Day Ninety Nine

Today's miles: 27
Total miles: 2078

Treekiller and I left camp earlier than everyone else this morning. We were only three miles away from Ollalie Lake Resort, and we hoped to take a break and get some food there. As it turned out, the resort was very small, consisting of a boat dock, some small cabins, and one tiny general store which had a very small selection of snacks. Still, it didn't stop TK and I from buying our favorite junk foods: chocolate pies, chips, candy bars and a Coca-Cola for Treekiller, which he called a "Cl-assic" in his nasal Michigan accent. After polishing off the treats, we looked at the nutrition facts and Treekiller proudly announced that he had just eaten over 2,000 calories before 9 in the morning.

By the time Sunshine, Sneaks, Dingo, Mudd and Coincidence caught up to us, it had started sprinkling. We sat on the porch of the general store until it stopped and then hiked out, geared up in our rain jackets and pack covers. I wasn't carrying a pack cover, since it had barely rained throughout California, so I tucked my valuables in my waterproof bags and covered the rest in trash bags. I made a mental note to pick up more rain gear in Portland.

We signed the PCT register before leaving, noting with surprise that Wocka and Giddyup had spent the night here last night! Since TK and I had arrived at 8:30, they must have gotten a head start this morning. It was good to hear they were only three miles ahead of us.

As we walked, the sky opened up again and it began pouring. It was a strange storm, for there wasn't any lightning this time, and the sky was mostly sunny, but it was pouring, nonetheless. We hiked through it until it let up, and then shook out our rain gear and hung it on the back of our packs to dry. As long as there were periods of rain followed by sun, bad weather wasn't really so bad.

Today's hiking was much easier. We heard that the next forty miles were quite flat, so we hoped to cover some good ground in the next two days. Our line of hikers spread out into our usual pace-configurations: Mudd and Dingo, followed by Sneaks and Coincidence, followed by me, then Treekiller, then Sunshine. After twelve miles I caught up with Sneaks and Coincidence, who were taking a lunch break next to a small water source. They were taking advantage of a small patch of sun and trying to dry out their gear. They said Mudd and Dingo had gone ahead; they were trying to hike fast today and see if they could catch up with Wocka and Giddyup. Sneaks had resolved to give up his prank to surprise them, and was now just worried we wouldn't catch them at all.

Treekiller and Sunshine arrived afterward, and the five of us enjoyed a long, relaxing lunch break. Today's wet weather called for a warm lunch, so I took the time to boil some water and make a hot meal.
As we ate, we reminisced about the beginnings of our journey. I told the story of meeting Coincidence on my very first day of hiking - he was the only person we had seen at the border, known then as "Josh from Sacramento." Coincidence, in turn, said he met Sneaks on his third day, hiking out of Lake Morena.
"I learned you were a 2009 AT Thru-Hiker," Coincidence said, "so I figured I had to step up my game so you wouldn't think I was slowing you down."
"Meanwhile," laughed Sneaks, "I was thinking, what the hell is this guy doing, hiking so fast?!
I was hungover and running on no sleep and trying to keep up with you all day!"
We all laughed, remembering those first few days in the desert.
"Do you remember how long that first day of hiking felt like?" I asked. "Honey Bunny and I left Lake Morena at 8:00 am, really stupid, and it felt like the longest, hottest, driest, day of all time. And really, I don't think we did more than 14 or 15 miles that day!"
"And now we do fifteen miles by lunch!" Treekiller laughed.
"The desert seems like so long ago," I said. "Like another lifetime."
As we talked about days past, I realized how many memories we had to share. At home, and in "real" life, time seems to pass so quickly that we barely remember what we had for lunch yesterday. One day blends into another, and each day tells the same story. But on trail, each day has so many memories, so many distinct landscapes, so many different friends to joke with, different miles to be covered, different challenges to overcome, that one day can feel like a week. A week can feel like a month has passed. A month feels like a year. And four months... thinking back to the beginning of our journey... it was a lifetime ago. In so little time we had embraced a lifetime of memories and experiences; just remembering them was humbling in so many ways. Time truly passes differently out on trail.

After an hour eating warm food and sharing good company, we packed up our dry gear and hiked onward in our usual formation. The call of nature usually takes hold of everyone an hour or two after lunch, and so our formation shuffled and changed as, one by one, we left our packs and went to dig in the woods.
"The poop monster got another one!!" we liked to joke as we passed another lonely pack sitting against a tree beside the trail.
Usually we can keep track of who is in front of whom by tallying up whose packs we've passed, but when I left mine beside the trail, Treekiller cruised by without noticing and thus created a frustrating scenario for the rest of the day.

