April 25, 2018
Another early start to try and beat the heat. I’d been knocking back at least 2 ibuprofen every morning with my coffee. We’ll see how the day goes. We descended down to several miles of flat, sandy trail that passed a nice campsite with space for several tents next to a little stream and there we met a tiny, feisty older woman whose trail name was Hopper, and she was hiking with an older and significantly taller guy named Bob Dog. They’d met on trail not long ago and had decided to hike together for the time being, though they could not have been more opposite. I literally had to look up at Bob Dog and back down at Hopper. He was loud and boisterous, extremely friendly, and would stand talking to you for hours if you let him. Hopper was a little quieter, almost difficult to hear at times, but though she was probably no taller than 5’2” she was obviously up to the challenge of a thru-hike. We’d actually met her on trail before but I was completely blanking out on when or where.
“Hey, girl!” She said brightly when she saw me. Then her eyes grew wide. “You are THIN!”
I felt a little embarrassed and honestly wasn’t sure if this comment should flatter or concern me. At home, I would have simply melted at such a compliment, especially if it were true. Out on the trail, I worried that maybe my feet issues or overall weakness were due to not getting enough calories. I think my uncertainty must have shown on my face because Hopper quickly said, “I mean, you weren’t heavy before, of course. But now there’s, like, a scoop where your belly used to be!” She made a scooping motion in the air with her hand.
“Yeah, this girl’s tough as nails! She’s really been true to her trail name.” Sparky said it like a proud father. I beamed.
We reached the Acton KOA by late morning and had a nice, long break there, enjoying the climate-controlled general store and lounge area. Behind the general store there were half a dozen hiker boxes all lined up against the building. Used shoes, clothes, gear, and food galore! I dug around and pulled out a few goodies, including a brand new and still sealed jar of peanut butter and lots of tall, skinny snack-sized Ziploc bags that I would use for my trail mix for the remainder of my hike. They proved to be a fantastic way to toss back trail mix on the move without having to dig into a bag, you just hold it with one hand and dump some in your mouth every once in a while. I probably snagged 6 bags and ended my hike with 2 remaining, tattered though they were.
Anyway, by this point I was limping pretty badly on my blistered feet. This is normal, I told myself. Par for the course. No pain, no gain. #hikerproblems. When other hikers looked at me with concern, I just smiled and touched my hat in greeting. No big deal. I’m tough as nail, just like all of you. I got this.
In addition to buying a cold Gatorade, Ben & Jerry’s Tonight Dough ice cream sandwich (I could have died happy right then), and more ibuprofen in the general store, I also bought a tube of athletes foot cream. The skin around my blisters that was spending most of its time sweating and covered in Leukotape was beginning to itch terribly. Better and better.
There were indoor toilets at the Acton KOA and I happily utilized them about 3 times before we left, giving my face and arms a good wash in the sink. I looked tired.
I took 3 more ibuprofen before we set out again and within a mile I was digging into my side pocket for my Excedrin. My feet become kind of numb but I could feel the nerves tingling where pain should have been and it was like my brain was just going “La la la la, can’t hear you, la la la la” and meanwhile my foot is crying out for attention. I know the blister has gotten bigger. I tried singing to distract myself and just ended up crying, but everyone was well ahead of me so that was good.
It’s hot as balls out here and I can’t put my umbrella up for shade because of the wind, which you’d assume would help with the heat but it doesn’t. It just kicks sand into your eyes and makes your mouth dry up faster. Now my 5th round of painkillers have kicked in and I am making decent time again. It’s a little disconcerting knowing that the pain is still there and I just can’t feel it.
There were days before today that I thought had been bad, where I went back and read the chapter in Pacific Crest Trials on my Kindle app where it talks about times when shit hits the fan, and then there were really bad days where I went back and read the chapter again. It seems silly to have read it then when the last few days have been more like feeling like I’m dying inside and ugly crying in my tent every night and on the trail when no one can see. I’m terrified that if new shoes don’t fix this problem with my feet, that will be the end of this hike for me. I can’t keep walking like this.
