The last thing I did before walking out of Campo was pick up a girl and stand her on the monument for a snapshot. As I recall, she was the same size and weight as my pack. Fast forward 13 years, the girl is in high school and her dad's second border-to-border PCT section hike is coming up on halfway complete. Time slips away.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a national treasure, a repository of hopes and dreams, a sacred pilgrimage and a mirror of the human spirit. It is a living, breathing community in a state of constant change. Any attempt to document the trail can be nothing more than a snapshot of a moment, just a thin slice of historical time. A minute in the life of the trail. A nanosecond in the life of the mountains.

The PCT is never exactly the same trail from season to season. Thus, any attempt to assemble a guide will be out of date within a season. This guide to food and lodging on the trail has been periodically updated with minor changes to reflect the ebb and flow of commerce in trail towns. The last time these pages were completely overhauled was 2012. So they were long overdue for a top-to-bottom housecleaning and a massive infusion of new info.

I'm not the only person sitting on legacy material that's shamefully out of date. The relationship between Wilderness Press and the PCTA has changed in the last 12 years. The publishing house was sold in 2013 to Keen Communications of Alabama. The three PCT guidebooks published by Wilderness Press were last revised in 2003-2005. Some of the text authored by the late Thomas Winnett is most likely untouched since it was originally published in 1973. More to the point, the PCT Town Guide is even older than the guidebooks, having not been updated since 2001. At this point it's beyond useless, beyond dangerous. It's so sad that it's laughable. (To wit: The procedures to cross the northern border, pre-9/11. The $32 motel rooms. Jack Fair's house!)

So it's with a sense of responsibility -- and urgency -- that I give you this 2018 edition of Best on the Crest. Is it complete? No. Is it perfect? No. It is intentionally selective and laden with the strong opinions of a single author. It's one of several Web resources that have information on PCT trail towns. (See Appendix A for a list of other PCT resources.)

I'm not sure I can recall a time in my life when I felt more alive than my days on the PCT. This is my way of paying an ongoing debt to the trail community. My hope is as successive classes complete their journeys, they will be transformed and motivated to be of service to those who will literally follow in their footsteps. None of us did the PCT alone. Everyone had help.

I understand that most hikers will pass this way only once. Unlike me, they don't have the luxury of choosing poorly when it comes to food and lodging. My mission here is to arm the traveler with information they need to make prudent choices. I would never present Best on the Crest as being the "authoritative" or "definitive" anything. It's one among several long-running volunteer initiatives that are filling the information gap.

A very short sermon on community relations:

The motel clerk, the waiter, the hardware store owner -- they don't know your business is thanks to the PCT unless you tell them. Find time to mention that you're doing the trail. For some, their sole impression of the PCT community may be derived from the Charlie Manson look-alike who's hitchhiking at the end of the main drag. He is the PCT. But so is the family of four in the Volvo XC70 station wagon, that nice retired couple in the $90,000 motor home, the young PhD candidate and the old journalist. (Guilty on the latter count.)

I have been the recipient of great kindness in trail towns. This is one reason I make a practice of routinely tipping 20 percent for OK service and 25 percent for good service. I urge you to consider doing the same if your circumstances support it. It is a small thing, but cumulatively it may have an impact on the life of service workers in rural towns.

Whether you're a lone hiker looking for a room or part of a hungry mob that lays siege to half the diner, your interactions with people in trail towns will affect, for better or worse, how other PCT hikers are treated in the future. Your thoughtful and ethical behavior in town will go a long way toward making sure our community is welcome in their community for years to come.

I'm not a particularly picky eater or sleeper. Same for my family, on those town stops where they hook up with me. We are, however, extremely attuned to service issues. If someone treats us badly we will never return, no matter how good the food or how nice the room. On these pages, I give good service a lot of weight. If the call is between the good guy with the so-so motel and the jerk with the nice one, we'll take the good guy 10 times out of 10.

Wishing you safe and joyful passage on the crest,
The Plotnikoffs -- David, Susan and Alexandra

The disclaimer:
I offer no guarantee as to the accuracy of the information herein. Hours and prices change. Use these notes at your own risk. Readers are advised to call these businesses to verify this information.

© 2000-2018 David Plotnikoff. All rights reserved.