Day 40- 21.4 miles from campsite at 511.5 to before Cottonwood Creek/wind farm at mile 532.9

I pack up under an overcast and cool sky and join the girls as they pack up. I sit on my foam pad by the side of the trail as I eat a packet of peanut butter crackers for breakfast. Their packing is deceiving, as Spider Mama and Tetris put away their tent last, so I always think they’re a good 15 minutes from getting out of camp when actually they’re almost done. I put the last cracker in my mouth and hike out behind them. Hitch with her two bum knees is first, and we hike behind her, taking the short morning miles into Hiker Town slowly.

When we hit the dirt road down to Hiker Town, I go ahead. The trail crosses a busy paved road, then along a chain link fence bordering Hiker Town. I look in and can see the little fake wild-west town, facades with signs above the buildings marking them as the jail, town hall, and general store.

I read the sign at the gate asking hikers for a mandatory 10$ donation and then go through. I don’t have any cash on me right now, but when I go to Neenach’s, the cafe/convenience store, I will. The shuttle to Neenach’s arrives right when we all get there, and we all get in the back area of the white van. “Exactly what our mothers told us to do!” we joke. Twinkle Toes gets out as we’re getting in and I say hi briefly. I’ll see her when I come back.

We get there and set our packs on the bench outside. I order a vegetarian breakfast burrito and a bagel with cream cheese, then I go sit in the lounge area. There’s a fan blowing on the ceiling, and moody, electric Indian music plays. I plug my battery and phone into the wall and take advantage of the mirror on the wall to make sure my face looks presentable. The burrito is delicious when it comes, but the bagel with cream cheese tastes oily and synthetic. I eat it anyway.

Hitch makes a sign on cardboard for hitching to Mojave, since she needs to be at Kennedy Meadows by a certain date for one of Ned Tibbet’s PCT snow safety courses, which is guided over Whitney and Forester. She has to take it slow because of her knees but her hiking partner, Claire, who we learn via text is now named Woodstock, is trying to get there on foot.

I get some lemonade and Gatorade and more snacks for my food bag, and we wait for the next shuttle back to Hiker Town. The van comes, and we say goodbye to Hitch and then hop in, watching as she stands on the side of the road, smiling, her Stetson hat hanging on her back, her freshly braided hair swaying in the wind. We shut the van doors, and by the time the driver finishes filling up with gas and pulls out she’s got a ride and is gone.

At Hiker Town, I drop a donation in the box and Bob gives us a tour of the collection of ramshackle, themed buildings. People have said that Hiker Town is super creepy and weird; I don’t feel like it’s creepy, but it’s definitely weird. It’s windy and overcast, the wind shrieking as it rushes past the buildings, the gray sky threatening rain. We claim spots in the building with the indoor shower. I get in first, washing the dirt off my legs. There’s a cup on the sink counter holding a razor and a toothbrush that says “Bae Watch,” which is either hilarious or a little bit creepy, depending on how seriously I take the wild conspiracy theories that were touted in the first hundred miles of the trail about the owners of Hiker Town being creepy perverts who have hidden cameras in the bathroom.

Then I collect my rancid, stiff hiking clothes and drop them off by the laundry machine until it’s free. I join Spider Mama for a trip to the “Cat House,” where there are kittens. There’s a friendly black one, a skittish black one, and a shy silver tabby. We rub the friendly kitten’s fur as they purr. Then we go to the lounge and watch Forrest Gump on the little box TV. Some of the hikers get a bit teary as Jenny blows Forest off again right before he leaves for Vietnam. I watch until my clothes are washed and dried, then change into them, still warm from the dryer.

Hop Along and Kyra show up; they didn’t take a zero at Casa De Luna, but just barely. Apparently there was a band playing live music. What. Hop Along has developed what she thinks is shin splints, and so they’ll probably take a few zeros here. I pack up and say goodbye to them as they’re settling into the Cat House and loving on the kittens. I hug them, and Hop Along says that she’ll miss hiking with me. I really, really hope I get to see them again, but I have a sinking, swallowing feeling I might not.

