PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 – 407
Miles hiked so far: 2225 ish
We wake at dawn and dawdle at the Anderson’s watching morning news. Terry makes us pancakes and coffee — she and Joe are such generous souls. It snowed in Wrightwood – we’ll be there in several days. Fall is upon us, but in these lower elevations of the desert it’s still hot and sunny.
Today Is a challenge Groucho has been dreaming about since the Appalachian Trail. Today he attempts the 24/24/24. 24 miles +24 beers in 24 hours. It is 24 miles from The Anderson’s (and a convenience store) to Agua Dulce… another little town. Also Future Dad agrees to face the challenge with Groucho. They saddle up with a duct taped 12 pack in each hand, and walk the first few miles alone.
Twinless and I run into them an hour later and learn Future Dad is a chatty drunk. Groucho’s strategy, on the other hand, Is silence and smiles.
FD reveals their safe word…. A safe sentence, really. I ask “so what is the word” and first he doesn’t want to say in case it will break the spell. We urge him on “what if Groucho is passed out and you say the safe word but we, the sober ones, don’t know it?” Future Dad can’t remember it. uh oh. Groucho reminds him “the safe word is ‘Andrea Dinsmore says you’re never going to make it.”
Soon FD says he needs a snack break at the next crest. He arrives pantsless… Or “Hucking it”… Our nominculture for this Huck-created technique. We all sit down and FD exclaims “ha! I can’t sit down because I’m not wearing any pants.” I loan him my tyvek sit mat made from a priority mail envelope.
We get up to leave, FD’s pack exploded everywhere. He needs 10 seconds more and starts counting down on repeat. Each time he gets to 3 he says “wait wait” and starts again. This goes on until the pack is full and he needs to pee. On my sit mat. He asks if I want it back and I politely decline.
Future dad has maybe had 7 beers. This can only end in tears or death.
We go another couple miles and I stop to pee behind my umbrella for privacy. FD says ” it’s so funny that you’re peeing right now because I just peed down my leg.” Apparently “Hucking it” provides enough freedom for FD to attempt and fail the don’t-stop-to-pee technique of celebrity athlete Andrew Skurka.
Ok so then FD needs to take a serious break. Twinless hikes on and after 20 minutes I hike a little ahead of Groucho and FD, looking for their sillouttes on the horizon every so often. Eventually I just stop and wait. I have cell service and confirm the pizza joint is open until 9pm. I think this might provide incentive, so I lay down the plan when they arrive. They should try to sober up enough to get to town… 12 miles in 5 hours. Then finish their beers with pizzas. They are on board. I hike with them a few hours till we crest the hill. We have under 3 hours and 8 miles to go. Huck shoulders my pack and I take off jogging the last miles… Seeking cell service to order our pizzas and hoofing it to a place Bug left the car and driving it back to the trailhead where our Heros will emerge. The night falls on me and i grow creeped out hiking alone, especially as my headlamp dims and I use my also-dwindling phone as a flashlight the last hour. Hearing rustles in the bushes I imagine the family of mountain lions hungry for pizza in these very hills. The only thing I see, however, is a toad.
Meanwhile, a couple miles back FD and Groucho are nestled in a safe group of sober Wrong Way Gang members. Groucho has turned into Kung fu panda -making “ha yah” emmissions and running downhill in the dark without a headlamp. Huck reports he only fell once.
I re-arrange our luggage in the car and swoop up Bug and Twinless to get the pizzas with me. Huck, FD and Groucho walk 2 more miles of trail along the road into Agua Dulce to finish their 24 miles. The grocery closes at 9pm too, so I race around getting Groucho and my resupply. As I’m leaving, I am approached by Tom… a PCT alum and the son of the Saufley’s… Famous trail Angels who closed their home this year after 18 years of service to PCT hikers. Tom offers to put us up at his own house, just 2 blocks away. We gratefully agree. Out inebriated friends join us and we whisk them to a beautiful home with pizza and adorable puppies. We chat into the night with the lovely new friends and fall asleep in their living room. So thankful for hospitality. Groucho finishes his 24th or 26th beer with a shot of tequila and 2 joints. He is future Dad’s new hero. He is the only person anyone has met to finish the challenge. Even Tom has only heard tell of 2 people in the two decades his parents hosted hikers. Congrats Groucho.
The main problem with California is all the town vortex potential. When I’m on trail, thinking about an upcoming town visit, I imagine getting in and out as fast as possible… just grab my town food, do my laundry and get back on trail. But one shower, one beer and 2000 calories later, I hardly feel like I”ve ever even been on trail and I start to dawdle… And the town vortex begins. Peer pressure of Wrong Way Gang really hurts any effort at efficiency to get out. Everyone promises to awake at 5am, and yet by 6:30 you’re still lying there as silent as death, hoping that everyone else will also have forgotten their alarms. Then someone secretly rouses, and heads to brunch or coffee. And everyone slowly wanders to join. We all look at our phones for several hours. And then at some point people start to make mention of leaving. Once we spring to action, things move faster, but it can still take hours to get out.
