Whitney LaRuffa, Ryan Silva, and Liz Thomas

Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors Whitney "Allgood" LaRuffa, Ryan "Dirtmonger" Silva, and Liz "Snokel" Thomas

On the last weekend in September this year, hiker trash from around the country gathered in Nevada City, CA for the 20th annual ALDHA-West Gathering. The weekend was like a family reunion except this is one you actually look forward to going to. Sure there might still be that one guy who reminds you of your weird uncle, but that's part of the fun.

I had spent the better part of the past year on ALDHA-West's board: somehow after being elected to the board, I was asked to help with planning for the gathering and securing a site. After being handed some info and contacts from our outgoing treasurer, I was soon talking to camps, caterers, insurance companies, etc… With the help of other board members, we pulled together an outstanding line-up of speakers, booked a great camp to host us, and found a cook who made amazing food and took care of our members' special needs.

I had just finished a thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim Trail with our two good friends and fellow board members from ALDHA-West, the day before the event. The three of us had done the bulk of the planning and were the responsible party for getting things set up for the weekend and organized. We arrived at the camp mid-day and immediately got to work, printing name tags, setting up the lodge, figuring out where the 26 cabins were, etc… Luckily another board member, Ravensong, had arrived that morning and she jumped right in with us to get everything done.

Friday was a whirlwind, at the beginning of check in at 4 pm, the name tags were not done, and our members who were all gathered at the table pitched in and helped get the details ironed out. We finally got everyone checked in and sat down for our first meal together.

I had the honor of greeting our guest and introducing our speakers for the weekend. Friday night kicked off with the west coast premier of Embrace the Brutality, a great documentary on the CDT: we had about half the hikers on the movie sitting in the room. After the movie ended, most of us hung out, enjoying cold beer and catching up on each others' adventures over the past year.

This evening was a particularly fun one as I met Dirtmonger, who had hiked some of the CDT and the AZT with my good friend Lint Bunting, who's also another Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador. It was great to finally meet this legendary man and get to know him. We had each other in stitches telling each other trail stories, discussing gear, and getting to know each other.

We all woke in the morning after staying up way past hiker midnight, and enjoyed hot coffee and tea, a delicious breakfast and then jumped into the day's activities. Heather "Anish" Anderson was our first speaker, she talked about her record setting, non-supported thru-hike of the PCT. I don't think there was person in the room who didn't shed a tear as she spoke about being an overweight bookworm as teen and how she had dreamed of one day setting an athletic record, and then achieving it.

We had a quick break and the first round of hiker olympics, which was revamped this year with 5 events. It included a sleeping bag stuff, chubby hiker, water pump & chug, scat and sniff, and an Oreo challenge.

Next up was Lost. She is only of 5 people to traverse the Brooks Range in Alaska and the only woman to do so. Her tales of crossing glacial rivers, seeing wildlife like wolves, and the day she arrived at her resupply only to find it ruined by a leaky fuel bottle, stunned us all. This unassuming woman before us was one serious bad ass.

After Lost's talk, we went for the group photo, and then lunch. After lunch our next presenter was Ian Reeves, a high school teacher in Oregon who spent 6 years walking from the southern tip of South America to Panama. His talk showed us the lives of the people he met along the way, the challenges he faced, and the custom-made push cart he had built and used to make his journey a reality. We broke for a few hours of free time: this was great as it gave everyone time to catch up with their old friends, enjoy the sun, and take a stroll to stretch their legs.

Our last presenter was my friend Cam "Swami" Honan. He had a packed house for his presentation on the 12 Long Walks he did in 2012, covering over 14,302 miles in 18 months, hiking many of the best long distance trails in North America. His wit and humor, along with this amazing feat, had all us on the edge of our seats and laughing throughout the presentation.

For dinner we had a Mexican theme, SOBO to the border, with great taco salads and well decorated tables. Afterwards, it was time for the Triple Crown Awards to be presented. This year we had 22 new Triple Crowners enter into the ranks, and 11 were present. We ended the ceremony with all the Triple crowners in the room coming up front, 25 in total!

We celebrated that evening at the main lodge. A dance party broke out and many hikers got up and shaked their booty. I spent a great deal of time hanging out with two fellow Trail Ambassadors from Gossamer Gear, Snorkel and Dirtmonger. the three of us bs'ing well into the night, Jester and Squatch were both there too, and they kept us all laughing with their comedic nature.

Sunday morning finally arrived: it's kind of that sad day like the morning after Christmas when you know it's all over until next year. All your friends will scatter to their different home-lands and you will most likely not see them until this time next year.

We had breakfast, and then the general membership meeting and elections. I was voted the new President of ALDHA-West, an honor I am happy to have, although it means a lot more work in my future.

Backpack Raffle at ALDA-West

Winner of the Gossamer Gear Sponsored Backpack Raffle at ALDA-West

We ended with the gear raffle sponsored by Gossamer Gear where the hot item was a new ultralight backpack. Squatch and Jester ran the raffle and their off-the-cuff remarks kept if fun and interesting.

Finally it was over, we all pitched-in to clean and pack up. We said our goodbyes, loaded the Subaru up and headed for home. On the way home I had lots of time to think about my hikes for next year, so many choices, so many trails.

The Gathering always has the same effect on me every year, the burning desire to complete my Triple Crown.

I catch myself dreaming of just cashing it all in, walking out the door with my pack on my back, and hiking across this amazing country for many years. Until that dream can be a reality, it looks like I'll be working to make ALDHA-West a better organization and planning next year's 1-2 week thru-hike.

This post was written by Trail Ambassador Whitney La Ruffa.