Part One: The Aqueduct
Short shrubs gradually encroach on the dirt road I'm driving until there are just two strips of sandy brown in a sea of prickly green plants. This is fine, I still have the dirt strips. My car can do this. Until the strips become washed out into a large ditch. There's no way I can get through that in my low-clearance hatchback. My heart is pounding and I feel the extra boost of cortisol circulating fast through my blood. I am literally in the middle of the desert and the road has disappeared. How did I get into this mess?! I trusted google maps, against my better judgment. That's how. These 'roads' are not actually roads, even though they have real names and a real line on the map. Plus, I know there's an easier way to get to the LA aqueduct to meet my friends. I remember from last year.
I get out of the car and so does Sprout. I can see from where I walk that if I cross this ditch successfully there is a smooth dirt road that I can intersect just a few yards after. I just have to get through. But how? My only solace is knowing that my friends are just a few miles away with cell phone reception and if I really screw this up, maybe Huck can get my car unstuck. He's good at that.
I make a plan. Go around the ditch, plow over all the bushes where they are the shortest, and intersect the next road. Sprout hops back in the car with his tail between his legs, sensing my worry. And then I go for it. There's scratching and scraping and bumping as I progress a few more yards. Then the bushes are too much and the car spins out in the soft dirt. This won't work. So I back up a little, point the car diagonally toward the ditch and have to go straight through. Ready, set, go! I release the clutch and gun the gas. Bump crash scrape. And we did it! Sprout looks terrified in the back seat, but now we're on the smooth dirt. Oh, my Toyota Matrix. It has gotten me through so much.
I find the aqueduct and park, ready to walk off the stress. My hands are still shaking. A text from Harpo tells me they are three miles up the trail, so I shove some snacks in my pockets and start jogging towards them.
After an hour they see my silhouette in the distance just as the sun has finished its descent.
"There's a hiker up ahead, who is that?" I hear one of them say.
"That'd be crazy if it were Bug" says another.
Sprout stares at them cautiously with perked ears and a tilted head. Soon I can't contain myself anymore and sprint toward them with open arms. Sprout follows. Harpo, the only one who knew I was coming, is ready to receive my hug.
"BUG!" The others are shocked at my return. I get so many hugs and smiles and Sprout runs in circles, greeting each person with a sniff and tail/butt wag.
What the heck! They say. I can't believe you're here! They tell me. It's not long before they want to know why, exactly, am I here?
Well, it's complicated. You see, I was all packed up to start the long drive back to Seattle from the Bay Area. It's the responsible thing to do, I told myself. I have to study for the RD exam and I can only do that in Seattle, right? Yet the question remained - what would happen if I stayed with the Wrong Way Gang for a little while longer? Is it really time to leave this adventure? It was a classic case of head versus heart. My head making excuse after excuse as to why I needed to go North. The argument continued as I pulled out of my brother's driveway at 5 am. I found myself in Starbucks buying coffee, still unsure about which direction to drive. North, north, north! Said the head. South! Said the heart. Finally I broke into tears and had to hide in the bathroom.
I could go south? I say. And the tears stop. Yes. I should go south! And so it was decided.
After telling my story I am regaled with Wrong Way Gang stories of naked hiking, accidental SOS messages and of course, the one point poo, as they continue their double marathon of a day. It's great to be back.
"Bug, you haven't stopped smiling this whole time." Future Dad informs me after we've been walking well into the night.
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