5-15-17 PCT mile 537.0 20 miles
We were looking through a hiker box on a patio table in the derilict hikertown. Toggs had texted us and called it a dirty Alice in Wonderland. This was just about a perfect description. It was as if, after erecting the fake ghost town years ago, they called it a day from all the time from that day to this. The desert, as well as its animals, were slowly taking it back. There is a story here among the squaller that I cannot yet understand. Relics of a rich Television producer and a police chief remain among the boxes of junk and live ammunition. I felt lucky not to have been bitten by a relative of the black widow spider I had killed in our strange filthy room the night before. Two other hikers were seated there. They were a couple from Malta. I forget the man’s name, his wife was Sarah. Pronounced like que Sara Sara whatever will be will be. We were discussing how dirty the accommodations were. Sarah (the one I hike with) said ” I thought I saw a pollywog in my platapus [water bladder].” “What is a pollywog?!” The man and I said, in unison. “It sounds like a character in a children’s story book that teaches you about sharing or something.” I said, unable to control my laughter. It turned out polliwog was going to teach me a lesson about jumping to conclusions, because it is actually another name for a tadpole. That isn’t what Sarah saw though. As she went on to describe it, it became clear it was an earwig. I hate earwigs. Polliwogs aren’t anything like earwigs, but it does make a great trail name.
Polliwog and I left soon after. The next day was a 23 mile stretch to a camp in the hills 16 miles of it a waterless section through the Mohave desert. This portion is often run at night to avoid the severe heat. We were lucky though, as the high would be an unseasonably cold 65 degrees. The section was flat and the wind was at our back. These would be smile miles. Most would parallel the L.A. Aqueduct and the windfarms and solar panel lakes that line the valley.
Less than an hour in, Polliwog was slowing significantly. Her legs were sore and she felt weak. This lonely desert is no place for a little Polliwog. She probably just wants to eat a few mosquitoes and then hide in the mud from the sun. We stopped a little before noon. Despite our slow pace, we were still making three miles an hour due to the flat terrain and the wind blowing at our backs. Polliwog ate a little and then laid down for a brief nap. A nap was an unusual behavior for this tadpole, so it was clear today would not be her day.
We started again an hour later, playing a game of guess that tune. After I played the first song and successfully guessed the band, Polliwog suggested a rule change. It was unfair, the little baby frog reasoned, because I had loaded 400 of these songs one night, two months ago. There should be a handicap of three points, she decided . After I got two more points to her zero, her brow began to furrow. “We need a rule change” she said. “I get twenty seconds to guess…and I get three guesses.” The amphibian tacked on greedily. She went on to win the game ten to four with the new rules, but did not feel good about the victory. Polliwog learned a lesson about playing by the rules that afternoon.
Poor Polliwog’s persistent problems persisted. “Super” she sighed when she suffered a sideache. “How is this happening?” she huffed through her hiccups. No matter the nagging no fun maladies, polliwog pugnaciously persisted. A life lesson for you little ladies and lads: keep lugging on through the lows and the bads.
“What’s the story of the aqueduct?” Polliwog might have asked. That’s a good question you might have thought about asking Polliwog! But the answer is long. Let’s make it brief so we can all follow along. A long long time ago a lot of people lived in Owens Valley. They called themselves the Coyote’s people. They had been there forever. They hunted the local animals and grew some food there. One day some new people from far away showed up. There wasn’t many of them. They brought cows with them for food and to make a little money. The cows ate the plants that the coyote people ate and they also ate the plants that the animals the coyote people ate, ate. It wasn’t the cows’ fault though. They had to eat to survive and make new baby cows. That was all they wanted. No one consulted them about any of this. For a while, there was enough to go around. They lived in the same valley to for a little while together. Then, one winter it started to snow. Then it snowed some more. It didn’t stop snowing for a long time. It was a lot like this year. Because of the snow and the cows eating everything, the coyote people were running out of food and were starving. So they killed and ate a few cows. “How dare you!” said the new people. “Hey we are dying here” said the coyote people. “We let you stay here and your cows are causing all our problems, so we ate a few, big deal!” “It is a big deal, actually.” said the new people. “What are you gonna do about it?!” Said the coyote people. “We are going to kill you all.” said the new people. “That’s very rude.” said the coyote people. “What if we just kill you instead?!” “You won’t be able to, plus we’ll call our friends.” The coyote people knew there were no friends anywhere around. “That’s Bullshit.” the coyote people said. So they killed each other for a little while. Then the new people called their friends. Their friends were super busy killing eachother at the moment. In record numbers. They really liked killing, it seemed. A lot. Sometimes tens of thousands a day! But there were still so many of them left they were able to send a few out to the valley to kill a bit there too.And they did. And they were really good at it cause they had lots of practice. But things were getting worse back home for the new people’s friends and they really needed to get back home to do some more killing. “Let’s make a deal” the new people’s friends said. “We will take most of your land and give you a itty bitty portion to live on. We can take you there right now.” “That sounds like an awful deal. What if we don’t want to give up all our land and live there. ” The Coyote people said. “Then we will kill all of you.” The new people’s friends said. So the Coyote people accepted. The only thing the new people’s friends liked better than killing was other people’s land. The new people were very happy with all this and stayed there and grew more crops and the cows ate a lot and made new baby cows, which was all they ever wanted to do. After a little while a man from the city showed up. The city he came from was small but they wanted to be big like the gold city to the north of them was. For that they needed just one thing: a whole lot of water. The man and his friend started buying little parcels of land. They kept it quiet from the new people. They bribed some of the greedier new people too. Then they started building an aqueduct to carry water from the mountain valley. It took many years and a lot of people died making it. When it was finished all the city people loved the man who built it. They named a street after him. When he opened the water to the city he said “Here it is. Take it!” And they did. “Hey!” the valley people said “That’s our water! No fair!” “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” said the city people. Thanks to the water, their city grew and grew. So it needed more water. “Hey you are already taking so much.” said the valley people. “Tough titties.” said the city people. They fought a little but the city people won. So they took almost all the water and the lakes in the valley dried up and the dirt from the dry lakes became poisonous and blew all around the valley. The city grew really big and became famous for playing make believe. There was a lot of money in it. They even made a famous make believe story about the water fight with the valley people. It made a lot of money and won a bunch of awards. It was mostly untrue. There was no movie about the new people killing all those Coyote people though. The new people kinda forgot about all that. So that’s the story Polliwog. It’s a lesson about what happens when you don’t share.
Here is a short poem about a lesson Polliwog learned near an empty water cache where we stopped to rest. I learned a lesson here to, incidentally. I was about to lay down a tarp when I noticed the ground was full of dead scorpion weed. “It can’t hurt you if it’s dead” Sarah said. And I listened. And my hand got covered in tiny thorns. And it stung, a lot. I learned a lesson about remembering. I forgot Sarah is not an expert when it comes to noxious weeds. “I’ve got to pee” said Polliwog:
Here’s a fact about the wind that most boy tadpoles know.
When nature calls, you gotta go, but if the wind will blow…
You’d better face away or else I will surely bet..
The nature stuff that’s leaking out will get your pants all wet.
“Oh great.”Polliwog said exasperated. “I got pee on my shoes.” It was quite a day, with the hiccups and the stomach aches and the malaise and now this. Soon after getting water, the poor little pond dweller could go no further, so we camped near a west facing bush to, hopefully, block the wind. After a good rest, perhaps, Polliwog would be hopping around, full of energy.