Mile 463.70 (est) to 478.23 — Today’s miles: 14.53
In the morning, I wake up in a cloud. The weather shifted overnight. There’s a cold wind now, and light condensation on everything. I hope I’ll have a chance to dry out my quilt at some point today. Cowboy wakes up and the first thing he says is, “Did you sleep, Apple Juice?” I’m touched that he so immediately recalls my first-time-cowboy-camping jitters. But actually, aside from waking up super warm around 11pm, I slept like a rock. It was amazing to fall asleep under the stars like that. Still, I think I prefer the coziness of my little tent, overall. As we pack up I realize that without my tent I’m fumbling to find and repack everything — the different items in my pack usually have their own special spaces around the tent and I can pack up without even thinking about it now. But cowboy camping has disrupted those routine motions a bit.
It’s chilly and foggy, and we make quick work of the remaining downhill section, cross a road, and head back up. The trail undulates gently for a while and then shifts to a more serious incline. The fog is all around us, and as we spread out a bit I vascillate between feeling alone in the clouds and feeling comforted by the presence of my friends, even if I can’t actually see them. I take a short break at a wooden memorial bench next to a wooden sign listing years of winners for a 50-mile run that must go through this section. Whiz Kid joins me and we eat snacks, but it’s way too cold and windy to linger here. Gotta keep moving, to stay warm. We’re just under 6 miles from the road that will take us to Casa de Luna, the other iconic trail angel house in the desert section. I feel motivated to get there, so push on ahead of the others and reach the road around noon. The sky is clearing now, and it’s getting warmer; I feel hopeful about drying out my things.
Whiz Kid shows up soon and we sit by the road to eat. Within minutes, two different cars stop to ask if we need a ride to the Andersons’ house — we didn’t even have our thumbs out! And one of the cars wasn’t even headed in the right direction! We turn them both down — we’re waiting for Cowboy, who arrives a bit later. We all stick our thumbs out and are soon offered a ride in the back of a pick-up truck by a kind man named Tim. It’s a fun ride. I haven’t ridden in a pick-up bed since childhood, and even though it’s only a mile or so, the short trip is remarkably buoying. I am so grateful to be here in the sun, the wind rushing past me, with these two lovely people. On our way to a convenience store where we can get ice cream and then to an evening at Casa de Luna. I feel utterly content.
Tim deposits us at the convenience store (Cowboy: “You’re a real American hero, sir.”), and we buy ice cream and cold drinks and sit on the pavement against the wall, soaking in these good feelings. A woman walks by. “You hikers? You heading over to the Andersons’ place? Be careful, I heard they’re pretty weird up there — lotta naked people, that kinda thing. You might want to put your packs near the front in case you need to leave fast.” We assure her that we’ll be okay. She turns to me and asks my name, then says, “Get up and give me a hug, I’m Terrie Anderson.” I’d had a feeling this might be the case! She hugs us all, says she has some errands to run but will see us at the house, and calls back over her shoulder, “Dinner at 7, taco salad!” Awesome.
I see Sprout far across the street, too far to yell hi, but she’s obviously heading for Casa de Luna too. We walk that way, and when I see a small row of port-a-potties and a half moon sign swinging from a tree, I know we’ve arrived. It’s a whole different beast than Hiker Heaven. Everywhere hikers are sprawled on old sofas and folding chairs and futons, drinking beer and eating snacks and painting their nails with a hundred bottles of nail polish. At first glance there’s no organization here, but soon a volunteer finds us and gives us our mandatory aloha shirts, which everyone must wear during their stay. Manzanita, the kitten, is here — I try to coax her into cuddling, but she demands to explore instead. Sprout and EarlyBird are here too.
We paint our nails, chat, have a beer. It’s my first beer of the whole trip — I just always feel too dehydrated for beer to be appetizing — generously gifted by A-Game, who rode down to the store on an old bicycle she found in the yard. Sprout shows me the camping area, in a manzanita forest in the backyard. There are little trails winding through the trees forever, with little pockets of flat tent sites everywhere. We choose sites near each other and set up. It’s warm and peaceful back here, and the trees make it feel private even though there must be 35+ hikers staying here tonight. (Casa de Luna is well-known for being a “vortex” — hard to leave the comfort of it, so some hikers get “stuck” here for days.) I’m glad to dry out my belongings. I return to the front yard, where there’s a rock-painting station. The painted rocks are all throughout the backyard forest. Some are remarkable works of art. We each retreat to our campsites for rest — I try to nap, but my brain is afraid I’ll sleep through dinner.
At 7pm, Terrie makes announcements. We will all wash our hands in this line, then file through the taco-salad-making line in an orderly fashion. You may not hold your plate over the serving dishes. Doing so will earn you a spanking; Terrie is holding a wooden yardstick. I am very careful to follow this rule, though Whiz Kid gets two (maybe three?) spankings. Over dinner we discuss the upcoming section: the next few days will be hard for water, and we consider our strategies, debate how many liters to pack out tomorrow, and feel glad that the weather is supposed to cool down for a day or two. The food is delicious, and after eating I skip the dance party in favor of sleep. It’s already dark by the time I scrunch into my newly-puffed up quilt, and I sleep soundly, feeling almost embraced by the manzanita forest around me.