May 23rd, Friday
We woke the next morning to find that our tent was sitting in an island, with the world all around draped in a sea of fog. After a glimpse outside, we ate our granola inside the tent, then packed up our wet gear as the fog cleared from the ridges and sunk into the valleys all around us.
Today we had to make another decision about a detour: there was another thirty-mile trail closure ahead, with either road-walking or hitching involved. There were three possible routes, and we had to decide which one to take. But in the meantime, we were going to stop at Casa de Luna (the Andersons) to see what it was all about. At the very least, we had to meet the people who left such awesome caches.
It was only seven miles to the road where we’d try to hitch two miles into town. The vegetation on the hills was sparser now, and the fog had completely cleared to a hot blue-skied day.
At the road, we stood with another guy trying to hitch. Zach decided we might as well start walking toward town, and he and the guy started in that direction. Seeing a pickup truck coming down the road, I stayed another second and threw out a thumb. Sure enough, we got a ride! A young man and his dog sat in the cab, and we all piled in the truck bed. The man knew exactly where we were going, and dropped us off at the Andersons’ front yard.
Casa de Luna is alternately known as “Hippie Daycare.” It was easy to see why! There was a pavilion in front adorned with couches and a bunch of pillows and folding chairs, along with a gas stove for the hikers’ use and several coolers packed full of beer. Dozens of “hiker trash” sat on these couches, holding beers and puffing out enough fragrant smoke to rival the fog that morning. There was a table with a bunch of paints where you could paint something on a rock to adorn Mrs. Anderson’s garden.
The moment we walked up, we were greeted warmly. A bunch of people we knew were there, including Pesky, Angry Bird and three of the “Appalachian Four” (minus Smokey)— Sad Fish, Banjo (with a new mohawk and muttonchops), and Anchor. (Everyone got confused because Angry Bird, the guy who actually had a banjo, wasn’t the one named Banjo.) A volunteer showed us to a clothing rack with a bunch of brightly-patterned shirts on it to wear for the day. Zach chose a Hawaiian pattern and I got one that was covered in freshwater fish, in honor of my Missouri roots.
We got a tour of the property in the backyard, a nice maze of manzanita bushes with camping spots carved out. Mr. Anderson was sitting with some people at the table out back. We chatted with him, and he asked us about our resupply strategy in the Sierra, where points to resupply are sparse. It seemed like a thousand miles away. He also mentioned that Ziggy and the Bear just had their 1,000th hiker pass through. Mr. Anderson shook his gray head seriously. “The ones who’ve only gotten to Ziggy and the Bear by now— they’re not gonna make it.”
Zach and I made mashed potatoes on the stove, then chilled for a while, talking with people and enjoying the sensation of sitting on a couch. After an hour, though, Zach got restless and went to the nearby convenience store. I felt antsy, too. This place was nice, certainly, and I was enjoying the couch, but there wasn’t anything to do. We had just been to the Saufleys and taken care of all our camp chores— there wasn’t anything to do here except drink or smoke (which most people were doing with abandon). We stayed for a couple hours, but eventually, when considering things we might do, I thought, “Well, maybe we could take a walk.” That was the tipping point. We had to leave.
Everyone tried to get us to stay. They talked about the amazing supper that was going to happen tonight. “Man, you need to enjoy it,” Sad Fish told us. “Before you know it, the trail’s going to be over, and you’ll be sad that you rushed.”
We sighed deeply. “There’s not a whole lot to do here,” I said. “We’re just feeling antsy.”
One of the hikers, exhaling a huge plume of smoke through his nose, said, “You could— oh, I dunno— relax.”
“We’re bad at relaxing,” Zach said with a smile.
Still, we felt really torn, but we held firm. All week we had been dawdling. We didn’t want to have another day when we went less than ten miles. And so, wondering if we’d regret this, we said goodbye.
Mrs. Anderson, a mischievous and cheerful person, caught us before we left and insisted we be part of the group photo. Just before the photographer snapped the shot, Mrs. Anderson mooned us! I’m sure that picture turned out pricelessly. “Hey,” she said, “they don’t call this ‘House of the Moon’ for nothing!” She sent us on our way with a huge smile and a snack of fresh veggies.
One of the volunteers there offered us a ride to a highway junction. We gave up any thoughts of purism and accepted. She dropped us at a nice place to hitch the rest of the way. Zach and I stuck out our thumbs together for a while, then Zach suggested we move further down the road. Once again, he started to walk and I stayed behind for a second and threw out my thumb at a white pickup truck. It immediately pulled over and a grayed old man said, “Hop in the back!”
