When I wake, the light is barely breaking and there's birdsong about. I can hear the spring splashing from behind me. I sit up and start to gather my things. It's a town day and there's only an easy 8 miles ahead of me, so I don't rush. I rub my face and feel the salt crusted all over it, fine dirt and sand. I eat a nut bar and a meat stick and a few handfuls of Reese's Pieces, my current favorite trail candy. My socks are crusted with dirt and I beat them out on a rock before I put them on.
It's already warm and I can tell it it's going to be a hot day. I follow my normal routine: deflate neoair, slide butt off neoair, squeeze out all the air, fold pad meticulously, slide neatly into back panel of pack. Sleeping bag in the bottom, electronics on the right side, hygiene on the left, stove and shelter on top of sleep bag, clothing bag/pillow on top, then food bag and my ground sheet to smooth it all out. I like a streamlined, junk and weird lump free pack.
Everyone is still sleeping and I turn out into the road I came down last night. The walk to the junction is shorter than a remember and I can see the fine ribbon of hiker feet and trekking poles that cross the road.
As I walk, I check my period tracker on my phone. I'm 4 days away. I'm PMSing. I am not dismissive of it, or chalk up my breakdown yesterday to "just hormones". It is the buildup and release of something, literally and metaphorically. We've been taught not to see it this way. Yesterday I shed a skin and soon, it will manifest for me physically. Just as I enter the Sierra.
"Perfect," I say with some sarcasm to no one but myself. I like getting my period, but it can present challenges on trail.
I stop for a moment and look out, the mountains fold behind each other one after another. The landscape beginning to change a little as I get closer and closer to the Sierra. Anxiety hits me. The fear mongering on trail is real and the word is it's nigh impossible to get through. But people are doing it? I will just have to see for myself.
I cruise for a good bit. My legs ache and I'm ready for a break. I dump some water, since I'm heading close to town.
Dipping down into a small wash, I can see a junction and signs of nearing Walker pass, where I'll hitch my way into town for resupply and rest. I come up to a hill with a sign pointing in various directions and a trail register. I'm the first of my group to get here and they're likely a few days behind me now. I see Twisteds name though and I hope I'll catch him in town.
Looking down toward the trailhead parking lot, I see a familiar camper truck. It's Coppertone! Again! I feel super lucky as I head down. I saw hello to him as I walk up and greet two other older male hikers. Flopping down into a chair, I pick at some grapes, a cookie and a cinnamon bun. Coppertone hands me a float with strawberry cheesecake ice cream and cream soda. I inhale it, thank him and feel antsy for town. As I stand, one of the other hikers asks if he can hitch with me. And I say yes, even though I don't want him to because he may lessen my chances. I also just want to be alone.
We walk towards the road and I am standoffish while he flashes a very bright white smile. He gives me the impression of having lots of money and free time, but who really knows out here. We're all equals on this playing field. Just our feet in the dirt and walking north.
The sun is intense on the road. It makes me hot. Flies swarm my leg very badly, landing on my wound. I sawt and I sawt and they return to no avail. The man with the white teeth tells me a story about how he brought a bunch of flies into a car once when he was thumbing for a hitch. I grow irritated. I don't want to hear his stories. I dig through my pack and apply a bandage and some tape to keep the flies off. Cars fly by and one by one they blow past us.
A woman dried by in a Subaru Outback and yells at us, "I'll be back in a minute!" Her car full of hikers.
"Sweet," I say. "We're taken care of."
I look up to the high hill where I can see the trail junction. My sight is blurred, but I can see other hikers arriving. I wave them down. Dragon Fly appears from behind us on the road. He took the long way.
"A ride should be here soon," I tell him.
A few other hikers collect and eventually the woman pulls over.
"I can only take three of you, since I have my daughter with me in the back seat. I don't want to cops seeing me with a bunch of hitchhiking hikers," She tells us.
We all look at each other and, these things flow naturally. First come first serve in hiker world. Myself, Dragon Fly a Belgian fellow load up in the car. The older man I started thumbing with hops in a tiny space in her trunk, he just wants to go as far as the road into Kent so he can go rafting.
I squeeze in next to a young girl of about 8, with blazing red hair and shockingly blue eyes. The mother tells us that she runs an RV park and welcomes hikers for a stay, $10 a night with laundry and shower access with a rec room that has TV and a swamp cooler.
The young girl begins to fawn over me. "Your braids are so pretty!"
"Thank you," I say.
The woman drives very fast and we all sway in the back, leaning into one another.
"I make bracelets," the girl tells me. "I'll make you one for 50 cents. What are your favorite holidays?"
The wind blasts my face and I can feel the sugar from my float doing its work in my body. I become intensely euphoric and dazed. My body now semi-comfortable and I think it knows it can relax now. I slightly tune the girl out, my brain unable to listen to the mother telling us things and the girl asking me questions and trying to decide what I need to do in town, resupply, the Sierra, I really want a beer, scratch this never ending hunger. The hills roll by so fast, all golden and beautiful.
"What are your favorite holidays? This will help me know what colors you like." She snaps me out of my daze.
"Ummm, well... I like summer solstice. I like spring." I realize these aren't conventional holidays by the look on her face. "I like Christmas. I like food holidays. I really like green."
She grabs my wrist and tries to measure it with some string from her young persons purse.
"We should give you a makeover!" She yells over the wind. She's now tugging my hair and grabbing lip gloss. I let her put it on me. I feel uncomfortable.
