I’m up at 3:30 again, floundering around in the darkness for clothes pack stuff to get out. I’m actually awake by the time I’m packed, feeling good and ready to kill it today. 16.6 miles to Hikertown, and I’m trying to make it before the heat of the day sets in. 4am and I’m ready to rock.
I’ve barely been hiking by headlamp for ten minutes when I see eyes reflecting back at me. Cat-like eyes. About three feet off the ground. Uphill. UM.
I throw my arms over my head and start making noise: growling, yelling, barking, calling it an asshole. It slinks off into the bushes silently, entirely unfazed by my efforts. So clearly, it’s just lurking in the bushes waiting to pounce and murder me in the face. Neck. However mountain lions murder people.
There’s an hour until sunrise, and I fill that hour with freaking the fuck out, turning around every 50 feet to aim my headlamp wildly into the bushes, downhill uphill every which way. It’s the longest hour of my trip so far, as I pray for sunrise to come and bring with it some sort of visual confirmation that I’m actually alone.
It’s nearly light enough to see by when I run across two hikers packing up camp. There’s no shame in the shakiness of my voice as I ask to stay with them for a bit. When they hear why, they’re more than happy to accommodate. We hike off as the day gets lighter and the terror slowly subsides.
The trail apologizes by giving us a magical sunrise, drenching the land in pinks and oranges. This’s the second time it’s apologized – I have a mind to tell it that it needs to stop doing things to apologize for, but I know that’s likely to bite me in the ass.
Zippy and David, the other hikers, are faster than I am, and leave me behind on the way to the Horse Trail Camp – and when I find this in the dirt I’m preeeetty sure they’re messing with me.
They’re having breakfast at the camp just a short ways ahead and insist that’s not the case – so apparently I wasn’t hallucinating this morning. Probably. They have huge ranges, and we’ve only been 7 miles. So apparently I could’ve actually been murdered this morning. I want to be sobered by the thought, but the whole thing makes me tired1.
I’m distracted by the omgwtfdairyqueenbbq down to the water and back up again, then it’s down to a road and into some apparently dangerous territory I guess?
The trail quickly shows us Highway 138, and then, given the hunt club, meanders every which way but that way, which, of course, is downhill and towards the flat land of the Aqueduct. I begrudgingly acknowledge that it’s called the Pacific *Crest* Trail for a reason.
It’s pretty, I guess, but it’s getting hotter and goddammit where the hell is Hikertown. Zippy is somewhere behind me, David I lost track of like an hour ago, and my brain starts to feel like an egg being fried in my skull. It’s a more zen feeling than I expect.
But soon enough, the flat! And the highway!
And… Um… Hikertown. I guess.
I’ve heard this place is weird but it far exceeds my weirdness expectations. It’s just… Strange. But it’s here, and there’s shade if not WiFi. Pineapple is at the store – the store that had the racist incident, which I have no energy to deal with right now – so I decide to stay here. I find a likely tattered armchair and curl up for an afternoon siesta.
By the time I wake up, Pineapple is back, attempting her own siesta, but it’s too damn hot to sleep. We chat for a bit; she’s leaving out at 4, which I think is too early. We kill time with friends – Spaceman, Evac, Outro, Yoda, and U-Turn are all there, listening to music and packing their bits and bobs of resupply. They’re leaving early too, but I have things to do – like washing out my socks and getting water and writing and also it’s still too hot to leave.
It’s 6 before I deem it safe, slip the gate just wide enough for me and my pack, and head out for the delicious flat walk of the evening.
It’s cool now and gorgeous – most people walk the aqueduct at night, don’t see the flowing water in this first stretch or the celebratory smiles on the other hikers’ faces. This evening’s an easy walk, and I’m planning on setting up for a 10-mile morning to the Cottonwood Creek Bridge for tomorrow’s siesta.
Even when we go from a watery aqueduct to the metal pipe aqueduct, it’s something new, something different, and walking and talking with Kennen, before I overtake him, is easy. But my legs want to stretch, eat the miles, and soon I’m pacing MAGA and Spaceman, who is not the Spaceman I know. Spaceman-not-Spaceman.
It’s solidly dark by the time we get to the 10-miles-out point, and I’ve already unpacked and set up to cowboy camp beside Spaceman-not-Spaceman – under a bush that does not adequately protect us from the wind – before I realize I’ve done a 23.9 mile day. I’m not repacking to make it 24. Spaceman-not-Spaceman is talking to his cousin on the ample 4G service, so I’m alone with my writing as headlamps bob by and the wind whistles me to sleep.
Start: 501.0 • End: 524.9 • Day: 23.9
Notable Accomplishments: Did not get eaten by a mountain lion • Got to stretch my legs on the aqueduct • Almost 24 mile day!
 Exhaustion is my reaction to stress, at least when it’s something that can be put off. Everything just becomes razor sharp when it’s something that can’t be.