Day 9- 8.4 miles from Montezuma Valley Road/Barrel Springs at mile 101.1 to Warner Springs Community Center at mile 109.5

I slept with my earphones in last night and my sleeping scrunched as right as possible around my face. The sounds of hikers waking up and the sunlight are muffled. I un-cinch my hood to a surprise. “I love my tent!” I announce.

“What made you love your tent overnight?” Colleen says.

“Look at it. It’s collapsed.”

“Oh, I was wondering what made you change your mind…” she says.

“No, it turned into a rainbow tent and gave me cupcakes and apologized for everything it’s done.”

I stay in my sleeping bag for a while before trying to move. It’s only 9 ish miles to Warner Springs today, so there’s no rush. Finally I wiggle out and pull everything out after me. Stupid tent.

I decide to make some more instant mashed potatoes for breakfast, since they were so good last night. They’re Betty Crocker brand today vs. Idahoan last night. They fill up the pot to the top and I still need to add more water, and there’s no room to stir. It’s cold on top and hot on the bottom, and super bland. I decide to try and “polenta it” to make it taste better. I sacrifice a lemon pepper tuna packet, chili cheese Fritos, and a packet of barbecue sauce. It tastes even worse. I can’t believe I’ve polenta’d a second meal. I can’t eat it and decide to pack it out. I announce that if I do this a third time I’ll have to take the trail name of Polenta.

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I’m about to head off when Twerk starts another stretching/dancing/twerking circle, so I drop my pack to join. Scissors comes up and takes a video. Then across the road and through rolling hills of brown and purple cheatgrass. I can see everyone hiking before and behind me, stretched out. We stop and start. At a break everyone finds out I have no clue who a guy named Will Smith is, and they tease me about it until I decide to leave. They weren’t trying to be mean but it still stings a bit and makes me pissed for half an hour. Will Smith’s movies are probably all really stupid and lame anyway. Or so I tell myself.

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I stop at Eagle Rock and I take a picture. There is an enormous group of day hikers taking pictures and I feel like a tourist on my own trail, and a bit overwhelmed. I almost skipped when I saw the mass of bodies, even though dayhikers are nice and smell like laundry detergent.

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Then it’s just two miles down to Warner. This is the first time I’ve really seen day-hikers. We pass a big group of Boy Scouts out backpacking, they look like cute little mini versions of ourselves, half our height and marching in a bouncy line.

I’m just getting over being mad about Will Smith when I start the final descent through trees. So many day-hikers, and horses, and horse poop. I step through a final gate and hike to the Community Center. I walk up a porch and into the building, and sign in at a table. My hands are dirty and I’m conscious of the fact that I smudge dirt on the white paper as I write.

I set my pack out in an empty spot out back, under an enormous oak tree. There are tents everywhere, clustered by the base of the tree in the shade. It’s in a field of golden mowed grass that’s rough and smells like straw. I can imagine a pumpkin patch here in the fall. Then I go get some loaner clothes- it’s a walk-in closet full of hand-me downs. I find brown pants and a big red T-shirt that says “I’m not lazy, I just enjoy doing nothing.” Then I go to the washing area, where I get in a stall and pour pitchers of water over myself from a Home Depot bucket, and then wash my clothes. Rachel looks amazing in her loaner clothes, like a model with white Bermuda jeans and a red shirt- Twerk wants to give her the trail name Ralph Lauren. Colleen has a Little House on the Prairie dress. Karma has a turquoise dress and her hair up in a towel and looks like the woman sidekick to Gru in the Despicable Me 3 trailer.

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Then we all head off along golf course trails the mile to the restaurant. It’s a blasphemous amount of walking. Soon we’ll be too lazy and just hitch everywhere. Nirvana the Seattle-ite is dying in the midday heat and I write his last request in case he expires. He gives his cat to his mom.

Then we’re in the restaurant, conscious of our awkward loaner clothes as we walk past tables of golfers in pastel polo tees. I drink two glasses of lemonade. I fantasized about lemonade on the mile’s walk here. Then delicious fish tacos. We sit there, stunned and lethargic after our food consumption. We head out to the gas station and I get some ice cream. We go out to the parking lot and stop to smell all the big roses planted there. The chocolate dip from my ice cream bar falls off onto the asphalt and I pick it back up and eat it without blinking. Hiker trash is real.

