PCT Days 36 and 37: Double Zero in Tehachapi

May 24, 2022 – Zero 1 of 2

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Double zero. DOUBLE ZERO! Have I died and gone to heaven? My joints and tendons are so grateful. I wake up in a real bed inside a real house and go to the real bathroom and then get back into the real bed and stretch. I love hiking, I love waking up on the trail, I even love being dirty and hiking 25 miles, but I also love this. Ah. I’m so relaxed and happy. It’s time for two days off.

We’d planned to be ready to go to breakfast by 8, but by the time I become properly awake at 7:30, Petra, Catless, and DLT are largely packed up and waiting. I start to do that thing where I panic because I’m the last one, but they seem pretty chill with me wanting to take another shower (it was such a good shower) and haphazardly shoving everything into my pack. Once I’ve done that, we thank Rae, take a photo outside her house, and walk into town.

We loved Kohnen’s Bakery so much that we go back there for round two. Obviously, I drink another Bundaberg peach soda. I also devour an apple strudel, a bagel with lox and onion, and a coffee. Oh, sweet, sweet zero day. We sit there grazing for a while, chat with a few locals and travelers who see our packs and want to know about the PCT, and then we start moving.

First we drop our packs off at the extremely nice (perhaps by hiker standards?) hotel we’re staying at, then we mosey to the liquor store to check out their offerings. They also have ice cream in a freezer, so obviously I get some, despite not really being hungry. Our plan is to go to the post office after that, but it’s a ways away, so we end up walking through a couple of shops and then finding a Mexican restaurant with beer. We sit there for a while while Petra keeps trying to sort out her phone issue until it’s time to meet the others for lunch.

Petra isn’t a fan of Thai food, so she goes back to the bakery again while DLT, Catless, and I walk to the by-now-infamous Thai Hachapi! *Giggle.* I still can’t get over the quality of that name. We get there first, but Andy, Beetle, and Ishay soon come to join us. We all congratulate Andy on his amazing 50-mile challenge success when we see him. I feel like I’m meeting a celebrity! … or something. The three of them are staying with the trail angel Judy, who seems to have vortexed them into staying two more nights instead of joining us in the hotel. Zelda, who I haven’t seen since the day I caught up to Beetle and Andy, walks in and joins us as well. For lunch I order the green curry, but end up eating bits of everyone else’s food so I can’t finish it. (What kind of hiker am I?) It’s a lively time around the table. I love my hiker trash friends. I love eating with my hiker trash friends in town instead of hiking in the baking hot desert sun. Woo! Just so joyful.

After lunch, Beetle drives us to the post office (this feels so weird to write) in the car that Judy let them borrow. DLT has seven packages to pick up, which tracks with everything about his personality. I send a few postcards by physically handing them to the worker because I don’t trust mailboxes anymore after losing so many of my letters. DLT tries on his new merino sun hoodie right in the middle of the post office next to his huge pile of packages, deciding that the large fits better. Once that’s sorted, Beetle takes us back to town.

We check in at the hotel and absolutely die with delight when we see our hotel room. It’s a suite, with huge, fluffy beds, two massive TV’s, a desk, a little kitchenette, and a couch with a pull-out bed. Oh, yes. I’m going to thoroughly enjoy these two zeroes.

Andy, Beetle, and Ishay come over to hang out for a bit while Morgan from Blaze Physio pays a visit with her golden retriever Honey. Blaze is such a cool service. Morgan, a trained physical therapist, lives in her van with Honey and travels up and down the PCT offering her services to hikers. Payments are made on a sliding scale depending on a hiker’s finances and the severity of their issues. If anyone can’t pay, she offers a “help a hiker” program where trail angels, other hikers, or Morgan herself can make donations to cover the cost. Can all healthcare be like that, please?

Almost all of us have questions to ask her. DLT rolled his ankle just before Acton and wants to make sure that it will get him through the Sierras. Petra has been having persistent heel issues, and Morgan tells her how to tape her feet and which shoes would work best for her (Topo Ultraventures, obviously). I ask about managing my ever-present achilles tightness and arch pain, and she gives me some exercises and stretches. Meanwhile, Honey makes herself right at home by jumping on the beds and snuggling with whoever is right next to her at any given time. Thank you, Morgan and Honey!

Once they leave, DLT, Catless, Petra, and I sprint down to the hot tub and pool. We have it all to ourselves. It is magisterial. I am so relaxed that I almost fall asleep. I switch to the pool, then back to the hot tub. I’m sorry, but this is living.

Around 6:15 Beetle comes back to pick us up and take us to Judy and Dave’s house for Taco Tuesday! In addition to Ishay, Beetle, and Andy, there are a couple of other hikers we know staying there: Frankie, who has been dealing with shin splints, and Fizzy, whom we haven’t seen since early in the trail. Morgan and Honey are here, too, helping Frankie out. It’s great to catch up with everyone and to meet these trail angels we’ve heard so much about!

