In the morning Terrie drove us to the trailhead where we’d begin an eleven mile road walk around a fire closure.
“Poles, phones and sunglasses!” Terrie warned us as we unloaded our gear from the back of the van. “Don’t forget anything!”
It was cold, but I found myself shedding layers as I powered ahead at an especially fast pace. I felt rested and full of energy thanks to the Andersons’ hospitality. Last night’s taco salad, unfortunately, was still making my stomach growl uncontrollably, but instead of slowing down I unbuckled my hip belt to allow my bloated stomach some freedom. As I strode ahead my unrestrained pack bounced up and down, its weight smacking into my back and digging into my shoulders.
The California drought was more evident than ever. A billboard stood next to the roadside, promising adventure and relaxation at the nearby Lake Elizabeth. A mile up the road, however, the lakebed was visible from the highway. All that remained were small pools of water, surrounded by a maze of cracked mud and salt.
I caught up to Squatchie, Rally and Fancypants and Bucket (hereby known as Fucket), who had left earlier that morning. Later I passed Cashmere and Physio, before arriving at the Rock Inn, where some of us had planned to stop for lunch.
As others arrived, the Inn transformed into a busy hiker lunch spot. I sat at a round table with Fucket, Rally, Squatchie, Rowan, Cuban B, Kat and Tent Fire. Seated elsewhere in the restaurant, I saw Cashmere and Physio, Limey, and teenaged hiker sweethearts, Sherpa and Dreamweaver. I ordered a chilli cheese dog, despite my protesting stomach. Rowan and Cuban B commandeered the jukebox, playing 80s rock and power ballads so that we could watch Cuban hit the high notes in ‘Take On Me’.
After lunch we faced another several miles of road walking. I hardly paid any attention to the unusual surroundings as I powered ahead, eager to escape the pavement. We passed an ostrich farm, martial arts school, and what looked like some sort of wolf enclosure.
I reached the junction to the PCT and waited for Cuban B, Kat and Rowan. Tent Fire, Limey and Rally passed by, electing to roadwalk the rest of the way to Hikertown.
The trail back up to the PCT was narrow and steep, and covered with poison oak. We passed through an abandoned campground, the way back to the trail crudely marked with arrows on the ground, formed with sticks put there by a previous hiker. When we reached the PCT, the trail became less steep, but the grade was weird and uneven, making me repeatedly roll my ankle. I caught up to Rowan who had stopped for a break, shortly followed by Kat and Cuban B. While we snacked on energy bars, we checked our maps and agreed on a place to camp – a free campground in a couple of miles and slightly off-trail.
Cuban B and I reached the campground first. Finding a decent area was unusually difficult – everywhere seemed to be covered with shards of broken glass, and the ground was nearly impossible to stake. We all pitched our tents at different locations throughout the campground, on any half-decent patch of earth we could find. Zog and the Tits showed up, eventually finding space for their tents, and Zog helped Rowan and Cuban and I build a fire which we huddled around to combat the sudden chill of the desert night. Rowan sautéed garlic in his Jetboil, and we all talked about how good it smelled, and the foods we missed eating. I missed hot food and tea. For the first time I wished I still had my stove.
After dinner we doused the fire and retreated to our tents. Tomorrow we’d reach the 500 mile mark, a goal that used to feel so far away, but was now just a reminder of how much farther I still had to go.