If I had slept at all that night it was in short bursts of dozing off from exhaustion. I had sipped water all night, trying to combat a worsening sore throat. My eyes stung. I assumed it was from getting sunscreen in them the day before.
James and most others decided to hike out that morning. Many of us wanted to go into Julian for pie and to resupply. Rachel, Katie, Josh, Dan and I – and a girl named Justa – walked up and around to the empty stretch of highway.
“Have any of you ever hitchhiked before?” She asked. Most of us shook our heads. “If you put your trekking poles away, it’ll look easier to fit your gear in the vehicle.”
I also remembered a tip about removing your sunglasses, so I did that too.
Two vehicles passed us, but the third – a small truck – pulled next to the curb. Rachel approached the passenger side window and thanked her for stopping.
“I can take two of ya,” the driver said. Since I was closest I tossed my bag into the box alongside Rachel’s and jumped in.
“Thanks for picking us up,” I said. We introduced ourselves. She said her name was Crystal.
The drive into Julian was 13 miles of winding road – the windiest in the state of California, Crystal told us. It felt like we were moving so fast. I held onto the roof handle and Rachel held onto me to stop herself being flung toward the driver. We really weren’t going very fast, but after days on foot we might as well have been flying.
Crystal said she used to ride her bike for ultra long distances across the state back in her tweaker days. She’d ride from her house to Tahoe in just a couple of days. We passed a Volkswagen Bug pulled off to the side of the road and Jenn peered at it as we passed.
“Yeah, that’s my auntie, there,” she told us, “she don’t want to drink and drive so she just pulls over to the road side to drink.” She shook her head and muttered something.
When we got into Julian, an idyllic little tourist town with a main street lined with shops and bakeries, we headed straight to Mom’s Pies, home to the free slice of pie for PCT hikers.
Puppy, who had done my gear shakedown at Mount Laguna, was there working on her MacBook. The rest of our crew showed up shortly after, and we swarmed around Puppy like the radiant and well-groomed PCT queen that she was, and we were her adoring, filthy, pie-eating hikertrash subjects.
Josh – whose trail name was now Detour, due to his constant flip flopping back and forth on the trail – said he was going take a zero day in town and stay the night at the Julian Lodge. I knew, half asleep over my apple pie and cinnamon ice cream, that I would not hike out that night, so I offered to split the room. Another hiker, Scott, jumped in, bringing the cost down to only about $25 per person.
On the way to the motel I picked up a Gatorade, Cheetos, and a giant burrito at the convenience store. For the next few hours I would have the room all to myself, so I took my time unpacking and ran a hot bath. I didn’t bother taking off my clothes. I’d wash everything in the tub once I was done anyway. I relaxed in the steaming tub, elevating my feet and working on the burrito, while wondering if I made the right choice to stay when all the closest people I had to friends would be hiking out that evening.
I was hurting; keeping up with people was taking its toll on my body and making me miserable. I had chosen to stay behind, risking loneliness, but I knew I was using other people as a crutch to deal with my fear of being alone and falling behind. By pushing myself too much I would be unhappy and learn nothing. By making the hard choice to listen to my body and ignore my fear I hoped that I would enjoy the next five months on the trail, and learn to trust myself on the way.