Mile 73 to mile 80
My alarm goes off at 5:30 and I think I do a pretty good job getting ready quickly. I hit snooze once (oops, old habits die hard) but then I’m up and eating breakfast and getting things together. When I pop my head out of my tent at 6:15 to say hi to Montana and Blueberry – they’re gone! Well. So much for feeling good about my early start. Oh well – they’re trying to make it to Warner Springs by tomorrow morning and I am definitely not.
I’ve got everything packed and ready to go when my body lets me know it’s time to dig a cat hole. At first I’m annoyed but then I chide myself – this is exactly the perfect time to take care of business! My pack’s not even on yet, I’m not on a ridge where I’d fall to my death if I so much as coughed, let alone tried to poop – this is exactly how things should be. Okay okay okay – I walk 70+ paces away from camp and the trail, dig my little hole, and get on with things. Good work, Body, I think. You’re getting used to this!
With everything taken care of I finally put my pack on and start moving. My only solid goal for the day is to get to Julian, and it’s just four miles before Scissors Crossing, the spot where everyone hitches the 13 miles to town. I may sleep in Julian tonight or I may just hang out there for the day. The only thing I know for certain is I’ll be getting a slice of free pie at Mom’s, a bakery that gives free pie to PCT hikers. I’m in a very good mood.
The miles to Scissors Crossing are easy. I’m well rested but they’re also just objectively easy. There’s a bit more ridge walking/climbing that I’m glad I didn’t attempt last night when my knee was hurting, and then suddenly I’m finished with the “down” portion of the day’s hike and it’s all flat flat flat. Suddenly I’m practically running! Pie! I’m coming for ya!
I’m alone for a long time, like always, and then I hear rustling behind me and a cheery, “Hi Scissors!” I love my trail name. I turn around and it’s Cory, one of the guys I met at the water source yesterday afternoon. He’s sweet. I ask if he’s stopping in Julian for pie but he says no. He wants to keep moving and maybe zero in Warner Springs. “Besides,” he says almost bashfully, “this has been the best week of my life, so I wanna keep going!” It’s such a sweet thing to say. And it makes me wonder – has this been the best week of my life? I’ve been on the trail 9 days – it’s been more than a week! But has it been the best? And if not, what was the best week of my life? I really don’t know. But I find his awe and joy very honest and uplifting, and I spend a lot of time thinking about it once he’s gone. And he is gone, so quickly, because he’s one of those Fast Hikers. “Bye Scissors!” he calls as he leaves. “See you at your crossing!”
I don’t see anyone after Cory and it’s just the smoothest trail. No elevation gains, no rocks, no excessive heat – I complete the 4 miles in less than 2 hours, getting to the side of the road at around 9:20am. Much to my surprise, there’s Cory! He’s waiting on his friend. I have him take my picture and then wave goodbye. I’ve gotta go attempt my first hitch hike!
I have no idea what this experience will be like – I’ve heard both that it’s an easy hitch and a difficult hitch – and I’ve never hitchhiked in this country before, so I’m a bit apprehensive. However the nerves are unnecessary because before I even hit the crossing where people usually hitch, a car slows down next to the trail (the PCT is often weirdly close to the road, like I can hear cars and it’s so odd to be in “the middle of nowhere” but also like, next to the highway, but for a tiny portion of today the trail actually paralleled the road exactly with just a wire fence separating the two) and a nice bearded dude asks if I need a ride. Yes please! He introduces himself as Brew-Hike and I say I’m Scissors. “Welcome to Scissors, Scissors!” he says. I grin. He says he’s just going to drive a bit further to see if any other hikers need a ride too and he’ll meet me at the road. Cool!
I get to the road and Brew-Hike isn’t there yet, but another kind man, Ed, is. He offers me a ride! Sheesh, if hitching were always this easy no one would own a car! I’m very grateful to both these men, even though Brew-Hike didn’t end up giving me a ride. Like I mentioned a couple of posts ago, being a girl alone in the world can sometimes be frustratingly scary, and it’s really cool when people go out of their way to make you feel safe.
