"Umm... soup? Last year I had a frozen pizza."
This was my answer a week ago when my brain was oversaturated with studying for the RD exam. But now, at last, the exam is over. The culmination of 4 years of studies and practice and debt and finally, I am free! And also, I passed! So not only am I free, but I'm a Registered Dietitian. And as such, I've gotta come up with a more respectable answer for the question regarding my Thanksgiving dinner.
The truth is, last year, I really did have a frozen pizza. It was our first day back to Seattle after returning from the PCT. Mud and I sat in his shack in the rain while the mice scurried frantically, surprised by our return. We savored the last few hours as our trail selves, eating dinner on the ground. But this year! ...it's different. I'm having a real Plantsgiving meal and inviting all three of my friends over to share.
You don't need a dead turkey to have a feast, that's for sure. Here's what's on our menu for tomorrow:
And probably some wine.
For more Plantsgiving inspiration, check out the Forks over Knives menu, including mashed potatoes and gravy, chocolate pumpkin loaf, autumn vegetable stew, rice casserole with lentils and sautéed vegetables, and radicchio salad with cranberry orange dressing. Or try this recipe for vegan stuffing, and this other great menu laid out by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. These also make great Christmas/Solstice/New Years meals. It's a great season to be eating, that's for sure.
The Last Miles
The owner of the only store in Campo agrees to let me park my car there for a few days. There's some shuffling of food and gear and eventually we shoulder our packs and walk to the road. Within 45 seconds, a local man pulls over and the three of us pile in. He drops us at an intersection only 11 miles from Mount Laguna and we wait here, hopeful that our good luck continues. Fifteen minutes later, still waiting, we decide it's time to activate the crystal again. Huck pulls it from the mesh of his pack and presses the center button, shaped like a 3, or a 5? We're not sure. Moments later, another pickup truck pulls over and we're shuttled all the way to our destination! Huck thought Harpo was crazy the first time she pulled out a crystal for good luck, but now he is a true believer. Charge it with love and positive energy and it will help you when you need it most.
This time, the crystal lands us at the gear shop in Mount Laguna where we find replacements for all the ultralight gear we've worn out over hundreds of miles. It knew just what we needed! Darkness falls and we amble off into the woods to stealth camp in the trees behind the campground. Tomorrow, we will find the others.
It's a lovely walk through pine forests and short manzanitas with views expanding toward the desert below. After only a mile of walking north, we see two characters coming towards us on the trail. Harpo and Groucho! They look at us with surprise and confusion. Sprout dances merrily at their arrival and I explain to them that we're here for good. For the last 42 miles to the border, that is.
"You mean you missed us??" Says Harpo.
"Yeah..." Huck nods and smiles. The three of them have been hiking together since Oregon.
Twinless and Future Dad have a similar reaction when they see us, though they ask far fewer questions. They have town food on their mind.
With full bellies we all hit the trail together. Sprout and I feel similarly - it's great to be back with the pack! The boys pull ahead in the evening and I get some much needed girl time in the back with Harpo. Darkness falls, creatures begin to rustle in the bushes, Sprout walks nervously behind me.
We catch up to the boys and are told that Huck saw two beady eyes peering at him from behind a tree, just a few yards back. He thinks we're being followed.
"Cougars, there's been a sighting nearby." We remember the camp host telling us just as we set out into the night.
It's not long before we stop to camp, hoping we've walked enough to be out of cougar territory.
The numbers on our maps get smaller and smaller as we progress south on the trail. Forty two, thirty one, twenty five, nineteen... Nineteen miles from the border and we're sitting at a picnic table, drinking beers at Lake Morena campground. Huck plays flashcards with me, Sprout lies down on a piece of tyveck and doesn't move for 3 hours. Future Dad drinks some sort of bright yellow alcoholic energy drink and sputters drunkenly across the table.
"I ate my last hamburger. I've been a vegetarian now for..... 12 hours now! Remember that time I had the vegetarian Calzone? Tell the others, tell them!" He says. I made the gang watch Cowspiracy a few weeks ago and Future Dad is still thinking about it. So is Huck, though he will resist changing until the last possible second. Having 3 vegans around is making the others start to think....
We walk on through the rolling lowlands. I see my past self, remembering with each step. Here, I was happy. Here, I was sad. Here, it started raining. Here I am again. How did this even happen? I set out on what I thought was a solo, 3-week section hike thru the high Sierra and am still walking, 2 months later, with a group of friends I met the very first day. I got swept away by the magic of the trail and these smiling faces. Looking back, I could sense this was coming all along, that life was on the precipice of change and the PCT would be a catalyst. And now, here I am.
