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.