I fill up my water bottles and head out with Twinkle Toes. She’s an English major it turns out, so we talk about books and having/not having children and other things. It’s cool out, the storm threatening the valley earlier having blown over. We hike along a road, along a big metal pipe, along the uncovered Aqueduct. We joke about aquablazing the Aqueduct (doing trail miles by boat). We reach the covered part of the Aqueduct, which looks like an asphalt road with another broad, smooth dirt road beside it. Spider Mama and Tetris catch up and pass us as the sun is getting low. Twinkle stops to pitch her tent, and for a while I rush to try and catch up with Spider Mama and Tetris so I won’t have to night hike alone. Then I stop. It’s not worth it; I kind of want to try and night hike the rest of the Aqueduct alone.

I stop and eat something I got at Neenach called a moon pie, as I look up at the crescent moon up in the sky. It’s like a double whoopie pie with actual marshmallow instead of cream filling. The horizon is still blushed with orange and Lancaster is a sea of lights far off. House lights twinkle in the valley from the direction I came. I shoulder my pack again and start walking.

The road is smooth and flat and I walk without my headlamp, the moon casting a faint shadow of myself in front of me. It’s only light enough to see the road ahead of me as a pale white lane, and possibly any bumps or dips in it that I could injure myself on. I try not to be freaked out by the darkness, and I don’t want to turn my headlamp on because it will ruin my night vision. As I’m walking, I remember a night when I was 8, in Deep Springs Valley where my dad went to college. My dad and I were walking back to our tent in the dark, along the wide, pale dirt road leading towards the dairy barn; I wanted to turn my light on, but he convinced me to walk beside him in the dark, looking up at the stars. He told me not to be afraid of the dark, and I held his hand, warm and rough and strong, until I felt safe.

I stop as a bat comes and swoops around me, big and silent in the night. Its wingspan must be more than a foot and a half; it flies around me like a manta ray in the water, big black wings moving in slow motion like they’re underwater. I watch it, turning in circles, until it flies off.

Joshua trees hunch over and watch me in the darkness. Every now and then I pass the gray shadows of PCT markers, and roads crossing the Aquaduct heading up to the mountains. A car in the distance sweeps its head beams on a lonely route through the desert. I stand still and watch it until it is out of sight again.

I hike in the dark with my headlamp off for several more hours. The wind farm appears in the distance and gets closer, lights blinking red in tandem, ominous eyes in the dark. The wind becomes stronger. I begin to yawn, and two miles before the water source I decide to stop and set up camp. Lancaster is a strip of lights on the horizon. Wind blows over me, rushing over my face and against my cheeks. The night is warm. Tomorrow it will be hot. It’s midnight; today will be hot.

Day 39- 18.5 miles from Maxwell Road water guzzler at mile 493 to campsite at 511.5

I go down below my tent site to get some water before hiking out in the morning. The water is sitting in what the water report calls a guzzler- there’s a big concrete area that catches melting snow and funnels the water into a concrete-covered pool. There’s a scoop made out of a milk jug and I use it to lean down and scoop some water out. The water in my dirty bag is orange and has squirming mosquito larvae. I squeeze my dirty water bag between my legs (my normal water-filtering technique, since I hate squeezing it with my hands) and the water comes out a slightly lighter shade of yellow. I sip some from the top of my water bottle, and it actually doesn’t taste bad at all.

I head out. The mosquitos that I hid from last night in my tent swarm around me, and I speed down the trail, holding back panic as they fly around my face. It makes me mad because I know they’re not even bad right now; they’re not buzzing, or trying to land on my or bite me. I don’t know how I’ll manage once I hit the bad ones.

I fly past Big Sky on my mission to out walk the mosquitos, but I don’t see anyone all morning. I know the 500 mile mark is soon, so I keep up my pace. Then, there it is, the arranged rocks catching my eye before I can register what they actually spell. I do a little dance as “I’m Yours” ends, which I’ve taken to playing out loud on a loop to boost my mood, ever -since Hiker Heaven. There are two more rock-500s immediately afterwards, and 500s written in the dusty trail with trekking pole tips. Everyone is excited. I add a lopsided smiley face in the middle of the trail with my hiking pole.

The mosquitos have finally gone, but now there are flies everywhere. I try to take a break in the shade and 40 of them swarm around my face and try to bite my legs, so I jump up again and start walking. I’m in a bad mood with the nonstop bugs, and I realize that I’m probably bonking out and need to stop and eat so I’m no longer grumpy, but I can’t, the flies will swarm me. I struggle on for another half-hour, drenched in sweat, walking slowly, flies everywhere but manageable as long as I’m moving.