Two other hikers ride with me and Ed to Julian. Once we’re there Ed drops us off at Carmen’s. I’ve heard Carmen, the owner of the restaurant of the same name, loves hikers, but nothing could have prepared me for the incredible woman I was about to meet. “Introduce yourself to Carmen,” Ed tells us. “She loves to meet all the hikers.”
Carmen is about my height, with long thick hair and a permanent grin on her face. She’s wearing white pants and a denim shirt and I can feel her personality radiating off her body. I timidly follow her into her restaurant and introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Scissors,” I say. She gives me a huge hug. “Hi honey! What can I get ya? Beer? Orange juice? Mimosa? If you have a mimosa I’ll have one with you!” Who can say no to an offer like that?!
Carmen makes us mimosas and tells me she’s about to make breakfast burritos. $3 for hikers. Yes she can make mine with no dairy. Her restaurant is currently closed to the public, but there’s a sign out front that says CLOSED – EXCEPT FOR HIKER TRASH. This lady is a saint. She loves hikers and let’s us hang at her restaurant all day long, do our laundry in her machine on the premises, and charge our devices in her numerous outlets. Oh – and she also lets hikers sleep on the floor of her restaurant for free! Trail magic is so real and so mind blowing.
I still don’t know if I’m going to spend the night in Julian or not but Carmen makes it sound tempting! I try to get some town chores going so I have the option of leaving or staying.
The two women from Australia who I briefly met yesterday and I group our laundry together and pop it in. Carmen makes us all breakfast burritos and I eat the whole thing easily, even though Ed said they’re big enough to be breakfast and lunch. And I hang out and make some friends.
I’ve been a little bit anti-social since splitting up from Mike and Cate and Shakedown and Lynn. Not intentionally, I don’t think – I just haven’t clicked with other people and I’ve felt a little intimidated by some of the larger groups that are obviously already very bonded. But sitting on the deck at Carmen’s I feel myself relax into me for the first time in a few days. I chat with Chelsey, a veterinarian from Alaska who is also hiking solo. I get excited to meet Tommy, a gay guy from Portland. (Another queer on the trail!) I meet Nirvana and Rachel, Brooke and her entire crew, and everyone is nice and relaxed and engaging and I’m relieved. The guys from the other night are also there – the ones who experienced Tom’s trail magic with me – and it’s nice to see them. Alan and I bond and talk shit for awhile and I have a feeling we could be good friends, if I can keep up with him.
Once my laundry is hanging up to dry and I’ve scheduled some blog posts, I head to Mom’s for pie. Brooke comes with me and it’s fun chatting with a new person about our different experiences on the trail. She’s rolling deep with a crew of eight people and I’m a little envious. Anyway. I show the pie shop my hiking permit and I get apple cherry pie and apple cider and it’s delicious and I’m so happy. There’s definitely dairy in the pie and I may pay for it later but for now I don’t care.
We walk back to Carmen’s and I decide I should get back to the trail today. It doesn’t seem possible to hitch out of Julian early in the morning – everyone laughs about getting caught in the town/Carmen vortex – and there’s a steep climb out of Scissors Crossing that would be a nightmare to do in the major heat of the day. So the solution is to do it super early or in the afternoon – but unless I feel like waiting until tomorrow afternoon to get back on trail, it seems I should get moving. And I don’t want to wait that long. My body feels good, my feet are healing, and I’m in a good mental place. I want to be hiking!
I try to be fast with the rest of my chores so I can hitch back to the trail with Alan and the other guys, but I’m slow. Oh well – I’ll have to go solo. I check on my feet – they’re healing so well! I treat them and tape them just like Hot Legs showed me. I continue to be so grateful to him. I go through all the trash in my bag and get rid of it, I pack away my laundry, I call Alley and my mom for quick chats. Carmen shows up while I’m on the phone with my mom and we quickly FaceTime so they can meet. My mom is overcome with gratitude for Carmen and thanks her profusely and Carmen is obsessed that my mom and I look identical. It’s very cute all around.
