Early into our Pacific Crest Trail thru hike, just after mile 100 or so I started to notice an uncomfortable rubbing of the frame of my pack against my lower back. Since my thru hike was so full of uncomfortable sensations, pieces of gear rubbing against my body, pieces of my body rubbing against my body, I ignored it for the next several hundred miles.
Approaching 500 miles the sensation hadn’t simply faded as all the others had. What was happening was the frame of my pack, the part that gives it structure in spite of all the weight, had begun to warp. Indiana and I did a duct tape doctor job on it, trying to force the frame to behave. This worked for a time, even if we were only pushing the uncomfortable parts to poke out in another location on the frame.
I dealt with this because the backpack is one of the “big 3,” that also includes the tent and sleeping bag and are the 3 largest and most expensive items of backpacking and thru hiking gear. My pack wasn’t cheap or poorly made (or so I thought), and I wasn’t willing to accept that it might be already unusable.
By the time we left the tiny town of Agua Dulce, the situation was un-ignorable. The pressure on my back was so pointed and intense that I felt I was being forced to tears each time we climbed a hill. That night I sobbed my way up several miles of incline, thoroughly freaking Indiana out and finally accepting that it was time to get rid of the evil acupuncture strapped to my back.
The next morning we left the trail and road walked to the next available place we could rest for a moment and figure out our next move, which happened to be a well known trail angel house. REI was our best bet, but the closest one was on the outskirts of Los Angeles, about an hour away. It was still early in the day, but hitching so far would probably take some time.
Hating to take an unexpected stop and leave the trail, we knew we really didn’t have much of a choice. So biting the bullet, Indiana and I left the house and headed down to an intersection where hikers usually get a hitch.
For being in the middle of nowhere, there was a good amount of traffic. Unfortunately no one wanted to pick us up. We waited the longest amount of time for a hitch on the PCT yet- about 15 minutes, before I thought to myself that maybe we didn’t have enough sex appeal.
I folded the waistband of my shorts over and pulled them higher, exposing my strange, stocking-like tan lines.
The very next car slowed and pulled onto the shoulder right next to us.
The driver was a friendly looking man in his early forties. He leaned towards the open passenger side window expectantly.
“We’re heading into Northridge,” Indiana explained.
The driver laughed to himself, almost sarcastically. “I’m actually headed that way.”
“Oh really? Well if you could just take us as far as you can that would be amazing.”
“Yeah! Yeah, let me just move some stuff around.” He got out and made space for us and our gear.
Indiana settled into the passenger seat, and I in the back. I listened to him explain our situation and they talked about where we were going. “REI?” the man questioned. “I think I know where it is. If it’s by the mall, I can definitely get you there.”
We sped down through the canyon at what felt like lightening speed to me, sailing through miles that I’m sure would have taken us more than a day’s walk to cover.
“You know, I’m usually commuting much earlier than this. I was helping out at a function at my son’s school this morning, so I’m heading into work later today.” A binder clip on his sun visor held a stack of photos in place. On top I could see one of a little blonde boy, who looked to be about 8 years old.
He talked about how his daily commute was about 100 miles, but it was worth it because of the extra time he got to spend at home with his son (he only had to work three days a week). He told us about the small towns in the area, and how the drought was affecting the landscape.
Within 30 minutes we were merging onto the crowded Los Angeles freeway, watching modern civilization speed into view. All of the gas stations, fast food joints and strip malls grew back into being. I watched drivers in the lanes next to us- traveling faster and further than we could in days’ time, without hardly moving a muscle.
Indiana confirmed the location of the REI with our hitch, “You can just drop us off at the intersection. We’ll be able to get another hitch.”
“I’m actually going just a few streets past it,” the driver said. “You know I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers. I’ve seen hikers waiting at the same spot where you guys were plenty of times. I don’t know what made me stop today.”
That we could find one ride to take us over 40 miles, straight to where we needed to go was, to put it in layman’s terms, kind of crazy. Indiana and I were expecting several hitches and maybe some walking to get to the REI.
Our hitch slowed next to a crowded strip mall, where “Recreational Equipment Incorporated” could clearly be seen on the sign.
“I don’t know if you guys believe in God or a higher power, but I definitely think my higher power was at work today,” he said, pulling into the shopping center and straight into a parking spot in front of the REI.
Less than an hour ago we were a bit discouraged, already hot and sweaty, standing on the side of the road with our thumbs out. Now we were exactly where we needed to be, with time to spare.
Indiana and I thanked him profusely. “Yeah. Have a safe trip,” he said to us, a smile on his face.
An hour later I walked out of REI, all of my gear jammed into my new pack. No time for repairs or rebates, I said a quick goodbye to my backpack of 700 miles and tossed it in the garbage.