Finally! I've had time to edit and add to this group of days. Bear in mind that I recently lost my phone in a river. Thankfully, most of it was saved to my notes in iCloud, and my friend Mousetrap has graciously allowed me to borrow his work phone. I will be posting my Sierra updates soon. Some of that journaling was lost. It'll be an overview! Pictures for this post will have to come in a bit, as I have to re-transfer them from me camera and re-edit them. Thank you for your patience and pardon the construction.
Update: 7/22 | all photos are now uploaded.
34-36 | After hiking some long miles stopping at a KOA for ice cream, we hike into Agua Dulce. From here we get the chance to go into Pasadena/LA. Justin, Campo and I attend a moving party for their friends, the Stanley's (Duncan and Maddie), complete with a taco truck.
We eat a ton of Asian food, get great espresso, and get a chance to go to REI. I bring in one of my stinky shoes in order to buy a new pair. I feel self–conscious because it really does stink, and I hide it under my seat. The associate tells me that my feet look much better than they should for 500 miles. My arches haven't collapsed much yet. Even though I'd bought shoes 2 sizes larger than my normal size for the start of the trail, they have been squeezing the sides of my feet for the last 200 miles. I end up buying the smallest size they have in the men's version, meaning I'm 3 sizes larger than I'd wear at home. I've heard one's feet never quite go back to their normal size post-trail.
The Stanley's chauffeur us everywhere. I feel super grateful. Before Duncan drives us back to Agua Dulce, I get to try Sechuan Chinese food. I've never had it before and apparently most of the food is made with peppercorns that numb one's mouth. Next, I visit an Asian snack store next door that has a ton of things in bulk. I get dried mangoes, toasted coconut, and some dried mushroom chips for the trail. We're driven back to Agua Dulce and Hiker Heaven.
Hiker Heaven is a property owned by the Saufley's. The place is really full, but somehow kept pretty clean. It's kind of like a small farm, with a horse corral off to the side. There are chickens and dogs milling about. They have a gear repair tent, and a computer tent. It's great. I get the package I had my dad send me. They hold mail for hikers in their garage. I had ordered a few things from Amazon, including a new headlamp (finally), and had them sent to the house. I'd told my dad to throw them all in one box and to add any Trader Joe's food if he felt like it. Sure enough, there's some great snacks and a nice card.
There's a hair cutting station, which consists of a chair set up in front of a tall mirror outside. A choice of two different sets of clippers sit out, with an extension cord to plug them in. Tarantino sets himself up as self-proclaimed barber, complete with tinny music blasting through his phone speakers. Hikers come by, and usually pay him beer in exchange for a cut. He cashes in his paycheck on the job.
A nice double-wide trailer has a kitchen and living room. The bathroom is reserved as showers–only during the day and a whiteboard on the door has a list of names in line for a shower. The TV isn't quite working but there's plenty to do and eat. I end up sleeping on the large couch that spans the living room. Most of the others have set up their tents in the yard. It doesn't seem to quiet down all night. It's a little quieter indoors but people come and go throughout the night, opening and slamming the sliding glass door. Then at 3AM, when all seems silent, someone decides to organize their pack in the kitchen. At 6, a woman who is staying on the property—in return for assisting with cleaning and odd jobs—comes in. She turns on all the lights and begins doing dishes "this isn't a resort. I can't believe how people leave their dishes" She says loudly to no one in particular. Everyone I knew personally had cleaned up after themselves when eating The room groggily wakes up and remains silent, listening to her go on.
37 | We decide to stay another night here. This time, I snag a room in the double-wide. It's so relaxing and quiet, away from all the people and talking. I nap here throughout the day. The Netflix starts working and we watch Heavyweights, a classic Ben Stiller movie I've never seen. At some point, we hitch into town. 37 people cram into the huge truck. I buy a pint of Ben & Jerry's banana ice cream (always craving banana ice cream or shakes) and eat it outside.
38 | We head out of Hiker Heaven and only hike about 4 miles before camping. Another trail angel house is within a day's walk. There's no rush to get to the Sierra as there's a lot of snow this year, though my "antsy-ness" level is high.
39 | I have chafing from my shorts. It's likely due to the heat and all the uphills, and it's making me walk funny. The pain is so bad it makes me nauseous, and biting flies are making me want to run. I come down the hill and see the highway. I can see a bunch of hikers getting in a truck, but I'm too far away to yell or run before they leave. I get to the bottom and Justin has kindly waited for me. We get a hitch into Casa de Luna, another famous trail angel place. It's great but crowded, and like most popular hiker places, has portapotties for bathrooms. Apparently, the company concerned with them was supposed to empty them yesterday, but had some issue. They are full, and the only other option is the convenience store 15-minute walk away.
