May 17, 2022
Is there a pleasure in this world greater than waking up, realizing you don’t have to go anywhere, and then falling back asleep?
Sigh. This morning is absolute bliss.
Around 5:30 I become conscious, then easily slip back into sleep. I snooze like this for the next couple of hours until about 7, when I start trying to catch up on writing and social media. But it’s futile. I’m just so comfortable. I fall right back to sleep. Ellie’s bed is a magisterial palace of joy. It’s a perfect level of firmness and I spread out amongst its glory like a cat. Speaking of cats, Olivia Colman is very affectionate this morning, leaning into my pats and nudging me for attention. Comfy bed? Cuddly cat? My god. I love zero days and I love this life and I love Ellie and I love not having to move if I don’t really feel like it.
We both start getting properly conscious around 8:30. I take my laundry out of the dryer but stay dressed in Ellie’s loaner clothes: a Star Wars: The Force Awakens shirt, running shorts, and a comfy black sweater. We drive to Noah’s Bagels, where I order a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich and a blueberry bagel with honey walnut cream cheese and, obviously, eat both of them. I also have a real coffee with cream and sugar. I’m sorry, but one of the best reasons I can think of to thru hike is the profound joy of eating inordinate amounts of food.
After breakfast we meander around some of the shops in the area, including a really cute bookstore. Then we make a trip to Trader Joe’s, where I pick up some items I’ve been craving as well as a few things my tramily has requested, namely their instant coffee, which is unique in that it already has cream and sugar in the packets. Just for when you’re feeling hikertrash bougie, ya know?
Afterwards we pick up Max, Ellie’s boyfriend, and then go back to Ellie’s place so that I can finish organizing and packing up my stuff. When that arduous task has been completed, we journey to Santa Monica, where we walk to REI so that I can get some new Injinji liners (mine already have holes in them) and energy snacks. After that we walk towards the water and end up at Big Dean’s Ocean Front Cafe, one of Max and Ellie’s favorites because of its relative affordability and massively sized, reasonably priced beers. I order a grilled cheese and a 20 ounce concoction that Ellie recommends: Mango Cart mixed with an LA IPA. It is fruity but not overwhelmingly hoppy. Perfect for a warm California day by the water.
We have a few minutes after that, so we walk to the water and I get in up to my knees, letting the cold salty water wash over me. I love the mountains, but there is something magical about the ocean, the edge of the world. It smells so salty good and feels so peacefully massive. Yeah, I’m hiking really far, but the size of the ocean? Unthinkable. Can’t hold it in my brain.
We rush back to the car because Ellie is hoping to perform her new stand-up comedy material at an open mic in Hollywood, but the traffic is abysmal by the time we get on the freeway, and she says we won’t make it. So instead we start heading back to Acton so I can meet back up with the tramily and set up camp before our early day to Agua Dulce tomorrow. On the way we stop at Wendy’s for some good greasy calories. It takes the better part of two hours to make it to the KOA because of the stop-and-go traffic. Max says this is pretty much normal for LA. This abhorrent mess of moving metal is my literal nightmare. An hour into the drive and I’m practically foaming at the mouth thinking about being back on the trail and in the mountains.
Being in the city was fun, and being with Ellie was absolutely fantastic. She loves LA and seems to fit in so well there. I’m thrilled for her. As we were driving in last night, though, I was hit with this huge wave of dread: when I’m done with this trail, this is what I have to go back to. Cities, work, the daily routine, tons of people everywhere, cars, sidewalks, asphalt. I can’t handle it. I’m not even twenty percent into this hike yet and I’m already dreading the day when it’s done. What have we done to ourselves as a culture that this is what we have? Little breaks from the grind if you’re enormously privileged and lucky, and the dread of returning to what you left to go be yourself and feel free? There are things in my “real life” that bring me genuine joy, but they are not as potent and visceral as thru hiking is. Out here, every single second is lived. I feel present and grateful even when I’m suffering. Nothing is forgettable. Holy shit. What a deep, priceless treasure the Pacific Crest Trail is. Thru hiking is the best way to be alive and I want to hold onto it forever and ever.
By the time we get to Santa Clarita, the traffic has mellowed out somewhat. The day is approaching that glorious evening light and I can feel the pull of the trail. Ellie takes the Soledad Canyon Road exit and we muddle our way through “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend, laughing at our not-quite-right lyrics. We arrive at the KOA and I see my tramily sitting at a table by the office. “Hey!” DLT calls. My heart swells. I love seeing them all there, eating a pizza and relaxing on the patio. All of us together again! My tramily, Ellie, Max, and this stupid thin line of space-time winding its way north. It is all so good.
I pick up my box (thank you for the card, Mom!) and organize my food into my bag. Ellie and Max stick around for a while chatting with everyone. I set up my tent in the far corner of the campground between DLT and Andy. We’re getting up early tomorrow to go into Agua Dulce for breakfast. It’s going to be a stinking hot day, so hopefully we’ll avoid most of the heat by getting the ten miles done before 8:30 or so.
I’m a dirty little ziploc bag full of gratitude and love. Thank you, Ellie and Max, for giving me such a fun day in LA and the best night of sleep in the past four weeks! Thank you, Mom and Dad, for your support of my weird life and your encouragement in everything! Thank you, tramily, for being strange and beautiful and sweet and loving and sassy. Thank you, Pacific Crest Trail, for being the most amazing home. Show me what’s next! I will love you every day of my life.