As we pack up in the crisp morning air, we meet our mysterious camp-mate. Her name is Lilu, a young woman of petite stature who started her hike at Lake Morena 2 days ago. She is friendly and talkative, eager to share whatever comes to her mind. The climb yesterday was hard for her, she called her mom for support several times, and now her phone is almost dead. She also ran out of water. I notice that she has a bulky solar charger, as well as a little square solar charger hanging from her hip belt. She is carrying a lot of stuff. Her sleeping bag doesn’t fit into her pack. She confesses that she forgot her sleeping pad and has been sleeping on the ground. When I ask where she is headed to, she says that she doesn’t make plans, she likes to “wing it”. Maps look like lines and squiggles to her, so she is relying on Guthooks app. I admire the winging it approach, but maybe not when the next water source is so important to consider. We make her take some of our water. We’re close to the next source, but I don’t think she has had any since last night.
We say our good-byes and head down to Long creek. Alberto is there, poking his head out of his tent. 7:30 am and he still has a huge smile for us. Turns out he had run out of water, too. 3 years ago, him and his buddies were fresh out of college and gung-ho to do the PCT. They started in late May and only brought 5 liters of water between them. The climb out of Hauser kicked their asses. He was peeing brown. His buddies were sick and had to drop out. Alberto made it to Idyllwild before calling it quits. But the trail stayed with him, so here he is, giving it another, albeit more thought out, shot.
Lilu catches us while talking to Alberto and asks if she can trail behind us- her phone went dead and she thinks she gets confused by intersections easily. We say sure, that if we are ahead of her, we’ll mark any confusing sections and will wait for her at the trail that goes to Mt. Laguna.
We head up the hill, feeling great. It’s just 5 miles to Mt. Laguna, and our legs spring along the trail. The scenery quickly becomes more forest-like, trees sprouting here and there until we are walking on pine needles and under lovely pine tree shade. We stop at the turn off and wait for Lilu, who is not too far behind us. She informs us that she’s getting a blister, so she had to stop and change her shoes. This stops me for a moment. Change her shoes? Yup. She has a pair of heavy trail boots and a pair of trail runners. I want to give unsolicited advice at this point, but resist.
We all walk up the road toward Mt. Laguna. I’ve decided that I want to stay the night here; shower a few times, do laundry, have a meal. We are are buying our resupply here, so why not just enjoy a break and a bed? At the lodge, Lilu decides she’s gonna stay the night, too. As I set my pack down I hear Lilu tell one of the store owners that she has her bear canister with her. Oh no. The owner (The lodge is owned by two brothers: one talkative, the other quiet and grumbly looking.) neutrally tells her that most people send their bear canisters to Kennedy Meadows, hundreds of miles away. Then he shrugs. HYOH, his shoulders suggest. Lilu decides to call her mom and ask her to drive up from Long Beach to bring her some things, and take some things back. “This is how I learn things,” she tells us, “I do them, and then I reassess.” I think Lilu is tough for carrying that pack 20 miles. She seems to have a strong, determined attitude about her, and isn’t letting her inexperience get her down. That’s pretty awesome.
We all sit and talk on the porch. Different people come and go, some bikers, some hikers, and some tourists. Driftwood is there, a gregarious guy that looks like a cabbie and has a very small, cute dog with him. “I’ve already taken six baths!” He boasts to me. Eventually Alberto shows up. he’s resupplying and moving on. It’s a great time, sitting here on the porch, doing nothing, talking trail.
When our room is ready, Aaron and I go do chores for a while and purchase our food for the next 4-5 days. Around 5, we head over to the Pine House Cafe and enjoy amazing burgers. We are practically skipping on our way back to the lodge. We feel happy, free. “I can see the attraction to thru-hiking,” he tells me, for the first time ever.
Lilu is in the room next to us, waiting for her parents. They finally show up, and I can hear an animated discussion through the wall. I wonder how Lilu is describing her experience so far. I wonder how her parents are reacting. I hope she gets rid of one of those pairs of shoes. I slowly drift asleep, immersed in the drama of other people’s stories.