“It can’t be worse than last night.” The thought from last night rings like a taunt. The only mosquito in a five mile radius found me last night, and we hadn’t set up the net-tent. But c’mon. What’s one mosquito compared to an entire crew of acid tripping teenagers?
I wake up in the morning with my entire face lumpy and one eye swollen nearly shut with mosquito welts. I haven’t been this sore since ever, and I’m as exhausted as when I went to bed. Shucks. Time to hoe some beets. “Morning,” I grumble to J, who has turned towards me. “Happy birthday.”
I’m in a foul mood. I put on a pair of sunglasses to hide my deformed face, get my hoe, and start down the row next to J in the gray, foggy morning. Pacman has been at it for hours already – he needs the cash. We stop for lunch after a couple hours and Blake is horrified that we are hoeing his beets on J’s birthday. “But it’s your birthday!” he insists. “You can’t hoe beets on your birthday!”
“Well, what do you do for your birthday?” J inquires in return.
“Well, my birthday is the one day a year I can do things fir myself and not feel guilty.”
(“Huh,” J says to me later that day. “I never feel guilty doing things for myself.”)
Truthfully, we don’t need any encouragement to put down our hoes. Thru-hiking is tough, but hoeing beets… I’d need to train for this. We get our bicycles and ride to town – Ferndale is hosting the county fair. The gray skies have lifted, my eye swelling has gone down, and darn if it ain’t a beautiful day.
We’d been seeing posters for the Humboldt County Fair as far back as Mad River. (“Bounty of the County” reads the poster. “What, are they going to just have displays of bales and bales of weed?” we joke.) I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a county fair before, and we buy tickets and go in. It turns out that Humboldt county does grow things besides marijuana, and the fair has performing sea lions (amazing and depressing), live music, overpriced pieces of pie, and lots of animals. I get a kick out of the fluffy rabbits, the sheep, the goats. In the pigpens there’s a stall with two very large pigs and one small girl. I do a double-take – she’s laying back against one pig and has her feet propped up on the other, like they’re pillows, not hogs. The pigs don’t seem to mind.
The other thing the fair has is horse races. They make you pay three bucks for another ticket, but it’s not J’s birthday every day. After a phone-a-friend horse betting consultation, he’s losing money like a pro. “The races aren’t any fun without some skin in the game,” he explains. We put our noses to the fence and watch the hyper-strung, neurotic racehorses thunder across.
We meet up with Pacman at the local bar at the end of the day, where he tries to pick up a local girl, oblivious to the giant, fuming, dairy-farmer boyfriend lurking behind him. We’ve talked Blake into meeting us at the bar, and he gives us a ride back to the farm, where we stay up talking about organic farming and the Peace Corps and the PCT for long past hiker midnight, and farmer midnight, and midnight midnight.
Finally back at our tarp we string up the net-tent before the blissful moment of becoming horizontal…
Let the races begin!