I finally force myself to stop. I’m wet with sweat. I throw down my sleeping pad on the side of the trail and flop down. I make myself eat some trail mix and cheese puffs, crying as flies try to crawl into my mouth and bump into me and land on my legs. It feels like I’m sitting here and people are standing around me and poking me with their fingers. I want to tell the flies that I need space, I need a bubble, but they won’t listen.

After eating I feel in a much better mood, but still on edge as they flies continue to try and land on me. I killed a bunch of them and they’re skittish now, and won’t land for more than a second.

I put my earphones in and shuffle all of my music, and hike.

After a long time, I see Christine aka Hitch walking ahead of me, with her double knee braces. I catch up to her where the trail crosses a road and we flop down together in the shade under a tree. There is a breeze here, keeping the flies occupied, and they mostly bother Hitch. Ha. Spider Mama and Tetris, the Danish and Netherland girls from last night, catch up. They left before me, but stopped to get water at a cistern that had a fox skeleton in it. A guy named Seabiscuit joins us. We sit there for a couple of hours, eating “food from ziplocs” as I say mysteriously when they ask me anything about what I eat. We joke that Scylla and Charbyllis are down at the water cistern since none of the hikers who have gone down for water have returned. “Or there could be trail magic,” one of them says, and we are very sober about it for a moment. Trail magic is no joking matter, but we decide there must just be a nice shady spot down there. We talk about our plans to night hike the LA Aqueduct across the Mojave tomorrow. I might do it with them, and I’m definitely going to join them in camp tonight for more Harry Potter.

Around 3, we hike out to pound out another 3.5 miles to Horse Camp, which has a spring that a south bounder told us a day ago had delicious cold water. The miles are downhill and it’s cooler, the trail going down the flanks of the hills among fields of grass and stands of oak trees. Spider Mama and Tetris catch me as I finish peeing, and chide me when they realize I walked maybe 10 feet off-trail behind a bush, when they usually just stop in the middle of the trail no matter what. As it was, they almost walked up on me. I pass them again as they’re whipping out their matching pee rags in tandem.

The trail starts its descent into the Mojave valley. It rises beyond the hills below us and stretches off like a dusty, flat moonscape to the far-off mountains. We’re going to cross that. I search for the Aqueduct where we’ll cross straight across the valley tomorrow.

I get to Horse Camp and set my pack down on the picnic table. The trail down is steep, but the water is cold and someone has rigged a plastic pipe so that we don’t need a water scoop. The trail back up is hard and when I get up I collapse at the picnic table, panting, hugging the sun-warm wood with my face.

I eat some peanut M&Ms and filter the rest of my water, then head out for another couple of miles after Hitch and the Consistent Talkers. The trail is lined with big bushes with feathery, perfumed white flower heads. The sky is marbled with clouds. I come up to the girls as they’re sitting up on a hillside with only their bras and shorts on, letting the sweat dry from their skin. I take my shirt off, too, and carry my backpack up to the hillside to quickly set up my cowboy camp. I bring my food bag down and cook a Knorr pasta side for dinner, to which I add too much water so it’s more like a noodle soup. They have pasta sides too and add ramen.

I stand up to walk back to my camp to put some things away. “Look!” I say. The sun is glowing like an orange burst in the crook of the hills, the marbled clouds catching aflame like colored glass in front of the sun.

I come back and lay my sleeping pad down in the middle of the trail and listen to another chapter of Harry Potter as Tetris and Spider Mama take turns reading it aloud from their Kindle. Harry, Ron and Hermoine go to visit the Hogwarts kitchens and find Dobby there. The house elves give Harry and his friends food to take back to the dorms with them. “Mmm, chocolate eclairs!” says Spider Mama.

I stumble back through the bushes to my camp, and cuddle into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow we are going to hike the short 7-8 miles into Hiker Town, and nap and eat food and shower in preparation for the long night hike ahead, more than 20 miles across the dry valley floor along the Aqueduct with no water.

