Day Twenty Three

Miles today: 19
Total miles: 347

We got up at 5, just as everyone was stirring in the picnic area. We were all motivated to get to McDonald's, or "Macca's," as Focus called it (apparently Aussies abbreviate everything) in time for second breakfast. I was excited, too, because lately my hiker appetite has kicked in and I have been getting hungry every few hours, which has given me much more energy for hiking. I had no doubt I could demolish some food at McDonalds if I tried.

It was amazing how everyone else had this same thought, too. Tell a group of thru hikers there's a McDonalds 15 miles away, and that breakfast ends at 10:30, and damn if you won't have a motivated group of people on your hands. 5 am and we were ready to go.

We cruised around some pretty hills this morning. We were quickly joined by the group we have started referring to as the "Chain Gang," since they all hike in a long, single-file line at the same pace: Focus, Dog, Sweet Tooth, Boulder, Scooter, Buffalo, Sunshine, and Dance Party. We laughed over Sunshine's ridiculously neon hat he found in town and the thrift store throw pillows that he and Dog had been showing off last night. Dog's has tassels and Sunshine's has some stitched quote on it about protecting the next generation. 

We climbed to the top of a series of hills and then came to the downhill section. Dog immediately took off and Sweet Tooth sighed,
"Aaaaand Dog is running again..."
We saw Dog's head disappear down the trail and heard his voice calling back to us from over the hill: "McDonaaaaaaaaalds!"
We didn't see him after that, but every few miles we found messages in the dirt that he left for us:
"Big Mac." 
And "Happy Meal."
And "McFlurry."

We were so excited about food that we were making great time. Katie and I hiked with Focus for a bit, when suddenly he checked the time and asked, "what time does breakfast end?"
"10:30," we said.
"Hmm," he mused. "One hour. Make it for breakfast, or hike with lovely ladies?" He only paused a second before saying, "sorry ladies, I'm sure you understand!" And he took off, too.

The last few miles were surprisingly beautiful, especially this close to an interstate, but we hardly looked at the views because we were trying so hard to get to food. We covered the 15 miles in five hours, arriving just after the breakfast menu ended, but hiking our fastest time yet.

It was weird being so close to an interstate after so long in the woods. Everything was moving so fast. And the McDonalds itself was a shock to the senses. I couldn't believe how packed it was, both by tourists and thru hikers alike. We learned that we were on Highway 15, which runs directly to Las Vegas in less than 2 hours. It explained all the girls in sequined tops and heels. I'm sure they were baffled by this influx of dirty kids in giant packs and huge appetites.

Left to right: Lunchbox, Honey Bunny, Papa Bear

Focus and Dog were already there and elbow-deep in food. They were having a calorie contest, and so far Dog was winning with 3,050. It was fun knowing we could eat whatever we liked, because we had already hiked 15 miles before 11 am and had been burning anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 calories per day. What was everyone else's excuse?

I ordered a chicken sandwich and didn't complain when they gave me two. I ate them both, plus fries, plus two drinks, plus a McFlurry, and promptly went into a food coma. Meanwhile, Dog bested us all by reaching 4,300 calories. While the rest of us were sleepy from the sudden intake of food, Dog was acting loopy.
"Dude," Focus laughed, "are you... fast food drunk??"
"I might be!" Dog laughed.
"That's it," Focus said, "no more calories for you. I'm cutting you off until you sober up!"

We stayed at McDonalds for four hours, alternately people watching and going back for more food. By 3:00 pm we knew we had to hike on to find a camp spot before dark. There was a water cache five miles out, so we slowly climbed over the beautiful Cajon Pass and then a series of hills to get there. The weather was growing windy and overcast, but the forecast didn't predict rain, just a low lying fog.

Cajon Pass

The water cache had lawn chairs near it and some flat areas for camping. We ended up with the largest group of campers that we have stayed with in a while, over twenty people! The Chain Gang was there, plus Papa Bear, Rotisserie, Coincidence, Lunchbox, and a few new faces such as Shangri-la, Ya-Ya, St. Alfonzo, and Pony.

We squished in the lawn chairs and made dinner as we chatted. I sat with Dance Party, Focus, and two others, though the lawn chair behind me only had Dog and Sunshine on it. When we asked why they were sitting alone, Dog said, "this is the nerd bench."
A little while later we got on the topic of Star Wars and Dog mentioned that he had never seen it.
"WHAT!" I said.
"Get off the nerd bench!!" Pony yelled.

The water cache cabinet also had a stack of loaner books in it, among which we found a Choose Your Own Adventure book and a saucy romance novel. At one point Focus picked up the romance novel and began reading aloud from the middle, altering his Australian accent to a twangy American when he read the voices. Pretty soon everyone had fallen silent and when he looked up and asked, "err... Should I stop?" We all laughed and yelled, "No!!"

"It's because of the accent," Dog advised. "Anything you say sounds better, Focus. When anyone else makes a comment in the future, I'm just gonna have you repeat it."

Dog and Sunshine kept us amused for most of the evening. The two of them have very animated personalities and their antics usually had us cracking up. We joked that if there was a photo of all of us and a stranger was asked "which one is Sunshine?" It would be an easy guess. Not only that, but everything he owned was neon green or yellow, so he stood out like a sunbeam. At one point we were passing around treats from our food bags and Dog was sharing gummy worms. When he passed them to Sunshine, Sunshine's eyes lit up and he began shrieking in high pitched squeals like a little girl. Such small things make us so happy sometimes.

Left to right: St. Alfonzo, Buffalo, Sweet Tooth, Dog, Lunchbox (behind), Pony

Left to right: Sunshine, Lunchbox, Buffalo

It was hard to say goodnight when surrounded by good friends, but we had a long day of climbing tomorrow and it was time for bed.