Jade and I are together. This brings mostly tingling gladness however, there is also subterranean angst needing to be mined. Her foundation is sure, the last 100 miles have been uncomplicated. She lead the group, cooked, set up a brand new tent, now carrying double her starting pack weight, navigated the trail, with a smile and happiness. I edited videos, wrote blogs, caught up on Dr. Disrespect and YouTube, ate two boxes of cookie butter cookies, with a smile and happiness. Still some mining for me though.
(As an aside, I know I’m not the hero in this story. At best I’m a Smeagol, there will be use for me yet. I can’t deny it but don’t like it. I do know who the hero is: Jade. I have been very Laissez-faire with Jade on the trail, if you have problems with that I understand.)
Next I drove up to where the trail rubs elbows with civilization, a rare flirt this trail. I brought with me four watermelons, cookie butter (I attempted to bring the cookies but…), orange juice, salad, and a bag with two sleeping mats in it. From where I sat the trail turned into the hill away from view. With fairy dust you could fly above the trail and it would look like a sharp line that curves around the mountains, sometimes going up, sometimes going down but always curving. At times it can give you the illusion you are going nowhere except for the pain in your legs. I would see her when she was a couple minutes away, I would hear her before that. When I did hear her I ran up to meet her. I admit I have the mind of a cheesy romance writer, I pictured me running to her, her running to me, time slowing and some music emphasizing the mood. Instead she was filthy and smelly and didn’t want to run. Every body part that was exposed was covered in dirt, glued to her skin by sweat. In the mornings you wake up with sandy grit covering your face.
We all walked down to the truck. I started slicing watermelon to serve to Jade and the rest of the group, they told me about the last four days, apparently some of their favorite days (Jade’s favorite section so far). At some point I had Jade look in the bag with the two sleeping pads while I got my new backpack. She asked why there were two pads, I walked up with the pack on. She got it right away and started crying, she was now ready to hug. We cried. Ty, one of the other guys there, said he almost cried. And that was that, we spent the next couple days delaying what would be four gruelling and very hot days.
Interrupting Jade, “At some point we should talk about what we are going to do if I get off the trail…”
“Ok, do you want to do that now?”
“Yes. I don’t think I can take it anymore. This heat, the weight, the discomfort, the smell. All those things suck but that’s not what is killing me. It’s the miles I can’t stand. Walking all day to get to our destination, sleep for 8 hours, and then start it all over. Passing by incredible waterfalls, and rivers, and hot springs, and climbing rocks, and canyons I can’t explore, I can’t experience with my hands and feet. Its my diseased mind that doesn’t rest, that can’t look beyond my own pain and discomfort. I have been trying and failing for three weeks now.”
“I could tell it wasn’t your thing from day three.”
“How? Was I that miserable?”
“No, but I could tell.”
“Do you want to keep hiking without me?”
“I don’t want to hike without you but I don’t want to get off the
“Do you like doing this, this hiking all day thing?”
“It’s quiet, I can hear my thoughts. All day long you have wanted to talk to get through the desert but I like the quiet. I like listening and thinking. I like how easily it comes to me out here, doing this. You know how hard it is for me to listen and be still back home and in real life. Also I like the challenge, I like at the end of a day full of foot pain and back pain and heat and dehydration and exhaustion to know that I got through it. I completed it. I struggled and finished. I like to complete things.”
“I think I have a good idea. I won’t go back to Michigan right away. I’ll hang out at your dad’s for a week, wait till you get to Tehachapi and we can re-evaluate then. What do you think?”
After another pause Jade says, “Thinking about hiking for the next three months without you makes me sad”.
