I spent the morning drying out my clothes and eating popcorn with Papa Smurf in the community kitchen. It was already hot out and I was procrastinating hiking out into another exposed desert section.
I had found the contact information of a local trail angel who was offering rides to hikers around Acton and Agua Dulce. I didn’t have service at the KOA but I saved her number for later. I hoped that I could get a ride to Acton tomorrow to pick up my shoes.
Reluctantly, I packed up my gear. I talked for a while with Fancypants and Bucket, who had just come in, and then talked shop with Paparazzi about camera settings. By the time I’d run out of ways to distract myself, it was late morning, and blazing hot.
I left with Roxanne, whose trail name was now Tent Fire, but our different paces quickly spread us apart. The trail wound uphill over bare desert hills; I took short breaks at every opportunity for shade, cursing myself for leaving so late in the day, and for not replacing my shoes sooner. Far ahead I caught glimpses of Bushtit and Tomtit, and occasionally another hiker I couldn’t quite recognize.
I rounded a corner and found a stuff sack on the ground in front of me – someone’s tent. I saw the figure of a hiker about a quarter mile ahead along a contour. Assuming it was the tent’s owner, I scooped it up and tucked it under my arm and took off at a jog.
“Hey!” I called out as I approached. “Hey, is this your tent?”
He was an older hiker named Bill. I had met him the previous night at the KOA, although we hadn’t spoken with each other until now. He thanked me kindly as I handed him back his tent, and I continued on the contour until the trail crested over a ridge. I stopped to take in the view: a mile or so away was a huge freeway, crowded with fast moving vehicles whose sounds echoed through the desert hills, seeming much closer than in reality.
I checked my phone for service and a text message popped up from Dan. He and James were in Lone Pine; they had skipped three hundred miles of the trail. Well, I thought, so much for catching up. I also took the opportunity to text Mary, the trail angel. Hopefully it wasn’t too short of notice to get a ride to Acton the following morning.
I followed the trail down on a circuitous path toward the freeway. The bare desert gave way briefly to a shady section of leafy foliage, nestled in a ravine, and then finally connected to the highway, crossing it by means of a long underpass. I took a minute to enjoy the shade and tunnel breeze, listening to the alien hum of cars passing overhead.
On the other side of the tunnel, the trail followed the floor of a small canyon. I felt like crossing the freeway had transported me to another dimension. The canyon walls were smooth and stratified, rippling alongside the trail like flowing rock. Occasionally on the trail side, plants were marked with identifying placards like ‘wild cucumber’ and ‘mormon tea’.
I reached a wide hollow in the side of the canyon, like the mouth of cave. I set down my pack and looked around. There were etchings in the rock, as far as a person could reach from the ground or by climbing. “Hello!” I shouted. My voice rang, amplified by the bowl-shaped chasm and echoing slightly through the canyon behind me. I climbed up to a ledge where I was able to watch the trail and eat a snack.
I watched several day hikers pass by in the opposite direction. Then Cuban B and Rowan arrived. Soon followed by Bill, and then Kat and Tent Fire. Everyone stopped for a break and to check out the hollow.
Afterward, Cuban B, Rowan, Kat, Tent Fire and I left together to hike the last few miles into Agua Dulce. We followed the trail up a short but steep climb out of the canyon, after which it flattened out, passing by Vasquez Rocks, a familiar jagged rock formation that had been used for the iconic Kirk vs Gorn battle in the original Star Trek series.
The trail merged with a paved road that ran through the desert town of Agua Dulce. We kept to the gravelly shoulder, passing the time by talking about what we wanted for dinner and laughing at each other’s jokes.
After resupplying at the grocery store we decided to eat dinner at the Mexican restaurant next door. It was Mother’s Day, so when we were seated all of the uterus-bearing hikers in our group were given a white carnation, although none of us were mothers.
We all ordered margaritas, and I ordered a plate of taquitos for myself. We were surprised by a round of tequila shots at the end of the meal – courtesy of Bill who was seated at the bar, unbeknownst to us at the time.
On our way of town we groaned and complained about our heavy meals, our heavy packs, and our tequila headaches.
“Where can we even camp around here?” Someone asked. I was tempted to stealth camp in a ditch somewhere nearby. Who knew how far out of town we would have to go to find a campsite.
We passed by several small estates, many with horses or agility runs for dogs. It was clearly an affluent neighbourhood, where stealth camping would probably not go over too well with the locals. We walked alongside a property where a man was working by the fence line.
“Are you hiking the trail?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Rowan said. “Do you know of any good places to camp around here?”
“Well,” the man surveyed our tired group, “you can set up your tents in my yard if you don’t mind the dog.”
Grateful and exhausted, we set up on his property by the fence. Kat and I shared my groundsheet and cowboy camped, listening to the occasional snort from a horse kept in a pen across the yard, or the scurry of a nearby rabbit. Night fell quickly and I watched satellites cross the dark sky until my headache couldn’t keep me awake anymore.