A season at the Southern Terminus

Some say that getting to the trailhead is the hardest part of the journey for those who are starting a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Spending countless hours doing research, gathering gear, and planning ahead finally leads to that special moment. In 2022, Trailhead Hosts Toni Baker and Jay Eyre volunteered their time as friendly faces at the Southern Terminus, ensuring that trail users had all the best information as they stepped off on an epic journey.

Trailhead hosts Toni and Jay appear in side-by-side snapshots

Thank you for representing PCTA at the Southern Terminus in 2022! Left: Toni on a hike with her dog. Right: Jay at his post in 2018.

Jay spent his second year volunteering as a Trailhead Host, having spent a season as a terminus host in 2018, while Toni volunteered for her first season after dreaming about a PCT thru-hike for years. Both were instantly inspired to apply after seeing the volunteer opportunity on the PCTA website and monthly volunteer newsletter. “I immediately knew I wanted to do it,” stated Toni. “It was a way for me to connect and give back.”

A day in the life

As volunteer Trailhead Hosts, Toni and Jay start their days as millions of other Americans – with a daily commute. But the destination is quite a bit more inspiring than most workplaces. “Getting to the trailhead at 6am allows me the best office view EVER!” said Toni. Both agree that watching the sun rise over the monument every day is one of their favorite aspects of the position. “What a blessing it is to spend your morning like that,” says Jay.

Three hikers silhouetted against the sun at the PCT Southern Terminus

Three hikers begin their journey at dawn at the Southern Terminus monument. Photo courtesy of Keith Selbo

The hosts then proceed to spend the next six hours talking to hikers about safety, Leave No Trace, and answering any questions that arise about the journey ahead. The biggest piece of advice for hikers? “Watching YouTube does not make you an expert!” says Jay. While hiking videos can provide a wealth of information about gear options and what to expect on the trail, the hosts recommend getting out ahead of time to test gear and get some real-life experience before embarking on a PCT journey.

They entertain themselves by asking pop-quiz style questions about topics like toilet paper (pack it out), fires (only where permitted), and the classic: pooping in the woods (at least 200 feet from water and campsites)—giving away stickers as prizes. Toni has done research along the way about the environment, the trail, and Leave No Trace principles to make better quizzes for trail users.

They both enjoyed meeting thru-hikers at the beginning of their adventures-of-a-lifetime and hearing stories about their journey to the terminus.

A family poses at the PCT Southern Terminus Monument

A family of thruhikers poses at the PCT Southern Terminus Monument before setting out on their journey.

“I have seen 80+ year-olds starting at the terminus and I’ve seen families starting their journey,” said Toni. “The youngest I met was less than 2 years old. He was hiking, mostly being carried in a backpack, along with his mom, dad, 3-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister.” Meeting the diversity of hikers on the trail has given her insight into the different ways that one can go about hiking the trail. “With having some physical limitations due to fibromyalgia, I thought my PCT dream was over, but with section hiking and even day hiking it has become a reality.”

Meanwhile Jay reflects on the changing dynamics of the hiking community since he hiked in 2016 – the evolution of gear, changes in the community (most notably the increase in women on the trail), and how the last few years have impacted peoples’ desire to spend more time in nature.

A man carries a chainsaw over his shoulder

2022 thruhiker Dylan Ghan carries a chainsaw over his shoulder. Dylan is hiking the PCT to raise awareness for mental health among wildland firefighters.

The most interesting thing they’ve seen out there? “Probably the guy carrying a chainsaw,” said Toni, “His name is Dylan and he’s a wildland firefighter in Nevada. He’s hiking to bring awareness to mental health within the [wildland] fire-fighting community and raising money for families that have lost a firefighter due to fires.”

Not all work; plenty of time for play

After repeating their pitch to every hiker they meet throughout their shifts, they get some quality time to explore and appreciate the slower pace of life. Getting to know the locals, enjoy the scenery, and sleep under the stars are just a few of the perks of life at the terminus. “It’s not the lifestyle of the rich nor the famous – for me it’s three months of living in a tent!” says Jay, “And I do get very tired of the wind. But I get to hike and explore the area in the afternoons and days off. Huge plus!“

Meanwhile Toni lives in a converted bus and spends much of her off-time hanging out with her pets, enjoying the solitude, and doing projects including art that draws inspiration from the natural environment around her. “I could hear the pack of coyotes howl in the evenings,” reflects Toni. “I can’t forget the nighttime sky. Sitting under the stars and walking the dogs while looking up at the great light show in the sky. It is just amazing!”

A school bus in a desert landscape

Toni lives full-time out of her converted school bus, giving her a comfortable home-on-wheels for the three-month-long position.

For Toni, being a Trailhead Host has been an important part of healing after losing her son Isaiah in 2020. She and Isaiah had a goal to hike the PCT together. “I know Isaiah is very proud of my contribution to the trail,” she says, “Isaiah is my inspiration. I was able to merge both my love for Isaiah and my love for nature, the trail and volunteering at one time.”

For Jay, it’s about giving back to a community and a trail that he loves deeply. He encourages others who are interested in hosting to get involved. “If you have a passion for hiking and care for the outdoors then go for it!”

PCTA is grateful for dedicated volunteers like Toni and Jay who make our work to protect and promote the Pacific Crest Trail possible. To learn more about PCTA volunteer programs and get involved, visit pcta.org/volunteer.

Author: Hazel Platt

Hazel Platt is PCTA's Volunteer Engagement Associate, working to support the PCTA volunteer community and connect prospective volunteers with opportunities to get involved. Hazel is a self-proclaimed nature nerd, and loves long-distance hiking.