Day 27: Zero in LA
May 29, 2019
The appeal of a trip to LA on a rest day from a PCT hike may at first seem difficult to grasp. When I was confronted with a choice between spending a day in a folding chair eating overpriced food from downtown Agua Dulce or spending a day sitting on trains eating overpriced food from a big city I’ve never really liked, the choice was not exactly clear.
The juxtaposition of the hiker aesthetic in the big city was almost too much to pass up (imagine a cuben fiber food bag doubling as a purse, or a neon colored fanny pack that would fit right in in downtown Santa Monica if it weren’t so impossibly filthy, or a “white” sun hoody tie-dyed with sweat stains). But the offer that finally convinced me to spend my zero day in LA came from T-Pain, who promised to handle all of the transportation and logistics. He claimed to know a superb coffee shop and a number of restaurants serving food that is not exactly easily accessible on the trail (fresh seafood, for example).
I left Hiker Heaven just after sunrise with Hot Hands, Casper, and T-Pain, feeling oddly giddy, as though I were escaping some responsibility akin to school or work. I had not been more than a 20 minute car ride from the trail since I’d started hiking. Now I was on a multi-leg journey (car to train to second train) to a place almost perfectly antithetical to the PCT.
We sat on a commuter train, talking and laughing a little too loudly for the other passengers, considering the early hour. Watching the crosswalk signal countdown near the coffee shop in downtown LA, I realized that I could not remember the last time I had measured time in increments as small as seconds. I thought some more and found that I couldn’t remember using a time scale shorter than 10 minutes since starting the trail. Strange.
After a blissful cup of coffee, we returned to the train station and attempted to buy tickets at an automated kiosk. When it took T-Pain’s money without printing his ticket, he banged on the machine angrily with his hand. Immediately, the screen went a furious red, and an alarm began blaring throughout the station prompting T-Pain to walk away stone-facedly while Hot Hands, Casper and I laughed until we cried.
We eventually purchased tickets and headed to an In N Out on the way to Santa Monica (home to an REI and the beach). While Hot Hands and Casper got lunch, T-Pain and I resupplied at the grocery store nearby. As I made my way through the store, I saw T-Pain talking to no fewer than three people about our trip. I joined him for a conversation with two stunned security guards who wanted to know if we were crazy.
While checking out, a man in front of us made a snide comment about the amount of junk food we were buying and pointed to his pile of produce. T-Pain asked him how far he had walked lately, and when the man learned that we were on the PCT, his demeanor changed entirely, and he smiled and told us our 60 Clif bars “made sense.”
Back on the train, nobody seemed particularly keen to sit with us. People seemed confused by our unkempt hair and the wretched state of our expensive outdoors clothing. Were we sporty city folk who had fallen on hard times? Or were we homeless thieves who had robbed a gear store? Either way, we didn’t look or smell very good.
In Santa Monica, we visited the REI for some stove fuel and socks, then walked to a cafe selling acai bowls (truly the most SoCal thing anyone can possibly eat). Hot Hands was still wearing her paper In N Out hat when she ordered her smoothie (sweetened with bee pollen and guaranteed to align all chakras, seen and unseen), which earned her a strange look from the cashier. When asked for a name to associate with the order, Hot Hands began to give her trail name before stuttering, blushing and offering her real name.
With our smoothie bowls in hand, we walked to the beach near the Santa Monica Pier, where Casper and I ran into the waves and promptly got called back to shore for an admonition from a lifeguard about swimming too near a rip current.
A friend of Hot Hands and Bright Side met us at the beach. She’s been off the trail for a few weeks due to injury and infection, a terrible plight.
After the beach, we rushed back to LA Union Station on a crowded train. We split up for dinner and I bought some Thai noodles with fresh shrimp, which I ate while T-Pain finished his resupply in the convenience store of the train station.
We returned to Hiker Heaven just before 10. I was exhausted, but the day had been a blast and I could not have been more relaxed thanks to T-Pain shouldering the logistical burden.