So succeptible are we after Groucho’s 24/24/24 victory in Agua Dulce, that we end up caught in a mini vortex. We wake at Tom’s. We dawdle. We play with puppies. And pack up. And go to brunch. And go to the hardware store. And the grocery. And then do internet. And then the grocery again. And finally around NOON…. we head out. By then, we realize that we can’t pull a normal-mile day. So we look at the data and aim for the Acton KOA. A fancy campground that we will need to pay a little to stay out. It’s only 10 miles away. To get there we wander through beautiful Vazquez park – filled with epic rock structures and botanical interpritive signage. We pass through a tunnel under the freeway, and then it’s easy switch backs for the last several miles down to the KOA. The new owner is present and super nice, and the staff give us a spot on the lawn to cowboy camp for only $30 (6 people, a dog and a support vehicle). We can also swim in the pool and charge devices in the community room. It’s a pleasant afternoon. As dusk falls, Huck (who has a gear addiction) drives with Bug to LA to pick up a backpack prototype he just ordered online. It’s about an hour away. They get back super late… we are already sleeping.
Late arriving hikers, bright KOA lights, and chatty caretakers make this night’s sleep super crappy. No matter. The alarm goes off at 4:30 and Groucho and I start to pack up. Huck joins in, as usual. But as soon as we’re done, we notice that Twinless, FutureDad and Bug are still down for the count. Bug whispers to me she’ll see me at the dirt road in 37 miles with the car. Motivation. We pack our stuff with us… just in case. Bug does her best on these country roads, but occasionally the precarious conditions make it difficult for her to reach us.
We hike out, assuming FutureDad and Twinless will be soon behind. It’s dark and steep,… a big climb today. I’m in the middle, but at some point Huck stops to wait. He explains he saw two wide eyes peering at him 10 meters away. Maybe a coyote. Maybe a cougar. Thrilling. We wait for Groucho and hike closely until light. Around dawn we start to space apart again and I am alone as I watch the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen, humbly rise in the clouds to the East.
About an hour after dawn, I catch up to the boys and we start to watch lizards. The tan ones always run. The black ones pause and seem more intelligent somehow, peering unafraid at us from their perches. At some point Huck stops to take a photo. I realize I have to pee so I duck a few yards down trail, telling Huck that I’m retreating to pee, as Groucho has already done before me. Huck… hard of hearing because of an accident during a training exercise in the Danish military involving gun discharge… doesn’t hear me. Caught up in his camera, he glances up to realize that I have taken a crouching position a few yards back and worries that he scared the lizard away. He stares at me. I am embarrassed but don’t know what to do as he stares and asks “did the lizard run away.” finally I stand and he states “Oh! you were peeing! I thought you were photo-ing the lizard.” I don’t care anymore. We’ve thru hiked together, so basically Huck knows all my impropriety. Somehow he tolerates me anyway.
Eight miles into the day we reach the Ranger Station at the crest of the hill. We find an impeccable residnet ranger who has left us several gallons of water and also takes time to point out the imfamous Poodle Dog Bush… a new threat we’ve been awaiting for a long time. Poodle dog bush is a desert-dwelling plant that looks and smells vaguely like marijauna. Growing in burn areas and reeking havoc on anyone who comes into contact – poodle dog is similar to poison oak, creating blisters and rashes for most people who touch it… dead or alive.
The next 10 miles are riddled with Poodle Dog. It’s like an obstacle course. If we even touch it to our clothes we need to remove the clothes and wash them separately. WE feel like we’re in a video game, dodging and breezing along poodle dog branches… hoping that we don’t use up our one life.
Then suddenly, we reach an area where the “trail gorillas” have cleaned up shop and there is no more poodle dog. The next few hours pass serenely. Time begins to morph… I’ll feel like 5 minutes have passed and it’s almost an hour. I am in the intense meditivave phase of this journey.
We pass a stoner marker for the 420th mile of the trail. Just then I see sprout the dog! and Bug! They’ve hiked up from the next road crossing to meet us. We hike with Bug a mile back to her car and find surprises. Guacamole and Beers! Slack packing is the best. We hang for awhile, cooling down after a hot afternoon.
Tomorrow is Twinlesses Birthday. Bug informs us that although we left camp at 4:30am… Twinless and Future Dad didn’t leave until 7:30 this morning. We are planning to hike 37 today but there is no way they will possibly catch up today or tomorrow if we don’t wait for them.
What is the best way to celebrate Twinless’s birthday? We decide to leave easter egg style treats for Twinless along the way tonight and tomorrow for her to get throughout her birthday — and then try to kidnap her tomorrow night and take her into town. Bug’s car can facilitate so much fun!
So we get to the Mill Creek Firehouse and leave twinless a vodka and several birthday cake flavored oreos in a ziplock right at the water source. She is sure to find it because this is the only water for almost 20 miles in either direction. This is probably where she will spend the night.
We hike on – about 12 more miles up a pass, and then downhill for many miles as it darkens. At this point we realize that Groucho forgot his flashlight in Bug’s car, and Huck’s headlamp is loosing battery. IN a rare moment of responsibility I have BOTH a headlamp and a flashlight. Therefore I become the beacon in front… letting my friends know about upcoming obstacles. Huck starts speaking German (he somehow knows Danish, English, Portuguese, and a bit of German and Spanish and well as several other languages.) He begins to call out “Poodle Hund Sheise” (i.e. Shitty Poodle Dog). I… also speaking poor German… start to respond by qualifying the poodle dog… Grosse (big) poodle dog sheise. Eine kleine (a tiny) poodle dog Sheise. Etc. It amuses us much in our exhaustion.
Again, Bug – having driven ahead – hikes back to meet us a few miles from camp. It’s a relief to see her. I’m so tired and my feet are sore toward the end of the day. We camp in a dirt parking lot next to a meager trailhead.