Day 9
Miles: 12
Agua caliente spring to trail angel Mike’s house

I don’t know if the tarp saved us from dew last night, but it caught five big bird bombs for us, and all on my side. I’ll chalk that up for a win.

The area where we camped is basically a poison oak farm, and hiking out of the Agua Caliente valley is a poison oak gauntlet. I’m leading the way, and my morning conversation with J consists nearly entirely of poison oak alerts: “left side… right side…right side, left side, both sides! Both sides!” We spend some time speculating on why, if it’s poisonous, is it also camouflaged? All the sidling and ducking aggravates my wonky knee.

My knee may be feeling a bit wobbly, but my feet feel almost new. I put my old gel insoles into my new capacious kicks and I’m feeling strong. J and I go blasting up the hill faster than even the first day. We get five miles in before it all catches up with us and we collapse on the side of the trail. My knee has gone all hollow inside, J thinks he’s pulled his groin, my feet hurt, his feet hurt… back to normal. We settle back into our usual limp/trudge and it carries us, slow and reliably, in and around every hill.

One, two, three, we traverse across the green carpeted hills. Out of the creek valley it’s all scrub, densely grown together but nothing higher than 10 feet tall. It really does look carpeted, sorta fuzzy. J and I are both shuffling along, enjoying the blue day and the calmness from having a single mission, when we see a sign on the side of the trail: trail angel Mike, water, shade, shelter. There’s an arrow up a side path. We look at it for a moment. “Well, we need water,” I remark.
  “I guess we should check it out,” replies J. We follow the arrows, painted in bright colors, as things get weirder and weirder. Strange piles of junk, little twisty footpaths – where is this taking us? We turn a corner, and there are all the other hikers we’ve been leapfrogging with for the past couple days. Buckeye is here, and so is On-point. E.T. is at a big make-shift kitchen dicing vegetables. A man I don’t know, who I’m assuming is Trail Angel Mike, is cooking. J goes to help dice vegetables, and I help eat the mini pizzas that Mike is flipping out.

We weren’t planning on staying, but J’s feet are trashed. I’d kind of like to go. We spent the whole day yesterday hanging around, not going anywhere. I just got my feet back under me. After being a flusterball of stress leading up to the hiker, the trail has been an oasis of calm. Things are so simple. Get up, walk. If you’re hungry, eat. At night, sleep. Being around people is harder.

That said, J’s feet are important too, so we decide to stay. A hiker named Strangebird gets us into these crazy conversations on the arbitrary nature of human interaction and how complicated it is – all I can say is yeah, I hear you, I don’t get it either. (Talking with Strangebird is especially complicated.) It’s been getting more and more windy, but all of a sudden we realize a big storm is blowing in. The temperature has dropped forty degrees and black clouds are rolling in on us. “J, it looks like we made the right decision.”
   “Not for the right reasons,” he says.
   “I guess the trail was looking out for us.”

We shack up in a creaky rundown cabin on the corner of the property. There are a bunch of old cots and a fair amount of light coming through the roof. The wind is enough to make the walls creak. It’s creepy, and I’m so glad to be here, and not outside. E.T. and Buckeye are in the bunkhouse as well, and it’s almost cosy with the four of us.

Tomorrow we’ll take it slow, take the miles as they come.

“And we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white [blazes] go,
For the [hikers] they mark, and the [hikers] they know,
The place where the sidewalk ends.”
-Shel Silverstein

The sign.

“Treat your water or I’ll kill a baby seal.” – red power ranger of Lost Valley Spring

Fuzzy green hills

The bunkhouse


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