Then back to the community center. I buy a double wall charger from the mobile gear shop, 2 Foot Adventures, which is in an airstream. The owner and I (her trail name is Pillsbury) follow each other on Instagram and she takes a picture of me. Kathleen is here recovering from blisters, and Colleen’s dad is here with fruit and pizza and Gatorade magic. I hang around and talk to people, unable to keep up with all of the new names. It’s only in towns when I truly realize how many hikers there are.

I’ve set up my tent but it keeps on falling. Stupid tent. Why won’t it stay up? Someone suggests that it’s the stakes, but it’s a little late now. I feel bad giving up, but I’ll have my UL Fly Creek tent tomorrow. It’s not much heavier than my Protrail. I’m cowboy camping tonight.

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The sun is setting slowly. I sit with everyone else under the shade awning on picnic tables and eat a slice of veggie pizza. It smells like weed smoke and beer, and I’m falling asleep so I go to my sleeping bag. Everyone talks late into the night. It still smells like weed over here as well as laundry detergent from my loaner clothes, and I listen as another group of hikers make their plans to get to Idyllwild. Everyone else here seems to be going for 20 mile days and then they’re crashing and burning, getting off trail or zeroing for several days because injuries and blisters. I think I’m going to stay with my trail family for a while longer and doing 15s.

The moon is finally here, a crescent moon lying on its back. The light bores into my eyelids. I rummage around for my headphones to quiet the noise, pull my hat over my eyes, and try to sleep.

Day 8- 15.8 miles from campsites at mile 85.3 to before Montezuma Valley Road at mile 101.1

I wake up naturally at 6. It was warm tonight and I always sleep better in my tent, even though I stayed up late last night writing. I talk with Karma and Colleen in my sleeping bag until finally we muster the heart to unzip our sleeping bags and get up. I eat random things out of my food bag and once we’re up we pack up super quickly. At first I was at a loss to how to pack my things efficiently since I don’t have to pack around a bear can anymore. Now it’s natural.

Then off we go. Sometimes Karma is in front and sometimes I am, with Colleen taking caboose, slow but steady. I’m still really jumpy from my rattlesnake encounter last night. Everything is a snake- a curved shadow, a twig on the side of the trail, anything patterned white and black or bulbous or S-shaped. Cliffs by the side of the trail are now scary, and bushes by the side of the trail are evil snake traps. Several times I jump back at what I think is a rattlesnake. I don’t feel confident or safe on the trail now, it sucks, and I’m frustrated.

Karma catches up with me and it feels great to have someone hike in front of me. I trail right behind her, and we talk about our favorite books and book series, and LOTR character trail names (Bombadil is both awesome and would be a great trail name. Why is everyone named after Aragorn and Frodo and Bilbo on the trail? Where are all of the Treebeards and Quickbeams?). Every now and then we stop so Karma can make some of her famous trail messages with rocks. The miles are going by quick and having someone hike in front of me eases my anxiety about rattlesnakes. I had no idea my first encounter would leave me so traumatized. We see plenty of other snakes slithering for cover.

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We reach the Third Gate Water Cache junction, and hike down. There is a giant mound of crushed plastic water jugs in a structure of plastic webbing, and three pallets under some tall bushes. There are only maybe 8 jugs left. I take only a liter and hang around taking to people. We met a girl named Alfalfa because she’s sprouting alfalfa on-trail. Just as I’m about to leave Nirvana pulls up! Apparently everyone was camped less than a mile behind us. I pass Tarantino, Mousetrap, Twerk, and Rachel as I head back out. I catch back up to Karma as she’s building one of her trail notes with pebbles on the trail and then we hike together for the rest of the day. The trail winds along the side of the hills in chaparral and we keep checking our Guthook’s app to see how far we are from the 100 mile point. 4 miles… 2 miles… We’re cruising in between snack and water and shade breaks.

Karma makes an excited sound as we round a bend, and we see a big “100” marked on the side of the trail with rocks. We take pictures, then head off. The hundred mile mark unfortunately wasn’t graced with shade or sitting rocks.

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We descend the last mile to our campsite, the vegetation turning greener and less desert-y as we go. When we get there, the hikers already there point us to the road where there’s some people doing trail magic. Glow In The Dark and 3-Guy offer us cold drinks and fruit and I take a lemon-lime soda. They’ve hiked sections and their daughter is somewhere between here and Julian, they’re hoping to surprise her and her boyfriend.

