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...
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