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April 24th- Day 3- 15.6 miles from Boulder Oaks Campground mile 26 to Mt. Laguna mile 41.3
Tommy set the alarm for 4:30 and I wake up to his flashlight and then everyone else's. I groan and dig around for mine and start packing up, shoving around my dirty ziplocs and extra clothes. I slept well. I head out with Farkle while everyone else is cooking warm breakfasts and cross two roads in the dark. Everything is chaparral with the moon in a crescent. We turn back and watch the cars going down the freeway towards a lightening horizon. How are there so many cars out in the middle of nowhere? I ask. Farkle has no idea. There is a splash of bright pink sunrise in the sky and we stop to take a snack. It's too light for headlamps now.
Alpo comes by and hops past us. We see him on the other side of the valley, walking fast. Kathleen joins Farkle and I and we head off while Karma and Tommy stop to break. We're high up on the side of a slope, dark green sweeping chaparral and windmills on a hazy ridge in the distance, hidden by mist and the rising bright sun. Farkle comes behind around the corners singing out loud. He has a beautiful voice and it makes me happy that he's singing. I assume he's singing to headphones because he knows the words and pauses and everything perfectly but I ask later and he's singing from memory.
The trail is cruiser and Kathleen and Farkle and I walk without stopping, on a roll. We stop and tell each other how ugly everything is. This is our life now, Kathleen says, laughing. Farkle falls behind because his knee hurts a bit and I look at my phone. 9:49. I look at my Guthooks App. Boulder Oaks is 9.9 miles back. I catch sight of Kathleen as we're rounding a bend and I shout, "10 by 10!" We cheer. Life is hard.
We start slowing down and feeling the miles in our feet. The last 2 miles to Mt. Laguna are hard and long. We enter a forest and the air is warm with pine scent. Farkle is hiking with us again and we hike the last mile together.
I catch sight of pavement and we stumble towards the bathroom. Then down to the restaurant. Alpo is there and we sit. Frittata and salad for me. We leave our packs and head to the outfitter, which is a dense awesome fire hazard maze of gear. Get some hand sanitizer and hot cheetos at the general store. Then back to get my pack and claim a spot at the campground. Everyone else is coming, there are so many hikers! Everyone at Mt. Laguna is sooo nice and hiker-friendly. I meet Vanessa aka Scissors as she's getting a shakedown outside of the outfitters.
The wind is very strong and the ground is pretty loose so I have a hard time getting my tent to stay up. We all hang out and walk to the general store again, then back again. Alpo guesses that I'm homeschooled and says he's surprised I'm good at social things. What? Whenever I tell people I'm homeschooled they generally give me a weird look and the conversation dies so I guess now I know how weird people think we are now. Ha. But look at them, they're in the exact same place as I am doing the same crazy thing as me, so who's talking?
I join a bunch of other hikers in the bathroom talking and charging our phones. I'm writing this in here in the warmth. It's 30 minutes to hiker midnight. My shins hurt from standing on the concrete here so I should probably leave!
April 23rd- Day 2- Mile 15.4(Hauser Creek) to Mile 26 (Boulder Oaks Campground).
Woke up at 5:30 ish and packed up in the dark with my red light, more red lights across camp. There is a spot near my head that looks like somebody pooped there with some TP buried.
I have my morning burst of energy and power up the beginning of the ridge before becoming normal again. The trail goes over one ridge and down into a small valley, then up again, the sun kissing the rocks on the top of the ridges. There are tons of cute little bunnies everywhere and I talk to them and call them bun-buns. They are spies for the snakes. Duh.
I go over the top of the second ridge and find my sunglasses to cut the glare from the sun. Then there's a bunch of flat and down to Lake Morena, where I might catch Rachel and Jono, and definitely get some food at the deli. The trail winds through a chaparral maze, green with vines with Maple-oid leaves and curling tendrils.
Lake Morena! I take a minute to read some signs posted for PCT hikers and then head into the Campground. The Wolverines of the PCT are there with trail magic bagels and fruit, hiker boxes and their infamous shakedown tent. I grab an orange, wave hi to Scout as he pulls up, and walk the .1 of a mile to the deli. I order potatoes and eggs, a salted caramel milkshake, and buy some Bugles. I sit outside to eat and talk with some locals.
Then I go back to the campground and take a shower, loiter around the Wolverines' campsites watching shakedowns, and charge my phone. With all of the service I've had, my power has gone down much faster than on the JMT. Then off I go! I quickly run into Rachel sitting by the side of the trail and we head off together.
