The Gantlet of Goodness

It’s Wednesday and I am writing on a computer again. In the world of free form in which I am living, I find this regularity suspicious. I imagine it won’t be kept up as the sections ahead are longer and more remote.

The last section was truly a gantlet. Although I still managed to maintain some solitude on the trail, the early section of the Mojave desert is a real social bottle-neck for thru-hikers. This is where friends lost miles back are reunited, groups are shuffled and new friendships are born. It takes the form of a series of must-stops. First there is a KAO with a pool and seemingly endless ice cream. 10 miles later, we hit the Sauffleys, 25 miles later, the Andersons, a day and a half later, Hiker Town, and sometimes, if one is as lucky as I am, there is trail magic on the way, in the form of a fancy dinner delivered to the trail.

The Sauffleys and Andersons are two trail angel couples who have for over 10 years opened their house to thru-hikers. The Sauffleys’ place is known as Hiker Heaven; the Andersons’ as Casa de Luna. The generosity of both couples surpasses what I could even describe here. In both places we are spoiled spoiled spoiled rotten, although in very different way. Both are necessary and complement each other. Hiker Heaven is run like a well oiled taking-care-of-hiker-business machine. In no time, my laundry was done, my resupply taken care of, packages received, packages sent, trips to the store and to REI accomplished. Hiker and pack content are cleaned, repaired, put back in working order and sent back to the trail rejuvenated. There is a two nights maximum stay at Hiker Heaven. We are provided individual cots, organized in rows under white shelter tents, one per person, first-come first-served, for a maximum of 50 hikers. We were maxed out both night I was there. 25 miles later, Casa de Luna is not run like a well-oiled machine at all, and that is what is most delightful about it. At Casa de Luna, we get hugged, fed and entertained.  Most hikers spend idle days lounging in large haphazard sofas, sipping beers and chatting with other hikers under a giant sign that says “Hippy Day Care”. Those of us who are more of the restless kind (like me) can hula hoop, swing under trees, play in hammocks, ride in a wheel-barrel or mosey on to the art table and paint rocks. Whereas Donna Sauffley greets hikers with an all-important updated water report for the dry section ahead and a list of chores she can accomplish, Terrie Anderson greets us with drinks and laugher and a monstrous and delicious taco salad. At Casa de Luna, you WILL get mooned, and likely motor-boated too. If you fall asleep early, you will get written on with permanent marker. Donna wears efficient khakis and a short practical haircut. Terrie walks around in a full body length leopard print coat over an apron that looks like a naked woman and currently has a self-titled “carpet muncher pink Mohawk” . There is a two night minimum stay at Casa de Luna, and no hiker gets turned away. The sleeping accommodation are patches of flatten dirt in an enchanted-looking manzanita forest. Every night, Terrie cooks taco salad; every morning her husband Joe cooks pancakes. I am not quite sure on the math, but we were at least 60 hikers the first morning I spent at Casa de Luna. I had three pancakes, but I’m rather small and men have been loosing more weight on the trail that they can compensate for. I’m estimating 4 pancake per person on average. That is a LOT of pancakes! I had such a wonderful time at both Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna. I felt I needed to spend an equal amount at each place to have my yin-yang balance in equilibrium. That is how I was off-trail for almost 4 days, in addition to all the half-days I’ve been taking in between. My only regret in leaving the gantlet was to miss out on chocolate wrestling, which happened on Saturday at Casa de Luna, but by then I was back on the trail. The appeal of “civilization” is only apparent when I’m in it. As soon as I get back on the trail, I seem to lose any interest in ever getting off of it again.

Past the Gantlet of Goodness is the Mojave desert. At last! Other thru-hikers fear it, avoid it, hike it at night, but this is the section I had been so looking forward to. Some true desert time. I relished every step of it and purposely reduced my miles per day to maximize my time in it. It is dry, hot, barren. There are coyotes, lizards, jack-rabbits (some hikers also saw a bobcat mom and kittens, but unfortunately I didn’t). The Mojave is flat, open and infinite and I loved it. The heat doesn’t seem to affect me like others. In fact, I come alive above 90 and am good until about 110. Some of my friends looked rather fried. One started to smell like ammonia because at some point under extreme duress the body will start eating itself. Others were flirting with heat exhaustion or overall not hiking so well. We all made it out safely as far as I know.

The Mojave wasn’t all about the heat though. The first night out of Casa de Luna, I was snowed on. Since I don’t carry a tent and the bivy bag I am currently borrowing is the Minimalist, which is rather thin (and light), I had to make a shelter by rigging my rain-poncho onto This and That (my hiking poles). I hid in this small space until the storm passed. It made me giggle. I really like extreme weather. It’s not so much about the heat or the cold, it’s about being pushed past a comfort zone and finding out that I am just fine and happy regardless. That is what makes me feel most alive. The next morning was pleasantly cool by some other hikers accounts. I’d have none of it. I stayed in my sleeping back until 10 am that day. Usually I am already walking by sunrise. In fact, that day I walked 5 miles and took a 40 minute nap, then passed the 500 mile marker – yay! – sat down and played the harmonica for a while. I probably would have done a 8 mile day if it weren’t for Shameless and Tickled Pink catching up to me then.

Me: Why is your name Tickled Pink?
TP: Because I’m always happy.
Me: Always? No one is always happy. Even I, out of 37 days on the trail have had two sad days. Today is one of them.
TP: Oh no! I’m sorry … Have you tried push ups?
Me: No, I haven’t. [I tried it. After about 7 I did start laughing at the silliness of the suggestion].
Shameless: There. That worked. You should hike with us. I sing loud songs and he has flatulence.

I did, and it was fun, and there were loud songs and flatulence as promised. I left Shameless and Tickled Pink at mile 14 for that day, when I ran into Weather Carrot, Owl and Orbit doing trail work. They invited me to an Indian dinner, complete with naan, rice, saag paneer, desert and after-dinner tea. It was lovely trail magic!

There is much more, as always, I could write, but my laundry is done and I’ve been hanging out in the lobby wrapped in my cape for the past hour, so I think I’ll get dressed and head back out to the trail. Last night I ate my own weight in sushi and went to see a movie in a theater. I think I’ve extracted enough slacking out of this town.

Love to you all!

XOXO – The Bobcat.

 

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One thought on “The Gantlet of Goodness

  1. psh, there is no such thing as “enough slacking!!” 😀 happy trails crazy lady! hope to see you again soon. i’ll be night-hiking the next few days so i can carry less water. if you see a bouncing headlamp at night, it’ll probably be me. lol. aloha! xoxo

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