Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Agua Caliente To Somewhere In the Middle Of Nowhere: Scaring the Man In the Kitchen

      This morning we woke to the sound of energized young boys climbing from their tents and meandering slightly behind ours to relieve themselves. We cooked our oatmeal, failed at getting peanut butter out of the ziploc bag we foolishly put it in, and then packed up so we could start our climb away from the creek before the sun did its job of draining all of our energy away from us. Low on water, we planned on walking the twelve miles to Mike Herrara's water tank so that we could fill up before the twenty four mile dry stretch. 
     At 12:30, we saw the rudimentary sign that pointed towards water and shade and turned off the trail happily. We limped down the trail, coming upon a few hikers on the side of the dirt road already eating. As we filtered our water, we packed as many things into a tortilla as we could find in our food bag and watched as the couple next to us stirred their rice and beans decorously. After we finished, a man appeared from down the hill, pointing to the tents inside the fenced yard, "There's beer and soda down there." We both looked at each other, packed up our bags and trotted down the steps, wondering where exactly we were going. When we got to the bottom, we looked around, seeing an open lot with old trucks, lumber and tents containing coolers and empty boxes of cans in a confused strew of materials. We set our bags down, Melissa grabbing us both a Tecate. We sat beneath one of the tents, becoming increasingly uneasy about the absence of other hikers, but listening to the mixture of Prince and David Bowie blaring from somewhere nearby. 
      After fifteen minutes, an older man popped his head up from the hood of the truck he was working under and pointed down to the house. "There's a pack of them down there!" Melissa and I nodded and sat still. "It's like a scene in a horror movie," Melissa said and chuckled nervously. "So...you wanna see what's down there then?" She shrugged. "Not really, but I feel like we should since we're here." We made our way slowly down to the house, around the side where we heard the music from, noting the fire pit with mismatched lawn chairs surrounding it, worn RVs on the edge of the woods and finally the lack of hikers and their respective packs. We looked to our right at the sound of rustling in the shed beside us and walked towards the opening a bit apprehensive. A man turned from the workbench he was at and jumped. "Holy shit!" Melissa and I both stepped back, "You scared me. I don't know why...because there's people always here. But...how are you guys doing? I'm Josh, the caretaker." We introduced ourselves and looked around. Josh nodded, "So what d'you think?" He motioned around him, smiling. Melissa grinned back, "This place is...bizarre." Josh laughed, "Yes, yes it is." I stood there, pictured standing in the yard of my childhood home in Florida, chatting with my uncle in front of his peculiarly cluttered garage, conscious of all the disorder around me, yet his comfort in the place contagious in a way that makes you feel quite at home as well. "Well, if you guys are staying here, we usually reserve the RV for girls and couples if you wanted it." We smiled, Melissa explaining our plans of walking the eight miles further to a campsite down the trail. 
      We left Mike's place after more hikers arrived, our backpacks heavy from the six litres of water added to them, the wind keeping the heat away. As we climbed away from Mike's, I looked back down the hill and saw that his house was the only structure for miles and miles. I thought about Melissa's comment about it being an ideal place to commit a murder and thanked whoever was in control that the only thing the two people at the lone oasis wanted to do was give us a beer, some pizza and a place to stay that wasn't able to be wadded up and stuffed inside a backpack.           After we walked some five miles, Melissa stopped and turned towards me. "We need a break?" I shook my head, "Don't think so.." At the end of the eight miles, we tossed our backpacks down in a small alcove off the trail, sighing in contentment, thankful our packs were no longer digging into the tender skin on our shoulders.

Warner Springs to Agua Caliente: We Have Trail Names For Eachother, But They're Not Very Nice

