Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wrightwood to Hiker Heaven: Four Miles of Switchback Hell

     I lay in the tent, curled sideways, listening to the voices around me. I hear Jetpack laugh, off near the fire, feel my stomach gurgle, then gurgle again, making sure I'm listening. We've found Goofy Canadian again, but this time he's acquired his name-- Rattlesnake. The tent beside ours houses a tall Israeli, Animal Style who apparently doesn't snore, but we inform him that we do. We've found ourself in a new pack of people. The people who've been ahead the entire way. Those people. The ones who offer us beef jerky and laughs after the sun sets. We haven't found ourselves near this type of person yet. We leapfrog with a pair of older men, and Melissa warms to them. "I want them to be our best friends."
     The hike from Wrightwood bent our bodies forward towards the end of each day. Up over Baden Powell, into Jimmy Springs Campground where there had been recent bear activity, we looked through the opening of our rainfly and tried counting all of the spaceship tents along the flats of the campground. "Twenty seven?" Melissa shrugged. We ran out of food on the last day and a half. Two tortillas, spicy peanuts and broccoli cheddar soup. All of the things we don't eat...but we must!
     On morning four, after we stopped at the ranger station for water and sodas, we hiked the eight miles to the KOA in Acton, the sun baking us. With my phone charged, I switched the music on, making spastic arm movements along with the beat. Melissa would look behind at me and I would stop middance and grin maniacally. When we made it to the KOA, we set our bags down at a picnic table closest to the pool and bathrooms, ate all the ice cream and chips, drank our sodas and Gatorade. After twenty minutes,  Mayor and Schweppes set their bags down on the picnic table beside ours. Later, we sat across from each other, pulling PBRs out of the box sitting on the ground and Schweppes would look at us, "So, like... what are your guyses hobbies when you aren't hiking?" He would ask us this question throughout the night and the next day, keeping his face free of any emotion and we would answer, our responses becoming more and more bizarre.
      I cut Mayor's beard, asks if it's weird for a stranger to be doing this. "No," he says. "I've had strangers do a lot weirder things." The next day, he trims the ends of my hair. "There," he says. "All the split ends are gone. Would you recommend me to all of your friends?" He has a dog with him- a small fox looking dog. One that he carries over his shoulders when she gets tired. Katana. I look across the lawn, see Schweppes poking at the large pizza we have on the grill. Later, we eat it- both of us consuming half of it in slightly under three minutes. The top of it still doughy, the bottom burnt to the point where both of us grin, chew chew chew and grin again. Mayor looks at my hat, "What's in New Orleans?" I look at him, look away. "My daughter." "Oh! You have a daughter? That's cool." I shook my head, "No. I don't really. I was kidding." I don't smile and we find ourselves nodding in appreciation of each other.
     The four of us hike out together and when we reach Hiker Heaven, we look around, overwhelmed by all of the hikers milling about, and all the information spewed out during the tour of the place. I put my socks and random pieces of clothing in the laundry bag and wander over to the trailer with couches and TV. Pogue plays the guitar and when he gets up, he hands me a beer, running his fingers through his hair. Barbie points out the likeness of Pogue has with the grown up Simba and he strikes a pose, whipping his hair around. Now, fifteen hikers sit on the couches, focused on the TV playing Kung Fury. We all know the longer we sit here, the greater chance we have of not being able to leave, but all the hikers move in a cyclical pattern and we can't seem to leave each other. We take showers, walk to our bags, back up the hill to the charging station, throw the football back and forth to each other and we smile and sigh, comment how we need to leave, but someone nearby always reminds us that it just snowed in the Sierras and most likely we'll all be stuck in Kennedy Meadows, underneath the snow and miles and raw need to keep moving north.