I wake at 4:30 and lay in bed, unable to sleep any longer. There’s just too much going on- the streetlights bleeding in through the windows, the humming of the refrigerator unit, the trains rattling by in the dark. It’s the Union Pacific route that runs from Portland to L.A. via Dunsmuir. It’s my first long train ride, twenty years old when I didn’t know anything, not enough water and I lost my sleeping bag under the train. Going over the cascades in February. We did make it to L.A., though, tongues swollen from dehydration, stumbled into a taqueria and ate and drank everything, built a house of tumbleweeds next to the tracks and waited for the train that would take us to Texas. Went to jail in Texas.
I sit in bed, propped against a bunch of pillows, and work on my blog. In a couple of hours the hiker hunger hits like its own freight train and I text everyone- either they’re still asleep or they’re up and they’ve eaten already. I walk out into the bright morning and down the street to the Black Bear Diner, aka some of the best food on the trail. Instigate is there, sitting at a table with TeaTime, who is sort of quiet and wears a neon green hat.
“Have you eaten?” I say to Instigate.
“Yeah,” she says. “But I’ll hang out with you.”
“You can have some of my milkshake,” I say.
I order a massive burger (wrapped in lettuce because gluten, natch) with fries and a blackberry shake. The burger is awesome and the shake is the best I’ve had so far on the trail, and comes with extra shake in a metal cylinder. I consider ordering a bear claw, which is special pastry that, according to the menu card, has more than three thousand calories.
“What if you did your whole resupply on these?” I say to Instigate, staring into the pastry case as I pay for my breakfast. “It would be so simple. I really wish someone would do that.”
After breakfast we go across the street to rite-aid to stock up on all the travel size items (toothpaste, hand sanitizer, sunscreen) and then I wander through town, looking at all the crystal shops. There are so many crystal shops that some of the shops are directly competing with each other- there is a crystal shop in a remodeled gas station with a signboard out front advertising the “thirteenth crystal skull”, and across the street is another crystal shop with a big sign in the window about how the “thirteenth crystal skull” is a hoax. It boggles the mind.
I find Spark in a coffee shop reading sci-fi and I sit down next to him so that I can eavesdrop on the hippies some more. There’s a hippie couple across from me wearing rope sandals and spooning honey into their giant mugs of coffee from a mason jar. They both have long dreadlocks and are disarmingly beautiful.
“Around the corner and down the street,” says the one hippie to the other, “there’s a chai shop. You don’t have to pay; it’s all based on donations. Tonight they’ll be playing the gongs there, so I’m going to go and lie on the cushions and, you know, get gonged.”
“And singing bowls,” says the other hippie. “They do the singing bowls there too.”
Afterwards I walk through town some more, just taking it all in. There’s an empty lot ringed in blackberry bushes and barefoot hippies are immersed in the bushes, eating berries.
“Are the berries ripe?” I ask one of them. He’s wearing a dirty white shirt and he’s lean and overly tan. He could almost be a thru-hiker. Our vagabond cousins!
“Some of them are, sister,” he says to me.
I also see train riders, which you can tell from the hippies because they wear more black and have cats on leashes and super mellow pitbulls. I assume they’ve trickled down from Dunsmuir, one of the best little railroad towns on the planet, and I stand at the tracks and watch longingly as a UP intermodal blows through headed south. Sleepy little one-street Dunsmuir, where I stood at the public water fountain with my friends Kristi and Finch, running my blackened hands under the cool water and a woman in a floral-print dress walked up and said
“You ladies just off the train?”
The thunderstorms roll in again in the afternoon and I retreat to the Black Bear Diner for my second giant meal. I order the pot roast, which comes on a giant ceramic platter with coleslaw, French fries, green beans, salad and bread. It’s not as good as the pot roast I make at home in my dutch oven but it is pot roast, so it gets points for that. I also order a huckleberry shake, and then merrily destroy everything. I’m so happy.
Then I’m blogging in bed, bored and sort of lonely, leftovers propped in the cool air of the windowsill. It’s raining really hard outside, splattering off the concrete like birdshot. I think of Spark and Instigate, hunkered down in their tents behind the gear store, and I think of the lecture about room stacking. I text Spark-
You guys should come stay here. It’s raining really hard. But be kind of stealth about it.
And then there’s scratching and meowing at the door, and I let the feral cats inside.