      We sat outside the community center in Warner Springs, watching hikers filter in and out of the building, some greeting us as they walked by. As we sat there with our coffee and Coke, a big guy by the name of Bison sat down across from us. "You guys see the snake yet?" We looked at each other, nodded, unimpressed. Melissa shook her head and stood up. "Where is he? He needs to let that poor snake go." 
      Earlier in the day, we passed a hiker we refer to as Goofy Canadian with a snake he had found near his tent, claiming he was going to keep it as a pet. Goofy Canadian is also referred to as Dagger, Knick Knack, and most likely in the future either Snake Charmer, or Crocodile Dundee. We met Goofy Canadian in Mt Laguna at the local outfitters as he dumped all of the useless knick knacks he had out of his bag. "You guys want this?" As he asked us, he held up a patch for an air mattress. "Why in the world would we want that?" Melissa asked, laughing, taking a sip from the can of Coors in her hand. Goofy Canadian shrugged, unperturbed and ever since then he seems to show up in places you wouldn't expect to see him. In Julian, everyone spoke of the guy that killed the rattlesnake and fed it to everyone that stayed the night at the hostel and today, he was the guy with the snake in his bag that he would pull out and show everyone.
      As Bison and his friend TP Two Rolls sat with us, Melissa got up and went inside. Bison looked at me, "You two aren't big into socializing with the other hikers are you?" I chuckled, "Well when there's a ton in one place, we kind of suffer from social anxiety. Especially after not seeing another soul all day." He nodded, "It will thin out a bit after this, I think. There have been a ton of hikers that really glob together though. I can definitely see where you guys are coming from. You would have hated the AT. There are people everywhere on that trail."
I was glad that someone else understood that the community aspect of the trail didn't have to be mobs of people to be fun.
     When we left Warner Springs, our packs light due to the half load of water we were carrying, we followed a group of boys across the field, wondering if we would have to share the campsite next to the water. We walked quickly, aware of the water we would be able to splash into after the five miles. As we neared the three mile mark, we heard another group of guys behind us and we picked up our pace so that at some places along the trail we were doing a modified jog so that they wouldn't be able to catch up and take our spot. As we neared the water, we spotted tents...and more tents. We walked on. A half mile later, we crossed the stream again and came upon the second larger campsite. We walked farther along and there next to the stream sat a whole boyscouts troop, their tents spread out across the campsite, young boys running around like small whirlwinds. Melissa's grin widened. I grunted, "My punishment for hating men now is that one day any babies I have will be boys." She laughed. "Are you kidding me? That's what I hope for. Just a flock of little boys." We found a spot under a large oak, set our packs down and walked to an undisturbed part of the stream. When we got in, washed our clothes out, our feet and faces off, we both sighed, satisfied. "It smells like the Black Hole. Fishy and muddy. But even so, I feel so clean."
      When we got back to camp, we set up the tent and had an incredibly tasty dinner of Chili and Beef Ramen Noodles and afterwards listened to the boys' screeching laughter and the adults talk about the Little Dipper and Shrodinger's Cat.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Julian and Days After: Hiking in Chacos Requires Two Wet Wipes Per Foot

We were on trail again, our packs heavier than ever before. "You sure we dont have way more stuff in here now?" Both of us toting one new item that we had gotten in town, things weve been going mad without. Melissa and her deodorant and me with a hairbrush. We came into town hurting and hungry, caught a ride with an older German couple on vacation. "You want to ride? With us?" The woman asked when we ran up alongside the RV. When we got into our room, the proprietor wouldn't leave, explaining all of the amenities, explaining where he would be when checkout came around the following day. We dropped our bags and each shed our shoes and socks, tossing ourselves onto the bed. "Oh my goodness, I think this is the most comfortable bed I've ever been on! And the sheets! They're so soft!" We each took a shower, scrubbing what we could of the desert off of us, the water running down the drain completely brown for the first two minutes.
After washing our clothes in the sink and hanging them out to dry, we walked through town in search of a beer. Just off Main St sat a  small brewery with a dozen of their own beers, an outside patio and a couple other hikers. We sat there for an hour, drinking, soaking in having reception when three hikers sat down at the table next to us, asking us about our shoes, one of them bragging about his inability to get blisters. After a bit of mocking conversation, we played washers. When we won, I screeched, jumping up and down and finally grinning smugly (my version of good sportsmanship). We went back to our room satisfied and excited for the bed we were about to get into.
The next morning, we sat in our room until the clock flipped to 11:00 and when we picked up our packs, they weighed an incredible amount, and even more so when we added water and more food to them. But later that evening, our shoulders and hips throbbing, we made our way up three miles to a campsite situated in a small dried creekbed in between a bend in the trail so that when hikers walked past, it sounded as if they were walking right up to our tent. Late into the night we heard footsteps, far off voices and then the glaring headlamps shone into the tent, the fabric splintering it into many different sources. We woke once to the sound of voices and bright light, believing it must be daylight, but it was only 10:00pm and the moon acted as one monotonously intense spotlight.
We woke early, walking until midday to the next water source, where hikers laid langourously under the sparse shade. Melissa and I filled what we needed to of our nalgenes and found ourselves our own piece of shade under a small spiky tree until the sun lowered itself to position that wasn't miserable to hike under. We walked until we found a small cave they call Billy Goat cave, where we cooked our dinner, rested for ten minutes and walked another hour in search of a worthy campsite. As we reached the top of the ridge, there above the trail was a small flat opening. We set up our tent in the increasingly vicious wind and crawled in, thankful for the missing bugs and cool air coming in. During the night, we listened as the tent flapped in the wind, feeling sporadic droplets of water falling on our cheeks, and I wondered how strong the wind would have to be to pick us up and carry us right off the side of the mountain.
This morning, we sat up wondering if the wind was going to cut into us as we hiked as much as it did the tent.
The twelve miles to Warner Springs went by quickly, most of the mileage winding through fields and along a small stream. Tonight we will hike a while more, camping next to Agua Caliente where we can soak our feet and wash our face in the passing stream.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Week One: Why didn't we bring the goat?