Day 38- 14.8 miles from Casa De Luna and San Francisquito Road at 478.2 to Maxwell Road water guzzler at mile 493

Day 37- 8.9 miles from stream before Spunky Edison Road at mile 471.3 to Casa de Luna 2 miles off of mile 478.2

I wake up enough to register Julian and Anika packing up, then fall asleep, my back softening against the ground again. The sun is up and dappling the campsite with the shadows of the trees that overhang and shelter it from the sky. I pull myself out of my sleeping bag, and lazily get packed up. I pack my sleeping bag away, put my shoes on, then open up my food bag. I spread cream cheese onto a bagel and eat it for breakfast. Then I pack my food bag away and nestle the rest of my belongs around it, everything exactly where it belongs. My clothes sit around the base of the food bag, then my pot and the ziplocs with my water filtering kit and electronics and bathroom kit and maps.

I put my earphones in and start up the Juno soundtrack that I got in Agua Dulce and zone out as the trail winds around and over ridges. I think about Juno, the movie, and try to remember what scene each song played in. I feel very happy right now, in this moment with the sun rising behind me. I have a strong desire to major in English, to be able to tell stories and create characters that will give people this giddy joy that I feel when I think about my favorite stories. The characters that I hold under my skin, like pieces of sand in oyster shells forming pearls. Even though it goes against my practicality and desire to be able to have a skill that I can use to help others. I don’t know. I want to become a better writer.

The soundtrack ends, and I see day hikers pose for a selfie across the lush green valley. I must be close to the road (what is it they say about birds being a sign of land?). I let my songs play on shuffle for a while, but I’m not feeling it so I put my headphones away and walk. Over a final ridge on gentle uphill, my arms sticking to my sleeves with sweat. I pause to finish off the last of my peanut butter crackers, which stick in a dry mass to the corners of my mouth. I wash it down with some of the last of my water, and start walking again. There are black flies everywhere today that find my skin whenever I stop and they bite me, a sharp pain on the backs of my knees or on my neck. I don’t take many breaks when there are flies so they can’t bite me. Still, they don’t bother me much at all compared to mosquitos. I can handle flies.

I walk to the road and across it, then pause. I could walk on; I want to walk on; walking on would be so easy. I’m totally peopled out still from the amount of people at Hiker Heaven, and still have a strong urge to find a campsite very far away from people and just recharge. But, Casa De Luna is down this road. I would seriously regret it if I didn’t go, and as far as I know I’m hiking the PCT once and this is my only chance ever. I peer around hopefully for something like a sign posted about Casa De Luna or shuttles into Green Valley, but there’s nothing.

I don’t feel like hitching and all of the cars driving by look nice and expensive and I doubt they’d stop, so I start walking down the road. I start hitting houses, which all have eccentric front yards filled with art and statues. There is a stuffed orangutan hanging upside down from a tree with a “slow down” sign.

I finally reach the market. A huge group of young guys waves at me from the parking lot, and I stand there uncomfortably while I try to decide why they’re waving at me- it’s a somewhat run-down town and I’m on my toes and why are people from a group of 20 guys waving at me like they know me– but by the time I decide they might be just friendly (??) it’s too late to smile back and be a good trail representative; So I start walking down side streets, following the map on my phone to Casa De Luna, which is one of the famous trail angel houses along the trail, along with Hiker Heaven, Scout and Frodo’s, and the Dinsmores. I feel silly walking through the houses to a place that I’m not even entirely sure exists, someplace like this surely can’t exist? I feel tired and muted.

Someone walking by points me up the hill to the Casa, and I walk a bit further until I catch sight of my friends sitting on a couch on a driveway. I walk up, and a volunteer named Country Gold gives me a short run-down and tells me to go inside to get some pancakes from Joe Anderson. I set my pack against the back of one of the couches and go inside. I get to meet Joe Anderson, and grab a plate of pancakes. I eat them outside and then pick out a Hawaiian shirt from a rack and switch it out for my smelly, damp hiking shirt. Cotton is bliss! Then I hang out with everyone and talk all day.

Twinkle Toes is here, and Kyra and Hop Along. Godongo, Ninja Tortoise, Catch Em, Anika and Julian, Morgan (possibly Pancakes now) and Louise, The Mayor… the bubble of people I hiked into when I left my group a week or two back to become a solo hiker is no longer a crowd of strangers, but a crowd of friends.

