Light and birdsong breaks. I sit up and see Archie in a giant black ball of fur. He hears me stirring, and he looks over at me and puts his head back down. I wake everyone up with my packing up and moving around.
The going is slow. But I manage to get my snacks ready, some whey and coffee in my bottle and my pack on my back. The three of us hobble our way back to the trail and walk until our feet and joints are warmed up. Sometimes it take a few miles before all the soreness is somewhat worked out.
I shovel a bit of candy into my mouth and I can feel my caffeine pills working their magic. Annie and AJ are somewhere behind me as we work or way around the side of a mountain. I find a very large gopher snake sunning himself and I tap his tail to move him along. He slides down into the bushes along the slope of the trail.
I pick up my speed and I can hear panting behind me. Archie is inches from my heels and driving me. He stays consistently there and never passes me for 10 miles as we drop down, down, down to our water source. I know that I'll pay for my speed coming down the mountain like that. Downhills always hurt, no matter my form it seems like.
Hershey and I walk into a ranger station and find a few other hikers, a cooler full of sodas and cold water. We sit down and make a little lunch. I do tortillas with tuna, cheese and mayo with mustard again.
The day starts to get hot and a dry wind blows through and kicks dust up into our eyes. Annie and AJ show up. I wander off to call Rider. I sit on top of a concrete structure and we laugh and tell each other we miss one another. When I hang up with him, I am town antsy, so I pack up and head out. Annie and AJ tell me to grab beer if I catch a hitch into Acton.
My mood is high and I feel good. I climb up and down the arid slopes. It's hot, but somehow tolerable. I find Hershey and Archie under some shade along the slope, both looking miserable.
"He's done. It's just too hot for him right now." Archies long tongue is hanging and he's panting forcefully.
"Do you need some water? I have a liter I can go without." I ask.
"No, we're good." He says
So I move on. My destination is a little KOA campground that is apparently hiker friendly. I drop down into a large wash area and as I do so I become very sleepy. I find a tiny flat spot of shade just under a tree and I strip myself of my wet sun shirt. Lay down my sit pad and curl into a ball. There's no one around. All I can hear is the wind rattling leaves, flying bugs and the scurrying sound of lizards, or whatever critters may lurk. I doze off and on, I am so relaxed and content right here. The warmth of the air holds me like a blanket. All that coldness that seeped into my bones over winter is long gone.
I sit up groggily and can see the large body of a gopher snake laying just feet from me in the leaf litter. I hear voices coming down off the ridge and a couple passes me. I get all my things together again and see Annie, AJ and Hershey coming down too.
Hershey lingers under the shade with his wolf dog and the rest of us climb up and out of the wash. Four miles to the KOA, four miles to rest and dinner.
We separate while we hike and my mind plots out post trail plans. Just little visions.
A home space on the coast. The smell of chanterelles. Being warm with my lover. Fire. Home cooked meals. Making salves and medicine. Learning new skills.
I trip and then see a penis drawn into the sand of the trail. It's like it knows what I'm thinking about. I send a picture of it to my boyfriend with a kiss emoji.
I roll up and down the trail. It's hot, the sun is waning however. The trail crosses a road and I accidentally miss where the trail connects on the other side and I take the road all the way down to the highway. As I come into the trailhead parking lot I see a familiar camper, it's Coppertone!
"Hello again," he says to me.
I drop my pack onto the red carpet he has laying next to his camper and I plop into one of his lawn chairs. My entire body melts into the chair and the tension leaves my aching feet. I can feel a blister between my big and second toe. I'm over it. Blisters no longer either worry me or pain me, I just cut them open and walk them off.
"I got apples, bananas, cookies... You want a root beer float?" He asks me.
"Ohhh yes, a root beer float!"
He walks into his camper and makes some noise. "I've got cream soda too, if you like."
"Yes, cream soda please."
He hands me the golden creamy potion. I consume it so quickly. It's perfect.
Annie and AJ arrive and they get their floats too. We linger for a bit, getting up out of the chairs is so hard. We walk down to the road to hitchhike into Acton for some more good snacks, a tiny resupply and some beer. We try for about 15 minutes when a Latino woman in a worn out Honda pulls over for us. We thank her profusely.
She speeds us past Acton.
"You don't want to go there. Ain't nothing to buy."
I feel tension growing in the car. She's driving us into the next town, a much bigger town. The traffic grows, exhaust fills the air. We crest a hill and there it is in all its horrifying glory: SUBURBIA. How are we going to get out?
I grimace. All the buildings, signs and options overwhlm us. She drops us in front of a Stater Bros. grocery store. The three of us are buzzing with stimulus. People stare. Some ask what we are doing. A woman randomly hugs us all. A security guard introduces himself and shakes all our hands. Then, a man recognizes us as thruhikers.
"Can I be a trail angel? Do y'all need a ride?"
We arrange for him to pick us up in about an hour, while we put our packs into a shopping cart. We enter the crisp white store. Around us is a halo of dirt. Our thruhiker patina sticks out amongst the clean folk.
We buy vegetables and fruits, some cookies and spam. Annie and I grab beer. AJ buys a bottle of whiskey. We check out and get our ride back to the KOA. I buy a tent site for $15, I am so exhausted, I know I can't hike out. Plus, there are showers and laundry I can do too.
The three of us plop down onto a picnic table. We explode our packs and food and eat frantically.
I sip my 22oz of 8.5% beer. It hits me quickly. AJ passes around the whiskey bottle, which I take sips of. Hershey shows up and we all sit and eat and talk for a long time until it gets dark. He tells us there's camping just outside the KOA near a creek, less than a mile. Annie goes to fill her water bottles and when she comes back, tells us the water faucet has been turned off.
Soon, the three of us discover that all the water in the entire camp is off. No showers, no laundry, no flushing. No signs alerted us that they'd shut the water off and nor did they say anything when I paid for my tent site. We all make the slightly drunk decision to go camp by the creek. We give the KOA the bird for stealing my $15 and we hike out into the darkness.
We all laugh an stumble through the creek and up into a sandy bank where we lay out our mats, pads and blankets. A train passes by us just less than a 100 yards away, the noise shakes the ground.
Hershey builds a small fire and wanders off into the woods with his wolf dog. When he returns, he throws datura flowers on each of us. We all lay down and then we hear it...
HMMMPH HMMMPH ROOOOAR.
HMMPH HMMPH ROOOOAR.
"That sounds like a fucking bear looking for a sow," Hershey says and he springs up and runs into the darkness to find the sound.
"Bears wouldn't be this low," I say. "This place would suck for bears. Honestly it just sounds like a lion."
I'm hazy and the drink is pulling me into sleep. Hershey wanders back. Archie patrols around us. A train passes by. My sleeping bag feels like heaven and my eyes like lead and I fall deeply into sleep.