Andy and I play cornhole in the driveway while we wait for dinner. He obliterates me. What kind of Midwesterner am I? Do they even have cornhole in New Zealand? Unbelievable.

Beetle, amused at my lack of cornhole skills

Soon, Judy calls us inside and we queue up for chicken and beef tacos on corn tortillas with guacamole, cilantro, cheese, three different kinds of salsa, and rice. It is next-level. We eat around a table on the deck while Judy and Dave’s dogs chase Honey around the backyard. It’s one of those simple but deeply meaningful trail moments. We’re just chatting. We’re just eating food. We’re just laughing and sharing the same space for a minute or two and being here together. And that is the simplest and best kind of magic.

Andy and Dolly, one of Judy and Dave’s adorable Aussies

Someone notices that one of the chickens in the coop has hair that looks remarkably similar to DLT’s. This realization puts us all in stitches. I make him go down close to the chickens and take a video. Thoughts? I think they look exactly the same, honestly.

After dinner we play a few more serious rounds of cornhole. I manage to beat DLT (guess they don’t have it in England?). Then we play in teams, and Andy and I just barely beat Fizzy and Morgan. There’s delicious cherry cobbler after that, then we all sit around drinking until it’s 9 and I am just barely staying awake. We thank Judy and Dave for everything, and then Judy drives us back to our hotel. I lay down and pass out almost immediately. Heaven. I’m in heaven.

May 25, 2022 – Zero 2 of 2

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I sleep all the way through the night. The bed is like a cloud. I forgot how pleasant hotel beds can be. I still wake up pretty early, though, and I get ready and head downstairs for the free hotel breakfast around 6:30. As far as complimentary breakfasts go, this one is pretty great. There are biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon, various breads, cereal, and waffles. We sit for a long time grazing on all of it. Then, for a while, I use the hotel computers to take care of some emails, posts, and various other admin I’ve been putting off. It feels weird and amazing to sit at a computer! I don’t exactly miss being on a computer all the time, but it’s nice not to be staring at a tiny screen for a change.

Once I’ve finished that, I go back up to the room, where DLT, Petra, and Catless have their stuff spread out all over the floor. I organize what I have so far for my next resupply, then rinse off my rain gear, backpack, food bag, and cook pot. They don’t exactly get clean, but they’re less dusty than they were before, which feels like a victory. Not long after that, Beetle swings by to pick us up and take us to Walmart for resupply. It’s the only Walmart we’ve been in so far on trail, and while it’s not my favorite experience, it is nice to see somewhat normal prices again instead of the extortionate rates we’ve seen at some of the smaller markets along the way. Obviously, I’m already starving by the end of it, so I pick up some lunch at Subway. Outside, I sit with Andy and Fizzy for a while talking until Beetle comes back with DLT, who walks with me back to our hotel while the rest return to Judy’s.

They were a little hard hit with the Clif bars…

The afternoon consists of a whirlwind of tasks: repackaging and reorganizing resupply, continuing to wash off gear, downloading new audio content, making calls, and so on. I also squeeze in a nail session with some extremely sparkly polish I found in the hiker box at Rae’s. It’s a purply-pink color and I would never buy such a thing in real life, but this is the trail and it was free. Petra hops in and does my right hand, and we have some nice girl time while DLT and Catless are getting drinks a few doors down with Feather Blue. I put on some chill music, crack open a Moose Drool, and feel so relaxed.

Later, I try calling my mom and Wiggs (it’s his birthday!), but they don’t pick up, so I move onto my next assignment for the day: putting toner in DLT’s hair. He’s dying to get the macaroni-yellow color out of it, and he bought this a couple of days ago in hopes that it would mellow it out. I spend the better part of 45 minutes slathering it on. Yellow, be gone!

Meanwhile, Andy is messaging me about dinner at the Airbnb that our “step family” (Spice, Mouse, Fits, Stinger, Mash, and some others) are staying at. I’m torn because I want to hang out with Andy and these folks that I haven’t seen in a minute, but I also really want to get in that hot tub again. I end up deciding to go just for a little while. While I’m waiting for the ride, I call my mom again and we have a little FaceTime session. We haven’t talked in a while and it’s good to catch up, but then Beetle arrives and I hastily end the call. Mom, I promise I’ll call you earlier next time I’m in a town!

Dinner is pizza at the step family’s beautiful Airbnb. We talk about how the last part of the trail has been for us and our plan for getting to Kennedy Meadows. Talking about the Sierras being so close makes it feel real.

Beetle drives me back to the hotel after a little while. When I get there I plan to hit the hot tub again, but it turns out that Petra, DLT, and Catless have already been there without me. When I go down to put my feet in anyway, the door is locked. I am unreasonably crushed. Hot tub is life. But at least I had yesterday.

Sweet watery bliss

There’s a frenetic energy about our packing tonight. We only have a few more days until Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Sierras and the start of what feels so, so big. I lay down to sleep savoring the thick, fluffy bed for one more night knowing that what’s coming is intense and amazing.

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