Sitting here in a library in Southern California, I can't help, but wonder why we left the desert. Really, I'm not quite sure what to say about it, only that six of my toes are cushioned between layers of medical tape, I've become accustomed to hearing sand crunching under my feet and locating water is a source a pure anxiety.
The first day we were on trail, we started off early, shuffling down the hill in search of a worthy bush for our first bathroom break, unable to stand at the southern terminus for more than five minutes. We got our picture done first and giggled as we walked as fast as possible to the trailhead, looking behind us for any other groups making their way down the hill. Four days later, we met a couple from England commenting on how we were the first ones out that day and how excited we must have been to get going that quickly, how they aspired to be that gung-ho. I told them the real reasoning behind our quick getaway and they laughed, "Well that completely ruins the view we have of you now!"
I can tell you the first day we hiked twenty miles to the Lake Morena campground, the second and third and fourth we went fourteen to sixteen miles and that it hurt...badly, but I can also tell you that when we would stop for breaks, we can't ever stay there long. We eat our snacks, lay back on our bags few a few minutes, but end up looking at each other, "You ready?" "Yes." Even when our shoulders boast a few deep welts, our feet oozing a couple new blisters. We push off the rocks we had been sitting on and follow the line of the trail with our fingers, tracing it up the mountains, switchback after switchback. And we groan, but we always enjoy the flat, hope for the uphill when we're limping down into the valleys and scope out potential dirt sites for our small tent. "Well, we could always just lay it down here if we needed." The spot wide enough for a couple of bodies on the side of the trail, on the other, a drop-off to the bowl of a valley.
We refer to people with the names we've given them: Teleport Tim, the Svelte Sisters, Penny, Santa, Irish Lucas, Gunther.
I laugh at the end of the days, the end of five miles, the end of a break. "Why are we doing this again?" But then we walk up to the next ridge, look out over the bowl of a desert, "Oh, yes. I remember now." Staying in Julian, CA, we met so many thru-hikers--drank with them, played washers (which is just another form of cornhole, but with ridiculously sized metal washers), sat on the concrete behind a restaurant soaking feet and sharing the leftover resupply snacks we bought at the local store. To get us through, Melissa will sing to us, songs meant for young children on field trips, but that actually help more than any rest ever could. Once we've learned the names of the other hikers that we continuously leap-frog, we don't want to lose them, so we find ourselves basing our camping decisions on where we think certain hikers can make it to each night, placing ourselves a couple miles further so that we won't have to wake as early to keep them in our sights, or we'll stop only when we get tired, knowing they keep our same pace.
Every day, I think of what I would tell others- how narrow the trail is, winding through the mountains, how sometimes I think the people who made the trail did it as a cruel joke, how sometimes I'll stumble over a fist sized rock, look up and realize I've been hiking along a ridge that lets you see a hundred miles.
Maybe my next post will be a touch more eloquent. Maybe it won't. Maybe I will never know quite what to say about it, just as I feel not many people have been able to, since I read a ton and still really had no idea what I was walking into. I feel as though everyone looks forward to the Sierras, as I have been, but no one tells you how the desert is--how it will seep everything out of you, make you wonder if you'll surrender yourself to it, or how you can quite literally be appalled by how stunning a place can be and still not receive the credit it deserves. But here I am, sitting in a library twelve miles from the trail, feeling myself drawn to it once again.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How many synonyms can you think of for meat log?



On Thursday we went and bought the rest of our supplies: meals, toiletries and clothing. We portioned meals out, re-portioned, calculated what we would actually need before the first resupply in Mt Laguna. Our excitement building as we held up snacks we could put together to make full meals. "I can't wait to slather peanut butter in our tortillas and sprinkle some granola!" "And banana chips!" "We could cut up some of this summer sausage and add it to our ramen..." Both of us weary of the refrigerate after opening labeling, but after much discussion of the limited selection of meat logs on the trail, were unable to resist. We packed our bags, hoisted them onto our backs. Mine being top heavy and almost causing me to fall headfirst onto the marble flooring. I set it down, repacked, thinking instead about the different times of day I would use certain items, how easy it would be to get to them and whether my pack was going to fling me one way or the other with my flawless weight distributing skills. I watched as Melissa put her clothing inside the bag, her arm acting as a pile driver, pushing the clothes deeper in, trying to fit all of her gear in the smaller, more comfortable one of her two bags. While mine sat on my back like a hulking second person, her bag peeked over her shoulder meekly, why, yes I'll just be tagging along, it seemed to be saying.