Dedicated Trail Angel Donna Saufley of “Hiker Heaven” Battling Brain Cancer

PCTA Note: Longtime trail angel Donna “L-Rod” Saufley is loved by countless long-distance hikers who benefited from Donna and her husband Jeff’s hospitality at their famous “Hiker Heaven” in Agua Dulce, California. Now Donna is in a fight for her life and needs our help. On February 24 Donna was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. Following the surgery, she suffered a post-operative stroke that left her severely disabled. A fundraising campaign seeks to raise money to offset the Saufley’s medical costs. If you’d like to donate, visit the GoFundMe page for Donna and Jeff.

Read more about Donna, Jeff, and Hiker Heaven in this blog post from 2015.

Thru-hiker Jack Ross and his wife Barb stayed at Hiker Heaven on their hike, and later came back as volunteers. Here are Jack’s memories of those times.

Donna and Jeff Saufley (center) with hikers on their 20th anniversary. Photo by Tommy Corey.

There was a song from 1967 called Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie.

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”  the words went. Well, every time I think of Hiker Heaven, that song runs through my brain.

My wife and I hiked the PCT in 2011.  We passed through Hiker Heaven on May 22nd. We spent the night and got resupplied and refreshed. This stop was awesome!

Donna and Jeff asked for no fees or donations but we knew their expenses were huge—imagining the water bill alone.

Hikers relaxing in the Saufley’s backyard at Hiker Heaven. Photo by Jack Ross.

With others, we came back and volunteered to help during a few weeks of the season in 2013 and 2014. They always welcomed help: Donna was the taskmaster, we were the worker bees.  It was a wonderful and very efficient operation.

We cleaned rooms, washed dishes, and helped with the laundry. Donna seemed to like doing the laundry part but it was a huge task, with loaner clothes and all.

We volunteers would also drive hikers 30 miles in our cars to the REI in Northridge where they could get shoes or equipment. This got to be so popular that Donna and Jeff rented a 16-passenger van and there were sometimes two departures per day.  There was a small fee for this service but the ride was always full. Donna always said “Be sure to stop at the In-And-Out on the way back to nourish our guests” which for many hikers was the only reason for the trip! Some would take orders and bring back huge bags of burgers.

A van rented by the Saufleys carried thru-hikers to In-and-Out Burger. Photo by Jack Ross.

But Donna did more. She always wanted photos of every hiker who passed through and could remember more names than any of us. She would come out to the fire ring in the evenings and tell everyone the fascinating story about how Hiker Heaven started.

In May of 2013 a thru-hiker named Mark Votapek passed through.  He was a symphony-class cellist and was hiking with his cello (bouncing it forward). Donna and Mark arranged a concert one evening at Hiker Heaven.  She knew everyone in town and they were all invited.  So we had a one-hour cello concert with a mix of hikers and townies. It was a beautiful event.

Professional cellist and thru-hiker Mark Votapek gave a concert at Hiker Heaven in 2013. Photo by Jack Ross.

Some people called Hiker Heaven a trail bottleneck, but it was not. Hikers would stop, stay a day or two and move on. I believe there was a limit of 70 per night, although I never saw it enforced.

If a hiker was injured, Donna saw to it that they could stay longer until they healed.  She would even arrange transport to and from a medical clinic in Northridge if necessary.

Donna and Jeff were always looking for new things to do or ways to adapt. There was even a haircut station for those so inclined—not pretty but the price was right!

They requested and had some laptops donated and opened up a 5-station computer area which was very popular. And the bike supply —I think there were about 10 loaner bikes. Thru-hikers versed in bike repair would always donate their time and knowledge to keep them in tip top shape.

All this time, they never asked for donations.  We volunteers knew of a jar in the laundry room for hikers who insisted. Sometimes we would quietly tell others about it.

Yes, there were some wonderful trail angel stops along the PCT, but in our opinion, Hiker Heaven was truly well-named and at the top of the list.

Jack Ross (Tequila Jack) and Barb (Boo Boo),  PCT Class of 2011