I wake early in the freezing cold. It's still dark out. AJ and Annie stir around me and I start t pack up as quietly as I can. Everything crinkles and crackles.
Soon, I am up and walking. The air is so cold I'm still in my down jacket. I go back to the trail I came down to get to camp and round a sharp corner back to the PCT. I ride the soft slope of mountains, going up and down. I climb up steadily from the manzanita, sagebrush and yucca into a higher rolling pine forest. As I round a corner, I find Strider sitting with his pack and phone. He's an older hiker with a slow southern drawl that reminds me of my birthplace.
There's some cell service where we're standing, and it overlooks the valleys and mountains far off. The sky is a little overcast and the air has a touch of coolness to it.
Strider and I stand and talk for a long time. I hoped for 10 miles by 10 am, but we get into a discussion about the military. I discover that he had a remarkably similar career to my father and they're about the same age as well.
"Tell your dad I said to get out here and hike. It'll be good for his soul," he tells me.
I finally get some miles in and reach my first water source for the day. It trickles down a wedge in the mountain, over some rocks and spills down a wash along the trail. Bees and flies are everywhere and some kind of slinky desert mint grows near where I collect the cold water into my bottle. Annie shows up and we talk and filter water together. We both miss Bananas. He had to get off trail to apply for some jobs and do more resupply, now that he's decided to continue on the trail . We don't know for sure if he'll be back and we speculate together.
I eat a few snacks and get back to the work of the day, miles, miles, miles. I'm on top of a platue of sorts, rolling along the dusty trail of pines, duff and grasses. Out in the distance I can see the valley floor, all hot sandy and dry.
I sweat as I walk. I feel so fidgety. I can feel my butt cheeks rubbing together. I am at an all time new level of dirtiness. I smell like dog food and stale BO. My underwear are 5 days old and I can feel the salt buildup irritating my skin and beginning to chafe. I'm annoyed that I want to stop and clean myself. Stopping can be tricky business because getting going again is both painful and difficult sometimes. I find an outcropping of rocks and attach the squirt nozzle to my water bottle. I squat down and preform a little backcountry bidet. Ahhh, much better. All the salt and dirty washed away. I dust myself with gold bond and feel a million times better. Now I am able to hike without thinking about how uncomfortable my crotch is.
I snake around the mountain for many miles. My second water and rest stop is a fire station with a broken water pipe. I'll meet Annie and AJ there. The trail turns downward and I can see very far off, the small speck that will grow larger and larger into the fire staton.
My thoughts drift off into a haze of how much I'd like to be naked in bed with my boyfriend. I play it all out: I meet him from the trail coated in grime, we embrace each other and kiss, we jump in his truck to the nearest grocery store where I buy soap and shampoo, some watermelon and various watery fruits, a pizza and some beer. Then we race to a hotel where I can clean myself and then jump on top of his big strong burly body, bury my face in his beard and love him the way that I like to.
I'm only roughly 1600 miles away from him. I sigh and continue on.
In the distance I can hear very animated talking and I come upon four Korean men who speak broken English.
They ask me were I came from and I tell them and they get extremely excited. They gift me a fresh cucumber that is packed in water and it is so amazing. I stand and eat it, while one of them takes a picture with me and a few selfies. We all laugh and can't understand each other very well, but we get basic points across. One of them shoves a handful of chocolates into my hand and I eat those too. Then I'm off! The food and conversation light me up and I start to fly down the gentle downhill.
Almost there! My thoughts circulate: Watermelon. My boyfriends cock. Pizza. A shower. Clean underwear. Kissing my boyfriend. That cucumber was so good. My boyfriend picking me up in his arms. Watermelon. Clean hotel bedsheets. My boyfriends big hands. Cantaloupe. Strawberries. The Oregon coast. Meeting Rider for the first time. Those breakfast burritos he made me when we went camping once. I really miss him. This is hard.
Massive power lines crackle over my head. It's finally the fire station! I find Jackattack and some other hikers gathered around a van.
"They're taking us to food! Come!" They tell me.
