Mile 326 to mile 349
I wake before dawn and lie in my sleeping bag, watching the sun rise over the lake. Sour Cream is up and about and then I can see Angela, wriggling like a larvae in her sleeping bag a little ways away. Ben and Thyra are still fast asleep in their tent on the edge of the water.
Dawn at the lake
Angela in her gazebo
Ben, Thyra and Angela are injured, but I am not. I love hiking with them, laughing with them, camping with them. But we’re on a long walk and today, they cannot walk. What is there to do?
In the end Sour Cream and I set out into the mountains, leaving the other three behind. They’ll hitch into Wrightwood on the highway, and once there they’ll rest, buy new shoes, and give their injuries much needed attention. It’s a huge relief to know that they’re taking care of their injuries, and we’ll see them again when we arrive in Wrightwood in two days.
There is a McDonald’s on the PCT. When you are near the McDonald’s there is a trail sign, a regular wooden one, and it says McDonald’s, .4 miles. Today I walk quickly through the desert, knowing that the McDonald’s junction is only 16 miles away. If I can reach McDonald’s by 1 p.m. I can hide there during the hottest part of the day, eating cheeseburgers.
Cheeseburgers. My stomach is upset this morning, and I feel a little naseous while I walk. I had stomach pains in the night that woke me up. I’ve been eating all sorts of crap, gluten and dairy and processed foods and crazy amounts of sugar, things that I know mess up my gut. I need to cut it out so that I can do a good job hiking and finish the trail, but it’s hard. Life!
I won’t get any cheeseburgers, I think as I walk. I’ll get, like, a salad. I try to visualize this salad, to make it more real. But the salad I visualize is like the worst salad imaginable. I imagine myself eating this terrible salad while all my friends eat cheeseburgers. I want to cry.
As I’m thinking about this terrible salad I almost trip over a giant rattlesnake. The snake is big and fat and stretched across the trail, and I don’t notice it until I’m just about to step on it. I catch myself and stumble and jump over it, and then I turn to look at it. it slithers a little and shakes its rattle at me and literally hisses. I walk on a few minutes, saying
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”
And then I throw my pack down in a poky patch of shade and sit on the ground to rest. It’s really hot already. I pull out my gallon bag of trail mix, which is still halfway full, and eat some almonds. A moment later Sour Cream appears.
“I almost stepped on a snake!” He says.
The lake from up in the hills
We walk through the beautiful dry hills for several hours and then we round a corner and there is a massive freeway in front of us. It is the freeway that runs through the desert between LA and Las Vegas and it is packed with cars going crazy fast.
“I feel like there is a tear in our reality,” I say, “and another reality is leaking through.”
Then we see the side trail to McDonald’s.
“One o’clock!” I say. “We made it!”
The side trail dumps us onto a paved road that parallels the freeway. It is painfully hot on this road, and the air is thick with exhaust. Up ahead is a McDonald’s and a gas station, and then the desert again, forever and ever and ever.
Smiles and Dr. Slosh are inside the McDonald’s, sitting in a plastic booth, mountains of chicken nuggets before them. I drop my pack and wash my hands and plug my phone into the outlet beneath a huge flatscreen TV that is blaring fake news. There are lots of other people in the McDonald’s, and I stand in line with them. I am sunburnt and my clothes are filthy, but they ignore me. I feel like I am in an intergalactic space station.
I order two double cheeseburgers, a large order of french fries, and some weird lemonade that’s made with fake sugar. Sour Cream gets something similar. Smiles and Dr. Slosh have been eating for hours, and Dr. Slosh glasses the menu board with his binoculars and reports on his progress.
“I’ve eaten three thousand calories,” he says. “Not counting the several liters of coke.”
After finishing my burgers I order a reeses mcflurry, which has something like seven hundred calories. I eat it slowly, staring in horror at the flat-screen TV. Evil-seeming people and incomprehensible, brightly-colored images flash across the screen, accompanied by garbled, too-loud talking. None of it, as far as I can tell, has to do with finding water or navigating mountain ranges on narrow dirt paths. I get up and poke the TV until I find the OFF button.
Fifteen minutes after finishing my icecream I order two more double cheeseburgers. I take the patties out of one burger and add them to the other burger. I give the leftover buns to Sour Cream, and he eats them. I look down at my unwieldy sandwich as I eat it.
“Fuck,” I say after I have finished. “Fuck.”
We leave the McDonald’s in the afternoon and walk back to the PCT, which goes under the highway via an underpass. It’s a wide highway and the underpass is long and dark. Inside, the walls drip with secret water. Then there is a square of light crowded with bright green, like a portal to another world. We emerge through this square into a tangled wood, a clear little brook running through it. We hop across the brook on stones and climb out of this lush, secret green place, back into the desert. As we walk into the dusty hills we look back at the freeway and shake our heads.
How am I ever going to integrate back into the regular world, I think.
I only feel sick for the first two hours of hiking. Eventually I feel a little better, although I can still hear the lemonade sloshing around in my stomach. We drop out of the hills to a little valley and in the middle of the valley is a cache. The cache is 23 miles from Wrightwood, and fourteen of those miles are uphill- our plan is to get water at the cache, walk a few more miles, and then cowboy camp. In the morning we’ll start the long climb up into the mountains.
There are some drunk hikers at the cache, their sleeping bags spread out on plastic lounge chairs. The hikers bought armloads of tallboys at the gas station next to the McDonald’s, and they’ve been drinking all afternoon. We fill up our water bottles and keep hiking.
The trail climbs steeply up the mountain, and there is nowhere flat to camp. At last, at dusk, we find a little grassy patch in a dry streambed filled with boulders. It is just big enough for the two of us, if we spread our sleeping bags in an “L” shape. It’s a little secret spot, hidden from the trail. I drink some water and eat some almonds and brush my teeth, spitting onto the dusty path. We spread out our sleeping mats on the grass- mine just barely fits beneath the thorny, overhanging bushes. I lay under my quilt, feeling as though the mountain is cradling me. I look up at the sky, which is hazy with thin, transparent clouds. I live here, I think. In the nature. I walk on the nature and eat on the nature and sleep on the nature.
I feel safe. I sleep.