Sunday, April 18, 2010

I dropped The Man off for his PCT trek

On Thursday afternoon I drove The Man down to Lake Morena, making a pit stop in Warner Springs to pick up a couple of section hikers and drop them off at Pioneer Mail Picnic Area. We finally pulled in to Lake Morena after 10 at night. I led the way to the backpacker site I remembered and we set up our tent next to a couple others and went to bed.

In the morning, we met two of the hikers there, a couple from the UK. We left our tent and sleeping bags set up and drove to the border. There were about 3 other hikers there being dropped off by Scout, a PCT trail angel who lives in San Diego. We took pictures and signed the register (that's two sign-ins for me at the Mexican border and none at the Canadian border.) I said good-bye to The Man and drove off to park the car, stopping to get coffee at the Circle K in Cameron Corners. I parked near the Border Patrol office and met The Man as he came down the trail. He looked happy, exclaiming his surprise at how pretty the trail was here.

I hiked with him for about three miles, until there was a stinky chicken ranch in view. I had joked at the border with Scout how glad I was not to be the one doing this hike, feeling happy to not have to walk all day anymore. But as soon as I was on the trail again, I felt like I had come home and I was suddenly very sad that I was not coming on the hike with The Man.

Everything seemed so green and pretty. Flowers were blooming on the sides of the trail. Creeks and little creeklets flowed often. We joked he was probably the first hiker in the history of the trail to leave the border carrying no water. I had a liter, but didn't feel I needed it at all. The water was evenly spaced just right so you could drink just when you felt thirsty.

After 3 miles, I turned around. I ran back to the car. I drove the car back to Lake Morena. I went over to the ranger station and paid for the campsite for both nights as we were planning to stay again tonight. I parked outside the campground so we could stay in the hike and bike site. Then I jettisoned all the extra gear in my pack and hit the trail with just a liter of water and a few other items.

I decided to run again and try to meet The Man in Hauser Canyon. I ran all the way to Hauser Canyon, walking up the steeper hills. I got to Hauser Canyon and fixed a drink mix and refilled my liter bottle. I waited for a while, but The Man didn't come, so I decided to hike further. I hiked all the way up to the road and a little bit past it up the trail a short distance when The Man came smiling around the corner. We hiked together back to Hauser Canyon for lunch and then on to Lake Morena.

When we got to Lake Morena, the campground was all of a sudden full of RVs. There was loud country music blaring. It was awful.

We met another woman named Jan staying there. She probably saw our tent in the hike and bike site and thought we had the whole site to ourselves because she had set up her tent in a little strip of land next to the campground street. We offered to drive her out with us to Cameron Corners for burritos as we remembered a good burrito stand that was there in 2008. Alas, the ownership has changed and the burritos weren't as good. I had a burger. Hard to ruin that.

After dinner the din of the campground seemed even worse. When the lady across from us yelled to her friends, "Are you ready to party?" I just knew we'd never sleep. I wondered if The Man had heard it. It turned out he had, because after she said that, he walked down the road and around the corner to see if there was a quieter space. He came back shortly and said let's pack up and get out of there. So we packed up our stuff and walked down the PCT a short distance until we found a flat, quiet spot. We slept well. It's a waste of money to stay in campsites. It's a waste of money ever to pay to sleep anywhere. This I learned last summer. I have become a bit like Billy Goat and Crow. Town stuff is to be avoided. It's rarely worth it.

Condensation formed on our tent sleeping in the meadow. In the morning, as soon as we got out of the tent, the condensation turned instantly to frost. I rolled it up and ran back to the car, tossed it into the trunk and drove off to Cottonwood Creek bridge on S1, parking off the road. I walked down to the creek below the bridge and made my breakfast and waited for The Man to arrive.

As I ate my breakfast, I watched the Border Patrol trucks go back and forth over the bridge. I had that old familiar feeling of not belonging to that world, to belonging to this world of the trail and nature. I watched birds go down to the water to drink and thought about the drive down yesterday.

We had driven through so many ugly towns. McMansions covering what once were rolling hills of wildflowers and blocky, beige shopping malls all with the same red logos of the same big corporate stores. Town after town, all the same. Every want and need met by some corporate behemoth. It made me wonder why we do it. Seeing the border patrol I realized. It's like how where I live, there are lots of very wealthy people living next to much poorer ones. They hire private security and put up walls around their property. Large sums of money and human energy are spent protecting their wealth and property. As a nation we are like that rich person, our private security the border patrol and our fence the ugly shipping container fence at the border. It all exists to protect our wealth and property. But all around us the real riches go unnoticed and worse, they get trampled upon. The birds, the quiet sound of wind in the trees and water flowing in a creek. The wildflowers and oaks in the meadow. The simple needs of a quiet place to sleep and some breakfast in the morning easily met with very little. Real life is on the trail. It's not out there. I felt sorry once more that I wasn't partaking in the journey with The Man, that I'd be returning to that other life in a few days where I'd get up every morning and go through the motions of pretending to care, pretending that making money for my boss was important to me.