I paint a rock to look like a mountain with a quote on it, get a big hug from Terry Anderson, and explore the forest out back. There are painted rocks piled everywhere, and I read them and explore the maze of trails that wind under a roof of smooth, red-trunked manzanita trees. I find one painted with a llama wearing a jet pack, and get excited because I know it must be Rocket Llama’s, who draws a beautiful web comic about her PCT thru-hike that I love reading. In the very back of the forest, a couple of minutes’ walk past any other campsite, there’s a small clearing big enough for one tent. Some painted rocks around it say: “Any child conceived within these trees shall be named Tonka.”

I find a spot closer to the house hidden behind some other campsites, and spread out my groundsheet and sleeping pad. Then I go hang around some more. Terry Anderson is awesome, and we get to talk to her some more. Hop Along is talking with a girl named Mika, who is also 18! I sign my name on the big sheet hung by the garage, next to Linus’s name since he gave me my trail name. I thought he was behind me, or maybe there’s another Linus?

I yogi a ride to the convenience store with Twinkle’s friend who came to visit, and get an ice cream sandwich and a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream, and an Arizona Tea Arnold Palmer. I hang around and eat my ice cream, and when I’m full I give the rest to Catch Em. We talk about accents, and how the Russian language seems intimidating, and German harsh. Apparently English sounds easygoing.

It’s getting dark, and Terry turns on some music. We all have to dance to get our PCT class bandannas. I’m usually okay with dancing but when I know everyone’s going to be watching and sitting down I feel incredibly shy. Hop Along’s knee gives out as she’s dancing up with me. After the bandannas no one seems to want to keep dancing, and I don’t want to dance alone, so I head back into the forest with Kyra to find my cozy spot under the trees.

Day 36- 16.9 miles from Hiker Heaven at mile 454.4 to stream before Spunky Edison Road at mile 471.3

There is damp all over my sleeping bag. It was humid last night and condensation has infiltrated the camp. A row of colorful sleeping bags joins mine on the arbor to dry in the morning sun, and I use my loaner shirt to wipe the inside of my tent dry, or at least drier.

I have to put my sleeping bag away before anything else, so I wait for it to get dry before I start packing up. I pull it down from the arbor and wave it back and forth through the air, impatient. Finally I determine it’s dry enough, and pack away my things.

I sit in the electronics dome and talk to my mom while my phone charges. People duck in and out of the low entrance to plug their phones in on the jungle of chargers and cords. I say goodbye to my mom. The goodbye is always difficult for both of us, and I try not to cry when I have to hang up. I’m getting antsy to start hiking.

I go back down the yard, across the gray-water draining down a landscaped stream bed and finish packing up my stuff. The police siren-noise starts playing and they announce that the truck is about to leave for town. I run-walk back up to the entrance. I drop my donation off and they take my picture.

The shuttle is already full to the brim, hikers crammed into the truck bed hugging their backpacks. The driver tells us he’ll come back and make another run. I wait with a bunch of other hikers and get to meet Pegasus, a solo hiker originally from Hong Kong. She always writes her trail register entries in a beautiful, neat cursive, and it’s nice to put a face to the handwriting. She uses handkerchiefs tucked under her shoelaces for gaiters, and has colorful batik fabric sewn onto her shirt sleeves to protect her hands from the sun.

We get a ride to the corner of the main street. Colleen is here and I give her a big hug; she’s hitched here for breakfast, but she’s back at the Acton KOA (I like how people say that when they’ve hitched ahead to a town further up trail, as if they’re just avatars or holograms). Almost immediately upon getting there, another guy pulls up and offers everyone a ride to the trail head. Several hikers jump on it. “I’m going to walk my purist butt over there,” I grumble as goodbye, flashing a smile behind me, and head off along the side of the road which is the official PCT through Agua Dulce.

The road walk goes by quickly, properties and fields of golden grass lining the road. I need to pee but there’s nowhere to go. The guy who offered me a ride passes by several more times with loads of hikers in his 8-seater dune buggy. The PCT leaves the road and becomes actual trail again under crackling power lines. The humming and sizzling sounds like it’s coming from everywhere.