I hiked on my own for most of the afternoon, mentally noting that I had passed Sunshine but was behind Sneaks, Coincidence and Treekiller. When I caught Sneaks and Coincidence taking a snack break, they looked visibly startled to see me.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"We thought you were ahead of us," Sneaks said. "Treekiller thinks so, too. He wouldn't stop because he said he was trying to catch up to you."
"Oh, great," I groaned. "Did he not see my pack when he passed? Ok, I'll try and catch him."
And so I walked faster down the trail, trying to catch up to Treekiller. He must have been in the zone today, though, because as fast as I went, I didn't see him.
Surely he'll take a break, soon? I kept thinking. But I got hungry long before I found him, so I ended up taking my own snack break and waiting for the others to catch up. When they did, we discovered a note on trail that Mudd and Dingo had left behind. It read: We still have seen no sign of Wocka and Giddyup. We're going to push on another eleven miles and hope to catch them. See you there!
"Eleven miles!" Sneaks groaned. It was further than we had anticipated going today.
"I can't believe they haven't found Wocka and Giddyup yet," I said. "Weren't they only three miles ahead? Surely they would have caught them on break at some point?"
"Yeah, and I keep asking the southbounders if they've seen two male-female pairs of hikers ahead and they keep saying they're not too far apart," Sneaks said.
Coincidence snapped his fingers. "It's a prank!" he said. "I bet Mudd and Dingo already caught up to Wocka and Giddyup and now they are trying to surprise us."
"I bet that's exactly it," Sneaks agreed.
Sunshine groaned loudly. "This is getting ridiculous. If we only had cell phone service, this whole game would have been over five days ago!"
But that was the frustration of the PCT: having to utilize notes on trail and word of mouth to try and contact friends miles apart, both of which were highly inefficient.
"And Treekiller is still ahead," I pointed out. "I don't know how far he's expecting to go."
"We better push on, then."
By the time 5:00 rolled around, we had covered 23 miles and had still seen no sign of Mudd, Dingo, Wocka, Giddyup or Treekiller, except for his name scratched in the dirt now and again, TK was here.

Sneaks, Coincidence, Sunshine and I paused beside a river and a nice campground, trying to decide what to do. It was too early to stop hiking, but our next campsite on the map was too far away to reach tonight. We would have to keep going and hope that we'd find something in between that would hold an unknown number of tents. We had dinner by the river and at 6:00 we climbed onward.

The trail was unexpectedly rough. It climbed very steadily, and not very forgivingly, for the next two miles. It took me an hour to cover the distance, grumbling and doing my best to keep up with Coincidence and Sneaks, who quickly pulled ahead of me. We were deep in forest growth and as the sun set, the darkness settled in even darker beneath the trees. Even worse: there was so much undergrowth and the trail was so narrow that it was nearly impossible to camp anywhere in the vicinity. We had no choice but to keep climbing. Sunshine fell behind me as I raced to keep up with the others. I was angry and frustrated by the situation, and as it grew darker and darker I contemplated just setting up my tent on trail. How far were Coincidence and Sneaks going? How late would they hike? Would we catch up to the others, or was it a lost cause? If only we could talk to each other this whole problem would be solved.

But we couldn't. And so we hiked on.

Another hour passed. I had to dig my headlamp out of my pack. I hadn't seen anyone else since we left the last camp, and I worried that I wouldn't again. The trail had leveled out, finally, but it was still overgrown and left no room for even a single tent.
By the time 8:30 rolled around, I made up my mind to pick the next flattest spot I could find, set up camp, and wait for Sunshine to catch me. But just as I was losing hope, I heard voices around the bend. A lot of voices. I went a few steps further to a large clearing beside the trail, and I saw: Coincidence. Sneaks. Mudd. Dingo. Treekiller. Wocka and Giddyup!
I dropped my pack, dumbfounded, and cried, "God, finally!!"
I gave everyone hugs and set up my tent with obvious relief. A few minutes later Sunshine reached camp and had a similar reaction: "YES!! THIS HORRIBLE GAME IS FINALLY OVER!" he cried. "All day long it's been nothing but confusion! I've been chasing Brambles, who has been chasing Sneaks and Coincidence, who have been chasing Treekiller, who thinks he is chasing Brambles but is actually chasing Mudd and Dingo, who are chasing Wocka and Giddyup, who think they are chasing EVERYONE ELSE!!"
We laughed, for it was true this had been the game for several days, and we were all relieved that it was finally over.

As we sat and talked, we learned the whole story: that Wocka and Giddyup had spent the night at Ollalie Lake last night. That Mudd and Dingo had caught them early in the afternoon and they had left a prank note behind. That Treekiller had practically walked all day trying to catch me when really I was behind him the whole time. (I always wait for you at breaks! Surely you know that! I told him. I know, I was just in the zone; I couldn't stop, he said.) That the three of them caught up to each other and got to this campsite two hours ago. That they had considered going further but decided it was finally time to let everyone catch up. And so we came together as a group at last, though we had been no more than five miles apart the whole week.

And so we went to bed, our feet aching with twenty seven miles, but glad to be together at last.