Day 11- 14.2 miles from Agua Caliente Creek at mile 115 to campsites at mile 129.2

Kathleen, now known as Rawhide because of a mixture she had one day of blisters and sunburn, is already packed up and disappears down the trail as I’m pulling myself out of my tent. I head off before the others and hike with myself for a while, until Nirvana and Karma catch up. I trail behind them for a while, but they’re deep in a conversation about salmon and fishing and I feel like I’m third-wheeling (Nirvana has spent summers on a fishing boat in Alaska and has a fisheries degree). I stop to let them get ahead, and then join them again later when they stop for a snack break.

I pack my food away first and head off. I’m ahead of everyone, hiking through a maze of chaparral, lilac bushes and manzanita with pink bell-shaped flowers, as well as a big bush with soft feathery leaves. There are big black flies everywhere so I don’t stop longer than it takes to get a sip of water. Sweat plasters my shirt sleeves to my arms.

It’s getting hot, so I take a break underneath a big rock overhanging and ruffle through my food bag. Karma walks by and I invite her into my shade. We eat some food and then head out again, the last 3 miles to Mike’s Place, a trail angel who has a house in the middle of the desert and lets hikers sit on his porch and fill up on water. The trail is sparkling with mica, and I put my head down and hike. There are hand-painted signs down to Mike’s, and I take a side trail down to the road.

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It’s a bit run-down and creepy; I don’t think I’d approach this place if it wasn’t on the PCT. I set my pack down against the side of the house with everyone else’s and walk under the porch. Everyone is sitting there in a dead stupor, blank-eyed and dusty, eating watermelon slices from a rusty soup pot. “You look too peppy,” Rachel says.

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I go help Blue’s Clues make banana pancakes. I’m in charge of the bananas while he flips. I join Karma and Nirvana and Rawhide at the porch out back to talk and avoid the growing crowd of hikers out front. I eat lots of pancakes, filter water, and make jalapeño refried beans with rice noodles. I have to be careful now with what I cook so I don’t make something gross, ever since I wrote that I’d take the trail name of Polenta if I screwed up some food a third time. Twerk interviews Karma for a video series he says he’s calling “Trash Talk,” which is honestly a little bit offensive and I’m sure someone’s feeling are going to be hurt. Everyone’s talking about whether or not to hitch around an upcoming trail closure, or do the long road walk. I have no idea yet what I want to do; I can’t think more than a day or two ahead, and everyone is throwing around contradicting information on the alternate route options.

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We finish eating our dinners and head back on the trail. We set up in a big group campsite with a ton of other people. There’s a group that are obviously a big trail group, and Scissors tries cowboy camping for the first time with them. Below us is a small town. Colleen and I sit on Karma’s Tyvek and pretend it’s a magic carpet. The sunset’s streaks of hot pink turn dusky orange, and the town lights up below. The silhouette of our ridge in the foreground is sharp and black, the mountains far away a smoky gray.

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Tent flys are rustling, Karma’s Tyvek crinkling. One by one our headlamps go out and all that is left is the wind.