Check it out.
We are sitting in a line on a Therm-a-Rest foam pad: Cheese Slice, myself, Magnet, and Tosser. Our heads are tilted up and we are drinking in the stars like water. The sixteen-mile section from Pioneer Mail Trailhead at mile 52 was long, dry, exposed, rocky, hot, and behind us. In front of us are a constellation of tents, silhouetted with the red and white glow of headlamps. It is a quiet, warm night, and Cheese Slice has just nestled his Martin backpackers guitar next to his sleeping bag, the melodies of dusk now swept away in the still desert night.
It is the end of my sixth day on the PCT, April 10th, and I am drinking stars with people I just met the night before. People who, at the time, don’t know my first name. People from different corners of the country. People who are giggling like idiots and swaying back and forth like yuccas in a breeze.
We’ve just discovered a new constellation: a tiny triangular cluster of stars resembles a head reaching out to another small cluster which could—arguably—resemble apples. A string of stars appears to be a long neck and the boxy body below is only missing brown spots and yellow-ocher fur.
“Check it out,” I say, choking down snorts and giggles. “Does anyone else see a giraffe there?”
Maybe it’s the altitude. Maybe it’s the desert heat. (It’s probably something else and I think you can guess what it is.) Maybe you had to be there. Somehow, I have managed to find three people who agree with such a ridiculous observation, whispered in half-irony. I am expecting a response of playful chastisement, maybe a suggestion that it’s time to go to bed. Instead, the serene mood which covered our camp just a minute ago has dissolved into carbonated laughter as we bask in this innocent stupidity, trying hard not to wake those who have switched off their headlamps.
It is well past hiker-midnight.
The giggles fizzle out into contented sighs and we continue to drink the stars—the real constellations: Orion. The Pleiades. The Big Dipper. I can’t speak for my newfound tramily, but it has been a while since I’ve laughed like that with other people. The days leading up to the PCT have been mostly quiet, mostly lonely, mostly inside. Tonight, we are outside and free. After a year that seemed to stop time altogether, we are breathing in every precious second as if they were extra calories.
I am still in awe, this starry night on Rodriguez Road, at how quickly I have bonded with the people sitting next to me. As I write this, they are approaching their hundredth mile and I am waiting to go home to receive my second dose of the COVID vaccine. We spend one more starry night together at Stagecoach RV Park, after a day of pie and barbecue in Julian, before I hitch back into Julian and the others continue up the steep switchbacks just above Scissors Crossing, on the way to Warner Springs.
We are not alone.
I have not been alone since I stepped foot on the PCT on Sunday, April 4th. Easter Sunday, to some. A day symbolizing rebirth and new beginnings. A day when snakes come out of their holes to warm their scales and people are coming out of their homes to take back stolen time. Every day I have met someone new—trail angels at Lake Morena, a grandfather at Mt. Laguna, a Dutch couple from Curaçao, twenty-somethings and sixty-somethings, friends for just the afternoon, friends for just a couple miles—and only once, the first night at mile 8.8, did I camp alone.
There are many more days and nights ahead, and I hope that with some luck I can catch up to Magnet, Tosser, and Cheese Slice, but in the meantime, I cannot wait to toast the end of all those other nights with cool glasses of stars with people just like me, with dirty legs walking north, with the ancient constellations, and of course, with the Star Giraffe, who guides us all, like it or not, through this strange and dusty land.
My name is Ghost.
Welcome to my blog.
“Walk slowly; drink lots of water.”
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