I wake up enough to register Julian and Anika packing up, then fall asleep, my back softening against the ground again. The sun is up and dappling the campsite with the shadows of the trees that overhang and shelter it from the sky. I pull myself out of my sleeping bag, and lazily get packed up. I pack my sleeping bag away, put my shoes on, then open up my food bag. I spread cream cheese onto a bagel and eat it for breakfast. Then I pack my food bag away and nestle the rest of my belongs around it, everything exactly where it belongs. My clothes sit around the base of the food bag, then my pot and the ziplocs with my water filtering kit and electronics and bathroom kit and maps.
I put my earphones in and start up the Juno soundtrack that I got in Agua Dulce and zone out as the trail winds around and over ridges. I think about Juno, the movie, and try to remember what scene each song played in. I feel very happy right now, in this moment with the sun rising behind me. I have a strong desire to major in English, to be able to tell stories and create characters that will give people this giddy joy that I feel when I think about my favorite stories. The characters that I hold under my skin, like pieces of sand in oyster shells forming pearls. Even though it goes against my practicality and desire to be able to have a skill that I can use to help others. I don’t know. I want to become a better writer.
The soundtrack ends, and I see day hikers pose for a selfie across the lush green valley. I must be close to the road (what is it they say about birds being a sign of land?). I let my songs play on shuffle for a while, but I’m not feeling it so I put my headphones away and walk. Over a final ridge on gentle uphill, my arms sticking to my sleeves with sweat. I pause to finish off the last of my peanut butter crackers, which stick in a dry mass to the corners of my mouth. I wash it down with some of the last of my water, and start walking again. There are black flies everywhere today that find my skin whenever I stop and they bite me, a sharp pain on the backs of my knees or on my neck. I don’t take many breaks when there are flies so they can’t bite me. Still, they don’t bother me much at all compared to mosquitos. I can handle flies.
I walk to the road and across it, then pause. I could walk on; I want to walk on; walking on would be so easy. I’m totally peopled out still from the amount of people at Hiker Heaven, and still have a strong urge to find a campsite very far away from people and just recharge. But, Casa De Luna is down this road. I would seriously regret it if I didn’t go, and as far as I know I’m hiking the PCT once and this is my only chance ever. I peer around hopefully for something like a sign posted about Casa De Luna or shuttles into Green Valley, but there’s nothing.
I don’t feel like hitching and all of the cars driving by look nice and expensive and I doubt they’d stop, so I start walking down the road. I start hitting houses, which all have eccentric front yards filled with art and statues. There is a stuffed orangutan hanging upside down from a tree with a “slow down” sign.
I finally reach the market. A huge group of young guys waves at me from the parking lot, and I stand there uncomfortably while I try to decide why they’re waving at me- it’s a somewhat run-down town and I’m on my toes and why are people from a group of 20 guys waving at me like they know me– but by the time I decide they might be just friendly (??) it’s too late to smile back and be a good trail representative; So I start walking down side streets, following the map on my phone to Casa De Luna, which is one of the famous trail angel houses along the trail, along with Hiker Heaven, Scout and Frodo’s, and the Dinsmores. I feel silly walking through the houses to a place that I’m not even entirely sure exists, someplace like this surely can’t exist? I feel tired and muted.
Someone walking by points me up the hill to the Casa, and I walk a bit further until I catch sight of my friends sitting on a couch on a driveway. I walk up, and a volunteer named Country Gold gives me a short run-down and tells me to go inside to get some pancakes from Joe Anderson. I set my pack against the back of one of the couches and go inside. I get to meet Joe Anderson, and grab a plate of pancakes. I eat them outside and then pick out a Hawaiian shirt from a rack and switch it out for my smelly, damp hiking shirt. Cotton is bliss! Then I hang out with everyone and talk all day.
Twinkle Toes is here, and Kyra and Hop Along. Godongo, Ninja Tortoise, Catch Em, Anika and Julian, Morgan (possibly Pancakes now) and Louise, The Mayor… the bubble of people I hiked into when I left my group a week or two back to become a solo hiker is no longer a crowd of strangers, but a crowd of friends.
I paint a rock to look like a mountain with a quote on it, get a big hug from Terry Anderson, and explore the forest out back. There are painted rocks piled everywhere, and I read them and explore the maze of trails that wind under a roof of smooth, red-trunked manzanita trees. I find one painted with a llama wearing a jet pack, and get excited because I know it must be Rocket Llama’s, who draws a beautiful web comic about her PCT thru-hike that I love reading. In the very back of the forest, a couple of minutes’ walk past any other campsite, there’s a small clearing big enough for one tent. Some painted rocks around it say: “Any child conceived within these trees shall be named Tonka.”
I find a spot closer to the house hidden behind some other campsites, and spread out my groundsheet and sleeping pad. Then I go hang around some more. Terry Anderson is awesome, and we get to talk to her some more. Hop Along is talking with a girl named Mika, who is also 18! I sign my name on the big sheet hung by the garage, next to Linus’s name since he gave me my trail name. I thought he was behind me, or maybe there’s another Linus?
I yogi a ride to the convenience store with Twinkle’s friend who came to visit, and get an ice cream sandwich and a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream, and an Arizona Tea Arnold Palmer. I hang around and eat my ice cream, and when I’m full I give the rest to Catch Em. We talk about accents, and how the Russian language seems intimidating, and German harsh. Apparently English sounds easygoing.
It’s getting dark, and Terry turns on some music. We all have to dance to get our PCT class bandannas. I’m usually okay with dancing but when I know everyone’s going to be watching and sitting down I feel incredibly shy. Hop Along’s knee gives out as she’s dancing up with me. After the bandannas no one seems to want to keep dancing, and I don’t want to dance alone, so I head back into the forest with Kyra to find my cozy spot under the trees.