Lauren Williams, a PCTA volunteer with attitude

Hiking on the PCT near Mount San Jacinto, Southern California.

By Cristina Risa

“The only difference between an adventure and an ordeal is your attitude.”

— Lauren Williams

PCTA’s Mid-Oregon Volunteers’ Outreach Coordinator Lauren Williams has always loved this sentiment. After speaking with her for this story, I pondered her comment in relation to three aspects of the Pacific Crest Trail: user, maintenance and administration.

When folks contemplate hiking on the PCT, planning is necessary whether the hike is for the entire length, a section, or a day. Walking time is calculated, gear collected/organized, supplies packed and resupply points arranged. Permits, physical conditioning, weather, terrain and communication also must be considered before a goal successfully becomes reality.

Most hikers realize a well-maintained trail doesn’t occur without regular attention. Many hikers are also trail maintainers; a fairly natural extension to exposure in nature. They create a comfortable and durable walking tread. They remove downed trees, trim brushy growth and build water-shedding features such as drain dips and check steps. All these tasks require specific tools and skills.

Another way to look at a footpath stretching from Mexico to Canada is to peek behind the scenes at Lauren’s administrative role. Administrative logistics and how much hands-on effort it takes to keep the PCT alive prompted Lauren to say: “Somehow it all works.”

With first person experience in all three aspects, Lauren’s attitude is decidedly focused on adventure.

Lauren and her pup, Kunu, on a backpacking trip into Jefferson Park, Oregon.

With more than three years volunteering with the PCTA’s Mid-Oregon Volunteers chapter, she describes herself as a liaison between volunteers, project leaders and related organizations. She communicates largely via email and other social media venues.

Her basic duties include posting work party notices, connecting volunteers with project leaders and distributing news, meeting and event notices to volunteers. Her role is vital for new volunteers to make informed decisions as she is often their first contact. She answers questions about how to get involved and how those with specialized skills can best support work parties. Others inquire about training events or work days.

Lauren is a wealth of enthusiastic information. She attends regular meetings with the PCTA that include other volunteers and partner organizations where strategic planning and brainstorming take place. PCTA Columbia Cascades Regional Representative Dana Hendricks says Lauren “brings such a can-do attitude and spirit of creativity” to the work.

Lauren (right) and PCTA Mid-Oregon Volunteers on a scouting hike to Matthieu Lakes. PCTA Regional Representative Dana Hendricks is second from left.

Lauren is an avid ambassador for all things PCTA. She regularly works with REI and other venues to recruit new volunteers. She posts flyers for local events including trail skills colleges. She also posts volunteer-submitted photos to social media and shares the PCTA message whenever she can.

Lauren is a New York native who grew up in St. Louis, then attended Butler University in Indianapolis. She first experienced the PCT as hiker and trail volunteer in San Diego, where she lived for two years. She and her husband, Robbie, have lived in Bend, Oregon, since January 2015.

Lauren says fresh air makes her feel good. The simplicity of being outdoors is meditative, she said. As such, one of the first highly anticipated activities on her list after moving to San Diego was to set foot on the PCT. She was not disappointed.

Lauren credits Anitra Kass, the PCTA Southern California Regional Representative, and the PCTA’s Trail Gorillas volunteer group as early inspirations, which guided her into her administrative role. With the Trail Gorillas, Lauren worked on trail maintenance projects and attended trainings designed to teach new volunteers trail maintenance skills. She also began to learn about stewarding a section of the PCT.

Lauren and her husband, Robbie, at Crater Lake National Park.

Besides working with unfamiliar tools, she met many extraordinary people with a shared vision of maintaining mile upon mile of trail for hikers and horseback riders. Making sure the trail is safe for horses and stock animals continues to be a huge part of her ‘trail eyes’ practice.

Lauren said working with the Trail Gorillas folks was highly educational and fun. The sense of community with a diverse group of people is something she treasures.

When her husband’s work led them to Bend, Lauren thought she might have a few months to explore her new outdoor surroundings before securing a job. But she was offered a rewarding position with The Environmental Center soon after they moved. It was a major shift in her career path going from an advertising agency to nonprofit, mission-driven work.

“Becoming a larger, more formal part of the environmental movement really impacted my life and ignited new passions, pathways and relationships for me,” she said.

One of those paths led her to volunteer with The Children’s Forest of Central Oregon, another nonprofit whose mission is to get more youth outside and connected to nature.

“The Bend area is a spectacular place to live,” Lauren said.

She feels fortunate to share the incredible Oregon landscape with her Midwest parents, both avid hikers, and other relatives who visit regularly: a family supportive of her outdoor enthusiasm.

Traveling out west, visiting national parks together is a tradition Lauren and her sister enjoyed growing up, one their father, who enjoys landscape photography, experienced in his own childhood and passed on to his daughters.

Lauren and her friend, Kellie, on a PCT backpacking trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon.

Of volunteering, Lauren says no special skill or experience is needed. Anyone with time, passion, or simple interest can be involved. She describes the PCTA as a really supportive network of creative-thinking volunteers. To anyone contemplating volunteering who may be hesitant, she says it boils down to reaching out and saying, “what can I do to help?”

Lauren describes the PCTA administrative group as being very supportive of the many creative-thinking volunteers who make it possible for so many to enjoy this very special trail’

Lauren’s willingly adaptive attitude is self-evident. Though career responsibilities limit her ability to help with the physical aspect of maintaining the PCT, Lauren has found a “for now” niche in the administrative side of the equation. At some point though, she intends to don a hardhat and get back on the trail.

Until then, thank you Lauren for your volunteerism and the fine example you set. It takes many hands and hearts to care for the PCT.


Author Cristina Risa has been a PCTA volunteer since 2014, primarily in Central Oregon, where she stewards a section of the trail. She enjoys volunteering with the PCTA, whether it be with trail tools or words.