I go back and claim a spot with my tent. It’s a pain in the butt to set up, the stakes falling out of the loose sandy ground several times and collapsing the tent before I get it up for good. I love it so much when it’s set up, incredibly spacious, but it needs a huge tentsite and it’s just not worth struggling with it every night when I’m tired. I shouldn’t be having to cowboy camp just because I get too frustrated with trying to get it up in the loose soil and wind here in the desert, even though I like cowboy camping. I’m getting into Warner Springs tomorrow, Sunday, and will be able to pick up my packages the day after. One has food and the other has my mom’s Big Agnes Fly Creek tent. I’m excited to see what special things my family has added.

I sit in a circle in the dirt with the other hikers and eat food from my food bag. We go around and do Rose-Bud-Thorn, where we say something great about our day, a low point, and what we’re looking forward to. A couple people are grumbling because they think it’s goofy. It’s definitely goofy but why be negative about it? I mention hiking with Karma today, looking forward to Warner Springs, and my rattlesnake trauma. We make plans to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the theater in Idyllwild. I cook instant mashed potatoes and then a hiker named Whizkid, who knows a lot of cool trivia facts, gives me her already-cooked Mountain House dinner of beans and rice and quinoa. I mix it all together with my potatoes and it’s incredible. Colleen, Rachel, Nirvana and Twerk all roll into camp, with a bunch of other people: Tarantino and Mousetrap and Jesus, who is currently being called Baby Jesus by the group in an attempt to make the trail name stick. I’m not sure if he’s happy with all of that or not.

Colleen and Karma and I go off together to find someplace to pee, announcing it in exaggerated valley-girl accents as our special girl expedition, pee rags swinging at our hips. Then we settle into our tents. No rush tomorrow to get into Warner Springs! People are still hiking into camp and somewhere a big group of hikers are talking and laughing, even though it’s 9:17, past hiker midnight.

Day 7- 8.3 miles from Scissor’s crossing at mile 77 to campsites at mile 85.3

Sleep is delicious. I wake up and want more of this sleep, unpunctuated by cold or shifting around to find a comfy spot on my egg-carton foam sleeping pad. Colleen isn’t in the room. We take turns using the bathroom and text her to find out where she is. She’s waiting for the continental breakfast downstairs. We sit around on the two beds looking at our phones and half-heartedly pushing our piles of gear around. Finally we get the will to go down. I pull my windpants over my sleeping pants to look less pajama-y and follow Twerk and Karma downstairs.

It’s a great continental breakfast. Yogurt, big pieces of fruit, lots of breads and cereals, instant oatmeal, orange juice. I go back for more.

Then more puttering around with our gear and talking about upcoming water sources. Colleen isn’t sure how reliable the two sources between here and Warner Springs are, and this convinces everyone to fill 6 liters worth of water. I groan dramatically as I pick up my water-heavy pack. I leave last and go over to Carmen’s to drop off my little moleskin journal and my tornado tube I tried to use for a gravity filter system in the hiker box. I order a big breakfast burrito and sit around in a confusion of hikers arriving and leaving, coming and going. I feel like I need to get going but I also feel I need one more meal before heading out. Carmen seems annoyed in general even though she breaks into smiles for incoming hikers and I feel uncomfortable being here.

The burrito is huge and delicious. Gluten tortillas and burritos are probably the things I’ve missed the most, a big gooey and stretchy and supple pocket stuffed with potatoes and eggs and cheese and salsa spooned on top. It’s gorgeous and heaven.

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Then I sit around and wait for someone I can hitch out of Julian with, antsy to leave. I walk down to the Post Office with Colleen and meet Karma there. Karma shows us a Facebook post Carmen made yesterday, complaining about hikers not tipping her waitress and wanting 2$ in change for the 3 dollar breakfast burritos. I feel even more uncomfortable now. I would have paid 5 dollars for that burrito, gladly. But I don’t think I did anything wrong? Aghhh!!!! The amount of generosity we’ve received at towns and roads is astounding, but sometimes I feel like it can be a little bit too much. For both the hikers, and the trail-angels who have welcomed hikers, now in ever-swelling numbers. I feel so bad.

I stick my thumb out and the first car stops, a couple on a business trip down to San Diego who are visiting the Anzo Borrego Desert for a few days before going back home. They know about the trail and the husband is currently section-hiking.

