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.