He took us to the halfway point on the hitch: an old restaurant/hotel called The Rock Inn. He pulled over and told us that he would buy us a meal there before taking us to the place where the trail picked up again. Speechless, we stuttered a thank you. He marched us into the restaurant, told us where to drop our packs, then deposited us at a table and told the waitress, “Add it to my tab.” He turned to us. “Get whatever you want. I have to run an errand, but I’ll come back and get you.” Then, with a nod and some chatting with the guys at the bar, he left.
Zach and I sat at the wood tables with the high ceiling above us and the bar to my right, decorated with taxidermic animal heads and sports team logos. The guys at the bar chuckled. “Leave it to Jimbo,” one of them, an old geezer with a thick brown mustache, said. “He’s always doing stuff like that.”
“He should’ve retired ten years ago,” another guy put in. “He’s one hardworking son of a bitch.”
The waitress took our order, and I ordered something I’d been craving since the beginning of the trip— a bacon avocado cheeseburger. While we waited on our food, we talked with the guys at the bar. One of them was a St. Louis Rams fan (he had originally been an LA Rams fan), and joked about what a terrible team they are now. Another guy started gleefully warning us about the danger of green racer rattlesnakes, a more aggressive breed that lived on the northern side of this mountain range. All the rest joined in, telling us of all the crazy wild animals that would surely attack us— rattlesnakes and mountain lions and black bears, oh my!
We didn’t care whether or not they tried to scare us— and they did it with a sense of glee that was so sadistic and yet goodnatured that it almost felt heartwarming. Plus, we had delicious free food to eat, so we weren’t complaining.
“Jimbo” came in about 45 minutes later to pick us up, and asked if we’d run an errand with him to his girlfriend’s house before he dropped us off. We accompanied him to a slender ranch house surrounded by a garden and twinkling garden ornaments. He watered the flowers and we got to meet his girlfriend and her very old, crippled, sweet dog. Then Jimbo dropped us off at a junction called Three Corners (we saw Matt and Sam, determinedly hiking down the road, and ducked so they wouldn’t recognize us copping out).
This was our compromise: some people were hiking from the Andersons straight to Hikertown Hostel on the road. Since we had hitched, we were going to follow this road four miles until the actual reopening of the PCT, about six miles before Hikertown. We were definitely walking fewer miles than the purists, but at least we were hiking as much of the actual trail as we could.
The road was deserted and we clomped along on the asphalt, feeling the weight of our water-laden packs. I almost suggested that we dump out the water, but I was too paranoid about it right now to do such a thing.
We joined back up with the PCT at mile 511, and found two people we knew. There was Relish, the sweet and fair-skinned girl from Norway. She was traveling with Toto, the blue-haired guy from Kansas who had round glasses with a crack down the right lens. They were crouching at the entrance of a piped spring that was completely dry. Relish looked up and recognized us. “Do you have any water?” she asked.
We were glad to give them water, especially since they had done the whole road walk and joined back up with the PCT at this point. They continued walking, at a much faster clip than us. We straggled behind.
The trail wound through a scraggly valley before curving up and over the left side of a mountain, revealing a plain to our left. The mountains we were on gave way to beautiful green hills, and then a flat plain that stretched out to a blue ridge of mountains a few miles away. Tomorrow we’d be crossing that deadly flat plane, skirting the mountains, in a section of the trail that most people dreaded: the LA aqueduct.
Still, at the moment I could only look at the hills below us, round and faintly green. It reminded me of Rohan.
As we continued through the hills, Zach and I had a moral dilemma. On our maps, it was marked that we weren’t supposed to camp in this area since it was private property. However, there were no signs about it anywhere on trail. The no-camping zone stretched further than we could walk that night— however, if we really pushed, we could probably make it to Hikertown Hostel, which only charged 10 bucks a head per night. But still, 20 dollars. I felt no need to have a roof over my head tonight— I was rested and well-fed, recently showered, and not in the mood to drop money on something we didn’t need. But still, was it okay to camp even if we were certain no one would catch us?
We found Relish and Toto with their sleeping pads side by side on the sand of a dry riverbed, a spot that would leave no trace. Right next to the trail was a smooth, dusty spot, covered only with a couple dried cow pies. It would be a good place to hunker down for the night.
We had a long moral dilemma, in agony about it. But finally we decided to stay there. That decision still grates on me a little bit, even now. I hate breaking rules, especially when it’s not an absolute necessity. I felt pretty anxious that night. There were ants everywhere and we had to be careful to keep our food contained. Also, when the sun set, the mosquitoes came out.
We were too full to eat anything but a snack, but Zach made himself some tea. And we discovered that we had lost all but one of our tent stakes— they are probably still at the hump of ground at our campsite that morning. But for the moment, it was a nice, still night.
I should have appreciated the lack of wind more, but right now I was annoyed with the mosquitoes banging against the sides of the tent. Glaring at the bloodsuckers as they desperately tried to find a hole in our tent’s mesh, I drifted off to sleep.