They drop us off and we walk to the Scissor’s crossing underpass to wait out some of the heat. We meet one of the people who maintains the cache and he says that both of the water sources we were worried about are very reliable. I drink one liter and dump another one over my head in celebration so I only have to carry four. There’s a trash can, recycling, a log book, and bins of water jugs and bins to leave the empty jugs. The pillars are graffitied with charcoal. Someone drew smiling cat faces everywhere.

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Scissor’s Crossing underpass

I eventually leave, Karma and Colleen packing up behind me. I’m stopped by an eager couple trying to do trail magic and I accept some tangerines, then point them to the underpass where all of the hikers are. They’re hiking next year. Then up! All of the plants are different on this side of the valley, barrel cactus and prickly pear and ocotillo with spiny snaky branches reaching up to the sky and tasseled with orange blooms. The switchbacks that looked so scary from yesterday’s descent are actually quite nice and gradual, winding around bends in the hills.

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The big plant in the center is an Ocotillo. They are one of the coolest plants I’ve ever seen, and I only saw them just north of Julian!

We cruise and leapfrog each other. I try to text my friends that are still back in Julian to see if they’re staying, but no-one replies. I’m up ahead, the sun setting, less than a mile from our tent site, when I have to stop and break out my poop kit. I scramble up the hill to find somewhere private. Colleen and Karma walk by below. I’m digging my cat hole when I see them walking along the other side of the ridge. (They can’t see me, or at least I hope not, though they know I’m there because I left my pack). “Amelia, we heard a rattlesnake by the bend so be careful,” Colleen shouts. “Okay!” I say back. A hummingbird flits by and stares at me. There’s a huge owl or eagle feather on the ground.  “It’s on a ledge,” she says. “Okay!” I shout again.

I finish up and start walking. I’m watching for the snake, looking for it especially at knee level where there are some ledges.

It’s right there by my foot. Stretched out about a foot away from me by the side of the trail. I utter something and run back several steps. I scream for 15 seconds, staring at it, and then scream for 15 seconds more. Then the sheer reaction wears off and I stab the trail with my poles, insulting the snake and yelling. It still hasn’t moved at all. I throw a small rock at it to see if it’s alive and it still doesn’t do anything. I take a picture. I talk to it as I’m doing this, calling it a good snek-snek and telling it to go away and asking it if it’s alive. There’s a orange rock cliff right against the trail and a steep drop off below, so it would be difficult to get around. It’s a dusty orange just like the rocks. I throw more rocks at it to try and make it move and suddenly it realizes I’m there, and is hissing and rattling and coiling up. Fff fff ffff f.

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I text Colleen. Halp, I say, It’s right on the trail and it’s pissed. I stand there for a long time. Finally two other hikers show up, Aaron and Ashleen, and we try to figure out what to do. It’s getting dark and I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes. Luckily it’s not cold. It won’t move so eventually we go below the trail to get around. We have to throw our trekking poles up onto the trail and pull ourselves up some rocks. The snake is still right there and it’s started moving towards us but we’re around it. The sun is down and we walk the darkening trail in our headlamps. There’s a sliver of the moon and the valley below is maroon with dusk. I walk in front and jump at every stick or round thing or striped object. It’s fully dark when we get to Karma and Colleen, and they help me set up my tarptent in the wind with my headlamp on. My tent stake breaks and I hold my tent up while Colleen gets the extra stake I gave her back at the boulder field. Then I sit in the dirt in front of my tent and eat things from my food bag. Two babybel cheeses, and Almond Joy, handfuls of trail mix and granola and chili cheese Fritos. “Am I hungry or am I stress eating?” I ask. “Hungry,” says Karma, and I realize I’ve only had two oranges in the past 5 hours.

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It takes a long time to upload these images hence me sitting here writing snarky captions. Except the last one was deleted. So this is really the only snarky one. Oh well. Hello, reader! Nice to meet you. ♥

It feels kind of sad and lonely for all of us this evening and we talk about it as we rummage through our food and eat it. Most of our trail family is not here anymore, either ahead several days or probably still in Julian, and we’ll probably spread out soon, too- I might want to start trying for 20 mile days after Warner Springs in a few days, and would probably start sooner if it wouldn’t be Sunday when I’d hit it, with my first resupply boxes. It’s inevitable but it’s hard. I want to stay with my trail friends for a long time, because they really are like a family and I love being around them and laughing with them about silly things, but we have different bodies and speeds and needs for mileage. This trail for me is about saying goodbye to people. I hate saying goodbye and I think I’m going to cry just thinking about it. I think I’ll have to get used to it, though.

