Thursday, March 19, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 37: The Desperate Thirst Is Quenched in the Most Awesome Way Possible

Shutter and Zach

DAY 37
May 31st, Saturday
637 to 651.3

We made no effort to wake up early the next day, and when we did finally stir, the sun was already up and filtering through the trees. It was hard to believe that the same sun that had shriveled us to raisins the previous day could look so soft and white and harmless drifting between the pine boughs.

Zach volunteered to make the two-mile round trip, down the side of the mountain, to get to the seep for water, and I had no objection. I relaxed in the tent. I intended to journal, but got too caught up in just lying down. I felt utterly exhausted, as if my body had burned twice the normal amount of calories the previous day. 

It seemed very late in the day by the time Zach returned with a load of water bottles, and we returned to the trail. I was still feeling a bit anxious about water, but Zach reassured me that if nothing else, we could hitchhike into town at the next highway, Walker’s Pass. And there was supposed to be a water source there anyway. 

We soon left the forest behind. Walking through the barren hills, which looked so much like the brush-spotted hills we had been seeing for the past 640 miles, it was hard to believe that we’d be out of the desert in about three days— mile 702, at Kennedy Meadows, was the unofficial beginning of the Sierra. In my mind, the Sierra was a luscious Garden of Eden, flowing with unending rills of clear mountain water, where everything was green, and we’d never have to worry about water again. I wondered how the real Sierra would measure up.

It was early afternoon, and we had walked about fourteen miles. We could see Highway 178 ahead of us, a thin ribbon of gray with tiny cars and trucks running along it. I began to feel better, seeing that it would probably not be too hard to hitch.

The trail leveled out, winding along little sandy knolls. To our left, we saw the Walker Pass Campground. It had a couple picnic benches, an outhouse, and some day trippers set up with an RV and some pavilions. As usual, the sight of happy car-campers made me both happy and a little jealous.

And then, to our left, nailed to a pole, we saw the frisbee.

It was a blue plastic frisbee, with a pink ribbon of crepe paper nailed to it. Scrawled on it in Sharpie were the words, “Hiker Trash Wanted!”

We came up short, blinking in the dusty, blinding sun. We stared at the RV and the pavilions, realizing that it wasn’t day trippers, but trail angels. We hesitated, then barreled toward it.

We were within several yards when one of the occupants of the pavilion sighted us and yelled, “Hikers! Clap them in!”

Everyone else— about six or seven hikers— began clapping in rhythm. At the same time, a little kid, about seven, with a massive tangled mop of red curls, ran over to us. He dropped an ice-cold can of soda into each of our hands, along with a button with his picture that said, “Bear Bait gave me a cold drink at Walker Pass.”

I stared at my root beer, and Zach stared at his Mountain Dew Throwback. We felt like we had been dropped into a mirage. What trick of the desert was this?!

Blue Butterfly and Zach
We practically collapsed into comfortable camp chairs, which were arranged in a circle around a cooler. A woman, tall and serious-faced with a long brown ponytail, asked if we wanted pancakes. We stumbled out a, “Yes, please,” and she began frying them over a gas stove on a folding table. The table next to her was piled high with pancake mix, a quart of syrup, berry preserves, and a half-gallon tub of margarine. 

In addition to the table, the pavilions sheltered several camp chairs and a massive cache of water. Little lanterns hung from the pavilion. A fierce wind whipped us, sometimes pulling the tent flaps loose.

It was hard to catch everyone’s names, we were in such shock. We saw several people we knew: Shutter (looking much better-hydrated than last time we’d seen him), Sad Fish, Anchor, Banjo, two Israeli guys we’d met earlier, Tracks, and Blue Butterfly. An older man, leathered by the sun, introduced himself as a trail angel named Coppertone (he stopped along the trail to make root beer floats, although we never got to take advantage of this). Jackalope, a woman with a serious but friendly face, was obviously in charge of logistics. And the brown-haired woman cooking pancakes? That was Yogi. As in, the person-who-wrote-the-semiofficial-PCT-handbook Yogi. I felt like I was being served pancakes by a celebrity!

We sat down and ate pancakes. Zach introduced Shutter to the idea of heaping massive amounts of butter (well, in this case, margarine), on his food. As we ate a first and a second helping, Matt and Sam walked up (by this time we weren’t even surprised to see them— we always knew our paths would cross!), as well as Pesky, ManBearPig and his brother Shamiko Rassmisson, a girl my age named Coyote, and a guy named Sideshow with his girlfriend Shuffle.

We chatted about anything and everything: journals, gear, AT hikes, what we thought the Sierra would be like, “trail groupies,” injuries, and everything in between. It was so wonderful to just relax and sit in a chair and chat with people who were going through the same things we were— one last resting spot before we tackled the most difficult section of trail.

Sideshow (with russet hair, brown clothes, intense eyes, and a thin mustache) told a story about the “assassination game.” It was something that the Saufleys had started: everyone drew someone else’s name on a clothespin. It was your goal to try to “assassinate” the person by pinning the clothespin to them while they weren’t looking— preferably while they were sleeping. Once you did that, you got their clothespins, and another person to assassinate. Unfortunately, Sideshow had drawn Angry Bird’s name, and Angry Bird took the game very seriously, setting booby traps around his tent, or leaving his gear in one place and sleeping in a tree to avoid detection. I’m pretty sure that Sideshow never succeeded in his assassination. 

For supper, Yogi fixed a massive amount of burritos. By that time, there were about twenty hikers there, and we all lined up to get food. The burritos, stuffed with beans and rice and lettuce and tomatoes and sour cream, were divine. Afterwards, Yogi set out a massive plate of brownies.

After dinner was over, some people screwed up their resolve and headed out. Matt and Sam said, “I’m sure we’ll see you soon,” and they left with some others. The rest of us hung around a bit. Finally, Zach and I decided we were going to head out.

Just as we lifted our packs to our shoulders, a jeep pulled up, and a couple stepped out with five Little Caesar’s pizzas and several six-packs of beer. Zach and I dropped our packs in despair, laughing. We were caught! 

We spent the next hour chilling some more, eating pizza and brownies. Zach drank a beer even though he doesn’t like beer (although he began to develop a taste for it at that point). 

When the sun sank below the horizon, Zach and I found a nice little camp spot in the free campground, and set up our tent. It was far enough away from the pavilion that we had some privacy, and we laid side by side and read together. Apparently a wild party raged at the pavilion until four in the morning, but we slept right through, our hearts and stomachs happy and full.


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