I’m exhausted from staying up late and waking up early two days in a row at Hiker Heaven, and go into autopilot, zoning out as I walk. I was too tired to write my journal post last night. The miles go by quickly this way. Multi-hued Mariposa lilies are spotted along the side of the trail, magenta with blushes of yellow on the petals, cream with pink. I get to Bear Spring with Hop Along, and set my pack down under the trees by Cowboy and The Flash. I filter some water, then head out again.

There’s a far-off view of Banquet Reservoir, which sparkles like a blue oasis amid the lush green chaparral. From this distance, the trees on the islands in the middle look like palm trees. I wish I could be there, swimming and sitting on an island beach.

The trail crests over a ridge, then down across a road. Then up. I want to get to bed early tonight, and so want to stop early. I walk up on Julian and Anika after a stream crossing, and they invite me into their palace under the shelter of manzanita; Julian points out for me the Persian rug and granite countertops, the industrial kitchen. Julian pulls out a speaker and starts playing classic rock oldies, which convinces me to stay. I set up my cowboy camp under the trees and we eat dinner together, along with Focus and The Mayor, both of whom I’ve heard about but never met. We talk about music and Germany and the Peace Corp and news and this past election. Karma and Hop Along each pass by. Julian plays music by La Brassbanda, a Bulgarian band. It’s so weird to listen to music in a different language, even though it’s what everyone in other countries does.

I crawl into my sleeping bag. My knee was bothering me again on the downhills, the one that wasn’t originally bothering me, and I hope it doesn’t do anything bad. I don’t want to be sucked into another vortex again tomorrow by stopping by Casa De Luna, but I also don’t want to miss it and regret not going, so I think I’ll at least visit tomorrow. We talk about the Sierra coming up soon; only about 250 miles from here. I’ll be there in maybe two weeks. It’s flown by so fast! I’m both excited and scared for going into the snow.

Day 35- Zero at Hiker Heaven.

I have full intentions to leave today. Kyra is antsy and heads out, and will wait for Hop Along at Casa de Luna in 24 miles. There are only 4 names on the list for the shuttle to REI; Hop Along, Godongo, Rick and myself. I sit on the porch and talk with Rick about the Sierra snow pack and gear and people flipping up to Oregon or Washington, standing up every now and then to check the REI list. We need a minimum of 6 people by 10, so at 9:30 we walk around and ask people if they need to go. No Bueno. Sugar Mama or one of the other volunteers calls the shuttle company, and it’s decided that we’ll wait until noon to see if other hikers arrive who will want to go to REI.

The shuttle to town just left, so Rick and I decide to walk down together to get breakfast. I talked to Rick about preparation and other things quite a bit before starting the hike, so it’s cool I’ve been at about the same pace as him. We talk more about the Sierra; with only 250 more miles and 2-3 weeks to Kennedy Meadows, it suddenly seems much more real. The guy Rick is hiking with for now wants to flip around it and walk south from Canada, but we both think that’s a bad idea, since there’s almost just as much snow up there, and you’d be hiking alone and breaking your own trail vs. hiking with a ton of other people in the Sierra with other people’s footprints to follow, no matter how misguided they may be. It still all feels very abstract.

I order Huevos Rancheros (eggs and beans with warm corn tortillas; I had no idea this was a thing so I wanted to try it) and scrape my plate clean. I left my phone and charger somewhere, I don’t know exactly where back at Hiker Heaven, so I’m a bit anxious as we walk the mile back up the hill. It’s not bad at all without packs on. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could hike without a pack! Rick has a heavier pack and is always light-heartedly ragging on people with lighter packs because he believes we are smug fast-walking villains or something like that, which we really are, to be honest. He’s just jealous!

We get back right before the shuttle to REI is coming, and I have just enough time to find my phone and run down to my tent to empty my food bag to use as a grocery bag. I hop into the van with a bunch of other hikers. The fabric seats are soft and comfy, and I want to fall asleep as the van softly rocks back and forth. We get on the highway, and I fight back the vague anxiety that I get now when I see how many cars and people there are. The driver drops us off in front of the REI, in the LA sprawl somewhere. I grab a new pair of shoes and socks, and check out. Then I walk over to the Smart N Final next door and push a cart around to get my resupply. I get blueberry bagels and two things of cream cheese, and some mango kombucha and a peach, and other things. I can’t find my peach after I pay for my groceries, and so I sit in the van drinking my kombucha while I listen to a hiker named Pogo talk with the driver. There’s a busy intersection nearby, and a tangle of power lines, and so many cars that fill the entire parking lot, but I manage to kind of just zone it out and focus on my immediate surroundings.