I decide to wait for Annie, she's probably 20 minutes behind me. I see her far off on the mountain coming down. The man in the van shows back up and speaks in very broken English to me but conveys that there's a meal waiting for me down the hill and that he'll wait for my friend.
Soon Annie shows up and we're whisked off in the bumping van.
30 or so Korean folk are gathered around some pots and tables. They give us both a very merry greeting and fill some bowls with curry, rice, homemade kimchee and watermelon! I got my watermelon!
They fill our bowls up with so much food we can't carry it all and there's nowhere to sit. One of the older Korean men jumps up and yells at the others to clear a table for us. This makes everyone laugh as she and I sit down and greedily stuff our faces.
An older woman noticed the scabbing wound on my leg, I still looks bad, but it's much better. She secretly slips chocolate bars to Annie and I. Then she comes back with a very special looking bandage for my leg. She insists on putting it on me herself.
I lift my leg up and she smooths the clear skin like bandage over my scab and then raises her hand up and smacks me square on my big wound. Jackattack Annie and the others all look at me with shock and I grit my teeth and laugh and wince and reel in pain all at the same time. She smiles at me and gives me a thumbs up.
"This is very good!" She says. "Leave it for two days." Then she is gone.
We laugh for a long time about it. I assume she slapped it to bring more blood to the surface to promote more healing.
Within minutes, they are all gone.
"We have no proof that any of this happened," Annie says. "I didn't take any pictures. This was the coolest thing ever."
The sky grows very dark while we sit in the deserted picnic area next to the Angeles National Forest highway. Cars wiz by very fast. It begins to rain and Annie and I momentarily freak out. Then it stops and gets cold. Then the clouds part and it gets instantly hot.
"I am so confused right now," I say aloud.
Soon, AJ shows up and we very slowly get packed up to hike our last 6 miles to an unknown camping spot somewhere. We have a climb and I'm not looking forward to it. I'm very tired and sore my legs feel like lead.
We move out into the road and I climb up onto the trail. It so hard. why is this hard right now?
I start to get cranky and I let Annie and AJ pass me so I can be alone for a little bit. I start to shake and get lightheaded. What the hell? I ate just an hour ago. I can feel my body asking for more energy. I drop my pack and shove a small ball of candy into my mouth, some cheese crackers and a packet of peanut butter. I instantly feel better.
Wow. I was hangry as fuck.
I start to cruise, I feel a million times better.
Soon, dusk arrives and we gather at our last water source for the day. A small creeklet running down a wash. We eat dinner right there on the trail, sitting in the dirt and swatting at bugs.
"Knock sent a text saying there's secret camping at 27," Annie tells us. "So just a mile up."
We pack up and begin to look for it. As the sky glows pink, purple, blue and orange, small moths flit around in huge groups as we walk by. It's magical. We find a few small spur trails that lead to nothing. And then I see a saddle with a trail leading up to a flat spot.
"That's it!" I yell.
We climb up and see an old road and some flat camp sites. On both sites of us is an amazing view. We're all exhausted and we make quick work of making our beds all in a row next to each other.
"Did you hear that?" I ask to them both.
I listen. It's foot steps and something mammalian. Just then, the guy with his wolf dog Archie from a few nights ago comes up from the trail.
"I didn't think anyone would be here," he says. "I'm Hershey."
He makes his bed, while Archie patrols around us. He's 85% timber wolf and you can still see the wild in his eyes and body. He's calm and quiet and listens only to Hershey. He avoids unfamiliar hands if you reach to pet him and he will stare at you with a penetrating wolf gaze. Hershey is a former combat veteran and warns us of him grinding his teeth at night. We tell him it's no problem.
Night and the stars spread out across the sky. Each of us hear pattering feet around us. Hershey throws a stick into the woods next to us to scare it off. Annie and I shiver a little.
"Something is out there," Hershey says. "Archie will keep it away."
I relax a little. If something is going to get us either it will or it won't and I'm going to pretend it won't. I stare up at the sky and the stars A train in the far distance sounds off. My eyes close and I sleep deeply.