Mile 436.08 to 444.31 — Today’s miles: 8.23
I am up at 4am when I hear Sprout and Whiz Kid start to stir. It takes a long time to tape my toes, and by the time I exit my tent Sprout is already gone. Whiz Kid is packed, but agrees to wait five minutes for me to take down my tent so we can hike out together. I’m grateful, because pre-dawn hiking still makes me nervous about mountain lions. I don’t really feel bad about the noise my packing makes, since others kept us awake until after 9pm last night. In these hot days, I really feel that all cool hours are fairly sacred, either for hiking or sleeping.
We hike through a stunning sunrise against the mountains, the sun just starting to show itself as we begin a ridge walk. We take a ten-minute snack and bathroom break but otherwise hike steadily, chatting, until we arrive at the Acton KOA campground shortly before 8am. Eight miles by 8am — feels pretty good. Sprout and some other hikers are already here, waiting for the store to open in a few minutes. There are others here too, who stayed last night and are either staying again tonight or getting a late start. I see a few folks I haven’t seen in weeks. When the store opens at 8, we all pile in and buy ice cream and cold drinks. I have an apple juice, a Sprite, and an amazing ice cream cookie sandwich. This is, I guess, third breakfast, since I already ate twice on the hike here.
Our plan was to rest here for a bit and then do the next ten miles to Hiker Heaven, but in the store there are many rumors flying about. It sounds as though Hiker Heaven is packed, more people than they have room for, and we’re told it was packed here at the KOA last night, with tons of people having already left this morning for Hiker Heaven. We’re all worried that we won’t be able to stay there tonight. Many contingency plans are considered. I sit and listen to them quietly. Sprout has thrown out the possibility of zeroing here and hiking out very early tomorrow, and this seems increasingly appealing. I am right now possibly the filthiest I’ve been on the whole trip, largely because of the intense heat. My shirt is stiff and scratchy with salt from my sweat, and my pants legs look like I fell in a mud puddle — even wearing pants, my lower legs get dirty from trail dust, and then when I sweat, my legs make their own layer of mud, so from the knees down my pants are very dirty. There’s laundry here, and I can shower. I can rest in the shade and have access to cold drinks. This could be a nice nearo (near-zero). I decide to stay. So does Sprout. Whiz Kid needs to get to an REI to pick up a replacement pack that the manufacturer is sending her, so she goes on to Hiker Heaven, hoping for a ride out from there.
Sprout and I pay for camping and learn they sell frozen pizzas and have a pizza oven. “I think we’ll be just fine here,” Sprout says. While we wait for laundry machines to be free, we take showers. The shower is tiny and the water temperature fluctuates quite a bit, but it feels marvelous to be clean. We put our laundry in, sharing a washing machine with a bunch of other hikers. This may have been a bad idea — when the clothes come out, they are streaked with dirt and must all be hand-rinsed in the sink. But when they finally emerge from the dryer they seem reasonably clean.
Now chores are done, and it’s not even noon. I sit in my tent and work on my feet. They look repulsive, like something out of The Walking Dead — some old calluses are peeling off and several toenails are white or greyish, signs that they’ll probably fall off soon. I am embarrassed by the state of my toes, but am not sure what else I can do — I try to keep them clean, change my socks regularly, and bandage up the blisters as needed. Oh well. At least they’re all freshly taped for tomorrow now.
The rest of the day is spent lounging. I eat a lot of food from the store: more ice cream, chips, cold drinks. I talk to Cyn on Facetime at a picnic table area that’s empty. I buy a full-sized frozen pizza and finish all but a few crusts. I chat with Nemo for a bit. It is a lovely, relaxing day. Sprout suggests that it’s almost better than a town zero/nearo, because there’s really nothing to do but relax here — no stores or movie theatres or any other things to draw your attention. Just lounging.
I’m in bed by 7, wearing my newly cleaned hiking clothes to make the morning routine go faster. It’s warm out, and I barely drape my quilt across my torso. Sprout and I plan to be on the move no later than 4:30am, to get to Hiker Heaven before the heat really sets in. But our early bedtime plans are thwarted by cars, a train that runs nearby at all hours of the night blaring its horn, and many loud hikers. Some guys come in after 9pm and set up near us, chatting in regular voices (“Where is the office here?” “Is there toilet paper in the bathroom?” “I can’t wait for a soda tomorrow.”) until after 10pm! So I lie awake listening to all of these noises and thinking that this is a good place for relaxing, but not for sleeping.