At mile 451 we passed under Highway 14 through a long, dark tunnel that, whether deliberately or incidentally, is shaped like the PCT symbol. It was so nice and cool inside that I deliberately slowed down to enjoy the chilly air. I hadn’t taken a sit-down break for hours because there was little to no shade along the trail that day and any slightly shady spots I found were heavily inhabited by little black flies that liked to buzz at my face the moment I stopped moving. I hadn’t seen any of my friends since we left the KOA, but as I slowly picked my way through the dark tunnel I heard Sparky call out from the other end.
Turns out he hadn’t been too far ahead of me the whole time, and Ghosthiker was actually somewhere behind me. When had that happened? I felt like I should have noticed passing her. Alias was behind us, too. What the heck? Well, Ghosthiker tends to go far off the trail to use the restroom, so I must have passed her without seeing her. Alias had taken a little side trail to get some photos or something.
Sparky and I removed our packs, shoes and socks, and waited for the others in the cool off the tunnel. When Alias arrived we played around for a bit with his camera, taking some great silhouette photos of each other and Ghosthiker when she arrived, then we set off again. We passed through Vasques Rocks where apparently several movies and tv shows have been filmed. The trail here was easy, of course, because it gets a lot of tourist traffic. Sadly, anytime I wanted to look up at the unique rock formations I had to stop walking entirely or risk stepping on a tiny rock and sending massive waves of pain through my foot.
We walked along the road into Agua Dulce, ate at the local restaurant, and caught a ride on the shuttle-truck to Hiker Haven.
How do I even describe Hiker Haven? Once we arrived and were shown around the grounds and had everything explained to us, I was stunned. Did the Saufley’s somehow know their property sits just at the edge of a hiker’s sanity, offering everything a body- and brain-weary hiker needed and just when they needed it most?
Camping spaces, dogs to pet, indoor and outdoor showers with soap, shampoo, conditioner, razors, shaving cream, towels and wash clothes, loaner clothes and flip flops to wear while your laundry was BEING DONE FOR YOU in the house, 6 very full hiker boxes to dig through, a first aid station and a separate FOOT aid station, complete with Epsom salts and tubs for foot baths (which I’m using as I type this), several patios and a grill for cooking, a single-wide trailer specifically for hikers to use the shower, kitchen, living room with a large tv and streaming, and a bedroom specifically for couples. They also send and receive hiker boxes.
If you didn’t want to pitch your tent and there’s no room in the Hiker House, you could cowboy camp in one of two yurts in the yard. Quiet time was 10pm but there was a yurt up by the house where hikers could sit, talk, smoke, and drink as long as they wanted, provided they didn’t get too rowdy. There was also a yurt with computers and charging stations. The Saufley’s don’t ask for or expect any payment for these tremendous services, only that everyone be respectful and courteous of everyone else.
It was one of my top three favorite places along the trail. I was so happy to be there that I didn’t even take any pictures! I took a video tour of the place, but no photos. We were going to stay just one night, but when we found out how easy it would be to take an Uber into Santa Clarita to go to REI, we decided to take a zero. Thank God. I really need new shoes and my feet need a rest. And, for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve been craving Chipotle for days. As if an REI weren’t temptation enough to pay for an Uber into town, the promise of Chipotle sealed the deal.
While I was setting up my tent I heard someone strumming a guitar and serenading no one in particular, and I looked up instantly. I recognized that voice. Satyr! I scurried/limped over to the patio and there he was.
“Hey!” I was so happy to see and another friendly face! It felt like years since I’d seen anyone I met those first few days. We sat chatting for a little while. He said he’d been hiking with David for a time but that David just had too much energy and Satyr wanted to take things a little more slowly. He also said David was now going by the name Baby Lungs, something to do with smoking a lot of pot? Satyr wasn’t exactly sure. He was now hiking with Ninja Fabric, a young lady who had a habit of reaching out and stealthily feeling the fabric of people’s clothing. She is a professional seamstress in her other life, so she’s very fascinated by fabrics. I met her there at Hiker Haven and ran into her several times along the trail. She is a gem.
That evening as my laundry was being done up at the house and my body tingled with cleanliness after a nice shower and a clean set of clothes, I lay on my mat and almost cried with happiness. I knew it hadn’t been that long since our last zero day, but it certainly felt like it had been forever. My feet were throbbing, but knowing I wouldn’t be hiking the next day put my whole body into a relaxed state, and I fell right to sleep.