May 31st- 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.
It's kind of boring going slow, and I grumble about the trail which is doing ridiculous ups and downs which aren't really bad, but still. 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, general store, etc.
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 poke at my face. 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 Tidbit'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 outside, 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 he/she purrs. Then we go to the lounge and watch Forest Gump on the little box TV. Sizzle gets 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 my clean clothes, 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 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 Aquaduct. We joke about aquablazing the Aquaduct (doing trail miles by boat). We reach the covered part of the Aquaduct, 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 Aquaduct alone.
I stop and eat something I got 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 to watch it, 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 like Christmas. 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.
May 30th- Day 39- 18.5 miles from Maxwell Road water guzzler at mile 493 to campsite at 511.5
I go get some water before hiking out in the morning, which is down the slope a bit. 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. I use the scoop made out of a milk jug 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 in a happy tropical-Hawaiian tune as I'm playing it out loud. 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 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 Aquaduct 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 Aquaduct 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. "Stand up, right now! 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 Hogwart kitchens and find Dobby there. Whenever they mention the house elves giving them different foods, we exclaim in excitement and echo the foods. "Chocolate Eclairs!" says Spider Mama excitedly.
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 Aquaduct with no water.