Thru hiking creates a subculture. A diverse group of individuals who suddenly have the most important thing in common. This commonality subtracts all pretenses and dissimilarities. Real life titles take a backseat to Thru Hiker. Self-pride, corporate-pride, sympathy, interdependence, replaces independence, self-loathing, biases. These things are still there (Thru Hiking hasn’t obtained Shangri-la status yet), but they are hebetated. The Trail is the great equalizer, it is the Judge in the sky casting down just judgment. Who you were in the real world matters only to the real world, the Trail has forsaken the real world. These rules seem to be temporal based. A day hiker still wears too much of the real world on them, they serve as reminders of its existence. Thru hikers look at day hikers with something that can be described as contempt and pity, “Think what they could have been”, shaking their head. Section hikers are easily assembled into the “Band of Brother’s” of Thru Hikers. While not the same they are not all together different. There is still another component. Trail Angels. Trail Angels are a diverse group, with many motives. What they share is the desire to support. They offer support in many ways. If the Trail is the Judge in the sky, Trail Angels are buffers. They can’t take away the judgments of the Trail but they can make the vinegar sting less. Services that Trail Angles provide: Temporary housing, trail food and drink, transportation, information, encouragement.
Wrightwood has been a favorite town for many Thru Hikers because of the Trail Angels that live there. For the next week, Jade and I would be spending half days with some of the most popular Trail Angels. ‘Hiker Heaven’, ‘Hiker Town’, and ‘Casa de Luna’, places that almost every PCT thru hiker stops at. These places offer hikers a place to sleep, a shower, laundry, and operate as a hub to meet back with trail family and meet new hikers on the trail. The daily operations appear to be exhausting. PCT thru hikers are a respectful group but after a week of hiking in 90 degree weather for 20+ miles a day, when the opportunity to drink and be merely presents itself, they quickly indulge. Some places have to get water shipped in to handle the extra toll of 2000 people in 5 months. Many of these places have shut down operations because of the strain but they alway open back up. At Hiker Heaven the owners backyard suddenly became littered with tents, their property was no longer private, no longer their space. The owners of Casa de Luna provided taco salad every night and cinnamon pancakes every morning for 20-30 hikers. There was water, shade, and comfortable beds at Hiker Town which was in the middle of the desert. All of these places operate on a donations only basis, they don’t get rich from PCTers. Their motivations are something else. There are blogs and threads that accuse these people of making the thru hike too easy. That they have changed the demography of the trail to people much less trained in thru hiking and much less concerned with the quest of 2750 miles. Of course the Trail Angel exists to serve these bloggers too.
Ocelot claims he gave himself his trail name, when ask his name early on the trail, out of delirium or cognitive design he responded with the name of a character from a popular video game ‘Metal Gear Solid’. Jade and I first met Ocelot under a bridge after a long and hot walk through a desert valley. Ocelot’s first words to us where, “I ran out of water trying to get here. Mistakes were made”. The last phrase has been a slogan of Ocelot’s, so much so that it has been a popular phrase of the group. Ocelot greats people by saying “Oh, hey…”, even if he came and found you. Ocelot comes from the midwest where all his family live. His longest hike was 5 miles. He would give you his own shoes and walk on the hot desert sand for you without thinking twice. Jade says, “Ocelot makes me laugh”. A lot of people agree. Funny things that Ocelot has said or done:
“the breaks have fallen off the laughing train”
“I can’t open my eyes”
“Next time you see me you may not recognize me” (in a text attached to a picture of Ocelot with a dollar store wig on)
When Ocelot is having a hard time hiking he thinks about how other’s in the world have it worse, how other’s have to go through far worse discomforts than heat and foot pain. My truck battery died in town and Ocelot reminded me how it was great that it didn’t on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. An excellent point. Ocelot has had a foot infection, disturbingly horrific blisters, trench foot, but he says if he were to give up the hike he will regret it forever. Ocelot gets excited about seeing the milky way, he jumps in the ocean, splashes around in the waves and giggles the whole time. Ocelot came to hike the PCT on a whim, after seeing a Appalachian Trail poster. After being on the trail for over a month he says he is much more a people person, going back home will be hard, he isn’t the same person that left. When hearing the name Ocelot here are the words that come to my mind: approachable, comfort, genuine, lightweight, aware, Aladdin, change, fingernail polish. Ocelot is part of our trail family.