The desert has some sort of crazy spell on me. As though I've always been here and always will be. Each mile is simply and arbitrary marker of time, and there is always one more. Part of me never left; I've been walking forever. The landscape strikes a chord deep within, the earth vibrates louder. I reach out to touch it, grasping for something, hoping I can hold on.
But I can't.
It's not long before we've hiked the very last mile and find ourselves at the monument marking the Southern Terminus. The sun is high in the sky. Future Dad sings the song he wrote, Groucho pops champagne, Huck tries to leave prematurely and we all do headstands. Harpo and Groucho have mysteriously arranged for 'Wrong Way Gang' t-shirts to be made and Harpo's cousin pulls them out of a bag for us. We are bright, shiny and clean in these neon shirts. Taking pictures and signing the register.
And then, suddenly, we break and go separate directions. First by threes, then by twos, and now I am just one. Back in a world where I sit on a couch, watch the rain fall outside my window and hold a real mug in my hand. Soaking in the wet, grays and greens of the northwest, dreaming of desert sun...
My Heart is Pulled in So Many Directions
Harpo and Groucho don't believe I'll go home when I tell them I'm thinking about it. For good reason. I've already left and come back twice now. But they say goodbye anyway and leave gifts in my car when Huck takes it to drop them off at the trailhead. Then we drive into San Bernardino to retrieve Twinless from her time away at a wedding and the three of us spend another cozy evening in town. In the morning, Twinless hits the trail and all the hikers are hiking except Huck and me.
We get the room for another night and I make immense progress sitting on the bed of our mountain motel. New flashcards pile up beside me, one after the other. Huck stares at his phone for hours on end with the attention span of a scholar. This is what a true zero should be like, he says. In the evening, it starts to rain and hail. Our friends are huddled and shivering under their tarps in the desert while we are merely inconvenienced by the fact that the patter on the roof makes it harder for us to hear the movie we're watching.
Three days in Idyllwild leave me feeling slightly more grounded and I realize that Harpo and Groucho were right, I can't leave yet. But one thing is for sure, I'm not setting foot in another coffee shop. I hatch up all kinds of plans, mostly involving leaving my car and hitchhiking to some place where I can hike to the border with Sprout and maybe meet up with my friends again. But my friends aren't even together. One is here, the others are there. What's a girl to do?
I pack my bag with 4 days of food, not knowing exactly where I'll hike, but knowing it's going to happen. Huck agrees that we're in this together and we start a hitchhiking/hiking adventure. Sprout is put on a sled dog schedule, as per Huck's recommendations - hiking hard for 5 hours in the morning, resting for 4 hours in the afternoon, and then 5 more hours of walking in the evening. He gets fish powder in his kibble and tuna packets as supplements, eats right away when the day is done and then curls right up to go to sleep. Ready again for the next day. His muscles begin to bulge. He is a walking machine.
Meanwhile, Huck and I are on our own without the group which feels both strange and comfortable at the same time. Like Sprout, constantly looking back on the trail to make sure everyone is together, I find myself just waiting to see Harpo, Groucho, Twinless or Future Dad around the next bend. But alas, I see no one. At the end of the day we reach Barrel Springs where I remember sitting with Mud last year, drinking water in the heat. My heart is pulled in so many directions.
"Are you good?" Huck asks, when I'm unable to even participate in a conversation about tomorrow. Luckily, I have a little whiskey left in a plastic bottle in my pack. So yeah, I'm good.. I tell him.
In the morning we walk 8 miles to a road and have to hitch back to the car to get more dog food, as we miscalculated how much Sprout would eat. Huck activates his crystal, which gives us positive hitching-vibes every time. We're picked up by a nervous man pulling a trailer with his giant pick-up truck. The man realizes he's driving the wrong direction after we've been in the car only a few minutes and is unsure what to do. Huck convinces him not to turn around, but rather, take an alternate route. Luckily, the alternate route takes us exactly where we need to go.
"Where do you think the others are?" Huck asks once we're back at the car.
"You want to join them?!" I reply excitedly.
"I just wanted to see how you'd react..." Huck says. He knows I want us all together, and he's about to give in... I can tell.
"They're probably getting to Mount Laguna tomorrow. We could go there..."
"Okay, let's go."
And just like that, we're off to find the gang!
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