April 5, 2018
The next morning I was up and ready to hike well before anyone else – well, not exactly. Two other hikers passed as I was packing up my tent. It was the hiker I’d met doing laundry at Warner Springs and her trail partner. They smiled and waved, leaving me with the impression that I should already be hiking and not still packing up.
I told Nightingale I’d see them up the trail and started off. I hiked about 8 miles to Muir Woods, a little oasis run and maintained by Trail Angel Mary. It sat in the hills behind her house and included an outhouse with a do-it-yourself shower, a huge water tank, tent sites, two picnic tables under an awning, and a small library! I filled the shower jug and took a very lovely, rustic shower, scrubbing the angry poison oak creeping across my abdomen as gently as possible and applying fresh steroid cream.
I loitered at the picnic tables to rest and wait for Nightingale and Guy as I said I would, but I started getting restless after the first half-hour. Several hikers came and went, most of whom I’d come to recognize along the trail, including Gazelle and Sensei. Billy and Ben were another pair I’d seen often while hiking through the desert, and laundry-lady and her friend stopped by as well and I had a chance to reacquaint myself with her name – Ghosthiker. During her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail the previous year, she’d carried a grey pack cover/poncho that she wore often through the rainy mountains. A hiker had seen her coming silently out of the mist looking like a ghost, hence the trail name. Her friend was an electrical engineer and so had either been given or had chosen the name Sparky.
Eventually, Nightingale and Guy arrived and were ready for a long break. I could immediately that tell neither party was in very good spirits. I’d been there for almost two hours waiting for them and in that time had come to the conclusion that if I had any hope of out-hiking the Cling-On, I’d need to break away and make more miles. I told Nightingale as much while Guy was in the restroom, mainly because I’d known Nightingale since Lake Morena and felt a little guilty about leaving her behind.
I needn’t have worried, though. Nightingale completely understood my need and didn’t blame me at all for wanting to hike on and try to make it to Paradise Valley Cafe that day. It actually sounded like she was going to break away from Guy soon – I guess all of our hiking styles were proving to be different from each other. Nothing wrong with that at all, but as a new thru-hiker, I didn’t realize how normal it is to end up hiking with lots of different people before finding your own stride and maybe, hopefully, finding others who shared it. I was so afraid of hurting or offending other people that I hiked many a miserable day trying to change my speed or style to suit theirs, a habit it would take me several hundred miles to break.
I powered off and was in good spirits about the mileage I was making. I was alone for quite a while when I noticed two day-hikers appear on trail a little ways behind me. Between the camper van creeper and the Cling-On, my nerves were already rather pent up. Up ahead I saw a familiar thru-hiker, Calculous, so I hurried to catch up to him and briefly explained that I felt I was being followed and would he mind if I hiked with him for a while?
Now, I need to stop here and clarify something. I do not consider myself attractive enough to be often singled out by predators. I actually believe myself to be the last person people would consider easy prey due to my imposing height and generally athletic build. The Cling-On didn’t make me feel threatened, just highly annoyed. The camper van creeper was just disgusting and gave me the heeby-jeebies, and his weight alone would have been a cause for concern if he actually meant me bodily harm.
These two hikers day hikers were more than likely harmless. But there were two of them, one of me, and for a while, there was no one else around and lots of side trails one could disappear into. My Dad grew up on the rough side of Chicago and raised me to be aware of my surroundings and to analyze quickly the best means of self-preservation, whether it was actually needed or not.
Calculous was happy to help. He was taking a break at the moment, though, but I was welcome to sit with him. This I did until the day hikers passed, but I’d just taken a 2 hr break at Muir Woods and was itching to get moving. Then another familiar hiker appeared, Pusher, and I jumped up to hike with him. Calculous wished me luck and said he’d see me at Paradise Valley Cafe.
