Expect Herpes

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Let’s face it. I am a PCT addict. There is nothing that you, or I, or anyone else can do about it. I will do anything for that opiate PCT high.

You can tell you are a PCT addict if you start doing weird, manic compulsive stuff. Like? Well, like breaking away from the trail in Agua Dulce and flying to Kenya for a business meeting. Missing the trail so deeply, so viscerally, you climb on another airplane scarcely a week later. You get off in Los Angeles, bus into Union Station downtown, catch a commuter train and frantically start calling trail angels for a ride to the town you so recently left. When at last you reach your destination, the local hostel Hiker Heaven, you’ve been traveling for 36 hours across five time zones spanning three continents and some 12,000 miles.

And that’s only the start. Because you’re short on time, you set off at dawn from Agua Dulce for the next stop at Green Valley and Casa de Luna, 24 miles up the trail. And you cheat a bit, telling no one and rationalizing your sins as necessary under the circumstances. Case in point: you skip the 17-mile walk along the Aqueduct after Hikertown — BOR-ING — in order to make Tehachapi in a day — 23-miles. Then you rent a car from the local Enterprise, drive two hours to LAX, get on an airplane and fly for two days back to Kenya. You land at midnight and go to work the next morning and pick up where you left off. As though nothing incredibly odd has happened.

Weird, obsessive compulsive, deranged — call it what you will. But here’s the really weird, obsessively compulsive, deranged thing. For the first time, the trail does not deliver its high.

The 24 miles from Agua Dulce to Green Valley begin with a three-mile road walk — no one’s favorite. Departing the highway, the trail climbs into brown, hot hills. Then more brown, hot hills. Then down through brown hills, only to rise again through unending brown hills. The views are long, and here and there you come across sweet surprises, like the burbling Bear Spring nine miles in — and the flowers, sprouting along the trail in rich profusion. But up and down the brown hills, up and down all day in mind-bending heat? Maybe it’s just me, PCT druggie, needing an ever greater fix for the same high. But I couldn’t help myself. All that way, all that money, all that flying time — for this?
As if in answer to this blasphemy, the PCT responded with kindness. At the San Francisquito highway into Green Valley, my personal trail angel awaited. Rodeo, herself fresh from Boston, whisks me off to the magic land of Casa de Luna.

How to describe this “Stay Forever Vortex” of California whimsy and hippie charm, as one hiker puts it, where everyone must don a Hawaiian shirt upon admittance? “I got here three days ago,” the aptly named Star Gazer says with a shrug as he breathes in an entire joint with one long, satisfied breath. “I meant to hike out the next morning. But…still here.”

Don’t worry about finding Case de Luna. Everyone knows it. “The house with all the trash in front.” Those are the directions offered by a disgruntled neighbor. She could have been referring to us hikers, for sprawled over a labyrinth of sofas and chairs under the trees in front of a low-slung ranch house are scores of very dirty, very sweaty, very hungry hikers, all talking and laughing and drinking as though they had just been freed from jail. And they have: the slammer known as the PCT.

Out back, folks are pitching tents in a quiet and peaceful forest of tangled manzanilla trees — little lunar pods amid the greenery. Some are pitching horseshoes; others play frisbee golf. The fruit of a Casa de Luna arts tradition — rock paintings — are scattered around the camp sites, often with little proverbs.

“What happens in the forest stays in the forest,” reads one. To which someone has added, on another smaller stone: “Except herpes.” To which someone has added, on yet a smaller stone: “Expect herpes.” And lastly, on the smallest stone yet: “Accept herpes.”

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And this:
“If a woman sleeps with 10 men, she’s a slut. If a man does, he’s gay.” To which someone else adds. “Definitely gay.”

Others borrow from notable quotables, or not:

“When the situaton seems hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about.” So says playwright Edward Albee.

“Of all the paths in your life, make sure some of them are dirt.”

“Dirt is my sunscreen.”

“Just say yes, man,”

So I do. I paint two little rocks, one for me and another for my beloved Rodeo, and place them side by side under a shady tree: “Me” and “You.” I put aside my grievances against the brown hills, chalk off the day’s inferno to just another warm day on the trail, pour myself a cold glass of white wine, dive into the taco and beans buffet and give myself over once again to the tender mercies of the PCT and its beautiful trail angels in this ineffably magical place.

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May 27

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