May 20, 2022
Campsite near Lake Hughes Road at mile 485.8 to campsite at mile 510.9
It was cold when I went to bed, but it’s not too bad this morning. Still, when I hear people moving around, deflating pads and shuffling through packs, I have to stifle a groan. It’s an uphill start today, and I am so tired from the two long days we just had. I just don’t want to hike. Waaah! I wish I could sleep in, but that just isn’t how this works. I sigh and start moving.
There’s a water cache just before the road, as well as a few bags of cookies. I load up on both, and then DLT and I both put our headphones in and start working on the hill at our respective paces. I’m really slow at first. My joints feel stiff and my achilles is mad at me. Why are you doing this again? it asks. I fall behind for a while, despite rocking out to Adele and the Talking Heads. I drag up the hill.
Then, all of a sudden, the electrolytes or breakfast or water or something kicks in and I am feeling really good. The trees start getting larger, and there are actual clouds! Blocking the sun! What is this, the east coast? Up I go, into the mist. The clouds are moving fast, one minute shrouding the world in white and the next drifting off into the distance. The farther up I go, the more dramatic the clouds become. The world shifts moment to moment, and there are suddenly views. It’s spectacular and cool this morning, breezy even. I am so comfortable. I realize that I’ve reached the top of the climb. Feeling good!
Then the trail enters a burn area that lasts for miles. It’s fine at first, but then the wind and lack of cover and twisty dead trees start to get to me. Okay, I think after a mile or so. This can be over now. I follow ridge after ridge of sad thin ashy soil. I really, really have to pee. There’s literally no tree cover, though. I push it a little further, then a bit more. I start to feel pretty comfy that there’s no one around me, so I dive behind the most substantial bush I’ve seen all morning. Just as I’m walking back to my pack, Topo comes around the corner. “Good timing!” I say, laughing. “I’m glad I didn’t intrude!” he says. Trail things. At some point, someone is going to wind up accidentally running into me while I’m going to the bathroom. I care a little less about that possibility with each day. You gotta do what you gotta do, man.
A little while after that, I see a big group huddled around a concrete-covered cistern of water. I wish I didn’t have to stop because the comments said it’s gross, but I’m running low. I pass Petra, who decides to eat her snack right on the trail instead of going down to the cistern because there is a shitload of poodle dog bush, which can majorly mess you up à la poison ivy but worse, all the way down to the cistern. I find a path next to a dead tree that is fairly free of the evil Dr. Seuss plant and make it down to the water. Beetle, DLT, Power Plant, Knuckles, Ishay, and Topo are there. We chat for a bit, eat some chip drink, and then continue north. It’s five miles to the Sawmill Campground, where Guthook says there’s a privy. Can I make it that far? We shall see.
There’s a bit of a climb after that. I try to stay with Beetle and Topo, but I fall behind. Hills still just take it right out of me. Eventually Topo goes ahead and I hike with Beetle for a bit. I don’t usually hike with just him, and it’s a nice, hilarious, laugh-riddled change of pace.
Soon we reach a road crossing, and the need for that privy hits me like a ton of bricks. I have a little less than two miles left. I can do it. I jam my headphones in my ears, crank up my running playlist, and all but sprint to the campground. The burn area is over, and now we’re following ridges that move through soft high grass and towering trees. It’s beautiful and shady and I am flying. I reach the turnoff, head uphill for a quarter of a mile at what feels like breakneck speed, and come out into a clearing with a picnic table. DLT’s pack is there, and he’s coming up the hill telling me where the privy is, and then I’m running. Success! No cathole for ya girl this morning.
Since there is a picnic table (the luxury!), we stick around for lunch. We’re soon joined by Power Plant, Topo, Knuckles, Beetle, and Catless. DLT has been having issues with his ankle, so he eats his lunch while lying on the ground and elevating said ankle on a log. Doesn’t look comfy, but hikers gotta do what hikers gotta do.
I feel refreshed, if a bit groggy, after lunch. The four of us stay together, more or less, for a while. I get to hear another infamous DLT Date Story (he has loads of them; the man has had some wild dates in his time), this one about a goat race in London. I’m laughing and noticing the fields of flowers on the hills in the distance, and then we pause for a little celebration at the 500 mile marker. Five. Hundred. Miles. What?! We’ve been hiking for a month and a day and are already so far. I think back to my 500 mile day on the AT: May 12, 2019, a month and a half into my thru-hike. It is so crazy how much easier the miles come on this trail than they did on that one. Today we’re all a little too fried to get too excited. I try to queue up “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers, but my data isn’t really working and I kind of just want to keep going. Still, we take the requisite photos, do a little cheer, and take a second to think about our progress. Then, after a few moments, we keep moving.
We have a few miles of what should be gentle uphill after that, but every step feels like so much work that I have to resort to an old AT trick: Take 100 steps, then take a break and a drink of water. Repeat until you’re at the summit. It’s tedious, especially since we’re back in a burn area and everything smells like charcoal and dust and sadness.
I end up walking alone for a while. I’m tired of the music I’ve downloaded, so I listen to a podcast on postmodernism. It’s Stuff You Should Know, so it’s hilarious, but it’s also a little too heady a topic for this sad sack of cells that is my brain today. I find myself counting steps again. I take a little break when I run into Sean. We haven’t seen him for a while, and he’s ahead of his group. It’s good to catch up with him!
A little while later I meet back up with DLT, Petra, and Rob at a road crossing. We get more water from a cistern and then take another break. I don’t know what it is about today, but I feel absolutely dead. Petra goes ahead, then DLT and I walk together for a while. The sky gets cloudy and mysterious again and the trail spits us into a lovely meadow dotted here and there with big gnarled trees.
DLT is amazed. “This looks like England!” he says. “Just add a few sheep!”
“Yeah, and make it greener and cloudier,” I reply.
It is rather England-ish, though, with the tall grass and the twisty trees and the rolling hills. I’m enjoying the cool evening and the conversation until I start to feel a rumbling. Oh no. Seriously? When I worked so hard to make it to the privy this morning? I keep putting it off until I can’t anymore, and I have to dart into the not-very-leafy forest and start digging. So irritating.
I continue alone for a while after that until I run into a very pensive-looking Petra, Rob, and DLT sitting slightly apart in a patch of high grass in the evening light. They look like a renaissance painting sitting there in silence.
I laugh. “What are you doing?”
“Just enjoying the moment,” Petra replies matter-of-factly.
I sit on a log next to DLT for a moment. There’s not really a view, so I’m not sure what they’re looking at. I suppose the pine trees are nice, and the way the light is hitting this tall swaying grass is kind of magical. After a bit, though, I’m pretty keen to get to camp, so I keep walking downhill with DLT. Petra, who has become rather adept at downhills, sprints past us, leaving us quite literally in the dust. DLT and I are dead by comparison. “I have, like, 8% battery left,” he says, trudging along. These last few miles should be pretty easy, but at the tail end of a 25-miler they seem to take forever. Finally, we reach the bottom of the hill and see Petra and Beetle sitting down in a tiny clearing. We join them and I immediately start cooking dinner: mushroom risotto. I throw in some dried broccoli for good measure and inhale it all.
There isn’t much space, so we set up in a sort of rectangular cowboy camping formation, with Petra, DLT, Beetle and I all in a line and Rob at the base. We are all exhausted and dirty and ready for Hikertown tomorrow, but we did the dang thing and put in some huge miles today.