Tuesday, May 19, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 76: Hippies

Cool ski hut

DAY 76
July 9th, Wednesday
1155.5 to 1177.5

I awoke with the dawn that morning, feeling happy and well-rested. Zach’s stomach issues had completely cleared up, and we were packed up and back on the trail by 7:00am. The trail wound upwards between the impressive boulders under a fair, warm sky.

We saw that there were toilets and a water faucet just a bit off trail at the Highway 80 rest stop— Donner Pass. We glad took the detour and emerged at a rest stop near an Interstate. After taking advantage of the bathrooms, we stopped to fill our water bottles and eat a snack. We thought about trying to do some sort of cannibalistic photo to celebrate our location, but decided that would be in poor taste. Instead, we chatted with some people who came up, curious about our backpacks. 

As I sat at a picnic table and nibbled on some trail mix, I noticed a family sitting at the nearest picnic table in front of a van topped with hula hoops. The dad, skinny and mohawked and wearing stylishly tattered clothing, walked inside with his little son in tow. The mom stayed behind with her older daughter (eight or nine) and a baby. I watched them in fascination.

All three of them were barefoot. The mom was slender and had a captivating grace: her nose was sunburned, her hair tied up in a kerchief, her white t-shirt cut into artistic rib-like patterns that showed off delicate dotted lines tattooed in patterns on her back. She whistled and stirred a concoction over a camp stove with a stick. Her daughter, with wind-tossed blonde hair and intense blue eyes, wore a skirt of colorful rags. She dashed over near my table, hopping from boulder to boulder and looking at me curiously. At last she asked, “What are those weird colored things?” She was referring to the m&ms in my trail mix. I told her that it was chocolate, but that it was bad for you. 

The seven-month-old baby, sitting on a cloth in the middle of a mulch pile, was naked except for an amber necklace. Her hair was sunny red, and she smiled as she chewed alternately on a wooden mixing spoon and a chunk of mulch.

I stared at them, feeling like they were the most beautiful family I had ever seen. After a few moments, the mother called over, “Hello! Would you like some drinking chocolate?”

“Yes please,” I said, although I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. Zach and I walked over with one of our bowls. The mother had melted coconut oil, raw cacao, and raw honey over a camp stove, and she poured the warm syrup into our bowl. It was delicious! We chatted, telling her about the trail, and then she told us that they lived in a commune called “Grub” in Chico, California. She invited us to visit whenever we’d like. She picked up her baby and held her while we chatted, and when her baby began to fuss, the mother pulled down her shirt and pressed the baby to her breast. She was friendly and down to earth, with the kind of self-confidence that makes you feel confident, too.

It was with great reluctance that we said goodbye to them and headed back into the woods. The entire rest of the day, my thoughts kept turning to babies. I imagined that beautiful baby chewing on the spoon, and wanted one so badly that it hurt. I wanted to have a blonde-haired daughter who wore rag skirts and ran around barefoot and didn’t know what m&ms were. I wanted to make drinking chocolate for strangers. I wanted to be a cool hippie family! 

That day, Zach and I also began to talk about a possibility we hadn’t considered before: when we got home after the trail, could we buy a house instead of going back to renting? The idea seemed impossible at first, but the more we thought about it, the more it made sense. So all day long my thoughts were full of babies and houses and homemade drinking chocolate.

My thoughts were interrupted when we ran into a couple of people who were hiking a section of the trail: a young woman named Raven and her friend, a middle-aged man named Freebird. Raven wore somber colors but had a sparkle in her dark eyes, and Freebird wore a bright blue shirt to match his eyes and a mesh cowboy hat. They both exuded an innate sense of joy in life. We soon learned that Freebird had hiked the PCT three times, the Appalachian Trail three times, and the Continental Divide Trail once. When we mentioned that we had fallen behind most of the hikers we’d started with because of our break, he laughed. “The back of the pack is the place to be!” he said. “The further back you go, the more fun everyone has.”

Soon he and Raven pulled ahead of us, and we hiked at a leisurely pace. We stopped by a stream to have lunch with three people: Star Rider and Dawn Patrol, the couple we’d met a few days ago, and Catdog, the 63-year old we’d first met at Echo Lake. We cooked food and chatted with them. We learned that Catdog worked at the REI in Bend. On trail, she woke up at 5:30 every morning and hiked all day, slowly but steadily. 

We hiked in woods for the rest of the day, observing strange rings of moss around the trees that grew at regular intervals. Sometimes the woods parted to reveal sweeping mountains covered in firs and patches of meadowland, and, as usual, there was always something to look at.

We gathered water in preparation for dry-camping again, and scored a lovely campsite amid an open pine forest atop a ridge. We set up everything and fell asleep, contented.

At 3:30 in the morning, we heard the roar of a huge diesel engine nearby, followed by a heart-attack-inducing splintering sound. Zach and I lurched awake, disoriented. We listened to the sound of trucks about fifty yards away, which had apparently decided that 3:30 in the morning was the best time to start logging. I had a sudden irrational fear that they were going to bulldoze the whole forest and us along with it. When the sounds never came closer, I finally calmed down. But it was hard to sleep with the sound of trucks and falling trees and splitting logs all night!


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