PCT SoCal Big Bear to Wrightwood: Day 5 (November 2015)
This was day 5 on the trail, and our last day backpacking for the year. I had sore muscles and blistered feet, but was eager to finish the hike. Elu wasn't quite as peppy as when we'd started out, but her paws were in great shape and her tail was high as we walked up and away from the beach, along a ridge and into the mountains again. I could see the trail winding along for miles ahead and miles behind, back to the sapphire blue of the lake.
The prospect of eating a real meal and sleeping in a warm bed kept me going all day, across sixteen-and-a-half miles of trail. I spent the last two miles hobbling on aching feet, every step painful. Elu was usually alert and on watch for other animals during our breaks from walking, not sitting or lying down unless we stopped for more than ten minutes, but even she was taking naps along the trail, even for just five minutes at a time.
As we neared the end of our trip, we were rewarded with stunning views from sandstone cliffs. Elu and I stood admiring the steep drops down the sides of the near-vertical rock faces. We walked along the top of the ridge, wind whipping through my hair and threatening to steal my hat. Elu pranced ahead of me on the trail, newly invigorated by the change in scenery.
At dusk we reached the road that led us back to civilization, with a big parking lot and McDonald’s restaurant a few hundred yards down the road. I shuffled into the McDonald’s lot and kept Elu close to me. The lot was full of cars, and several were coming and going at every moment. After five days in the wilderness, the busy lot with bright lights was disorienting. The spot was just off of highway I-15 and was one of the last towns for several miles; on that Friday night it was extremely busy.
My friend Cara texted that she’d be there in a few minutes, and I didn’t want to bother explaining to the people inside the restaurant that Elu was a Service Dog, so I picked a spot away from the doors and slid down to the cement walkway, taking off my pack. I pulled Elu’s pack off of her and she stretched out in front of me protectively, blocking me from people walking on the sidewalk.
We’d been sitting for about five minutes when a man walked up holding a brown bag of food and a soda and he held them out to me. “What’s this?” I asked confused.
“It’s for you, just some food,” he said politely, and I realized that he thought I was homeless.
“Oh, no! Thanks, but I don’t need it. I’m just waiting for a friend.” I stammered. “I’ve been out backpacking all week.”
He looked a little embarrassed but says, “Well, just take it anyway.” He shoved the food at me.
I sat back down with the bag of food, shaking my head. I hadn’t washed my face in five days, or combed my hair. I’d hiked seventy-six miles in the same clothes, so I sure I didn’t smell great, but I was wearing a Patagonia jacket and most of my gear was high-end. I was puzzling over this when another man walks over to us and without saying a word, he holds out a pamphlet with three crisp one-dollar bills in it.
“Thanks, but I’m fine! I’m not homeless,” I said quickly, jumping to my feet. He didn’t seem to believe me, and just stuck his hand with the money closer to me.
“Really, I’ve been hiking. I’m just waiting for a friend to pick me up,” I said. By then he was looking closer at me, and his confidence wavered.
“Well, just take the pamphlet, then. It’s good reading. You’ll enjoy it,” he insisted and pulled the dollar bills out, then thrusted the small booklet at me, walking away in a hurry. The pamphlet was titled “Go With God” and it told the story of Jesus’s struggle in cartoons, complete with homophobic comments (“It’s Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!”) and scripture quotes to prove their points.
Just then, I saw Cara driving my green Subaru and I was relieved that we could get out of there and get a hot meal at a real restaurant. I handed the bag of food to a man who was standing on the street corner with his dog and a cardboard sign. He thanked me and Cara, tore the hamburger in half, and fed that to his dog.
Later that night, after a hot shower and wearing clean clothes, Cara took me out to dinner while Elu slept in the back of my car. I told her all about my trip, and confided in her about my failing marriage. I told her my husband had just accepted a winter job in Colorado, and that we’d be separated for the next five months. Amazingly, talking to Cara, I was less anxious about the drastic change.
That week backpacking with Elu gave me the confidence to live on my own again. I knew that no matter what happened with my husband, Elu would be by my side. Right then, that was enough.