I can’t imagine people telling me what to do – I just can’t imagine it. – Jane Campion
This night turns out to be one of my favorite of the hike. I’m snug as a bug in Big Greenie, thermarest on a tent footprint held down by a row of rocks on all sides. The wind just ruffles the bag a little, even as it sounds like the ocean high in the pines. The stars and city wink at me, the temperature is perfect. No dew, no bugs and it’s so easy making coffee next to my bed in the calm morning.
I set off alone on the steep and narrow ridge, views to Los Angeles on one side, the desert on the other. The trees die beautifully, twisted and expressive, their roots creeping out from under the earth like a dragon’s tail. Mountains unfold below in shades of blue, my spotted elephant skin is back too, gently flattening out into the hazy distance.
All of this is mine this morning, not a soul joins me as I climb up and up, then down across a saddle before finally reaching my highest point at 9,300 feet. I skip the summits because the views all day are stunning everywhere. That means it’s down on switchbacks for over an hour, the tiny strip of road slowly coming closer. I again skip the water source feeling confident I have enough to finish this shorter day. Several day hikers pass me as I come down, excited to bag a peak on this glorious morning. I sip water before crossing the road and heading right back up again.
And right into gnat hell.
I can’t tell you if these are the worst of the hime. I can only attest to them being the worst in this moment, and causing nearly complete meltdown status as I try to walk steeply up and breath through my buff, feeling asthmatic and panicky. They crawl under my sunglasses and smear as I try to wipe them from my face. They land in groups on the lenses, taking a ride nearly to the top. I can hardly see through the Alfred Hitchcock nightmare of black blur and I whimper, only to find that makes breathing close to impossible.
Is that a bit of breeze I feel? Nope. Or if it was, it only encouraged them. I tell myself this is the last gasp, so-to-speak, as my head net awaits in town. But right now, I might as well be wearing a bug net with the bugs intimately inside the net. I go up far too fast finally hitting the crest where indeed air is moving and they disappear. A nightmare, but a short-lived one.
I keep walking fast and furious, kicking and crunching a few pine cones before relaxing and slowing the pace. I meet a few trail junctions as well as a dirt road before spitting out onto a paved road above the crest highway, seemingly hanging in air – and possibly unused. I feel a bit unsure if this is a ‘trail’ just as six Chinese walk towards me, thrilled with this aerie view. We smile and exchange hellos before I see a PCT sign that takes me to a closed visitor center and Inspiration Point, replete with a bench.
The highway is below and a place to hitch into Wrightwood. But a Tuesday means little traffic and the lone SUV passing doesn’t even brake when I stick out my thumb. But the van slows down and I run up with a huge smile as the door slides open on remote. It’s my six Chinese friends! They are happy to bring me down the mountain, one telling me her first American home was Saint Paul.
They drop me at Mountain Hardware, which is actually a hardware store, not a gear manufacturer as I thought. The people are lovely, offering me a picnic table to sort the gear from my boxes – my friend Sarah thoughtfully sent an air mask in case smoke from fires is an issue. The bug net is there, plus shoes and socks and loads of electrolytes. The hardware folks share a list of trail angels and I call Jerry and Kim who invite me to have dinner and stay the night. I resupply for the 90 miles to Big Bear, call home and hang out until they’re home from school and work, then Jerry picks me up to join this super family.
Yes, I have a shower and wash clothes, but the best part is simply being in their company – saying grace, eating Peruvian egg sandwiches, talking about fostering children and what I learned about myself on this trail and simply feeling grounded. Jerry will take me back up the mountain before dawn so I can get a head start on this next part to Big Bear, where I’ll meet a friend I’ve hiked many trails with who will help me bring this one to a close.
I feel so blessed and cared for as I cuddle back in Big Greenie, this time on a mattress in little Nico’s room. My body and spirit is nourished and I am slowly working my feet to the end, and my heart to the beginning.