The shoes I had laid out to dry were frozen solid. My socks were unusable and my pants were still wet. Any hiking I would do this morning would have to be in flip flops and my night clothes. We went up and down the stream looking for a good place to cross. There was none. We picked the least annoying spot we could find. I stripped down to my underwear and trudged across the waist deep water. There were chunks of ice floating past. I would estimate the temperature was around 40 degrees. It was unpleasant. Sarah managed to get across while only submerging up to her thighs. We searched the two large camping areas for a ride, but the only sign of life was an empty Subaru belonging to the Forest Service. While we sat by the road more hikers arrived, a few of them already had a ride driving up to them at noon. After waiting an hour or so a dayhiker and his son passed by and informed us that the gate was closed a quarter mile down the road. He was from Ridgecrest and offered to give us a ride when they returned. We happened to be headed to that very town. Due to crappy bus schedules it would save us almost two entire days to be driven. We thanked him profusely and walked past the gate to his Toyota hybrid, where we laid out our tarp and napped.
The road down was beautiful and I snapped a few pictures of the snow capped mountains of our future as we drove. They didn’t turn out well, but I will post them here anyway. Kevin,the gradeschooler in the backseat, informed us that his father ,Dan, had a big red self destruct button at work that he could press. “No kevin that’s not true.” “There are self destruct buttons, but I don’t get to press any of them.” He corrected. Dan worked for the Naval Base in town and was a civilian engineer that programmed guidance systems for missles. Not only did he give us a ride into downtown Ridgecrest (a town an hour and a half away) he also drove us around a bit tidied the best hotel. We checked into the Clarion in, in the morning we would rent a car and drive it to Lake Havasu where we would spend the next week planning resupply, waiting out the snow melt and aquiring our snow gear. As this was not a hiker town, our general filthiness drew skepticism rather than praise and free cookies from the locals. Sarah asked if the hotel had a hiker rate, the clerk laughed and said no. I remarked that it probably wasn’t really a hiker friendly town due to the distance from the trail. “Oh a lot of people hike around here” the clerk remarked. “Sometimes they even do it for days! It’s pretty crazy!” She said. I laughed. On the way back to the room a young couple, poolside, gave us a nod and salute. They recognized our packs. They were PCT hikers as well. None of the townies knew about the PCT here though. Perhaps sometimes, over lunch, a hotel worker might wonder aloud to her friend where the area homeless were getting these Visa cards and why some of them were picking up European accents. That was about it. I caught a glimpse of my scraggly beard in the hotel room mirror. My shirt and pants were stained brown with weeks of dirt and sweat. These were not badges of honor in this town. We were back to reality here. Just two dirty hobos who had scraped together enough cash to spend a night indoors. It was 100 degrees at this elevation and even walking around was difficult. Sarah had me walk across the street to get a cheap razor. She had begun to look like a hobbit from the knees down and had decided not to take that look into society. It was a decision I endorsed. The trip across the road was all I wanted to walk in this climate.We washed our filthy clothes in the shower and sink, dined at the hotel restaurant and went to bed after a repairman came in to fix our TV. The next morning we rented the cheapest vehicle available for a one way to Havasu. This was a Toyota 4 runner. The expense was exorbanant. I tried to make some playful banter with the man behind the counter, but he was in no mood for it. “This is probably a 60,000 dollar vehicle.” I remarked to Sarah. It wasn’t. She e checked me right then and there. Not even close. We drove back through the desert we had worked so hard to escape. 4 hours of hot monotony later we were at the Lake Havasu Airport. We returned the car and sat in the shade for Norm and Patti. It was one hundred and five awful degrees. After a few beers at the bar across from the airport, we drove back to their house. We went in the front door and Patti and Norm went in through the garage to let our former disgruntled canine roommate of ten years, Riley, out of the garage for a reunion. She did her best to hide her disappointment at our return. Riley briefly took note of our presence and retired to Patti’s room where she now lives between gorgings. She had not yet adjusted to her newfound girth and would have been easy to catch, but we let her waddle on, not wanting to sour her mood. “She came here fat.” Patti remarked guiltily. Patti and Norm feed their dogs buffet style and Riley had been taking full advantage. Her stomach is not unlike a furry water balloon. She was living her lifelong dream now and we were fuzzy unpleasant memories of a life she would rather forget. When we had left the trail a retired couple said we were going to get soft. In a week? I thought. No way. We couldn’t have picked a more difficult place to stay in shape though. It would be over 110 degrees for most of our stay. The lows would be in the high 90s, which would occur around 3am. Walking outside to get the mail was a suicide mission. Outdoor exercise was out of the question. One day, while serving myself a second helping of beef stroganoff, Riley winked at me. It was probably a heat induced hallucination. Welcome to the dark side. her beady eyes said. I could feel myself getting fatter and sense my muscles atrophying.