PCT Day 28: Reunited!

May 16, 2022

Tentsite at mile 420.8 to Acton via Soledad Canyon Road at mile 444.3 to Los Angeles with Ellie!

23.5 miles

It’s 4:15 and I’m up and moving. I slept all the way though the night, amazingly, and I feel invincible. I am a woman on a mission. I pack up my clothes, my sleeping bag, and then my tent, cinch my pack straps, get a Pro Bar ready, and start hiking. It’s 4:50 and still dark when I start, but the full moon is almost so bright that I don’t need a headlamp. It’s a cruise of a ridge walk for three and a half miles. I can just make out the outline of the mountains in the fine silvery light. Even the not-quite-day is a beautiful time on this trail. I feel quiet and grateful for these soft moments to myself this morning.

I hike just over three miles in an hour. I am so rested, so determined, and so comfortable this morning. I follow the trail down some switchbacks to a small campsite in a valley around the mile where I assume Andy and Beetle camped last night. They aren’t there, but I bet they aren’t that far ahead. I put in some music and start chewing on a two-mile hill that climbs out of the valley from a dry spring. It’s tougher than I expected, and by the time I get to the open fire-burnt forest towards the top of the hill, I have to take a break every hundred steps or so.

At the summit, I take a photo of a sign warning hikers about unstable trees, then notice that my achilles is talking to me a bit. I take a moment and stretch it out, then choose another song. At this point, I’m resigned to the fact that I will probably not see Andy and Beetle until Acton this afternoon. I plan to stop at the next campground for a snack and privy break. I start walking as the hill turns downwards.

Five seconds later, I see two blue sun hoodies. “Oh!” I say, surprised. It’s Andy and Beetle! They’re sitting under a dead tree eating oatmeal and drinking coffee. It’s not even 8 yet and I caught them! I am so excited that I get all tangled up in my headphones and thrupack straps and, obviously, my water bottles fall out of my back and tumble over the ground. Once we have that out of the way, I give both of them huge hugs. It’s only been a few days, but it feels like much longer. I’m so happy to see them again!

We continue down the trail together, joined at first by Zelda and another Andy, who is from the Czech Republic. We pick up the pace a little as we approach the North Fork ranger station and picnic area. By the time we get there it’s just about 11 and I’ve already done over 15 miles. Woo hoo!

There’s a beautiful water cache here. I fill up and chug a liter, then have a huge lunch because I have more food than I need in my food bag. I’m so happy being here with Andy and Beetle again! We stay for about an hour chatting to some other hikers, then we pack up to continue our hike. It’s only eight miles to Acton, where there is a campground, cold drinks, and supposedly a pool. We’re keen to get there because it is getting ungodly hot.

It’s immediately miserable as we begin. The sun is beating down on us. The white sand radiates light and heat. Andy broke his sunglasses a while ago, so he’s raw dogging his eyeballs right now, and I have absolutely no idea how they aren’t burning out of his face. I try to hike as fast as I can because it’s terrible out here and no part of me is enjoying this. I take a hill too fast, though, and my foot starts to drive me crazy. I think there’s a rock in there. I stop to fish it out and drink some water, but when I start walking again it still hurts. Whatever. I accept my fate. I have three more miles left. I’ll deal with it.

I put in some music and finish an uphill. It is so hot. There’s more ridge line walking, a down, another infuriating up, and then, despite being able to see the road, the trail takes another completely unnecessary mile around the side of a stupid rocky hill. Agh! It is the worst! I’m almost at 23 miles by 2:30 after a 25 miler and I want to be DONE. Finally we round the side of the hill and wind up down in the parking lot. I collapse on the picnic bench for a minute. Then we hitch into Acton, which takes a few minutes and makes Beetle absolutely lose his mind. We finally get picked up, though, and our driver takes us to the market.

Once I’m in the air conditioning and surrounded by cases of cold drinks, I immediately feel better. Andy has been hankering for a cherry coke, but he notices a row of Bundaberg sodas, including a peach one. That just sounds plain delightful to me, so we both get one. Then we find the regular soda section and I also buy a cherry-vanilla Coke. Then I decide to get a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food, because why the heck not. Outside the store there are a few tables, and we sit there consuming sugar, updating social media, and just generally being trash for hours. It is delightful. I’m a cannoli of dirt, sweat, and sugar, and I am so damn happy about it.

I send Ellie our location and she comes to meet us around 6. It is so good to see her! I haven’t visited her in LA yet since she moved here last fall, and I know she’s excited to show me what her daily California life is like. She meets Beetle and Andy, which is exciting because she reads this blog (oh hey Ellie!) and knows about them already. My tramily is like a little group of celebrities!

We walk across the street to the 49ers Saloon, where, despite just obliterating a 1,000-calorie pint of ice cream and two sugary sodas, I order a massive burger, fries, and a beer and consume them all. It’s so fun to have Ellie with us, though I feel bad that she is literally surrounded by foul-smelling hikers who are just coming off the sweatiest eight miles of the entire trail after three straight days of dust. We chat shit and tell her about the trail and laugh our way through our obscenely large meal. Later, she drops Andy and Beetle off at the KOA and then we drive to her adorable apartment in Koreatown, deep within Los Angeles.

It’s such a cute place! I get to meet Olivia Colman, the cat Ellie is fostering. She is adorable and cuddly. I put in a load of laundry and take the most aggressive shower of my life (it takes two shampoos and repetitive scrubbing to get rid of the caked-in dirt all over my body). Then it’s after 10, I feel like a zombie, and I collapse into Ellie’s bed. It is heavenly. I starfish and stretch and put my knee out at that stupid weird angle I like that is just impossible on a Thermarest. Can you die from being comfortable? Because that’s where I am right now.

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