April 30, 2018
Despite the wind continuing all night long and into the morning, my tent fly was soaked when I woke up. The temperature was still frigid. I would later come to miss those desert mornings when I didn’t have to get out of my tent to get my food bag or bear can in order to make my morning coffee. I kept my food in an opsak tucked into the contractor bag I used to line my pack and then closed everything up to keep the critters away. I never woke up to find any holes or mouse evidence in my food bag, but I always slept with my pack outside of my tent and under the tent fly, just in case. Chew a hole in my pack and I break out the duct tape; chew a hole in my tent and we’ve got bigger problems.
I guessed Ghosthiker’s tent didn’t make it in the wind because she disappeared in the night and all her stuff was gone when we woke up the next morning. She had to find some sheltering trees to protect her from the wind while she cowboy camped, then hiked out ahead of us. Sparky and Oats were close behind her and I spent the first 10 miles or so hiking with Seeker.
He’s a super nice guy and we chatted the whole time, but it was a steady uphill and I knew I was pushing too hard in order to catch up with him. After we took a break I let him push ahead and went a little slower. It stayed chilly all morning and into the afternoon, and at one point I passed Sparky and Ghosthiker while they were taking a break. As was my customary error, I opted not to take a break and continued on. I thought, as long as I was going so slow, I couldn’t afford to take extra breaks. Idiot.
I eventually caught up to both Seeker and Oats as they were breaking for lunch, enjoying a bit of warm sunshine in the still chilly day. I sat with them and we had a good time chatting and laughing. I really like Oats, she is very sweet and has a ready smile and laugh. Sparky and Ghosthiker appeared shortly after I did, followed by MC Camel. That was one of the most enjoyable lunch breaks I’d had on trail yet. We were all just sitting in the dirt, eating snack and laughing in the sunshine. For a little bit, I forgot about the pain.
Our goal that day was Hikertown. Eventually, everyone but MC Camel pulled well ahead of me. My blister grew enormous and felt like someone was stabbing my nerve endings with a jagged knife every time I stepped on a small rock with the front of my foot. I had to pick my way along the trail very carefully. I couldn’t afford to take my eyes off the path or I’d inevitably step on a rock. Those last 7 miles to Hwy 138 and Hikertown were sheer torture, involving shameful amounts of sobbing and swearing followed by a squaring of my shoulders and another mile or two of hiking.
Poor MC Camel found me broken down in tears again and limping terribly. He looked very uncomfortable and concerned and even offered to carry my pack. When I politely refused he said he had lots of painkillers and would I like some? I smiled, which I’m sure looked terrible upon my blotchy, filthy, tear-stained face, and assured him I had enough painkillers in my system to dull a knife wound (sadly this doesn’t do much for nerve endings, but whatever).
“Is there anything I can do to help you?” He asked in his heavy Dutch accent. I don’t believe I mentioned that he was Dutch. It was charming.
“If you can just let my friends know I’m coming, but I’m way behind, that’d be great. I don’t want them to worry.”
He looked like he wanted to do more but was happy he could help and hiked on. By the time I reached the long stretch of dirt road leading to the highway, there wasn’t a hiker in sight. Everyone had already made it to Hikertown.
When I finally got to the highway and entered the gate to Hikertown, I felt like I’d just slipped into a pain-induced hallucination. In the center of the property was a perfectly normal-looking, ranch-style residence surrounded by a dirt driveway, and along the outside of the driveway was a myriad of small shacks of various ages and states of repair that were made to look like an old west town. Sparky and Ghosthiker had already secured a room for us all at the “Hotel”, the only temperature-controlled room on the property, and they were watching for me as I approached the establishment. Ghosthiker ushered me into the room so I could shed my pack and put on my puffy coat because the shuttle van was about to leave for the diner and general store and I looked like I could sure use a cold beer and a meal. I desperately wanted a shower but I was honestly afraid to even look at my foot at that point, so I left my shoes and socks on and limped to the van with them.
At the diner, I found Seeker, MC Camel, and a few other hikers I recognized, so I went over to chat with them. Or rather, to chat with MC Camel. Seeker seemed strangely uninterested in my presence, considering how chatty he’d been while we were hiking and how attentive he’d been before then. Oh well.
While the others were playing cards, MC Camel told me he’d really wanted to insist I let him carry my pack earlier, but he didn’t know me well enough to be sure I’d let him. He was afraid I might take offense at his insistence. In my effort to be a strong, independant woman, I know I can come across as intimidating (I’ve been told as much by men). Maybe American women react more negatively to heroic male gestures than Dutch women? Who knows. I thought he was very sweet and I appreciated his honesty.
I told him that as much as I didn’t want to have the extra weight putting pressure on my foot at the time, I couldn’t have born watching someone carry my pack for me in addition to their own. He asked if I planned to zero in Hikertown or hit the aqueduct with everyone else, and I said I didn’t know. I hadn’t looked at my feet yet so I had no idea how bad the damage was. I didn’t think I could afford to take another zero so soon. If I lost my trail family now, I’d probably never catch up to them. And besides, I didn’t think a day off was going to solve my problem. I needed different shoes, I thought, and the nearest outfitter was a Big 5 in Tehachapi, another 3 days hike from Hikertown.
MC Camel looked concerned again (I was getting a little tired of everybody looking so concerned whenever they saw me). He’d been really impressed by the fact that I’d been hiking with the same people for several hundred miles, but he insisted that my health was more important than my trail family. “You’ll find others to hike with,” he said. I knew he wasn’t wrong, but I just wasn’t ready to give them up yet. I’ll never know if this was an error in judgment or not because I’ll never say I regret pushing myself to stick with Sparky and Ghosthiker. Never. Hiking with them was worth all the pain.
Richard is the gentleman who owns Hikertown as well as the diner and general store, and he came into the diner while we were all there and announced that he was going to Tehachapi on an errand and would any hikers like to ride along? It was so tempting, and there were a few people who seemed to think I should go, but I decided to stay. I just wasn’t ready to start skipping miles yet. One continuous footpath, that’s what I wanted above all else. Psht. Pride before the fall, and all that jazz.
That evening when we returned to Hikertown I showered in the dark (there were no lights in the community hiker bathroom) and inspected my foot. The blister that had been giving me so much trouble was right where the last one had been and was easily the size of a US quarter. It was also yellow, which did not bode well. Other hikers looked legitimately disturbed by the sight of it, so rather than lance it right there where everyone was lounging waiting for the shower, I hobbled back to my room and performed surgery there. Afterward, I covered the site with a bandaid, left off my socks despite how chilly it was, and limped to the garage where hikers could use the small kitchenette.
I hadn’t eaten at the diner earlier and was starving, so I made my second portion of quinoa and brown rice, throwing in pieces of jerky and veggies for good measure. Because I had a real stove to cook on, the food was ready to eat very quickly, and I completely cleaned out my pot. The garage was full of tired, lounging hikers. Satyr was tinkering with an out-of-tune piano and MC Camel was playing his guitar, so even though I was double-dog tired I couldn’t resist hanging back and listening to the music. I even felt confident enough to provide some back-up vocals to MC Camel’s rendition of Wagon Wheel. He’d mastered a gentle southern accent for the song and you’d never have known he was Dutch just by listening to him sing. I may have developed a little crush on him at that point. I have a soft spot for men who can carry a tune. Alas, I never saw him again after that night.