This is an adorable Pacific Crest Trail love story

By Matt “Pretzel” Mason and Jane Windler

I plopped down with a couple of hikers I hadn’t seen in weeks. Nomad, Blazing Star, BK and Prickly Pear. I had just taken a quick snack break, but when you bump into trail friends you haven’t seen or heard from in weeks, you gotta stop and catch up. It was a beautiful day. We enjoyed the view from our sea of rock in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. After having three snacks more than I’d planned, I decided I had to hit the trail or I’d eat through my entire food bag.

In less than a mile I noticed freshly turned earth. I was excited as it meant one thing: trail maintainers ahead. Having put in my fair share of miles the last few years, I love giving my thanks and praise to these hearty souls. Before I reached them, the weather took a turn for the worst. Raindrops started falling, so I donned my umbrella and picked up the pace. I turned a corner and a woman wearing a teal rain jacket (a disputed fact of this story) was on the horizon. She had a helmet on and was carrying a Pulaski. As we passed each other I stopped and thanked her for her hard work and dedication to the PCT and preservation of wild places. I could tell she was exhausted. We went our separate ways.

Jane Windler.

Jane Windler.

I came across the rest of the crew members as they were packing their tools and admiring their amazing stone work. I spoke with a tall slender man wearing a white PCT hard hat. I let him know how thankful I was for the crew’s work since it allows me to do the things I love the most, hiking and running in the mountains. We talked trail building for a moment, then parted ways.

The miles and days went on, and before I knew it I hit my first state line — Oregon!

While walking through the Mount Thielsen Wilderness, past Maidu Lake, I noticed freshly graded drainages. I rounded the bend and saw two trail workers. I belted something to the effect of, “As a kid who grew up in Chicago I have two heroes, Michael Jordan and trail maintainers!” I got a surprisingly genuine laugh from them.

I was standing in front of a tall tan man covered in tattoos and topped with a white hard hat. By his side was a sturdy mountain woman with long blond hair. Then it clicked! I spoke with both of them weeks earlier in the Marbles. We exchanged names. The woman’s name was Jane and the man was Ben.

Ben, Pretzel and Jane.

Ben, Pretzel and Jane.

“Jane we met earlier in California, you had a teal rain jacket on.”

“Nope, wasn’t me,” (nervous laughter), “I don’t have a teal rain jacket, it’s pink.”

“Right! It’s pink!” I exclaimed.

The three of us begin talking about trail maintenance, as I spent a number of years volunteering with the West Michigan Chapter of the North Country Trail. Frankly, I thought Jane and I hit it off. But I knew I needed to make my miles for the day, so I decided to press on. I was far too scared to give her my phone number, so I continued northbound. I would spend the next 20 miles and following days berating myself for not finding the courage to give her my number.

The surreal lava fields of the Pacific Crest Trail in central Oregon.

The surreal lava fields of the Pacific Crest Trail in central Oregon.

On the morning of Aug. 11, 2015, I woke up at 4:30 am with a mission: hike 40-plus miles to Santiam Pass to meet my friend Brian. My hiking partner, Road Runner, and I hiked through the lava fields and two different hailstorms. Nothing was going to slow us. Just a few miles from Santiam, I walked out to a lake just off trail to soak in the last daylight. I saw a tent pitched not far from the lake. A moustached man poked his head out. It was Ben! It was exciting to see a familiar face. I asked him if he’d ever see that “Jane girl” again. He nodded with a twinkle in his eye. I asked if he’d pass a note to her on my behalf. “I would be honored.” he said. I quickly dropped my pack and jotted a note down for Jane.

Jane’s take…

After five days off, I was ready to get back into the woods. As we waited in McCloud, California, my technical advisor, Ben, called me over to his car. He said that on his days off hiking further north in Oregon, he’d run into a few folks that we’d seen on the trail. Changing his tone of voice, he says, “Specifically, someone named Pretzel.” He had this mischievous look on his face, as he rifled through his weekend gear. “You guys are gonna kill me if I lost this,” he mumbles, still searching. A moment later, aha! He pulled out a ziploc bag, and passed me a piece of paper. I unfolded it and read:

The Pacific Crest Trail love note.

The note.

“Dear Jane, let’s go on an adventure sometime. If not, thanks for packing out this trash. Matt Pretzel Mason (phone number). P.S. I thought you were cute, too.”

I grinned and blushed. I went from thinking I’d never see this guy again to having his phone number and a note from him.

I finally got in contact with him on one of my off-days in South Lake Tahoe. We got to talking, and found out that we had some super weird and specific things in common. He went to Western Illinois University and studied recreation, park and tourism administration, just like my pops. My sisters went there, too. We found out that our parents are both named Anne and Doug (we briefly considered that we might be siblings, but were relieved when this wasn’t the case), and when he told me he was into Space Jam and loved pizza, I knew I couldn’t let him get away.

I had been hoping that we’d get to hang out before he left for Georgia again, but no luck. I was really bummed. I started to think I just needed to let it go, but that didn’t feel right. We agreed to go on a mountaintop coffee date when I returned to the Midwest in the winter, which was nearly four months away. I was anxiously waiting. Then my post-trail-crew travel plans changed, and I ended up booking a flight from California to Georgia for a five-day first date. We went backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, cooked some killer meals, went trail running on the Appalachian Trail — and we’ve been going steady ever since.

Pretzel and Jane on the Pacific Crest Trail near Idyllwild.

Pretzel and Jane on the Pacific Crest Trail near Idyllwild.

After our five-day date, we decided that our second date would be a two week cross-country road trip from California to Georgia. Think lots of oatmeal, hiking, gas station coffee, a Lucero concert and searching for free campsites. It was awesome. As of now, he is in Georgia, and I’m in Ohio, but we hope to be closer by the end of this year. We are also planning a long-distance hike together at some point in the near future.

Jane Windler was a trail crew member with the American Conservation Experience (ACE) in summer 2015, and worked on the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to Central Oregon. She is currently working as a yoga instructor and assistant basketball coach in Columbus, Ohio. She is hoping to build more trail this upcoming season and complete her first solo thru-hike by the end of the year.

Matt “Pretzel” Mason has hiked the Appalachian Trail, Long Trail, Colorado Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. He currently spends his time running and hiking in North Georgia. When not on the trail he can be found at mile 31.7 on the Appalachian Trail helping hikers lighten their base weights at Mountain Crossings. Follow along on his Instagram.

Ensure a place for journeys big and small. Help protect and maintain the Pacific Crest Trail by donating to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.