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.