"Oh, by the way." She raises her brows at me. "I have packets of emergen-c. I know hikers really like them. I'll give you the first one for free and the next one is 50 cents," the young girl says while handing me a packet of acai berry flavor. My jaw goes slack. "Wanna play pokemon?" She shoots at me.
This kid is trying to hustle me, dang.
I give it an honest effort to play pokemon while we drive deeper into civilization. My sugar euphoria, wearing off slowly. I paw at it internally. Please don't go. I somehow end up winning our first and only round of pokemon. Then I sit back and offer the young girl nods and mhms in response to her near constant banter. I'm tapped out.
We drop the older hiker guy off at the road junction and continue into town. The mother tells us of all the places we'll wanna eat. Dragon Fly and I settle on Nelda's diner, because milkshakes and burgers.
She tells us how to get back to the RV park while she drops us off on the hot and blazing white pavement. It's insanely hot down here in the valley. We both rush inside with our packs and find in the entrance a whole pile of other packs. This means we're in the right place.
We both sit in a daze. Musing over the menu. I order an iced tea and orange juice and slam them both down, waiting for more. Soon, Dragons Flys whole crew arrives and it's myself, Lucky Charms, Pullout, Stranger Danger and Spice Merchant. We all order hugh plates of food and wait patiently.
My burger arrives and it's covered in BBQ sauce, avocado, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, cheese and bacon with a heaping side of fries and a coffee milkshake on the side. I do not hesitate and I begin to devour my meal, burger juice running down my arm and BBQ sauce somewhere smeared on my face. The other patrons look on at us all in horror, fascination and disgust. A silence descends on the table as we all eat.
I finish everything and begin to slip into a coma. The other chat and speak in the particular language of their own group. They call themselves, The Crotchless Underwear Heathens. I am an outsider and not privy to their inside jokes. I smile and sit quietly. There's talk of beer getting and heading to the RV park and I join them.
We all stand gingerly for sitting too long and too comfortably. When I step outside a hot air blasts me and I am blinded by the sun. It's so bright and hot. Searing heat. We walk into the next door liquor store and we all bask in the cold embrace of the beer cooler. I grab a six pack of a high powered IPA and wonder if I'll regret the decision.
Outside, the lady of the RV park is unloading hikers and we bum a ride off her down the small strip of Lake Isabella. The park sits right at the outskirts of town. We pull in and do a loop. Hikers mill about. One girl lies face down on the pavement, passed out. A group of bros smoke weed behind a water tank. There's table with packs and food, coolers full of lukewarm water and wilted lettuce, nowhere to keep my beer cool.
I pay for a shower and get a fresh towel. I have a tiny sliver of soap I sent myself in my last resupply and it smells of deep resins, amber and musk. I undress in the stall and see a huge spider sitting in the corner, watching me. I watch him as I step into the shower and wash my body. Making sure he doesn't get into my clothing. There's leftover shampoo in the stall and I use that too. My hair rinses away grey water.
I step out feeling amazing, putting on my other tights and my only slightly dirty shirt. My hair dries instantly in the dry heat.
I see Twisted and wave as I walk back towards the rec room. He gives me the vitals of the place, and it seems OK. Trashy, but OK. A long lawn stretches out, covered by trees. Tents pitched here and there.
"I'm hanging over there," Twisted points out. His hammock swings in the hot breeze. I'm happy to see him again, he feels like an ally I can trust out here.
I find a suitable spot and leave my gear on the ground to mark my spot. I wander back into the rec room. The air is cool and damp. Limbs and bodies are scattered about, but there's room on the couch and I flop down with my unopened beer. I seek out an object to pop it open and it's the end of a hair brush, it makes a perfect popping sound and I am satisfied. I add 'hair brush' to my mental list of things I can open a beer with.
The TV blares a reality show called Bar Rescue. Twisted sits next to me. For hours, we sit there, becoming enraptured by the drama of bar owners lives and the host of the show, seemly changes their lives. Saves marriages, repairs the bond of brothers and helps fix alcoholics. We don't move for five hours. Slack jawed, dazed. I have a mild buzz.
I wander outside. It's slightly cooler, the air still hot and dry. I decide to walk to the grocery store for more food. I wander off and onto the towns main strip. I walk over a dried up aqueduct. Sages and other plants well established within it, it having been dry for some time. The town is run down and dried up. Sweat beads at my forehead. A fire burns in a canyon not too far from the town, filling the sky with a smoke line.
I become confused in the store. Not knowing what I really want. I buy a slice of pie and chicken tenders, some chocolate milk and a ready made boxed salad. I eyeball foods for my resupply. I feel sad.
I walk back and remember why I feel sad. I also remember what alcohol does to my mood, I feel depressed. I drag my feet back to the RV park and I sit, with another beer and my food next to Twisted. We talk quietly while we watch others getting very drunk and loud.
A few others join us and we stay up way too late joking and laughing. My mood having lightened up a bit, but the sadness still permeates it. Cockroaches skitter across the pavement and unseen bugs bite us. We swat at flies, still annoying us in the darkness.
I wander off to set up my tent, but it's too hot inside and I end up lying just outside of it on my ground sheet, half naked and using my sleeping bag as a pillow. Folks snore and fart into the night. I can't sleep with the street lights in my eyes and the stifling heat. Eventually, somehow, I drift off.
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