Friday, March 6, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 28: Manzanita in a Storm

DAY 28
May 22nd, Thursday
454 (Hiker Heaven) to 471

In my diary, I note on this day, with some disapproval, “Didn’t get up till 7:30.” Writing this now, from a time in my life where I’m lucky to wake up before 9, it’s a strange paradigm shift. But 7:30 was a late start in the desert— the sun was already high in the sky, and the heat was already oppressing you. And, like many hikers at Hiker Heaven, we had a difficult time leaving.

First we raided the communal fridge and ate scrambled eggs and yogurt for breakfast— two items we hadn’t eaten in ages. We also mixed jelly in an almost-empty jar of peanut butter and ate it straight.

While we were doing that, we got caught up talking to Angry Bird, who was having breakfast in the kitchen. He told us about the cabin he’d built in Pennsylvania, and all the improvements he was going to make on it. We asked him about his family (he has a couple brothers) and talked about ours. It was hard for me to imagine that, on day one, I had thought he was a snob— he was one of the most down-to-earth people I’d ever met.

Zach and I slowly started getting our stuff together. “Waxy,” loud and annoying as usual, solidly became repulsive in my mind that morning (he’d been wavering right on the edge of “annoying but somewhat endearing”). He disrespected the volunteers, turned on loud music then left the room, and had no filter for the filth that came out of his mouth. I was glad that he wasn’t hiking the trail this year— we wouldn’t see him on the trail. In fact, today was, fortunately, the last time we ran into him.

Beauty Shop had set up a barber chair and was giving people haircuts. Waxy and one of the Israeli guys got mohawks (throughout the next few weeks, we saw many mohawked people who bore Beauty Shop’s legacy). She also worked on completely shaving a guy’s head. His name was ManBearPig, short and stocky with pale blue eyes. He had a sandy-sounding voice and an awe-inspiring ability to fit more swear words than not in a sentence. To be honest, I couldn’t stand him at first, but it wasn’t long before I grew to like him. Later, he told us that he’d been too high to realize she was actually shaving his head, resulting in a painful scalp sunburn later!

At last, we strengthened our resolve and left, bidding everyone goodbye. We walked a mile back to the section of road that the trail runs along. We bought some candy in a convenience store and chatted with some cyclists who were there.

Licking the melted peanut-butter cup chocolate off our fingers, we continued down the road. It was sparsely marked, and we would have missed a turn onto a jeep road if it hadn’t been for a woman who lived at the junction stepping onto her front porch and letting us know it was time to take the dirt path to the right.

These hills were greener, thick with brush and manzanita. We crossed a highway and found a nice water cache, courtesy of the Andersons (we’d reach Casa de Luna tomorrow). Then we ascended into hills that reminded me in appearance of the Smokies, except covered in seven-foot-tall manzanita trees instead of full-grown trees. As we crept along the ever-rising trail dipping in and out of the mountain shoulders, the sky darkened, the air cooled, and clouds swept in. 

Soon we saw that a thunderstorm was approaching, with tiny lightning flashes in the distance and the purr of thunder. We donned our raincoats. But since our packs were so heavy due to the huge amount of water we were carrying, it was quite a struggle to walk, and soon we were sweating more water than was falling from the sky. The clouds still lay heavy over us, but the threat of rain passed us by. (We later talked to The Animal, who had been caught in the throes of the storm. Lightning struck a telephone line so close to him that it reset his watch!)

Near the end of the day, we turned a bend in the maze of manzanita and were greeted by a four-foot-tall plastic Frankenstein monster. This brought us up short, and then we saw a tiny oasis under the cover of the manzanita, stuffed full of hikers. They welcomed us over to a cache— again, courtesy of the Andersons. There was a cooler of soda with a note that said, “Please take 1 or 2… not 12. Love, the Andersons.” We stayed there for a little while, drinking soda and chatting with the people. Then we continued on to try to find a camping spot amid the slopes and thick brush. 

We chatted for a while with a middle-aged guy named Blue, probably named after his blue blue button-down shirt and intense blue eyes. He said he, as a single guy, had had a hard time hitchhiking. “You’re lucky to have a lady with you!” he told Zach. 

After an hour or so, we saw an opening in the brush. At first we thought we might be able to camp there, but then we saw that it was already occupied. When we saw who it was, we laughed aloud. “Matt and Sam!” I cried.

“No way,” Matt said, laughing louder than I’d heard him laugh before. “No freakin’ way.”

After making a few more jokes about how we were stalking them, we said goodbye and continued up the mountain. After another mile, we found a decently flat hump of ground that the trail curved around. We beat down the sand to make it more level, then cooked dinner with our new stove. It worked so much faster than our old alcohol stove! We were thrilled. We crawled into the tent and Zach read a chapter of Lord of the Rings. Denethor died. I wept.


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