Our first instructions are to set up our tents in the rear of the property, the Manzanita forest. The red bark of the Manzanita (trees? shrubs?) and the way they grow make it cozy because it creates the illusion of little rooms. They grow overhead like a roof, and the ground is dry and sandy for a dirt floor. It's crowded and we walk in the maze forever before finding a spot. I have trouble pitching my tent and throw a half-fake tantrum. I'm half-laughing at myself and half-crying about it. I'm exhausted and dehydrated, and antsy about all the zero days. My tent uses both my trekking poles to set up and a crossbar. The rest is held taught by stakes in the ground. Every time I get it half-staked it twists weird and flops over. Finally, after a break and some deep breathing, I set it up.
The evening approaches and the owner of Casa de Luna starts a game where hikers have to dance in order to receive a PCT Class of 2017 bandana. I don't care for the colour this year-bright red- but sheepishly walk over and do a sad version of the running man.
40 | I wake up early and get pancakes and coffee in the front yard. Later, I paint a rock and put it in he Manzanita forest. It's a tradition that's been going on for years. I love reading everyone's rocks. Some are serious, some funny, some are just art. The porta potties are emptied and cleaned today. It's a momentous occasion.
^ above, my rock. below, someone else's rock, but my favourite rock of all, and quote, which has become quite important to me
41 | Our next route is up for discussion. There's still a reroute on our maps from a fire closure of years past. There's a restaurant if we go this way, and it's 17 miles shorter. I'm very much a purist, meaning I have a "no skips, no flips" mindset, and won't hitchhike forward. This reroute though, seems to feel allowed by my conscience, so I agree to it. Justin, Tarantino, Mousetrap and I hike out from CDL and onto the road. There aren't many cars on the road and the only houses are usually ranch setups in between long stretches of fields and such. We pass an ostrich farm, and a wolf rescue(?) place. When we pass the wolves, it's growing dark and they are howling. It's eerie. We begin talking about where to camp. We find a bridge and hike under it. Everything seems fine until we notice the crane flies. There are thousands. Normal-size crane flies, so numerous that they are creating piles of themselves in the wind, almost tumbleweeds as they fly, and get tangled together, and are blown by the wind coming under the bridge. It's fine for the most part until we turn on our headlamps to set up our tents. They fly at our faces. It's like a nightmare to have large-winged insects constantly flying at your face out of the darkness. Help.
We try sweeping them with various objects, then grit our teeth and bear it. Inside our tents at last, we all grab any craneflies that have made their way inside, and quickly put them out.
42 | We hike on, and I'm a bit behind my others. I pass a farm, in awe. I watch chickens hanging out under horses, and a large white goose wandering around. Another horse is eating hay out of the back of a red truck. The horses' coats are shiny, and all the animals look happy and healthy. It's exactly like a children's storybook come to life. Suddenly, a man comes out from behind the truck with the brownest clothes I've ever seen. His overalls are exactly the same color as his hat, and it's a floppy hat with a large brim. He's bearded like Santa Claus. I stare for a while and then walk to the intersection where the others are.
We call a number that we've heard will get us a ride into a market. We hang out and nap there for a while in the 97-degree heat. I read blogs from last year's hikers, trying to compare my location with theirs. I also read something that helps me a lot, from Karen Wang. She basically says that this section is easy to get antsy in. I've been feeling lazy and putting myself down for all these zero days, and she says this section is like that. There are so many trail angel stops in one row, and it's easy to feel bad about all the rest and relaxation. This makes me feel better, and I don't feel very off-schedule.
As it gets cooler, we hitch to a place called "hiker town". The ride there is intensely scary. Some guy lets a bunch of people pile into his rv. He drives incredibly fast down the highway and hits the rumble strips more than once. At one point, as he's telling the person in the passenger seat a story, he takes both hands off the wheel, sighs, and slicks back his hair.
Hiker Town is a place I've been dreading a bit. I've heard it's weird. It… is. It's a guy's property who's built (or had someone else build) a row of structures that look like an old western town. The rest of the property has old cars, and a place to throw axes.
Some guy, with some type of authority, gathers a few people to teach them axe and knife-throwing. I hang back and get pictures.
