Lake Morena to Somewhere on a ridge
Miles 20-36 (16)
I walk past the grumbly man who serves nasty coffee. Meh, I’ll pass on coffee today. Everything is damp from the rain. The campground is covered in beer cans. This place partied hard last night. I should have joined them-I slept like shit anyway. We roll out of camp around ten, which is fine. My body needs time to adjust. I think I have a shin splint or something.
The trail out of Lake Morena is a cruiser, flat and wide. We do the walk and talk thing all morning, watching the scrub pass us by. Andy’s a joker, a forty-five-year-old ski bum from Colorado who grew up in New Zealand. He has a history degree that he hasn’t made a career out of, but loves to talk Alexander The Great, Ancient Greece, that sort of thing. He also has a flare for raunchy humor. “I gotta wash my ass real quick,” he says, abruptly setting his bag down. I thought he was joking, but the wet wipes are on their way out of his pack.
We pass a box of Cadbury Eggs in the shadows beneath an underpass. More trail magic, left by someone called Tarzan. So much free stuff, since we left the border. It feels like it’s been one long farewell party. I wonder if I’ve gained weight on the trail. I wonder this, while shoving a chocolate peanut butter thing in my mouth.
The sun is hanging high, blasting heat all over everything. We stop for lunch at Boulder Oaks Campground. There’s a faucet for water, and a shady area with a picnic table. A half dozen other hikers are already here, eating, spilling gear all over the ground, picking at their feet. I talk to Rock City and Saint Croy, a couple AT vets that came out west to do it all again. “Trail life is the best life,” Saint Croy says, staring out into nowhere in particular. Nick, another Kiwi that I met on day one, is also here, sitting on a rock, playing with his blisters. So many Kiwis out here, so many people from everywhere. Nick joins the crew. The four of us tailgate one another all afternoon, talking about a far away land called Canada. Nick tells us about his butt chafe. More butt talk from a Kiwi. We pass a hiker named Snacky, eating gorp and energy bars in a shady spot beside the trail.
A chatty, smiley dude named Dump Truck catches up with us, as we detour into Cibbets Flat Campground. We’re out of water and there’s a working faucet down there somewhere. Dump Truck hiked in 2011 and 2012 and now he’s visiting the area with his Father, doing the trail angel thing. “Come down to our site,” he says. “We have cookies and beer. You can hang out as long as you like.” So that’s what we do. We have cookies and beer with Dump Truck and his Dad.
The final push is a 1,200-foot climb that brings us above tree line. The sun is setting and the sky flips from one color to another. Everything fades to pink, and I feel like I’m walking through a beautiful mess of cotton candy. Camping spots are at a premium up here, so we decide to split up. One by one, we fall off the trail and make camp. Nick and his butt chafe go first, then Andy. Demetre and I hike for another hour, as the sky of cotton candy fades to black. The moon is half full, enough to silhouette the lofty ridges all around us. There’s no wind. Everything is silent, still, perfect. Awesome.