Mile 642 to mile 651
In the desert, the water dictates the miles. Today there is a 21 miles stretch between water sources; The stretch begins just eight miles after we wake. This gives us a 29 mile day, unless we want to dry camp, which would require each of us to carry a few extra liters of water, in addition to the four, or five, or six liters we’re already carrying.
On top of that, the trail climbs for most of the day. I carry six and a half liters; in the heat I know that even this will not be enough, but I do not want to carry more. All day I ration water.
Also, the water report is extremely vague about the water source at the end of the 21 mile stretch- there is a campground there, says the water report, but the faucets are turned off. The small cache, says the water report, is empty. Down the trail, however, on a faint trail through the brush, is a series of cisterns. The first cistern is empty; the second cistern is empty; the third cistern has had water in previous years, although no-one has reported on it so far this year.
I think all this over as I hike up in the heat through a burn, rationing my water. 21 miles with no water, and then there might not be water at the end? Well, I think. Well. I walk with Golden Hour for a while and we talk about young anarchists of my generation vs. young anarchists of her generation. Golden Hour is a young anarchist and her lifestyle is almost identical to the way mine was, when I was a young anarchist. It’s heartening, to hear her talk about all her friends’ projects, their ambitions, their hopes and dreams and fears. It’s heartening to know that twenty-two year olds like her continue to keep the flame alive, generation after generation after generation. It makes me nostalgic, and happy. Maybe it wasn’t all for nothing, I think. Maybe it wasn’t all for nothing after all.
I run out of water two miles before the campground. I’m thirsty but it’s dusk, and cool, so I’m alright. I don’t feel grumpy, or sick, and I’ve had plenty of water throughout the day- I know I’ll be ok. The group was walking together, for a while, as the trail followed a jeep road, but now it’s just me and NoDay, lagging at the end. It’s interesting, people’s pace on the trail. I was a little bit faster than the last group I was hiking with, and now I am a little bit slower. This is what it’s all about, I think. The whole range of it.
I’m not gonna die but still I can’t help obsessing, those last two miles, about the water source. Water water water, I think. Rest rest rest. Shade. But then, I think, what if there is no water? The next reliable water is eight miles after the campground; could I do a 37 mile day, if I really had to? What would that even feel like? There’s a bit of a country song stuck in my head on repeat, and I sing it to myself-
If you’re goin through hell,
Keep on moving
Don’t slow down
If you’re scared don’t show it
You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there
Then we’re coming down off a ridge, NoDay and I, and we can see the campground below us. The campground is empty but then at the edge of it is an RV, and a white tent ringed in what looks like prayer flags. Trail magic? I think. Root beer floats? But no, I tell myself. That’s probably just some campers.
“I bet it’s just campers,” I tell NoDay. “At best they can give us some water.”
“Yeah,” says NoDay. “Let’s not hope for anything else. Just in case it’s not anything.”
As we near the tent we see people in the road playing frisbee. From where we are it looks as though their shirts are filthy, but I can’t really tell for sure. Then, suddenly, I realize that those aren’t prayer flags around the tent- they’re PCT bandanas! And then, suddenly, we’re standing in front of the tent and there’s Yogi, who makes the PCT handbook, at a table laden with bottles of water, gatorade, and burgers. And our friends are there too, sitting in plastic chairs, stuffing their faces. And other hikers- Rafiki is there! Who I haven’t seen in forever.
I laugh. I can’t believe it. I laugh and laugh, and then I fill my liter bottle with blue gatorade and drink the entire thing. Then I put a burger patty in a plastic bowl with scrambled eggs on top- there are eggs leftover from breakfast- and cover the whole thing in mustard. I sit in a folding camp chair and eat it. I’m so happy I could burst.
“And in the morning,” says Yogi, who looks just like her picture in the book, “there are pancakes. From 6 a.m. until people stop eating them.”
What? I think. What even is this. I can’t believe it.
Dark falls and all the tired hikers carry their packs into the campground and spread their groundsheets in the dirt beneath the huge oak trees. We have “storytime” again, although this time there are more hikers listening. I sit in my sleeping bag and read a story aloud from Best American Short Stories about a man in Texas working on the set of a hollywood movie. The story is dirty and random and makes us all laugh but then nothing happens for a while and I realize that the story is incredibly long and so I stop, halfway through. I put down my phone and pull the sleeping bag up over me. Everyone is snoring, and it is incredibly peaceful. And tomorrow, I think. What wonders will tomorrow hold.