When I get back to Hiker Heaven, I sort and repackage my resupply on the straw bales around the fire pit, and when I pack it away my food bag is filled to the top. I throw away my dusty old shoes, kissing them goodbye and thanking them before I drop them into the trash can. Twerk walks in, and then I see Karma and Nirvana walking up the road and I run over to say hello and hug them and chauffeur them through the gates. The volunteer who gives them the tour asks them if they want a couple’s trailer, and they just shake their heads and tell her they aren’t a couple. I stand nearby and laugh.

I’m realizing that my vague resolve of this morning to get out of here is becoming less determined, with my tent still up and my belongings scattered inside. I sit in the electronics dome with Twerk and Rawhide to charge my phone. Nope, I decide, I’m definitely not leaving; it’s too hard to achieve escape velocity later in the day when I still need to pack up all of my stuff.

I head out for dinner with Hop Along, a Swede with a lazy eye named Fred, and a couple, Rawdog and Buttstuff. We go to the Mexican place, which is busy. As everyone talks I demolish the 4 baskets of chips and salsa almost by myself. So, I’m feeling not-particularly hungry when my wet bean burrito comes, but I finish it anyway. The warm beans and cheese ooze out when I break into the tortilla with my fork.

We go up to the cash register to pay- I pay last, and my card declines. I remember looking at my balance earlier; I had a hundred-something dollars in checking before the REI run, and I must have depleted it and been using up all of my automatic withdrawals for the month. I feel embarrassed and pay with cash, mostly because I know that people are normally embarrassed by their cards declining and not because I actually feel I should be embarrassed. I have plenty of money! I resent the fact that I feel like I should be embarrassed! Oh well?

We walk back in the dark, stepping aside as cars rush past with their bright white head beams leaping into the air. The last shuttle back was an hour ago. I use my phone’s flashlight to illuminate the bumpy asphalt and patches of dried grass. Hop Along sings songs from musicals out loud. Wild Card is on the side of the road and invites us to share a joint- I shake my head no and keep walking with Fred, and lament to him about how it seems like everyone on the PCT smokes and drinks and how I have no interest and so feel like the odd one out constantly in town? Like everyone is drinking and smoking and so it’s like they’re all in on some joke while I’m sitting there pretending to laugh and I just can’t relate.

I sit, quiet, with Twerk, Rawhide, their friend Campo, and Nirvana and Karma in the electronics tent- everyone is cracking lewd jokes that aren’t funny to me and I feel slightly lonely, so I slip away to my tent and fall asleep.

Day 34- 7.4 miles from ridge before Vasquez Rocks at mile 447 to Hiker Heaven aka the Saufley’s at mile 454.4

The sky is dark and I strain to see stars, without luck. Kyra’s alarm goes off at 4:30 and I wake up enough to realize that we’re in the middle of a cloud or fog bank. I’m warm in my sleeping bag and I don’t want to get out, even though it’s technically not too cold out. I’m grateful for the warm nights lately, and not having to go to sleep with cold spots and shivering.

I hike in the front, slow, my feet tired and my knee muscles achy. Kyra walks next, quiet, and then Hop Along with her freshly injured knee. It feels luxurious to hike without my hat. It’s cool enough that I’m not sweating but it’s so humid in the gray, dim mist that I feel gross. Ugh. I hate humidity. It makes me want to curl up in a ball.

We come over a ridge to see the highway cutting through the gray. It’s overwhelming to see how many cars are coming through, on a random highway in the middle of the desert, early in the morning on a Thursday. It makes me anxious. Highways are not happy sights.

We talk and laugh as the trail teases us by winding along the road from a distance. There’s a poison oak bush leaning over the trail that someone has marked with pink plastic ribbon. We finally drop down, and go through a culvert underneath the highway. It’s creepy and dark and I turn the flashlight on my phone on halfway through. A trickle of water flows in the center.