I decided to walk south and meet The Man. I passed a dead duck on the side of the road, hit by a car probably. I walked along the trail, anxious to see what I could no longer remember about the trail. It was so beautiful, the white rocks and the hot pink flowers, the blue ceanothus and the tiny little creeks flowing through tiny little meadows. I met The Man as he was coming along a long tunnel cut through the chaparral. He was eating a Yucca flower. He said he was enjoying sampling the food growing along the trail.

We walked together through the Cottonwood creek oak woodland meadow, past Boulder Oaks campground and up to Kitchen Creek where we stopped for an early lunch. On my hike in '08 I had missed stopping at Kitchen Creek, assuming the trail would cross it. I hadn't learned yet how much the PCT avoids creeks, especially in hot and dry southern California. This time we scrambled down to the creek, took our shoes off and munched on wild onions as we ate lunch and dipped our feet in the cool water.

After lunch, I said good-bye to The Man and headed back to the car at Cottonwood Creek. Along the way, I gave a liter of water to a trail runner. When I got to Boulder Oaks he was waiting for me, ready to pay back the water. I asked him for a ride to my car instead, which he gave me.

I drove up to Mt. Laguna and got us a room in the lodge. There were lots of hikers at the lodge, including Jackass and Molasses who I met several times on my hike last year. I sat around on the porch enjoying the friendly trail culture, the camaraderie of the hikers, but really I longed to be on the trail and not in a trail town. So I said good-bye to everyone there and hit the trail for some more hiking. I hiked south, descending out of the cool forest of the Lagunas and dropping into the dry chaparral. I saw a lone tree and decided that would be my goal. I would wait for The Man there. Around the corner he came just as I was getting close to the tree. We hiked back to Mt. Laguna together.

We went to the wrong restaurant for dinner. Apparently there's a good weekend dinner place a bit further down the road. It is too early in the hike for The Man to have his hiker hunger so we didn't care that we missed the all-you-can-eat spaghetti. We enjoyed some more talking with the hikers and then we retired to our room.

The Man fussed about with his gear. I would be leaving in the morning so he would have to have all his gear settled once and for all. Car camping really sucks because it is too easy to leave stuff in the car. We had been trying to be self-contained, even me as a dayhiker, because leaving stuff in the car all the time was annoying.

I felt very tired. Even though I had been dayhiking, I had put in a lot of miles, many of them running. My ankles were sore. I was wearing new trail shoes. I bought the least supportive shoes I could find, since highly supportive shoes have injured me every time. I have some new muscles in my feet and ankles getting a good workout. It was a good soreness, but I had to take ibuprofen so I could sleep.

In the morning, we hoped maybe we could get a hot breakfast, but the restaurant wouldn't open until 10AM. So I made some coffee on the porch while The Man finished getting ready. I tossed some food in my pack and off we drove to Desert View Picnic Area where The Man had left off yesterday.

We hiked together to the lookout spot near Laguna Campground. We hiked for maybe two hours. Then we said good-bye once and for all. It was likely I wouldn't see him again for weeks. I ran and hiked back to the car. I hoped I could drive to Pioneer Mail in time to meet him there, or if not meet him, to get there before him so I could leave a note. I did that. I left a note. Just as I was punching the information in to the car's GPS and getting ready to turn the key in the ignition, The Man came smiling around the corner. We sat in the shade and ate a snack and said one more good-bye.

He walked away and I drove away. I had heard of a new campsite called Sunrise camp where the hikers were planning to stay and get water. I hoped to find it along Sunrise Highway. I thought I might leave another note. I didn't see the campground. I considered driving out to Scissors Crossing to leave him a note, but at the last minute, I decided just to go home.

I drove back through all the clutter of modern life, wishing there was a better way to live life than this. It all exists just to make a few people at the top rich, and all of us just a little richer than the people below us. It's a terrible waste of energy and time. We could be living more simply and more fully, enjoying the beauty of the trail and of nature. We shouldn't have to live like this. I drove home sad and not looking forward to the coming weeks of loneliness.

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