Day 19
Miles: 10
Arrastre Trail camp to Big Bear

There were ice crystals on the bottom corners of our tarp last night instead of dew, although they’ve melted by the time we get up. It’s dark and cold in our narrow little valley, but we only have ten miles to go to get to town. I’m not always that excited about town, but we’re out of food. J and I split a larabar for breakfast, and that’s it. We have some cold, leftover TVP chili in a ziploc bag, but that’s for desperate times. We’re hungry but not fainting yet.

We team up with another hiker we’ve been leapfrogging with for weeks. J and Jeff are soon chatting about bison or something, but I can’t really hear. I put in the headphones and listen to J’s rap albums from high school and cruise it. I’m trying to pay attention to my surroundings, but all I’m thinking is: food. Food. Food. There are some trees and stuff, junipers and cedars. We’re walking through a neat geologic grandson from porphyritic dacites to metamorphosed sediments. The transition that we’re walking through has been sheared into a beautiful mylonitic gneiss, rolled and smeared, with clinky quartzites and sparkly marbles on top – souvenirs from a long ago sea. The gneiss looks kind of like some sort of delicious baked goods. Mmmm, baked goods. Food.

J and Jeff are discussing some other mammal now but they’ve gotten distracted and slowed down. “Hey, let’s move this train along!” I shout up to them.
   “Sorry!” calls back Jeff. He’s got long legs, and when he turns up the gas he can totally smoke me. I’ve got to hustle for sure now, on just half a larabar. Food. I want food.

All of a sudden we’re at highway 18. Bam! That was quick! Too bad we’re still five miles from Big Bear. Now what. We put out our thumbs for a bit… We must look like dirty smelly hikers or something. We try calling a few of the numbers to local hotels and hostels but nobody answers. “Why don’t we try calling the trail angels on the sign here?” asks J. There’s a handwritten sign for Papa Smurf and Mt Mama. Okey-dokey…

“Is this Papa Smurf?” I make the call.
  “Uh, we’re PCT hikers?”
  “Do you need a ride?” asks Papa Smurf.
  “How many of you are there?”
  “Three of us, at highway 18.”
  “Alright! I’ll be there in about ten minutes.” He hangs up.
   “What’s the deal?” inquires J.
   “He’ll be here in ten,” I reply, bemused. We have no idea who this guy is or where he’ll take us.

Papa Smurf shows up ten minutes later. There’s actually four of us now –  Monique has showed up. I’ve crossed paths with her before, but she has taken a vow of silence – I think – so we haven’t chatted. She’s needs a ride too, and her timing couldn’t be better. Papa Smurf is wearing a bright blue PCT shirt and he loads us up and takes us home.

His house is already full of hikers. He feeds us homemade enchiladas and let’s us shower. We run loads of laundry while wiping up after ourselves. Papa Smurf runs people to the grocery store and gear store and thrift store while hikers accumulate.

The roll call for the hikers sounds like the lineup for a horse race with all the crazy trail names. Gizmo, Dirtnap, Blues Man, Saint, Rocky IV, Medicine Man, Avocado, Santa’s Helper, Lil Ripper… Papa Smurf takes care of us all. There are fourteen of us by the end of the night. We have tacos and a cake – it’s  Medicine Man’s birthday. I don’t normally feel comfortable just crashing at the house of a stranger, but this doesn’t feel strange at all.

What motivates these trail angels, who take us into their homes, dirty, smelly, needy, self – absorbed in our own journeys? There’s a donation box on the table, but I’m sure they only cover costs – definitely not their time. One night and we’re gone. For one night though, we’re home. This is really it. I have a storage unit in my name but the Pacific Crest Trail is my only address. Maybe that’s why the trail angels do it. Everyone needs a home. J and I call the travel trailer in the back home for the night. Early start tomorrow.

The desert awaits…

J hanging out with Peaches at Papa Smurf.

J, me, Papa Smurf, and Santa’s Helper.


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