PCT Desert Day 30: Under the Stars

454.50 to 463.70 (est) — Today’s miles: 9.2 (est)
I never even heard Cowboy come in last night, I slept so soundly, but in the morning he’s gently snoring on the other twin bed in our room. I creep downstairs and join Whiz Kid on the patio for several bowls of cereal and a bottle of apple juice. I feel utterly rejuvenated this morning.

Once the others are up, we decide to leave the house around 11:30am and have lunch in town before hiking out in the afternoon. I do my last small town chores: rinse my sun gloves, backflush my filter. Our food bags are heavy with our resupplies and we all lament the structure of trail towns: never on top of mountains, so you hike downhill into town with your lightest pack (most food already eaten) and hike out uphill with a fresh resupply that feels like 20 extra pounds. Whiz Kid picks up my food bag, compares the weight to her own, and suggests we trade packs for the day. But I’m on to her trickery.

My feet are improved after a great shower and some rest, but my new shoes feel oddly snug, despite being the exact same size and brand. I lace them loosely and hope they’ll open up a little. The others play a few games of pool and then Suzy gives us a lift into town. Thank you, Suzy, for your generosity! We have lunch at the Sweetwater Bar and Grill, where we all order milkshakes and I have a fantastic burger with bacon, avocado, and onion rings on it. I buy and write a few postcards for fundraiser donors (thank you, everyone who has donated!), we chat with Sprout’s friend who has driven up to see her, and then Whiz Kid and Cowboy and I all get antsy for the trail at the same time. We leave Sprout to enjoy hanging with her friend and head out for the long road walk out of town, around 3pm. It’s only medium hot today, but a lot of climbing once we turn off of the road. We trade places in front for a while, meet up for a break and a water source (Bear Spring). Along the way, we see three separate spots where someone has left family-sized plastic tubs of peanut butter by the trail. One also has a few large bags of raw nuts next to it. This is perplexing: the jars are way too big to take with us, and it seems gross to just eat a little peanut butter out of a jar that others may have stuck their hands or spoons in. Is this the most inept trail magic ever? We ponder these odd stashes of peanut butter for a mile or two.

It’s getting late. I’d anticipated doing a few more miles today, but now it’s not clear whether there will be viable camping spots up ahead. We pass a few flat spots next to the trail. “Is this our home for tonight?” Cowboy asks. It is. I try to set up my tent but the ground is pretty tough for stakes and there aren’t many big rocks around. My friends convince me to cowboy camp — to sleep on the ground with no tent. I’ve always been too nervous to try this, but figure I’ll never feel safer than with these two around me. I extract promises that they’ll reassure me if I start to get scared in the night. (I am so distracted by this new experience that I forget to check my mileage, which is why the numbers are just estimates in this post.) I lay out my Tyvek and sleeping mat, arrange my other belongings around me, and snug down into my quilt. The sky is clear, and as the sun sets I can literally watch each star appear above me. We look at the night sky and talk. I see a shooting star. I note the feeling of the breeze across my whole face without my tent around me. Two hikers pass by, and as they approach, we can hear that they too are discussing the tubs of peanut butter. It’s Valley and Joe Dirt, and they stop in the dark to trade theories about the peanut butter with us before hiking on. Alone again, we talk about gender and sexuality for a long time, until finally Whiz Kid drowsily says, “Yeah, I mean, hike your own hike” — a trail saying that proves applicable to so many things — and with those words hanging in the cold night air, we all drift off to sleep.

Breakfast on the patio. Not bad!

Whiz Kid, Sprout, and Cowboy with milkshakes.

Whiz Kid took this one of me hiking up out of town.

Near the top of the climb out of Agua Dulce.

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