There is finally Sagebrush and I am happy. It's 70 ish versus yesterday's 90 degrees so it's also much cooler. We reach the highway and I sit for a long time talking to everyone and listening. It's sandy and nice. There is graffiti on the bridge, mostly hiker names and dates, although there's also words scrawled in Spanish the column over. I meet my first non-AT thruhiker who's been given a trail name, Tarantino, who is filming a documentary. Then there's Alpo, an ATer, and everyone else. Everyone cheers when Rob comes in because he's super funny and awesome.
I finally pull myself away, cross some rocks over the first branch of Cottonwood Creek, only to have to walk through the second one. I scare a bunch of children who are walking down to visit the creek with my thru-hiker-ness. Homeless creep.
I make it to Boulder Oaks Campground and fill up my water at the spigot. It seems deserted, and when I walk down past a bunch of horse stalls I meet guys who say it's been shut down to motor campers because of an endangered frog they found nearby. Rachel and Jono, who has just accepted the trail name of Nirvana because he looks like Kurt Cobain apparently, walk by to head 2 miles further to Kitchen Creek Falls. There's a swimming hole that was reported on the Water Report copies we are carrying, but it's a month since it was reported. I can't decide whether or not I want to hike further, but in the end the private Campground with water spigots and tables is too much to pass up.
I set up camp with Arpo and the rest of his group. There is Farkle, Annie (who I think is taking the name Karma), Colleen, Kathleen, Tommy, and Alpo, who is our trail mom.
We play an intense game of Farkle (Alpo wins) and then head off to bed. We are all planning to wake up at 4:30 to night hike, and get to Mt. Laguna by the end of the day.
April 22nd- Day 1- 15 miles from Mexico to Hauser Creek
I wake up to people with headlamps on packing in the dark. I get up, too, and pack up my things. My sleeping bag is damp with condensation. I go to the bathroom and then join everyone else for breakfast; French toast, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and fruit. I don't eat the French Toast.
Then we get into the cars and drive to the terminus, the sun just rising and glaring into my eyes so I have to block it with my hands. I am over with the psycho analysis of last night. I am still not excited or anxious. I think it only bothered me because I deeply want to need this trail, to want it with my whole being. But I think I'm fine. I'm ready.
We park and I join the steady trickle of hikers making their way to the monument. Everything is chaparral. The monument is bigger and glossier than I thought it would be. We take pictures and then we head off. I join a train of people that slowly disperses. It's hot, but green, very green, and flowers everywhere. Tropical. I don't know most of the names or faces of the plants around me.
It feels just like a normal backpacking trip, except this time I happen to be going a bit further. It's hilly and the trail winds around ridges and through a burn. There is water everywhere. Around 11 it starts getting hotter and I start hopping from shade spot to spot. I can't walk at a good speed for more than 20 feet without stopping to cool down. I find several shade spots and spend a while at each of them, cooling down and then getting impatient and moving on. It's 90 degrees. The trail goes through a maze of manzanita as big as juniper trees. The rocks are granite like in the Sierra.
I leap frog with everyone. I sit for a while with Rachel, who I met yesterday, and who's sitting it out for an hour or two, which is what ideally we should all be doing. But I'm impatient and it's the first day and I don't want to sit for too long! She cuts me a star out of Leukotape and I put it on my leg so Ill get a tan tattoo.
Everyone is going to Hauser Creek and we begin the long descent down. My feet start to ache. I see my first tick after going pee in some tall grass and stop to check there aren't any on me. Everyone is cooking their dinners in a big circle, talking, and I join them and make curry lentil soup. Rachel and Jono decide to hike up the huge ridge to Lake Morena tonight. Rob, a section hiker, makes a ramen bomb and is hilarious. I cowboy camp next to Alex and Bridget and there are MOSQUITOS LET THEM ALL DIE.
April 21st- Day 0
I get off the train and make it onto the last bus. I'm wide awake, the mixture of the strong coffee I brought with me and whatever hormones my sympathetic nervous system is pumping into my bloodstream is quite potent. The LA Union station proper, Santa Ana, Irvine, Oceanside, and finally San Diego. It takes 5 hours to go through all of them and get to San Diego. I sit listening to my music, my leg pumping up and down, my hat covering my face as I try to sleep. Or not even try. There's a taco place called "Taco Llama," which I think is amusing, and a place called Doc's Inn, which is neither an inn or a doctor's office, but a cocktail bar.
My tailbone aches against the bus seat, my stomach feels bloated and gross. Finally as the sky is starting to lighten we reach San Diego and pull off the freeway. The bus hisses to a halt in front of the Amtrak station. I get my pack from the stow, and look for the Starbucks which I'd heard from Scout and Frodo's email was across the street. The bathroom is locked so I order some mint tea and get the passcode.
