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.