March 29, 2018
“Mind if I hitch with you?” He asked with a smile.
What I should have said was, “Actually, I do mind.”
Instead, I tried an evasive maneuver. “Actually, I’m gonna try to hitch ahead to Warner Springs before I go back to Pioneer Mail. You might want to get a different ride.”
“Naw, I’ll ride to Warner Springs with ya.”
A gentleman who worked at Carmen’s saw us and stopped to give us a ride at the same time a seedy-looking character in a beat-up camper van stopped and beckoned us over, as if to give us a ride. I noticed he had a cute little Cocker Spaniel in the passenger seat of his van…
“Oh, it’s that trail angel from Cibbits Flat.” I said aloud.
“That creeper? He’s not a trail angel. He just likes to hang around where the lady hikers are.” The Cling-On said matter-of-factly.
The man waved his arm and called over to us, despite the fact that I was talking to the guy from Carmen’s and literally getting into his car already. Whether the Cling-On spoke the truth or not, the other guy’s RV was actually kind of creepy looking, so I was glad we’d found a different ride just in time.
My need to hitch ahead to Warner Springs was more than just an attempt to ditch my new “friend”. There is a small outfitter there called Two Foot Adventures where I hoped to be able to purchase some new insoles. Remember when I mentioned that I’d made some poor footwear choices prior to my hike? Well, before I left home I’d read online somewhere that getting custom-made insoles was the way to go, so I went to an independently-owned orthopedic shoe store near my hometown and asked them to fit me for a pair of sturdy insoles for hiking. When they warned that getting the insoles wet would cause them to warp and break down, they offered to coat them in a water-proofing rubber material for me.
Great! I thought, that way I can where them during river crossings!
The result was a pair of inflexible insoles that didn’t breath for love or money, so when my feet grew hot and sweaty in the desert heat there was nowhere for the moisture to go. The inflexibility of the insoles being worn in VERY flexible trail runners (which would prove to be my second biggest foot-related mistake on this hike) caused terrible friction and, naturally, monster-sized blisters. Repeatedly. In the same places.
But wait, there’s more. The other thing I realized about these insoles was that they were made to correct a slight pronation I have in my right foot. I learned this by careful examination of the insoles themselves as well as the fact that they felt slightly more comfortable if I tilted by ankle inward while I hiked which, of course, caused immense pain in my ankle. I hadn’t asked for this addition to my $200 insoles and don’t remember being told it was a feature so, needless to say, I was pretty pissed. I know they’re not going to take the insoles back because they’re custom made, but they will definitely be getting a visit and some strong words from me when I get home.
At Warner Springs I hurried into Two Foot Adventures. It literally ran out of an old Airstream that had been refurbished to house a small store. I got my insoles and hopped back into the car and we were on our way back to Pioneer Mail Trailhead. What a gem our driver was! I just wish I could remember his name…
The Cling-On would continue to hang around me for the next several days. Either we really were hiking at the same pace or I just couldn’t seem to out-hike him, which I tried to do more than once, to my detriment. My feet couldn’t handle the fast pace I was trying to achieve and the Cling-On would inevitably catch up to me. I was always friendly when he did, or when I saw him along the trail. I didn’t think he was any particular threat to me, but he was negatively impacting my hike. His language and humor was crude and disgusting, he was a total freeloader who claimed to have no money and therefore received lots of free food from other hikers, and he was always either being flirty with me or making remarks about how heavy my pack looks. No doubt he had hopes that I would dole out more of my food as I’d done in Mount Laguna. He also told me at one point that he’d seen the creepy camper van guy along the trail and that this creeper had asked about me. Great! Now I have a stalker! Or ANOTHER stalker…
Not only did I NOT want to be hiking with the Cling-On, but I definitely didn’t want to be hiking alone if I came across the camper van creeper. I felt very stuck.
So far my hike had not gone the way I thought it would at all.
That first day out of Pioneer Mail Trailhead I’d managed to get ahead of my company and the light was already fading when I arrived at a campsite in a valley around mile 63.6. There I met Gazelle, Sensei, and Blue Taco, three delightful hikers I’d meet a few more times along the trail. I pitched my tent near them and we chatted for a bit before the Cling-On appeared and sat near me, watching me cook my dinner. I don’t know if he had any dinner of his own, he just watched me. I did not give him any of my food.
In fact, I didn’t get to eat any of my food either. I’d begun preparing a bag of freeze-dried Huevos Rancheros but I’d failed to read the directions completely, realizing after I’d rehydrated the runny egg concoction that it requires an open fire and a frying pan to complete the cooking process. I tried to fry the eggs in my pot but for some reason, it didn’t work. Unsure what to do now with my pot full of runny eggs, I walked a good distance away from our camp, dug a nice, deep hole with my spade, and buried my dinner, stirring up the dirt well before layering more dirt on top. I wasn’t sure at the time if this was the right way to dispose of the eggs but I couldn’t risk the bag attracting critters to my pack or breaking open and spilling its contents all over the inside of my food bag.