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Mike Pavlocak sits outside of Montezuma Valley Market. Photo: David Gleisner
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As Backpacker’s 2023 Pacific Crest Trail correspondent, David Gleisner is reporting on this year’s PCT season as he attempts a thru-hike of his own Kym Ferguson pulled up to the trailhead in an orange Kia with a smile on her face, ready to shuttle me and two other hikers four miles down the road to Montezuma Valley Market in Ranchita, California. We had just passed mile 101 of the PCT after a long, waterless desert section, and we were ready for our resupply. After a short drive, we pulled up to a blue and yellow building just bigger than a shipping container. Kym, who has worked at the market for four years, unlocked the door and welcomed us in. The market’s temporary location is unassuming, but as we walked the perimeter with our shopping baskets, we were pleasantly surprised to find everything we needed: lightweight, nutritious food; high quality gear; and beverages to quench our hiker thirst. Outside, we found plenty of room to sit in brightly-colored chairs and enjoy the dry desert air. The market has been catering to PCT hikers since 2018, when Mike and Kemi Pavlocak began running it. The couple learned hikers’ tastes, adding amenities and products to suit the needs of the community. By the 2021 season, the market was a well-known and beloved resupply stop. But on April 18, 2021, business suddenly ground to a halt. A late-night fire, the cause of which is still unknown, burned the store to the ground. That wasn’t the only stress the Pavlocak’s had to deal with that day: Their 14 year old daughter, who had been diagnosed with lymphoma the month before, started chemotherapy the next day. Mike, wearing an oversized black hoodie, cargo pants, and a beard down to his chest, cracked open a Coke in one of the market’s bunkhouses as he shared what the past two years have held. “When this fire happened, in all honesty we were like, you know what, maybe it’s a sign that we were supposed to be done and just focus on my daughter,” Mike says. But as the ashes settled and the cleanup began, the community stepped in to help. A friend in nearby Borrego Springs set up a GoFundMe for the store, bringing in some local donations from neighbors and hikers. With the help of influencer and activist Pattie Gonia, the fundraiser gained steam. “She shared our story when it was around $5,000, I was blown away with that. Then it raised maybe $60,000 in 36 hours,” Mike says. “We were crying on the phone, we just couldn’t believe it.” To date, the GoFundMe has brought in over $87,000, allowing the Pavlocaks’ to dream big about the store’s next chapter. Mike walked me around the property, showing me the space where they plan on building a new, bigger store once this hiker season wraps up. Even better news? Their daughter just had her 18 month check-up appointment, and is in remission. Mike still gets choked up as he remembers the generosity and compassion he’s witnessed over the past two years. “It felt like I was in a movie, it was unreal,” Mike says. “The kindness was overwhelming. And now we feel like we gotta give back and make sure everything is done right.” With overnight accommodations, showers, and free shuttle service to and from the trail, the market operates as more than just a store. It’s a hiker’s oasis, where weary travelers can kick back for a day or two. After the rebuild, the market hopes to be even more of a hangout, with a commercial kitchen and beers on tap for thirsty hikers. “We want this to just be a vibe of relaxation,” Mike says. “Our real goal is to make everybody happy and comfortable.” In a small, rural community, the market also strives to be a crossroads. As one of relatively few Black-owned businesses along the PCT – Mike’s wife, Kemi, is Black – it’s part of the store’s mission to open minds and hearts and combat prejudices. “I think that’s the best thing for all humanity,” Mike says. “Being exposed to each other, you realize we’re not all that different.” Once my resupply was done, Mike drove me and a fellow hiker, Couscous, back to the trail. Couscous had just bought a new ULA backpack from the store and was already excited about it, and I felt content with the nutritious, affordable food stuffed in my pack. In the days and miles since, I’ve heard hikers rave about the market, complimenting the selection and the vibes at the store. Even in tough circumstances, Montezuma Valley Market continues to provide for the community. “It’s been a pretty amazing journey,” Mike says. “I’m not a religious type, but I feel like it almost happened for a reason.”