When I first met Hunter, I felt like I was meeting an echo of my younger self. It happened in Houston, of all places, the least cowboy-like corner of Texas. I was there in between thru-hikes, planning another long walk along the CDT come spring. Cricket, my host, had this jokingly British air about him when he mentioned Hunter.

“You’ll ‘get on’ with Hunter. He’s like an American golden retriever pup, always rolling around in dirt, annoyingly happy, and he never wears shoes.”

A barefoot optimist? That piqued my interest.

“He sounds like hiker trash,” I responded.

Later, in a pretentious neighborhood café where the wait staff all looked like generic Abercrombie and Fitch models, Hunter sauntered in. He was equally good-looking, but his charm was effortless, exuding a rugged handsomeness that seemed to defy the need for shoes. And, true to form, he strolled in barefoot, as if the world was his own personal runway.

Eager and bright-eyed, he spoke quickly, but his words flowed effortlessly, yet he was never overbearing. Each word was carefully thought out, and every sentence was punctuated with a polite smile. He listened intently with eyes that seemed to hold the depths of a thousand stories. Those soulful eyes, unblinking and sincere, spoke volumes.

I thought he was ‘mad’—not in an angry way—but ‘mad’ in that relentless pursuit of life’s joys, much like Jack Kerouac’s eccentric characters in “On the Road.”

But there was something more, something even rarer. Hunter was self-aware. A self-awareness that only comes from a life richly lived.

I was intrigued.

When Hunter mentioned he wanted to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail, a path I’d traversed three times from end to end, I was thrilled. And then he added that he planned to do it all barefoot. Immediately, doubts crossed my mind, but then I recalled many years earlier, a much younger version of myself, how others had questioned my own fervent declarations of doing wild things like hiking across this vast continent.

“What do you think about ‘BareFoot’ for a trail name?” I asked.

“Descalzó! I love it,” BareFoot responded. A nod to his Mexican heritage.

You see, I’ve learned a thing or two about wandering this world. I’ve roamed North America on foot, hitchhiking, train hopping, and trekking through remote wilderness for weeks, often without seeing a soul. I’ve crisscrossed this stunning continent repeatedly.

I know how the trail changes you.

On the trail, you become your best self. More generous. More forgiving. You rely on the kindness of strangers for rides into town to resupply, and in turn, you help those in need of food, healing, or simply companionship. Your faith in humanity is restored.

You are reconnected with Mother Earth by finding balance in your spirit. You learn to wake with the sun, and to sleep under the brightest stars in the darkest nights. You realize your place in this vast world by grasping your own insignificance.

You drink water straight from pure sources, forever nourishing your journey. You cherish the natural wonders, vowing to protect them.

The trail truly showcases life’s preciousness.

Those who know BareFoot recognize he’d already mastered much of this understanding. But I knew the PCT would etch these lessons into his soul permanently. I knew trail life would give him permission to be his best self.

“Go for it,” I urged. And, I knew I had a new “trail son.”

When he revealed it was also a journey to raise awareness and funds for the youth and community of Fundación Marajuera, I swelled with pride. I connected BareFoot with fellow hikers I’d met and others in ‘Haus of Buddha,’ my trail family, and helped him secure a sponsorship from, at the time, “Guthook,” which generously donated the PCT data set towards his hike.

BareFoot, just like a golden retriever pup, was elated.

Over the following year, our conversations spanned my trail experiences, writing, art, poetry, and the inspirations behind my chosen path of thru-hiking. We delved into the tales of Beatniks and vagabonds of past generations, discussing music, philosophy, and crafting his own strategy for his upcoming PCT hike.

We settled on a start at Crater Lake, Oregon, easy to reach from Seattle where BareFoot was staying, and breathtakingly beautiful. The finish? Washington. I encouraged him to venture as far north as possible, perhaps even to Goat Rock Wilderness or the Canadian border before winter, where he could then flip-flop back and hike southbound to finish the PCT. In his excitement, he often fixated on miles and the importance of keeping a continuous barefoot hike.

Often, I gently reminded him, “It’s not just about the destination or the miles you cover per day, or even if you hike it all barefoot. You’ll most likely encounter terrain that might demand some type footwear. What matters is your intent to serve the Fundación Marajuera community...and equally important—to discover who you’re meant to be.”

Graciously, BareFoot always thanked me for the reminder.

We spent hours discussing the physical and mental challenges of trail life: resupplying food drops, gear, barefoot hiking care, using the GutHook app, hitchhiking, reading maps, trail food, first aid, safety, wildlife encounters, tricky Pacific Northwest weather patterns, camping, and Leave No Trace ethics.

But what I cherished most were our talks about his life. Hearing BareFoot’s dreams, current love, thoughts on art, society, and music. His anticipation of serving other disadvantaged communities in the future, and how he planned to keep thru-hiking and traveling around the world.

And suddenly, BareFoot was gone. A tragic accident during a routine training hike before the PCT.

I remember a bitterly cold December day last year when BareFoot called me late afternoon, as snow began to gently fall. Per usual, our conversation started with a newly discovered writing by Allen Ginsberg or more often Jack Kerouac.

“Do you think I’m fooling myself?” BareFoot wondered.

I instinctively quoted Kerouac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

Now, another eternal candle burns bright in the night sky.

I’ll miss our talks, my friend.

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