On the other side, we see Vasquez Rocks looming in front of us, curved and sculpted layers of earth tilted on their side and pocketed with holes. The stream running from the culvert is covered with flowers that have fallen into the water, and tadpoles wiggle along strips of algae. It’s idyllic in the mist.

We stop and take pictures and laugh at ridiculous signs posted that point out different plants. How are people supposed to know what plant it’s pointing out if there is a huge tangle of ten different plants by the sign?

Swayed passes by us as we wind in between the rock formations. We rise out of the rocks for a bit into a yellow grass and juniper Serengeti. We stop briefly to inspect the porta-potty at a trailhead. Hop Along comes back and reports that it’s the fanciest porta potty she’s ever seen, so Kyra and I have to go over to inspect. There’s a mirror, a sink, soap, paper towels, and toilet seat covers. I see some vans drive in to Vasquez Rocks, and I find out later they’re shooting a commercial.

We join a road and hike through to the center of Agua Dulce. We drop our packs at the cash register at the grocery store and get food for breakfast. Hop Along gets the avocados she’s been craving, and I get a warm vegetarian breakfast burrito. We all split a four pack of cherry Reed’s Ginger Ale.

As we’re eating, a white truck full of hikers pulls up. It’s the shuttle to Hiker Heaven, so I stuff the rest of my burrito into my mouth and jump in with Hop Along and Kyra. It’s a 2 minute drive by houses with horse pastures along a small paved road. We pull up and I get my pack from the truck bed.

We walk through a gate with a PCT marker, and immediately sit down to ogle and pet the dogs that come running over. There are three pit bull mix puppies that are all wriggles and hugs. We pull ourselves away for a quick tour, then back to the puppies. The mother of the puppies comes up and covers my face with kisses before I can react. This is Hiker Heaven. I miss my dogs so much. I just want lots of hugs.

We hang around and talk to people, and set up our tents. I still feel clean from my shower at the KOA but there isn’t a line so I take a quick one anyway. Kyra gets on another shuttle to REI. Cotton Candy comes and she and Hop Along and I take the shuttle to town. We get Mexican, and I eat so much that I want to barf. Hop Along is underage in the US (but not in Canada) and manages to order a mojito without them checking her ID.

Chris and Kelsey are in town to grab some food. Kelsey looks wild and dirty, his long beard mottled with dirt. Chris has a wheeze, and I say his trail name should be Wheezy, after the penguin in Toy Story, since he’s a doctor for a polar expedition. He gives me the evilest eye I’ve ever seen.

We catch the shuttle back, and hang around some more as more people I know come in. Rick is here, and Spider Bite and Galy, and the Trio, and the mermaids, the big group, Andrew, Morgan and her sister Louise, who started hiking with Morgan in Wrightwood after her college semester ended.

We get a ride into town again, and we get ice cream cones. We walk down to the liquor store to look for headphones for me. They have them, and as we’re sitting in front of the hardware store while Kyra has her camera looked at, I try them out. A Vance Joy song comes on and I break into a huge smile and dance around. It’s so great to be able to listen to music!!

We head back and wait for the shuttle in front of the grocery store. Twinkle Toes comes up and shouts my name excitedly when she sees me. The shuttle comes, and we stuff 22 hikers and 10 backpacks into the truck- Cotton Candy, Hop Along, Louise and I squeezed into the backseat, Morgan and another hiker in front, and everyone else crammed into the truck bed.

Then I hang out into the evening. I call my mom, talk to people, pet the dogs and horses, and get the box my family sent me. I get off the phone with my mom as it’s starting to get dark, and sit with Twinkle Toes and Rick on the porch. Someone has a guitar and is singing songs by the fire pit, the lyrics to “I’m Yours” rising and falling as people join in on the chorus. Someone comes by and passes out glow stick bracelets “for safety”; I trade my purple one for a green one. We talk, then eventually I head back to my tent, organize my things and get into my sleeping bag, which is so puffy from being able to sit out all day. I decide to go to REI tomorrow and get new shoes and socks even though the ride is 20$. My feet have been sad the last couple of days and I think new shoes will make them happy again. It’s been almost 500 miles, which is about the right time to replace trail runners.

People talk late into the night and turn on their air mattresses. I finish writing and put my earphones in and tune out to some music. At least, that is what I predict I will be doing.