Day 6- 13.5 miles from dirt road crossing at mile 63.6 to Scissor’s Crossing at mile 77.

I don’t sleep well. Even though I’m not afraid of cowboy camping, I think I’m still more alert, so it makes it more difficult to sleep. There is no moon and I wake up several times, blurry eyes trying to focus on the stars. It’s a warm night, the cold air sinking down the canyon towards the spring we filtered water from during the day. The wind ruffles over my sleeping bag and crinkles my dirty polycryo groundsheet. I slept so well every night on the JMT, but I haven’t on the PCT, and it kinda sucks.
We all wake up at 4 ish and start packing up camp by the light of our headlamps. Bugs fling themselves into my face towards the light. Rachel and Nirvana head out first, then Twerk and I follow, leaving Colleen and Karma to finish packing away their things at our camp. It’s dark and the wind blows us around. I’m glad I’m not alone. The dark and wind brings my mind to weird places. I think of all the horror movies I’ve been exposed to. I turn to Twerk and ask him if it would be super creepy if one of us was a werewolf. He just says yes. Later he suggests the trail name “Random,” and I seriously consider it, and even shout it down the mountains to taste the way it feels, but it’s too self-depreciating and negative and I turn it down. They’ve been throwing trail names at me left and right, eventually one will stick.

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It becomes light enough that we switch our headlamps off and I race across the back side of a ridge to catch the pink curtain of flame that is the sunrise before it disappears. I sit down and watch and Twerk and Karma and Colleen join me.

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It starts to get hot and we spread out. I’ve heard that the trail down to Scissor’s crossing is frustrating, so I’m only bemused as the trail stays up on the ridge for miles, the road we are hitching on in a few hours cutting across the dry valley below.
Karma is ahead and starts leaving us messages with rocks in the middle of the trail. Food, says one, bed, showers,then a heart, and U followed by a rock. They keep my mind off of the long hot trail. I finally catch up to her as she’s building a sign that says “10 by 10” for all of us.

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The sun heats my skin and makes my arms damp with sweat and dusty. Finally the trail veers off of the mountains straight for the road, blooming cacti dotting the landscape with delicate pink petals, and juniper, cheat grass nodding in the wind, heavy and red.
Down here on the valley floor it’s hot. I look to the junipers for shade, imagine myself clinging to the dirt at their roots, but it’s too close to Julian and food for a break. I walk with a woman named Heidi for a while.

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I wait for my friends at the road and then we walk the last 3/4s of a mile along the road to find a good spot to hitch. We set our packs down and stick our thumbs out. Karma makes a sign on her Tyvek groundsheet that says “Help a Hiker” with a lopsided smiley face. We use Twerk’s speaker to play Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop This Feeling” and we dance in between cars. Most of them are going the wrong way or turning. Heidi hops in with an already-loaded car of thru-hikers. Finally a car pulls up to drop some thru-hikers off, and turns around to go back to Julian, but not before picking us up. The driver is a super cool woman named Connie, who’s retired and has hiked portions of the AT and has day hiked Whitney tons of times. That hike is brutal, so I’m super impressed.

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Julian is green with trees, the Main Street lined with trinket shops and restaurants. It’s mostly a tourist town but it’s super cute and there’s food. Connie drops us off in front of the lodge and we split a room 4 ways. We go in and explode our packs, sitting on the floor so we don’t stain the beautiful white comforters. I take my shower last and put on my rain/wind gear and sleeping shirt. I put all of my dirty clothes that I need to wash in my bug net, and then head off to Soups and Such across the street with everyone. I get a huge salad with a side of sweet potato fries. And fresh lemonade. It’s a ton of food and really delicious. The vinegar in the salad dressing burns my lips.

The we go to Carmen’s, a trail angel in Julian, who lets hikers sleep on the patio of her business and use her washing machine. We put all of our clothes in together with a bunch of other thru-hikers and then go to check out the market. I do my resupply and head back to Carmen’s, then go with Nirvana to let him have a shower in our room and drop my food off. I leave him there to join everyone for free Apple-cherry pie and lemonade at Mom’s. I’ll see how my stomach reacts to the gluten and see if I can wean myself onto it again. They want to give me the trail name of Surprise, because my hair sticks up like in anime and I’m apparently full of surprises. I like it a lot, but not sure if it fits me enough.

