Sunday, May 26, 2013

Days 37-40, Hiker Heaven, Casa de Luna, and the Generosity of Strangers

Acton KOA, mile 444 to Hiker Heaven, mile 454 to Casa de Luna, mile 478

The horde of hikers occupying the KOA all hit the trail early the following morning in pursuit of Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, a small ranch town near Lancaster. By 5a.m. most of us were on the trail in hopes of securing a space at the Saufley's house - they set up a camp in their yard for hikers with cots, and rumor had it only have space for 50 hikers each night.

The 10 miles flew by - always a pleasant surprise! We passed the Vazquez rocks which seemed like a Hollywood movie set (pictures to follow) but are just a really awesome geological formation of rocks that we crossed right through. As we entered Agua Dulce, I was surprised by how charming the town was...I'd expected desert desolation, but instead found a thriving small community with a fully stocked grocery store, a tasty bakery, and a local bbq joint with a huge sign welcoming thru-hikers to the community and also advertising all you can eat ribs. We've encountered a fair bit of trail magic to date, but we were in for a treat at Hiker Heaven...not much could have prepared me for what we found when we arrived at the Saufley's! As we arrived, a volunteer (previous thru-hiker) welcomed us to the house and gave us the grand tour - which included our pick of any of the cots set up under cabanas throughout the large and shady backyard, an entire wardrobe of loaner clothes to wear while our laundry was washed and folded for us in the garage, a full service mail station for receiving and sending packages, 5 computers set up for hiker use, a foot bath station equipped with endless supplies of epsom salts, a daily shuttle in a rented 15 passenger van to the REI 60 miles away should hikers need gear or supplies, a trailer with the designated bathroom for showers with every imaginable toiletry at our disposal, a kitchen in the trailer for cooking real food if hikers chose not to go to town, a living room with a TV and DVD/VCR and a library of classic movies, a stable of loaner bicycles to pedal into town a mile away, and to top it all off, a giant fire pit in the middle of the yard with hay bales circles around for socializing in the evening. There's really no end to what these amazing trail angels didn't think of when imagining comforts for hikers on the move. I still can't get over their generosity, particularly when I asked Donna Saufley where I could donate for my night's rest and her response was "All of you hikers are the same - so appreciative and insistent on donations!" I finally found the donation jar tucked in the back of the garage above the laundry machine...which hikers wouldn't find themselves near, naturally, because our laundry is handled for us! Needless to say, she's a pretty special lady.

I would have liked to stay at Hiker Heaven for a couple days, but only 24 miles down the trail lay the promise of good times at Casa de Luna, ANOTHER trail angel house that hosts hikers. The group decided we'd spend two near-0s at Hiker Heaven and then push on to Casa de Luna on the evening of our second day after waiting out the heat. We spent the day relaxing and making new friends, and all went to the bakery the next morning for tasty breakfast treats. The goal was for a late afternoon start but we wound up sitting around a table finishing off a few leftover beers from the night before and playing rotating dj with Chik Chak's portable speaker and our new friend Lunchbox's seemingly endless iTunes library. We FINALLY got going at 9pm - when Lunchbox was able to secure a ride to the trail for us, while simultaneously dubbing the group "the Wolfpack" which he also officially joined. We started our hike by 10, complete with a few group howlings at the moon - things are getting weird out here on the trail! We made it about halfway to the Anderson's (Casa de Luna) before calling it a night and deciding for an early start in the morning.

The following morning we hit the trail early and had a fun, social hike in. The Anderson's stock the Oasis Cache, where we met up with even more new friends (Games, Reason, and Sunset) and found that not only was it stocked with water but also beer! We were all excited for the fun times to come. The hike to Casa de Luna is about 2 miles from the trail, but as we descended, we saw a van sitting waiting to shuttle hikers - what luck! As we pulled up to the house in Green Valley, we saw an entire front yard filled with other hikers decked out in garish Hawaiian shirts drinking beer (this was around 11am), a huge sign that said Casa de Luna, and another sign above the garage that said "Hippie Day Care" the time the van pulled up, everyone had started a slow clap that erupted into a full on cheering reception as we arrived. What an entrance! We were led to the backyard and entered what can only be described as a manzanita forest that seemed to go on forever in every which way, with small camping spots flattened out for campers in every nook and cranny. We were told to throw our stuff wherever looked good to us and then choose from a selection of Hawaiian shirts and join the crowd whenever we wanted. Our time there was more fun than we'd even expected or been promised, as we whiled away a few days eating, drinking, dancing, and lounging. We also caught up with some long lost friends! Marshall and Christian (now Burrito Grande) who we started with were also stuck in the Casa de Luna vortex, and on our second evening, Nancy and Joe from Oakland arrived after a short break from the trail! Brett busted out his best moves on the dance floor, prompting some to rename him DJ Slosh. Sour Cream ate more taco salad than I thought was possible and also promised to try and finish the trail instead of his original plan to head home to Canada after the Sierra. The whole time there was so great - unapologetically gluttonous and wonderful.

It's hard to fully explain the magic of trail angels and their generosity, but I think this is the closest I can was a magical few days and a much needed break from the rigors of the trail. The relaxation and orderly charm of Hiker Heaven followed by the party at Casa de Luna have been some of the best moments of the trip so far. I'm so grateful places like this exist to make our journey a little bit easier and a lot more fun. I feel so rested and recharged - and ready to push on! I can't believe we'll hit mile 500 so soon. Next thing you know I'll be marching towards 1000!

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