Pusher was one of the most handsome hikers I’d ever seen. Easily 6’4″, long blond hair, heavenly blue (I think?) eyes, and a very friendly smile. The sexy German accent didn’t hurt either! And to top it all off, he was very well built and incredibly fast. Luckily for me, he was taking it “easy” on the last stretch of the day and was more than happy to have a companion along to chat with. I think it’s safe to say that he did most of the chatting. What he called his “easy” pace gave me a serious run for my money, but listening to him talk about his life and work back in Germany was a welcome distraction from my rapidly growing exhaustion and pain. Keeping up with him was a serious challenge, but one I accepted readily. My desire to make miles trumped my exhaustion. All I had to do was keep him talking and I managed to keep pace with him all the way to the road to Paradise Valley Cafe.
We reached the cafe Cafe by mid-afternoon and there was already a large table full of dirty, smelly hikers out on the patio, some of whom I knew. I waved to Sparky and Ghosthiker. The waitress told us to find a seat at this table and handed us some menus. Too tired to even know what I wanted but starving nonetheless, I noticed that the hiker next to me had already finished his burger and left a few juicy slices of tomato and onion on his plate. I shamelessly asked if he was going to eat those and he smiled and pushed his plate toward me. The veggies were gone in seconds.
The Paradise Valley Cafe is a well-known stop along the PCT, famous for delicious, enormous burgers and shakes. I watched Pusher consume an entire burger and a huge helping of sweet potato fries, then order a second round of both. Both plates were practically licked clean before he paid his bill, threw on his pack, and set off for the trailhead intending to cover another 5-6 miles. I was awe-struck. Had I just been hiking with Thor or some other god? Incredible.
I barely managed to eat my entire burger and fries, my feet were screaming at me, and I knew the remaining miles into Idyllwild were hindered by a fire closure and several miles of narrow highway road walking which I was not keen to do. I sat back with a full stomach and sipped my water while pondering my situation when I overheard Sparky and Ghosthiker making their plans to get a hotel in Idyllwild for the night. Wanting to continue my progress toward distancing myself from the Cling-On and desperate for a real shower and a real bed, I gathered up my courage and asked Ghosthiker, whom I’d only spoken to once before, if they wouldn’t mind letting me pay to crash on the floor of their hotel room?
As it turned out, this was the first time Sparky and Ghosthiker were getting a room on their hike and they were looking for people to share it with them because Ghosthiker is married and Sparky is single and they didn’t feel comfortable getting a room by themselves. Ghosthiker was delighted to have me share their room.
They’d already finished their food and were hitching into Idyllwild, but their ride said they’d be back to pick up more hikers later. They returned half an hour later and I got a ride into Idyllwild. Ghosthiker met me outside the Silver Pines Lodge and showed me the adorable room they’d gotten – it had two separate bedrooms, one with a queen bed and one with two twins! It was perfect! After I’d had a shower and applied the steroid cream to all my poison oak, which had somehow gotten on my arm now as well as my leg and abdomen, I was able to throw my laundry in with theirs and then sit in a cushy armchair in our room and relax. Like, really relax. No creepers could follow me here. There was a solid door between me and them. I was safe.
One evening of chatting with Ghosthiker was enough to convince me that she and Sparky were quality people and that sticking with them for a while was a good idea if they’d have me. They had both hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail for the last couple years and had thru-hiked the entire thing last year, though not together. They are both quite a bit older than me, but I have no problem with that. I tend to have more in common with older people than with my peers, and I knew I could benefit from their experience on trail.
Splitting hotel rooms three ways wasn’t so bad, either! Oh, and while getting a relatively chilly shower at Muir Woods was nice, a hot shower indoors was heavenly. Two showers in one day! Spoiled rotten. Though when considering how terrible my poison oak still was, I was eternally grateful for extra shower time. The rash was raised, firm, and very itchy. But a real shower and fresh cream had helped a lot.
I fairly sank into the little trundle bed, which was immensely more comfortable than the bed at the Julian Lodge had been, and sank into a very heavy sleep.