They Bonded as the Pacific Crest Trail Burned. Now They Heal It.

He posted photos of himself on Facebook as he hiked hundreds of miles of the vast Pacific Crest Trail, masked in a bandanna to protect his lungs from the smoke of the fires that had closed down parts of it. She told him about the inner workings of NASA, where she was a college intern in Alabama.

As the West burned a year ago, Mark Beebe, the hiker, and Tara Prevo, the intern who was then stationed more than 2,000 miles away, began getting to know one another first through a connection on Facebook, then through texts, phone calls and trailside video. He told her of his job delivering pizzas in Portland, Ore., to make ends meet, leaving long days to rove the woods. She told him about her time of homelessness, living for a monthslong stretch out of a pickup truck.

But it was the fires, they said — and the lure of the Pacific Crest Trail, which Ms. Prevo was already dreaming of trying to hike herself — that forged their relationship.

By the end of 2017, the West had suffered one of the worst fire years in decades and an area more than three times the size of Connecticut lay charred, the second-worst year since the early 1950s. East of Portland, a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail — the western counterpart to the Appalachian Trail and a place that defines for many people a kind of spirit path on which to test oneself or find meaning — burned on for three months through the steep terrain of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

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