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Then we all hang around, check our laundry, enjoy the beds. I find out that someone I talked with a lot before the trail about gear and planning, Rick, and who started the day after I did, is staying in the room next to ours and I get to meet him and say hi. Then I go with everyone (Twerk, Karma, Colleen, Rachel, Nirvana, Rachel, Jesus) to Romano’s, the Italian place. We have to sit at two different tables, which is lonely even though Twerk and Jesus are both sitting with me, and the only thing I can eat is the Zuchinni frittata, and honestly when I think about food I’m still so full from lunch that I want to barf a little bit. So I head back to the lodge and sit on the bed and talk with my mom on the phone until they all get back. Twerk and Colleen fall asleep and Karma comes back inside. I’m so tired and get halfway through my blog post before putting my phone down and falling asleep.

Day 5- 7.8 miles from Boulder field by Orriflame Canyon (mile 55.9) to dirt road crossing (63.7)

We take our time waking up. I didn’t make a warm dinner last night so I decide to make this polenta dinner. It’s literally just instant polenta with an instant pesto packet. I chop up some of my nice block of Parmesan. I’m sitting there and I catch a whiff of burn. It’s disgusting. I sacrifice a packet of tuna, olives, and the last of my Ruffles to try and make it taste better. It doesn’t. I have to put it back in its ziploc to pack it out.

I leave Tommy/Twerk and Karma and Colleen behind and walk the 3 miles to the Sunrise Trailhead and the water trough there. The faucet is running luckily so I don’t have to dip from the circular, corrugated metal tub of green water. I filter and then sit with Twerk and Karma and Colleen in the shade of the water tank. Roadshow stops and talks with us, and Jesus leaves, and Nirvana and Rachel text to say they’re two miles away. (Jesus is not a trail name obviously). I’m offered the trail name of Polenta. I say nope.

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As we’re heading out, I get a soda from Tom from Kennedy Meadows, who is setting up burger trail magic. I leave my polenta in the trash can, say hi to Nirvana and Rachel as they come up, help Karma build a message in rocks pointing to the trail magic, and trudge up the trail to our camp in 4 ish miles. I stop for an hour or so to sit under a tarp with Bridgett and Alex, who have just been dubbed Sprite and Soulshine by Roadshow. Then off down a steep descent into a canyon. My feet are definitely feeling the last few days, and are tired and not as new as they were. No blisters, though.

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Yum.

I explode my pack at camp and hang out with what is now my trail family- Twerk, Colleen, Karma, and Rachel and Nirvana. Alpo has left us- all of the AT hikers are super fast. Farkle and Kathleen are either with him or behind us. Karma and Twerk leave to scout out some water down a road, and come back with plenty. Everyone else walks down together to fill up for our hike into Julian tomorrow. We talk about religion and existentialism and other deep things. We find out that all of 4 of us have been homeschooled and 3 of us have been in a Montessori school. I’m offered the name Water Report because I’ve been sending out text water reports to Halfmile. Again I say no.

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We all make dinner and I offer everyone use of my condiments ziploc. Then it’s sunset and we have our stretch and dance circle to music. Everywhere is purple and pink. “Nature!” we say. “Nature sucks! I’d rather be in jail!”

I settle into my cowboy camp. Another horrible day on the PCT.

Day 4- 14.5 miles from Mount Laguna Campground (mile 41.5) to Boulder field by Sunrise Hwy (mile 56)

Alpo is talking about Rasta Birds and where we’re meeting tonight. I announce that I’m dead and start thinking about dragging myself out of my sleeping bag. I was cold last night, and realized halfway through that my tent wasn’t zipped up all the way. My sleeping bag has been continually damp from condensation from breathing into it.

Breaking camp is slow in the wind and the cold. I look at the food I have left and I think I need more snacks. Farkle and Alpo head out and a bunch of us head to the store to pick up food. I sit on the porch and arrange my pack and then head down the side of the road to the trail.

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It’s very windy and the trail winds along the side of an enormous plateau, the valley floor below fading with the distance. Brown valley floor! Finally brown! I can’t wait. Even though this chaparral and green is pretty, brown is home. I’m grumpy and slow and I don’t see anyone for several hours. Whisper passes me. Finally I sit down to eat some food out of the wind and I feel better. I see my first day hikers, and Jack Haskel from the PCTA passes me. He’s wearing a name tag.

