The Pacific Crest Trail is no small undertaking, and hiking it requires both mental and physical strength. For travelers both abroad and domestic, Scout and Frodo offer a sanctuary for those beginning their six-month hike up the Pacific Crest Trail.
The term ‘trail angel’ has been used to describe people like Barney and Sandy Mann, (best known as Scout and Frodo) two San Diego residents who have retired from their respective work fields and, for weeks at a time, open their home up to thousands of prospective Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) hikers (also known as thru-hikers) every year.
As San Diego sits in close proximity to the start of the PCT, the opportunity for hikers—especially international ones—to lay ground and get their bearings in order before beginning what will be a six-month jaunt up the West Coast is considered to be incredibly valuable.
What first began as an idea to host hikers preparing to take on the Pacific Coast Trail in 2006—as one way to fuel their own interest in hiking the trail—has turned into a yearly routine of Scout and Frodo preparing their home for roughly a six-week stretch of hosting hikers from all over. While Americans are known to stop through their home, the majority of thru-hikers who use this opportunity as a launching point are typically from out of the country. Foreign travelers are allowed two nights to stay before their hike, whereas those coming from the United States are allowed one.
Amidst their sixteenth year as ‘trail angels’, the couple have seen a lot change – not only from a volume standpoint, but also in how some of their guests choose to prepare. While the hike, and its distance, have remained the same, a few minor details have changed along the way. For instance, when Scout and Frodo first opened their home up to hikers, they found many of their guests were asking questions about water, as the first twenty-or-so miles of the hike is scarce with water.
“Today,” says Scout, “(the questions are) more about ‘how do I charge my cell phone?’”
“Back then,” he adds, “You were embarrassed to be carrying a flip-phone. Now, we’re attached to them.”
The days of paper maps, similarly, have become antiquated, and Scout estimates that maybe one out of every 500 thru-hikers arrive to their home with paper maps for the trail. The volume of thru-hikers, as stated, has shifted dramatically. During their first year, Scout and Frodo hosted 16 hikers. In 2019, they hosted roughly 1,200. Over 7,000 thru-hikers stayed with them in 2022.
The number of PCT hikers in general has increased significantly over the years, and, as Sandy says, back when they began hosting, the population of hikers was more self-selective, whereas now the fascination with trekking 2,600 miles of trail has helped fuel and inspire a new wave of hikers. While this has opened up the eyes, and minds, of many adventurists, it has also led to a smaller percentage of those who actually complete the full hike.
No matter, as Scout says, “(The PCT) is still an iconic thing to have exist in the 21st century. It’s a lot of wilderness. It’s a pilgrimage.”
From start to finish, the whole experience remains incredibly unique, no matter how or where one chooses to end their hike. For Scout and Frodo – having hiked the trail themselves, for the first time in 2007 – they each have their own bits of wisdom to bestow onto their guests while sitting around the dinner table. Sandy’s best piece of advice for hikers is simple: make wise decisions.
For Scout, he emphasizes how much of the hike is mental.
“The most important muscle is up here,” he says. “You have to really, really want to do this. You have to find ways to fan the flame for that desire.”
Between his experience on the trail, and prowess as a writer, Scout has become something of a popular figure, and has gone on to pen a few books on the PCT. He also serves as President of the Partnership for the National Trails System, which is an umbrella organization representing over 30 trail groups.
They don’t do all of this alone, though!
With a steady stream of people coming through their home for this busy stretch, the couple has enlisted the help of volunteers, many of whom are local. In 2019, Sandy says that she wrote 81 ‘Thank You’ letters to their volunteers. Among the other changes that Scout and Sandy have made to their system of hosting are the accommodations for transporting hikers to and from their home.
“We used to drive people to the trail, pick them up from the airport and train stations. The public transportation system is better now, and hikers are able to get themselves here,” says Sandy. No matter how busy this hosting period can be for the couple, Sandy made it a point to say how much they look forward to it every year.
With a near proximity to grocery stores, mailing offices, and outdoor recreational stores, it’s no wonder that word has spread like wildfire over the last sixteen years about the generous opportunity offered by Scout and Frodo. Of course, the idea of having one last home cooked meal before taking on the PCT, and the joy of conversing with these trail angels, doesn’t hurt either!