Root Beer Floats (PCT Days 142-144)


“Wow,” I thought as the naked trail runner approached me, “not only is he naked, he doesn’t have any tan lines! He must do this a lot!”

He’d just crested the hill that I was doggedly climbing, and was beginning to descend towards me. I was glad it was a rather straight stretch of trail and I had a couple of seconds to get over my surprise at having a naked guy running down the trail towards me at 6:30 at night… Especially since I was in one of the deep, dark, forests of Washington…

Naked trail runner on the PCT… very tan… no tan lines… I smiled as I realized that I probably knew who he was… I stepped out of the trail as he approached and said “Coppertone?” I was pretty sure that was the trail name of the naked man approaching me…

“Yes,” he replied with surprise and slowed to a stop in front of me. He was wearing a hat, shoes, socks, and was carrying what looked to be a kindle in his right hand… That was it. “Have we met before?” He asked.

“No,” I replied, “I’m Patches.” He then asked if he was almost at the next road crossing. I assured him that he was, you could see the road from about five feet behind me… It was a steep descent to it, but it was close.

“Well, I’m going to continue my run down there and then head back to the road crossing up ahead. I’ll have a root beer float waiting for you when you get to that road,” he said as he continued his run.

I’d been hearing rumors about Coppertone for almost 2000 miles. The first time I’d heard about him I was a little bit north of Deep Creek Hot Springs in Southern California. “Did you see the naked guy with the shovel doing trail maintenance near deep creek hot springs?” Asked a fellow thru-hiker. No, I hadn’t. There were lots of naked people at the hot springs, but I definitely hadn’t seen anyone that was naked and doing trail maintenance. “We’ll, there’s this trail angel, Coppertone… He’s a nudist, and, well, he gets his name because he is tan all over… I mean *all* over!” They emphasized the ‘all’ with with both intonation and a widening of their eyes… There was no mistaking what they were getting at. “He meets people at road crossings with root beer floats,” they continued. “You must have just missed him at the last road crossing.”

The next time I heard about Coppertone was just North of Walker Pass. All the hikers zooming past me were talking about the root beer float serving nudist, “Sometimes he wears a short denim skirt, but only when he has to… When nudity would be inappropriate.” I wasn’t sure about the whole nudist thing, but a trail angel providing root beer floats at road crossings in the dessert? That sounded absolutely amazing. I love root beer floats! Even when I’m not hot, thirsty, and calorie deprived, root beer floats are one of my favorite extravagances.

Having a naked man in the middle of the woods in Washington offering me a root beer float definitely would have been a little disconcerting if I hadn’t been hearing about this guy for months… As it was, I still shook my head in amazement as he jogged passed me… The rumors were true… A nudist that trail magicked root beer floats… You never know why you’re going to run into on the PCT!

Even though I knew he’d be coming back, I was still startled a few minutes later when he hiked up behind me… I’d gotten used to having the woods to my self and was still making my way up that seemingly never ending steep hill.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said as I let him pass in front of me. “I hadn’t counted on this hill,” he explained, “it’s too steep for running.”

“How’d you know that is was me?” He asked as we continued hiking up the hill. The internal filters between my brain and mouth apparently still exist and I paused a second before answering. Truth? Yeah, truth. “The nudity. I haven’t seen anyone naked on the PCT since hike-naked day.”

“Oh,” he seemed surprised. “I’ve been hearing about you and your root beer floats ever since Deep Creek Hot Springs,” I continued. We then chatted about the different places along the trail that I’d missed him by a day or two, and about the other thru-hikers that he’d met along the way. Before I knew it we’d made it to the top of the hill and the terrain had flattened out. Since the hill had flattened out Coppertone set off at a jog again saying, “See you at the road,” as he disappeared down the trail.

It occurred to me then that he must have been cold… I was wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and I was definitely cold. So cold that after he jogged off I stopped to put on my jacket and a hat. I idly wondered whether or not he would be clothed when I arrived at the road… Since it was pretty chilly out, I was willing to bet that he would be.

It would be at least an hour before I got to the road, and close to the time I usually set up camp. I checked my map, it looked like there was a spot to camp just north of the road that would be perfect. I try not to camp near the roads when I’m alone, but in this case I knew that Coppertone would be camped at the road, so I felt better about it.

When I finally arrived at the road I met Coppertone again, this time fully clothed, and he had the promised root beer float waiting. I plunked down on one of the chairs he had out and joyfully took a sip of my root beer float. It was an amazing thing! I asked if Coppertone knew if there were any campsites tucked into the woods right across the road. He said he wasn’t sure, but as I ate a big spoonful of root beer soaked ice cream he jogged off to go check.

When he got back he said that he hadn’t see any, but I was welcome to cowboy camp under his truck if I wanted to. While I contemplated my options and finished off my root beer float he offered me some hot tea (it was getting colder and colder as the sunset) and cookies. “Absolutely!” I smiled. I was in the middle of a 150 stretch between resupplies, so all of the extra calories I could get would help… Also, relaxing in a real chair, in the woods, enjoying a cup of hot tea with a new friend… That’s a pretty awesome way to spend a summer’s evening!

I really enjoyed hanging out with Coppertone. I have to admit, when I first heard about the naked guy who gave out root beer floats it sounded a little bit… Odd. Though most of the trail angels are amazing people, some of the established trail angels have reputations for being creepers too… For making people, especially women, feel uncomfortable… Rumors and gossip run rampant on the trail (sort of like they do in any small community), but the rumors about Coppertone on the trail had all been positive… Sure, nudity is culturally uncomfortable, and the fact that he’s a nudist meant that he was frequently talked about on the trail, but everybody said that he was a great guy and not a creeper. I’m glad to report that that was my experience as well… He was a great guy, and even hanging out with him by myself, at a road, at nightfall, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

Eventually I finished my tea and cookies, and with 15 minutes before full dark I reluctantly said goodbye and disappeared into the woods. The offer to sleep under his truck was tempting, but I didn’t think I’d sleep well on the gravel out in the open like that… Not when I had the option of sleeping in the woods!

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