Our group heads out after sunset. We are heading to hike the aqueduct. It's hiker tradition to walk this section at night. It's 20 miles long, and almost completely flat, and would be shadeless in the heat of the day. About four miles in, I don't feel so well. I feel nauseous and so tired that I could sleep standing up. Justin stops with me. I feel bad that he's stopping too and that we haven't walked far, but when I sit down to think, I sink into a state of almost-sleep.
43 | We finish walking the aqueduct, and get to a bridge. A bridge means shade, and that is all we could ask for. A ton of hikers are there. Most are sleeping. There's shade under an out-of-place large tree nearby. We head there for a bit.
A voice suddenly bellows out from the bridge above. "Anybody want some soda?!" About 30 of us scatter and run up the hill. It's 2016 thru-hiker named "Z" who has decided to bring some trail magic back to the trail this year. He ends up running back to the store for more food–over an hour round trip–and offers spaghetti, fruit, and hot dogs.
We hike out, and are now in a massive wind farm. We camp in a gully that offers minimal protection from the wind, and I can hear my tent flapping all night.
44 | After a big climb we have to walk back down at a pretty fast decline through more turbines. I am a bit behind and talk myself through some gnarly foot pain for the last few miles. With two miles to go my blood sugar is low and I can feel my legs turning to rubber. I sit down in the wind and pour some seeds and coconut flakes into my peanut butter jar, and eat that top layer. Coming around the bend in marshy area, I see a little sign saying "Coppertone is here" I recognized the name and knew he was a trail angel. Copper tone wasn't there, but another trail angel named Legend was there. I was thankful for all of the help he was giving, but when he made Mousetrap read out of a book aloud (that he'd co-written), I started to wonder if he'd given himself his trail name. He's in his late sixties and travels along the trail, cooking up meals for hikers and giving them rides in his truck/trailer. He says he makes his living off of donations and lives in Honduras on a wealthy man's property during the off-season, where they do volunteer work. I know that others really like the guy and have a different experience, but over the next few times I meet him he says a few things that rub me the wrong way. We get a lift into tehachapi from one of his friends, and set up our stuff to sleep in a free tepee behind a BBQ resteraunt. We are all hungry, but it's pretty late so when the first restaurant option is turned down (by the guys)we end up walking all the way across town to Burger King. I lag behind and am almost crying with foot pain. I don't speak up though, and there isn't much else to eat, bear it.
45&46 | 4 of us stay 2 nights in a Best Western, and Twerk and the other crew are in a couple rooms upstairs.
47 | There's about 8 miles of trail that we'll miss if we get dropped off at the trail. I decide to "slack-pack" it, which means I set it up so my pack will be waiting for me at the end of 8 miles. Legend offers to do this, so that he, Justin, and Mousetrap will be waiting for me at the end. Legend says it will take me at least 3 hours. It takes me 2 hrs and 15 minutes, and I text Justin at the 2 hour mark. Legend tells Justin and Mousetrap that I must have skipped or taken a shortcut, or that I must be in the wrong place. I'm in the right place, and didn't cut anywhere downhill because I was curious about time. (Oh well, about my pride)
48 | After a long day of hiking, I'm looking for a camping spot for Justin, Mousetrap and I. It's so windy, but there's a spot with a partial windbreak. I move some big, light logs and sticks over to try and make a wind break, and end up cutting my leg kind of badly on one of them. Little do I know, the valley a little further off is fully "forested" and nearly windless. Justin points this out and we head there, with Mousetrap arriving soon after.
49 | I've been coughing since Tehachapi, but today my nose is stuffed more than it has been previously. Justin is just as sick with the same thing. It's so foggy and that makes everything eerie. It also makes being sick even worse. Every time I breathe, it feels sharp in my throat. I hike behind Justin and have to secretly blow my nose every few miles, the natural way. We hike through a windy area with a lot of dead trees, and my tree-falling-fear is very intense. I practically run through the area, and at times, I literally run. We stop for lunch. It's still windy and there are a lot of dead trees, but we all take a nap in a meadow. At night, we get to a nice area with only one dead tree nearby and a campfire pit, and I drink hot chocolate. It's the first time I've had it on trail and the best I've ever tasted, and happens to be the cheapest Nestlé version at the store.
50 | It's hot and dry, and we are worried about water, as there are so many miles in between sources. Miraculously, someone has set up a water cache. We camp in a windy gully.
51 | We hit a second amazing water cache. There's also a cooler with pop tarts, and a box with important odds and ends we might need: water treatment tabs, leukotape, duct tape, Benedryl and Ibuprofen. Get out my sleeping bag and take a little nap in the continuously strong wind before leaving. We hike up a "large mountain" and camp in a pine forest. I can see a glimpse of the snowy Sierra Nevada range from the top of the "mountain".