Washing my hands and face in the sink instantly makes me feel better. I settle down at a table with my pack and open my Uber app. I enter Scout and Frodo's address, and send out the call for a ride. Suddenly there is a black dot on the map somewhere by the intersection, so I decide to go wait by it. But where is it? A little car symbol zooms around and I try to find where I'm supposed to wait. I'm about to cross back to where I think it was when the driver calls me, and eventually finds me. I had no idea Uber was so fast. I get in, checking my maps app to make sure he's actually taking me the right way.
Here San Diego is hilly, slopes bushy with exotic and bright plants none of which I know. The driver drops me off in front of Scout and Frodo's house with its big PCT banner, and I spill my Trader Joe's bag contents out in order to find my wallet to tip him.
Then I nervously walk up to the front door, where someone sees me through the window and lets me in. A volunteering veteran thru-hiker named Peppa gives me the tour. The long night is finally catching up to me and I'm exhausted. The ground sways back and forth under my feet; I have train legs. After I'm done with the tour I eat some of the remaining jalapeño frittata and a piece of banana. Then I claim my spot in one of the big white shade-tents out back and unpack. I hide under my sleeping bag for a while and get an hour's rest before getting back up and talking to some of the other people. Many of them are foreign, from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Taiwan.
Two new people arrive and I get to talking to them. Their names are Jono and Rachel, and it turns out they're unschoolers too, from Seattle, although they're in college-ish stages of life right now. We talk for a while and then volunteer to go help Scout go shopping for food at Costco. We fill two huge dollies/flat carts with food for all of the hikers. Then we head back and I wander around talking to people and watching people get pack shake-downs from the veteran thruhikers. I talk to Jellebel from Belgium, Adam from England, Alex from Oregon, and others.
Then we have dinner. There are some pasta and chicken dishes, so I get fruit and some broccoli salad and I pick the bacon out. Scout and Frodo give their talk about LNT and trail advice.
It starts to get cold outside and everyone starts slowly dispersing to get ready for bed. Everyone seems excited to start, but I'm just super tired and miss home a bit. Is there something wrong with me for not really being excited at this moment? Does this mean I won't enjoy the trail, I don't actually want this, what? Why can't I just feel excited, or anxious, or anything? I'm confused and I hope everything, including my emotions, will get sorted out tomorrow.
April 20th, Day -1
Zephyr dog slept on my pillow next to me last night. I don't think I got much sleep, not because I was anxious, but because I was procrastinating about going to bed. Zephyr woke up at around 6 and scratched on my bedroom door to be let out, and then Wren, our puppy, came in to say hello.
Puttering to get the last of my electronics charged and set up, packing my backpack. Solomon made me heart pancakes with the last of my favorite pancake mix. We all went for a walk. It all felt okay until after lunch, when I was sitting on the couch with Wren on my lap. She's going to be so big when I come back! I hug her beautiful hairy floppy body close to me and cry for the first time today. Zephyr doesn't like crying and looks like he wants to hide but I hug him anyway.
We pick up some food at Whole Foods for the ride and then head downtown to the train station. We take pictures in the old brick station house, heavily intoxicated or drugged-out people loitering outside, and then walk across the street to the bus.
I hug everyone twice, managing not to fall apart completely. They stow my pack and I take a seat near the front and I wait. I watch my family through the window. What is happening? I'm not sure they can see me, but they wave. I get out once to say goodbye to my mom again, and then the driver comes back. The door closes with a hiss and the bus lurches to a start. I sit in my seat, in a bus that smells strongly like a port-a-potty, my throat burning and tight.
This moment honestly doesn't feel as horrible as I thought it would. The road to Sacramento is familiar, the tightness in my throat slowly eases, and I'm ear-worming "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again," singing it under my breath the entire way. Luckily the bus is creaky and the wind against it is loud, and the bus is mostly empty.
We get to the Sacramento station. I get in the bus behind a woman who promptly leans the seat back and starts playing an incomprehensible candy-swiping game on her phone. "Sodalicious!" and "Tasty!" pop up on the screen. The bus gets to Stockton just as my train is rushing towards the platform. I have just enough time to grab my pack and run up to one of the Amtrak employees to ask if it's my train. She says it is, so I get on and in another minute we're off.
The next transfer is at midnight. Rouge and turquoise streak the muddy dark horizon. I'll be going through LA in the dark, and getting an Uber to Scout and Frodo's early in the morning. I probably won't be able to sleep at all. Stale, cold air being blown from the air conditioners, weak light, the guy next to me watching bad monster movies on his laptop. Good thing I brought some coffee.