And then it’s time to go. I order a burrito for the road and fill up my water bottles. My Sawyer Squeeze water filter o-ring has broken which is not ideal. I’m not sure how to deal with it, actually. I have Aqua Mira drops if the Sawyer is ruined. I’ll get in touch with their customer service ASAP.
When all my chores are done I go stand in front of the post office with my thumb out. My first real hitch. Yikes!
Admittedly, I’m nervous. Who will pick me up?
I stand on the side of the road with my thumb out for a little while. Not too long. Maybe 10 minutes? Maybe 20? It’s kind of awkward. I smile to show I am a nice regular person – you totally want me in your car!
Finally, a pickup truck pulls up and a woman rolls down the passenger window. “Come on in, honey,” she tells me. “You can put your bag in the back!”
Honestly, I’m so relieved that this person is a woman. I do as she says and then we are zooming away! She knows I’m going to Scissors Crossing because of course I am. PCT culture is strong in these small towns off the trail. I try to be a good thru-hiker ambassador.
The woman who is driving me is named Irma, and we’re both delighted to discover I share a name (Vanessa, not Scissors) with her younger sister, who she named! They are both born on December 20 and I am born a day later, on December 21! She is so kind. She seems surprised and impressed that I’m walking all the way to Canada. She tells me about her daughters, and about her job, and about her belief that you can’t force religion on your kids. I really like her, feel so safe and comfortable in her car. Please let all my hitches feel this good, I send a prayer out into the world.
And then we’re at the trail, exactly where Ed picked me up this morning. I thank Irma profusely and take my pack out of her truck bed. I ask to take her picture and her response makes me sad – “Oh fine, but I’ll break the camera!” She is beautiful. I snap her photo and wave goodbye, and then she’s gone and I’m back at the PCT.
I was only in Julian for a few hours – from 10am to 5pm, maybe – but it feels like I have been In Town for So Long. I laugh to myself a bit – it reminds me of the way days off used to feel when I was a counselor at sleepover summer camp, or the way they depict “going into town for the afternoon” in Wet Hot American Summer. It really does take so little to feel so thoroughly rejuvenated.
The switchbacks out of Scissors Crossing are intimidating to say the least, and I’m so glad I’m not doing them at 12pm. It’s almost 6pm now and the air is cool, almost chilly. The climb is still tough, but it’s doable.
I am initially aiming to get to mile 85, where a bunch of other people who were in town were planning to camp, and I feel strong and capable. I talk to my body as I go up up up, praise it and coax it and let it know what’s going on. “This is what we do now, Body,” I actually say out loud. “We hike. This is just what we do.” My body seems to be listening, and I am grateful.
But it’s getting dark. The switchbacks are mostly ridges, and I’m not thrilled about the idea of night hiking along a ridge by myself in the dark. I let go of the idea of making it to mile 85. I decide I should camp by 7pm so I can eat my burrito and go to bed. I have a bit more time to walk so I do – up and up and up. I keep feeling as though I’m almost at the top but I’m not – but I’ve made good progress today and am still proud.
I finally reach a site where two other people have set up their tents. It looks like there is room for a third but I wonder if I should be brave and camp solo tonight. It would be my first time doing so on trail. I chat with one of the girls already camped for a minute – her name is Lauren and she tells me I can definitely set up my tent near hers. I tell her I’m going to see if there’s anything else a little ways up and if there isn’t I may be back.
I walk another half mile and sure enough, there’s a perfect little site! Just enough room for my tent. Okay, I think, I may not be ready to cowboy camp, but tonight I can camp solo!
And so I do. I feel powerful, like I can do anything. I eat half my burrito from Carmen’s then wiggle into my sleeping bag/quilt. There’s absolutely no wind tonight and soon I’m fast asleep.