Designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs through three states and covers approximately 2,650 miles. While most people spend hours, days, or as much as a week hiking sections of the iconic trail, a small percentage press the pause button on their lives for several months to travel the entire length.
Seeking solitude and perhaps a fresh perspective in the wilderness, many PCT thru-hikers also experience moments of serendipity on the trail that they refer to as “Trail Magic.” It could be running into a childhood friend on the trail, finding a puffer coat in your size hours after yours went missing, or hitching a ride off the trail with someone who touches your soul. To hikers, these “coincidences” are proof of the interconnectedness of all things and the powerful healing they and their “angels” experience.
Barney Mann (trail name Scout) and his wife, (trail name Frodo) have been both hikers and angels. In 2007, as the couple neared retirement (he was a lawyer, she, a high school biology teacher), a thru-hike on the PCT quite literally changed their lives.
“We were in our midfifties, living outside of San Diego,” recalls Scout. “We went looking for a physical and mental challenge and we got that, but what really made an impact were the remarkable people we met along the way.”
Scout remembers vividly an epiphany that struck him as they neared Shasta City. “I realized there were ways to stay connected to the magic of the trail even after our hike ended,” he says.
One way was to continue to host hikers at their house as they had that year and the year prior. “Long-distance hiking is such a mental game,” explains Scout. “So why do it? Because there are small miracles around every bend. I realized that one way to fan the flames would be to host hikers on a much larger scale.”
Transitioning their lives to a new purpose—hosting hikers and assisting them as they set out on their adventures—wouldn’t be easy, but Scout and Frodo already knew the gifts that would come as a result. Swapping stories, sharing experiences and making new friends as hikers set out on their adventures would foster an enormous sense of magic.
In the beginning, the couple juggled hosting while working full time. Now, fully retired since 2010 and 2013 respectively, Scout and Frodo dedicate themselves completely to their hosting duties each year from March to May. Living close to the southern terminus of the PCT, the Manns offer a place to stay, home-cooked meals, and plenty of fellowship with other hikers and experienced volunteers.
“The logistics of a thru-hike alone are daunting,” explains Scout. “We answer questions, calm nerves, accept packages, and shuttle hikers daily to REI, the post office, and the trailhead.”
The best part? It doesn’t cost hikers a penny. The couple and their team of volunteers offer their services free of change and do not accept donations. “We are privileged to be able to do this work," says Scout with a smile. “Working on a large project together is our strong suit. Frodo and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In 2006, their first year, Scout and Frodo hosted 17 hikers. “We thought we were so hot,” laughs Scout. “And then, in 2008, we grew to 120, approximately a third of the total number of hikers registered with the Pacific Coast Trail Association to thru-hike that year.”
The couple kept pace, growing their Trail Magic project each year, adding volunteers and making room for campers in the house, the yard, and everywhere in between.
And then the pandemic hit.
“We had 1,200 hikers signed up to stay with us in March of 2020,” remembers Scout. “The kicker of it all is that it was supposed to be our last year.” Like the rest of the world, Scout and Frodo had no idea what the future would hold.
When they had to cancel hosting the following year, as a distraction, Scout thru-hiked the Arizona Trail, with Frodo offering daily van support. Every time she left Scout off at a trailhead, her second-to-last words were, "I love you." Her final sign-off was, "Make wise decisions."
Postpandemic, with new precautions in place, such as mandatory testing and lower occupancy, Scout and Frodo are back to hosting. Frodo’s wise advice has become the theme of the after-dinner talk they give to hikers before they set off. “Now, more than ever, we stress the importance of smart decision-making,” says Scout. “And we always send them off with a hug and these words: “Please take care, stay safe, and make wise decisions.”
In 2023, Scout and Frodo hosted an impressive 525 hikers. It’s been 17 years now, and the Manns know they won’t be able to host forever. “We’re getting older,” says Scout. “Frodo is managing Parkinson’s and we have grandkids on the East Coast.” The couple recognizes the importance of passing the baton to the next generation of Trail Angels. As they step back, other capable folks in San Diego are stepping forward to carry on.
“Although no one is crazy enough to do exactly what we do, we know the Trail Magic will continue,” says Scout. Regardless, the impact of Scout and Frodo’s kindness and generosity will endure, and will forever be a testament to their unwavering spirit and selfless dedication.
Journeys North: The Pacific Crest Trail
Barney Mann's passion for the trail and the people he encountered led him to write three books, including his latest, Journeys North, a must-read for hikers and nonhikers alike. In this captivating book, self-described as a cross between Wild and The Breakfast Club, Mann chronicles the adventures of six hikers, including himself and Frodo, as they navigate the challenges of the PCT. It's a compelling narrative that offers insights into the human spirit and the baggage we carry, whether we're hiking enthusiasts or not. Learn more about Scout and Frodo, hiker hosting, and all three books here.