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I filter water from the horse trough and faucet at Pioneer Mail trailhead. Then off I go, the drop off to the right even steeper than before. The trail follows an old road and there’s a concrete barrier, rock slides eating up the road. There’s a rock with a bunch of memorials for people, bikers i guess, or maybe thru-hikers, since they all have nicknames like Papa Bear and Pounder. I talk for a while with a guy named Dylan, and say goodbye to him when we reach the campsite where everyone said we’d meet. Only Tommy is here, Alpo is up ahead somewhere. I try to set up my tent and I can’t in the sandy soil and wind, so I text my mom and ask if I can switch tents with her freestanding one.

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I sit with everyone and I read an Amazon review for Haribo Sugar Free gummy bears out loud after Tommy passes around a bag of gummy bears. (Look it up yourself, I recommend it).

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The sunset is pink and yellow around us. Tommy starts one of his stretching “twerk” parties and I handily excuse myself to lend Colleen a stake for her tent. We’re going into Julian the day after tomorrow and planning on possibly zeroing there.

I get into my cowboy camp’d sleeping bag. Tommy comes up and tells us his new trail name is Twerk.

Day 3- 15.6 miles from Boulder Oaks Campground at mile 26 to Mt. Laguna at mile 41.3

Tommy set the alarm for 4:30 and I wake up to his flashlight and then everyone else’s. I groan and dig around for mine and start packing up, shoving around my dirty ziplocs and extra clothes. I slept well. I head out with Farkle while everyone else is cooking warm breakfasts and cross two roads in the dark. Everything is chaparral with the moon in a crescent. We turn back and watch the cars going down the freeway towards a lightening horizon. How are there so many cars out in the middle of nowhere? I ask. Farkle has no idea. There is a splash of bright pink sunrise in the sky and we stop to take a snack. It’s too light for headlamps now.

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Alpo comes by and hops past us. We see him on the other side of the valley, walking fast. Kathleen joins Farkle and I and we head off while Karma and Tommy stop to break. We’re high up on the side of a slope, dark green sweeping chaparral and windmills on a hazy ridge in the distance, hidden by mist and the rising bright sun. Farkle comes behind around the corners singing out loud. He has a beautiful voice and it makes me happy that he’s singing. I assume he’s singing to headphones because he knows the words and pauses and everything perfectly but I ask later and he’s singing from memory.

The trail is cruiser and Kathleen and Farkle and I walk without stopping, on a roll. We stop and tell each other how ugly everything is. This is our life now, Kathleen says, laughing. Farkle falls behind because his knee hurts a bit and I look at my phone. 9:49. I look at my Guthooks App. Boulder Oaks is 9.9 miles back. I catch sight of Kathleen as we’re rounding a bend and I shout, “10 by 10!” We cheer. Life is hard.

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We start slowing down and feeling the miles in our feet. The last 2 miles to Mt. Laguna are hard and long. We enter a forest and the air is warm with pine scent. Farkle is hiking with us again and we hike the last mile together.
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I catch sight of pavement and we stumble towards the bathroom. Then down to the restaurant. Alpo is there and we sit. Frittata and salad for me. We leave our packs and head to the outfitter, which is a dense awesome fire hazard maze of gear. Get some hand sanitizer and hot cheetos at the general store. Then back to get my pack and claim a spot at the campground. Everyone else is coming, there are so many hikers! Everyone at Mt. Laguna is sooo nice and hiker-friendly. I meet Vanessa aka Scissors as she’s getting a shakedown outside of the outfitters.

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The maze that is the Mt. Laguna Outfitters

The wind is very strong and the ground is pretty loose so I have a hard time getting my tent to stay up. We all hang out and walk to the general store again, then back again. Alpo guesses that I’m homeschooled and says he’s surprised I’m good at social things. What? Whenever I tell people I’m homeschooled they generally give me a weird look and the conversation dies so I guess now I know how weird people think we are now. Ha. But look at them, they’re in the exact same place as I am doing the same crazy thing as me, so who’s talking?

I join a bunch of other hikers in the bathroom talking and charging our phones. I’m writing this in here in the warmth. It’s 30 minutes to hiker midnight. My shins hurt from standing on the concrete here so I should probably leave!