I have a dark, dreadful dream while I sleep: I’m at the back of an extremely long bus that is speeding crazily down the highway. There are two mute, homeless children with me. They gesture to tell me we have to climb over all the seats of this long bus to get to the front. It’s mandatory. A gauntlet of sorts. They take off, and I hurry to catch up to them. I’m climbing; pulling myself forward, hand over hand, making okay time, until I notice that I am actually crawling on top piles and piles of decomposing bodies. There’s barely any room between them and the roof of the bus, barely any room to move. I focus on the feet of the kids ahead of me, trying my best to ignore the soft flesh, the stink, the flies. As I approach the front, the boy looks back at me, points. We’re to climb out via the passenger window. But there is a body there, with a head full of puss and maggots and sticky stuff. There is no way around that head; to get through the window, I will have to push my face through the putrid rot. I pause to watch both kids quickly exit. They don’t care that maggots are now hanging on them. This is simply what one must do. I take a deep breath, try to will myself through the glass opening, but it’s too disgusting, and I start to puke. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. Then I wake up.
It’s a beautiful morning and I head downstairs to enjoy another round of bacon and eggs. Texas finds me and asks, “Did you see the ghost?” She says the proprietor told her that there is a ghost at the Inn. I don’t think there are ghostly beings in this world, but still, with my overactive imagination, I’m glad no one told me this last night. “Well, what about the vomiting guy? Gross, huh?” I ask her. Texas says she didn’t hear him. Impossible! He was so loud, and their room was right across from the men’s bathroom. But she swears, nope, didn’t hear a thing. Huh. Maybe there ARE ghosts at the Rock Inn: A prostitute and a john, forced to replay an endless night of bad sex and retching one’s brains out.
We assemble our stuff out front, and along comes Rick, the guy who will drive us to Hiker Town. We stop at the P.O. for TnT, and almost immediately, Rick offers to smoke me out. I have been offered SO MUCH POT on this trail! I feel bad saying no thank you. Rick is a great guy, a baby boomer who refuses to Vape pot. “I’m old school,” he declares. “I smoke it the right way- from a pipe.” When I tell him he’s a Loadie (my favorite pet name for heavy pot users), he laughs, but it’s a proud laugh. Damn right I’m a Loadie, that laugh implies.
Rick is the first SoCal driver that drives like a sane person on the winding roads. When we get to Hiker Town, he presents us with a bag of bud he grew himself. We decline. (Later, we will all slap our heads, d’oh! We should say YES to every gift offered to us! How rude!) I hug Rick like I’ve known him for years. “The people just get friendlier and friendlier,” says Texas. She’s right. Thank you for the ride, Rick. I hope someone got really, really high off your aromatic Marijuana!
Texas and I don’t really want to go inside hiker town because of rumors we have both heard, but Tumbler is adamant and talks us into it. Inside the rec room is the most thru hikers I’ve seen at one time. One bespectacled guy immediately accuses me of being too clean. “Come get a whiff,” I retort. Sandy is here with her dog, Wylie. I think we will be hiking out with her. I also meet Denise, a tough, inspiring older woman who has done all kinds of Ultra Marathons. She says that she has been given five trail names, but can only remember three: CamelBak, Mountain Goat, and Homeward Bound. She feels tepid about all of them. “Some of the kids have started to call me Mom,” she says, rolling her eyes at me. “Oh, that has to stop this instant. Don’t let them do that to you,” I say, annoyed at whomever has been calling her that. Who the hell reduces this amazing, kick ass woman down to “Mom”? Not that there’s anything at all wrong with being a Mom, but still. She deserves a unique, one of a kind trail name, one that compliments her dauntless spirit. So sayeth me.
I also see Kathy again, and we are more talkative with each other this time. Kathy strikes me as independent and introspective. It would be nice to get to know her more, but I think we are just are on separate timelines. Hi Kathy, keep in touch! All in all, Tumbler was right to strong-arm us to come visit inside Hiker Town. Everyone was friendly, and there was no creepy vibes while we were there.
Finally, it’s time to hike. We return to the trail with Sandy and Wylie at our side. A small, compact couple follow along with us. A six person, 1 dog group! The biggest I’ve ever hiked with. We spread out quickly along a faint path that cuts through a golden field, then along a road that leads us to a giant concrete canal filled with gorgeous blue water: the Aqueduct.
The trail turns right on a utility road, next to the Aqueduct. I can see far in every direction. There is a flutter in my heart. I love the view. I stop to let everyone pass me, so I can take it all in. I pull out my Ipod. I decided yesterday that since today will be a completely flat walk, I would try hiking to music. I select the mix I made expressly for this hike; a mix, that, of course, ended up sounding pretty sad and bittersweet, rather than gung-ho or jubilant.
Music flows into my ears, and the coupling of nice, cool weather, beautiful, expansive views and emotive melodies hits me perfectly. I am transcended; impossibly happy. Here I am, in this world, experiencing this freedom, this beauty. I’m here! I’m alive! Look at those clouds. Just gorgeous. Look at those crazy hikers ahead of me. They are determined. They want to see something; feel something; know something. We all do.
I’m bursting with a rare joy, and I start to sing aloud and dance along the Aqueduct. I am able to be okay now, in these moments, for a little while. I’m connected to the earth, to these mountains, this desert. I am a small being meant to simply move within it, within each moment I can wring from this life.
The music demands I move faster, steadier, resolutely. I soon pass everyone, immersed in music and foot pain and the beauty of a burgeoning storm to my right. The wind that wants to push me off the metal pipe that now cages precious California water. The hundred sheep that I think are boulders until they all turn and stare at me in unison. The peace sign I flash at the farm workers. The music. The movement. The moments. All of it. Mine.
Camp is among the Joshua trees. The sky is alive with the impending storm and the light paints the clouds wild, unworldly colors. It’s going to rain tonight. It’s going to get crazy windy. But I’m okay; here, now. I even fall asleep with a small smile. Sometimes these days happen. Even to me!
*(I have some great pictures from today but they are stuck on my broken phone. I will post them as soon as I can free them.)