A 40-Mile Day, Drawn by the Lure of McDonald’s
My feet propel over gritty sand in boisterous strides, as my eyes scan the five feet of visible trail ahead of me. The narrow beam of light produced by my headlamp wavers, dancing with each connection of my foot to the ground. I trust my legs to guide my trajectory through the darkness, a daring feat, as the trail plummets steeply on the right to a creek below. In the past hour I have already had a couple of close calls, one foot losing solid ground and sending a mixture of sand and pebbles tumbling into the canyon. I am flying down the trail, hiking close to four miles an hour. My excitement is pulsating, and regardless of the ravine, I can’t reign myself in.
The miles melt away, as the darkness follows their lead and eases into dawn. The transition is soft and sensual; every day I feel as if I am witnessing something that is not meant for my eyes to behold. Soft light gently brings the foliage around me into focus. Indian paintbrush nods a morning greeting in the barely perceptible breeze, oranges and reds melting together like crayons left on the sidewalk. Purple lupine emit a delicate, sweet fragrance reminiscent of grape-flavored soda. The deep, bass notes of bullfrog bellows reverberate up from the creek nestled far below. I expertly begin descending down a set of switchbacks and a cheerful, rainbow colored bridge comes into view.
“Gay bridge ahead!” I holler back to Serenity, who had fallen 20 paces behind me.
“I’ll meet you there; this poop just came on quick,” Serenity calls back, her tone an undercurrent of urgency.
I turn around and see Serenity in the universal pose symbolizing the time when a person realizes there is a strong possibility of them shitting their pants; legs crossed tight, butthole clenched, teeth gritted, and a sheen of sweat on their forehead and upper lip. I had no idea other people above the age of nine still engaged in this complex display of body configuration other than myself, until I started hiking with Serenity a week ago. I also discovered that we both have a similarly choreographed pee-pee dance and occasionally hold our crotches when the former trick isn’t working to full capacity. All this time I thought I was the only semi-adult left performing these adolescent behaviors. Goonies never say die and hiker trash never grows up.
Ankles Made of Diamonds
Several hours pass by in the meditative trance that is thru-hiking, when miles fade into each other like colors of a rainbow. We arrive at a trail marker projecting from the ground; a flat, brown post with the PCT emblem affixed to the top of it and a white arrow pointing the way below. We have passed multitudes of identical markers, but this one varies slightly from the norm. A note is taped below it, scrawled on a brown paper bag in black marker.
“Coppertone is ahead,” I exclaim, as I quickly scan the note. “Less than a mile away!”
Serenity and I burst into excited chatter revolving around trail magic fantasies while quickening our already efficient pace. Coppertone is a legendary trail angel and PCT alumni who lives out of his van near the trail during peak season, follow the main bubble of thru-hikers. He is know for his never-ending supply of root beer floats, genuine smiles, and wealth of trail knowledge. My surroundings become stagnant as time decelerates to an agonizing crawl, no matter how quickly I put one foot in front of the other. The longest mile of my life reaches into eternity in front of my eyes. Eventually we emerge from the trees and start climbing uphill, a white van parked on a paved road finally in our sights.
“Good morning,” greets a tanned face with an authentic grin. “Come sit down and help yourself to some fruit and cookies.”
“Coppertone!” Serenity and I exclaim in unison like a couple of rehearsed school girls.
“Sounds awesome,” I say. “But we have to set a timer. We are on a mission today.”
“We are attempting our first 40-mile day, all the way into the McDonald’s at Cajon Pass,” Serenity chimes in, “not a shabby start with 13 miles down already and it’s only eight in the morning.”
“How are you feeling so far?” Coppertone asks.
“Like my ankles are made of diamonds,” Serenity claims with a luminescent smile; dirt streaks swirl seamlessly between her dusting of freckles.
We fuel our furnaces with bananas and vanilla cream cookies and chat with Coppertone about fellow hikers who have passed through the last couple of days. Time, being the sneaky mistress of minutes that she is, plays a prank and fast-forwards her arms. Fifteen minutes that feel like seconds whip by and my phone timer beeps. Break is over. Time to hike.
Different Dimensions and Hiker Trash Trolls
A handful of hours later, the trail spits us out in the parking lot of the Mojave Siphon Power Plant. An intimidating barbed wire fence surrounds the perimeter and foul puddles of chemical-riddled muck are scattered about. The air smells like rotten eggs as the high noon sun turns the area into a furnace.The vast parking lot is filled with massive cast-off pieces of equipment; cylindrical, concrete tubes 20 feet high and stacks of abandoned, rusty metal sheeting. I can see the mountains we just traversed framed inside the gigantic, gray tunnels. The juxtaposition of nature and humankind coming to an almost complementary point of joining. It is as if we walked into another dimension and entered an apocalyptic reality. I love that the trail never lacks for surprises or lessons. There is beauty in everything; one just needs to look past society’s lens to see what exists at something’s authentic core.
Soon we outdistance the power plant and are once again thrust into a world consisting of the trail beneath our feet and eternally changing foliage surrounding us. We climb to the top of a ridge and paradise unfolds in the valley below. A large lake nestles intimately between the mountains, hugging their curves and enveloping their bases. The sun reflects on the surface, a myriad of prismatic colors. The distant water is tantalizing; I feel sweat pool in the small of my back, the salt chafing my skin where my backpack rests. My body begs to be immersed in those refreshing waters. We continue in the direction of the lake’s shore, with a light breeze encouraging us on.
Golden Arch Rewards
“Can you smell that,” Serenity questions. “Is that the smell of McDonald’s?”
“Could be,” I reply. “We are only a mile away now. One mile!”
Each step I take the sand talks to me. “French fries,” it whispers. The saliva in my mouth collects until I am forced to evacuate it with a well-formed spit upon the trail. For once it actually lands on the ground and isn’t intercepted by the front of my shirt and face. I am surprised by how much energy I still detect funneling through my body after hiking 40 miles. I feel as if I could hike for hours still, but not at the sacrifice of the opportunity to shove french fries drowned in ranch dressing down my throat.
The sun slowly begins to sink behind the mountains, as we conquer the last half mile before our salty salvation. Sultry shadows fill in the spaces between peaks, creating a mysterious aura around the area. The sky paints itself into an abstract picture of hazy pastels, as the sun declares its goodnight to the world after a long day of work. Although I was aware my 40-mile day would end in the joy of golden arches, somehow I knew that this bonus reward of a golden sunset would be even sweeter.
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