52 | We are hoping to get into Lake Isabella today. We reach the spot near the highway and the trail angel Coppertone is there. It's so hot but he has shade set up. We go to the highway to get a hitch the 37 miles into town, along with a wonderful Texan couple named Shipwreck and Iguana. They get a hitch first, then we catch a ride from a nice, young guy named Brian who's car sounds like it'll fall apart at any moment (he says it might). We split a motel and eat at a great Mexican resteraunt.
53 | After the last stretch, we aren't quite ready to leave town, and the bus doesn't run on Wednesdays, so we would have to get a hitch back 37 miles to the trail if we were to leave today. We head to Burger King and Tarantino calls his fiancé. Soon we've all made it to a table and have eaten. A debate begins when I mention that an Instagram friend is sending me a box. "Do you actually know this person?" "Just through Instagram, he hiked the PCT last year" "Wow, yeah only girls get free stuff like that. A guy would never get sent a box from a stranger." I disagree, and get somewhat offended by this statement. I abruptly leave the table to throw away my trash.
54 | We get a ride from the RV Park owner back to the bank, then walk over to Taco Bell which is right near the bus station. While waiting in Taco Bell, I pull up Twerk's Instagram and see that he has posted about getting a box from an Instagram friend he's never met in person. Triumphantly, I show the others. (It seems to prove my side of the argument from the previous day) The bus comes and is very squeaky although fairly new looking. They are playing great tunes and George Michael's Careless Whisper comes on. We formulate a plan to buy Alto and Tenor recorders in the key of F and film a performance of Careless Whisper in the Sierra. Stay tuned.
Coppertone is still there, and a Southbound hiker arrives with a tale about a bear ahead near the 700 mile mark. The bear has been conditioned by human food and has no fear of humans. It stole the guy's bag and ate out of it for 15 minutes without looking up, regardless of what they threw at it. We head out and make some miles.
56 | It's a day with lots of hills to climb and descend. Rounding a corner, I see a some baby chicks running up the embankment. I stop and talk to them, and then see the mother–a quail. The chicks have stopped to investigate and the mom is calling them back.
Justin, Tarantino, Mousetrap and I meet at the water source, at the base of a huge climb. Mousetrap has encountered a bear. "He was about 15 meters away and he was just as awkward as I was about the whole thing, and he took off." He got a few pictures, close-ups of a sun-blonde bear lumbering away.
Nearly every day I'll interject into a male -run conversation: "I need a girl's weekend." I'm always half-joking, but the group has even offered to do one with me. "What do you need besides facials and a chick flick? Do you need wine and dark chocolate? We can do this."
Some of the conversation can get rough. I'm a huge prude about it. Most specifically, bathroom details. I've heard time and time again that the aversion to these topics fully wears off because shit is so relevant in hikers' lives. I don't see it happening quite yet.
57 | It's so hot. The temperature in town said Sunday would be over 100, so I'm not sure what the temp is here. Just like yesterday, we meet at the water and sit around, fanning flies and gnats away. This morning, I woke up to a cloud of mosquitoes flying at my tent netting. For about 2.5 hours I walked and ran with the cloud still around me. I'm not sure where, but I lost my headnet somewhere over the last 400 miles. While walking, I put two trekking poles in one hand, grab them in the middle, and swing them back and forth in front of me. It keeps the mosquitoes and gnats from getting at my face. I feel like I'm the misinformed leader at the front of a marching band. There's also some yellow biting flies, that are thankfully pretty slow and easy to kill, but very aggressive.
It's almost as if nature is going: "You're getting too comfortable, don't forget that this isn't supposed to be easy"
I think this is my best night on trail. At the top of the last bit of elevation to climb before Kennedy Meadows, there's a view of almost everything. One one side, barren sandy hills stretch infinitely. On the other, facing the sunset, the outline of the Sierra. I'm struck with awe.
The sunset disappears behind cloud and turns hot red. The moment is so meaningful. I've begun a new leg of the journey, and I face the mountains. Mountains have always given me a feeling of both awe and unease. Their beauty exists because of their detached heights, their cold and uncaring precipices.
I set up my tent 13 miles out of town. I can't see town yet. I figure that tonight, I'll try and set up my tent a new way so that I can see the stars. It works and now I have an almost full view of the sky. I eat ramen for dinner, and as it grows dark the stars are visible from where I lay my head. I've got some aches, my feet, my back, my knee, bust for the first time on trail I fall asleep as soon as my head hits my makeshift-pillow.