Sunday, May 29, 2016

Day 29 : Trail to Hiker Heaven

11 miles today
2208.5 miles to go

I hear rustling through my earplugs. It's loud, it's Sweep packing his stuff. I remove my earplugs. Everybody near me is moving. The sound of rustling nylon as stuff gets stuffed into stuff sacks and packs. It's dark. I rustle through my sack of stuff to find my iPhone, three thirty am! They're all getting up early to beat the heat on the next stretch to Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce. Ok then, since I'm awake. Time to get up. I stuff my stuff too. I'm not hiking yet though. It's overcast and cool. It'll be cool all morning why hike in the dark if I don't have too? Time for breakfast. The more I eat now the less I have to carry in my pack. I eat the last of my granola, my last instant breakfast, my last Starbucks caffe mocha Via, the last of my raisins, the last of my dehydrated tropical fruit. And for desset I cook chicken top ramen with freeze dried beef chunks. 

I start hiking when it's light enough to see without a head lamp. I leave by myself. Walking through the dim light along the creek and out of the camp. The damp overcast makes it impossible to determine direction and I reach a fork in the trail without being able to tell which one to take. I use the compass app on my phone. North, north is the way I want to go, north to Canada. The weird thing is without the compass I was convinced I was facing south. I trust the compass and walk against my feelings, north. North and up. Up into the clouds. The clouds with huge monolithic rocks looming like giants in the gloom. The trail leads me under their feet and around and over the hills. Down then left, right, up. Zigging and zagging through the mist until I have no idea which direction I am heading except the trail leads somewhere, Canada I hope. My knee feels essentially normal, until, oops, nope. It's not normal yet. Oww, the tinge of pain is more ephemeral, but it's real. Once it triggers every step hurts. I immediately slow down. Rats! I am hopeful the a zero tomorrow will heal this up. It's definitely better, but not enough to hike at the speed I want to hike. 

One of the things that is hard to explain by writing is the smells of hiking. The smell of damp grass, sage. The blossoming wildflowers, the dank rotting wood under the trees. The dry dusty smell of the trail through this arid region. Technology provides a way to record things to see and hear, it would be cool of they invented a scent recorder. So I try to describe the smells, but understand my pictures are black and white stick figures of the rich range of scents that encompass a PCT through hike, not all are pleasant, but by far most of them are.

It's utterly silent. No, I mean utterly. No plane in the sky, no cars, no talking, no sound is wind, nothing. The fog completely seals me into a silent world of my own. The sound of the gravel crunching under my feet is quickly absorbed and muted. I see a different giant in the gray twilight before me, the trail passes beneath huge high tension electrical lines. They hum and crackle in the misty humidity, the sound of work being done at a distance. Power produced one place is doing stuff some place else. Here I am under the wires listening to the hum, sixty cycles per second. The cool mist blows softly onto my face. I think about the Thru-hikers who chose to hike out of the KOA camp last night. They are camping in this. I wonder how many neglected to setup a tent and cowboy camped under the stars until they were obscured by the gray mist off the ocean. Wet stuff, cold and wet, sleeping bags, everything soaked. I pass some of them, no tent. 

I think about all of the different hikes all happening at the exact same time. Everyone unique in its own way. Each reflective of the choices of each individual thru-hiker. ‘Hike your own hike’ is a common phrase in the Thru-hiking world. It's an important concept. Encapsulated in it is the idea that bad things happen when you try to hike someone else's hike. If you hike too fast you could injure yourself, listen to bad advice and you can run out of water at the wrong time. You feel the consequences of each bad decision. As a wise person I know once said, ‘stupid should hurt.’ With Thru-hikers it does, and rather quickly. It's a price you pay day after day as you face the consequences as a reminder, stupid really does hurt. Perhaps that's one of the things that I so love about thru-hiking. It's real, with real ups and downs, pains and ecstasies. This is living now!

My trail takes me through Vasquez Rocks park. Fascinating rock formations with rocks embedded in other rocks. The embedded rocks were already rocks when they were embedded. A sign of inconceivable time spans. Of the ancient times when those rocks were free agents. What stories would they tell if they could talk. I meet up with Sweep and we finish the path together. He tells me his wife is a geologist, what stories she could tell. All I know is that this place is special. The park has signs pointing out the different flora. I think some of the signs have outlived the plants they were naming. We walk into the town of Agua Dulce. The trail goes right through the middle of town. Right down Main Street. We walk right up to the coffee shop and sit down and order breakfast. It's somewhat surreal. One minute we are hard-core thru-hikers pounding trail in the wilderness. The next minute we are two dirty vagabonds discussing the quantity of sugar in our coffee. “Will that be one lump or two?”

The coffee shop is filled with Thru-hikers, most of the clients. I order pancakes, and bacon and eggs. I know I already had breakfast at the gazebo. Let's think of this as Sunday brunch. Whatever, it's good food. I immediately decide I'll be back tomorrow. We watch as a van pulls up and a bunch of Thru-hikers without packs hop out. Some come to eat. Others walk into the grocery store across the street. We learn about the shuttle to Hiker Heaven. I finish my breakfast, pay my tab, and hop into the shuttle. On the glory road to (hiker) heaven! 

Hiker Heaven was closed last year. It's open again this year, and from all appearances it has attracted a bumper crop of Thru-hikers. Tents sprouting from the dry dusty ground like giant fungi. Packs hanging from trellises like sides of beef. I learn that the hanging packs are to keep the five dogs that roam the place from eating your food. A mobile home with a kitchen and satellite tv just for hikers. And Internet igloo. A shipping igloo. The igloos are not made of snow, they're made of pvc pipe and tarp material. There are places to repair your equipment, order new equipment. Snacks and sodas can be had for a nominal sum. Thru-hikers are bringing cases of beer from the local store. It could be a loud night. We are given the orientation tour. Go there and get your towel and loaner clothes, go to the shower door and add your name to the bottom of the list. Setup your tent and change into the loaner clothes. Put your clothes and stuff you want washed in a laundry bag and put it at the end of the line of bags in the garage. Then relax, you're in heaven. The Saufleys are some of the most generous people on the planet. Providing all of this free of charge to any Thru-hiker that shows up. It's an amazing wonderful place. The one rule is, you can only stay two nights. Like a free resort for Thru-hikers. 

I rest, relax, visit with friends old and new. I see people I haven't seen for weeks. Others that I just met. Here we are in this magical place. I take my shower, get a shuttle ride to the pizza place and stuff myself with pizza. I walk next door and buy a pint of Dreyer's Butterfinger ice cream. I eat it waiting for the shuttle back to hiker heaven. 

I sit on the porch  and watch the animated conversations of people who share a common experience of incredible hardships, pain, and deprivation of a little over four hundred fifty miles of the PCT trail. There is no certain demographic or ethnicity that defines a Thru-hiker. My Czech friends I haven't seen since Mt Laguna are here. Hatchet is here. My favorite Israelis too. Moses, a new friend, is here after escaping a kidnapping. It's way past hiker midnight and I doubt Sweep will be saying anything about it. He'd just be ignored anyway. For me, my waking hours are done. I start my zero day here in hiker heaven tomorrow. 

1 comment:

  1. Scott, I maintain a website with stories and images from the PCT ( I appreciate the greater depth of your journal and would like to re-post an excerpt or two from your hike north. I would give you full credit and link to your blog. Would this be OK with you? (