Time Out Merced

Miles: More Zero
Total: Stuck on 1199

My time in the valley passes in a dizzy haze, fragmented memories scattered across multiple days that I struggle to tease apart. Hanie baking chocolate peanut butter ‘poop’ cupcakes for a vet school theme party; eating an infamous Voodoo “cock’n balls” donut, flown down from Portland, in all its vegan cream-filled (!!!) glory. Sitting in tidy offices, feeling only half-presentable, clean dress offset by cheap target flip flops and hairy legs. Showing Stephen how to eat salad right from the bag in the grocery store deli before being offered bowls by an employee unfamiliar with the ways of hikertrash. “It’s OK, I do this all the time,” I assure her.

IMG_4344With each day away from the PCT, my stress grows. I am exhausted from Real Life Things, more asleep than awake. One evening, incoherent with the heat, all I can do is mumble “Vegetables. I’m going to die. Need vegetables.” Thai food is procured and it looks like I am going to pull through.

But there are moments of clarity too.

I rush across the UC Merced campus, almost late for a meeting. It’s just after noon, the sun somehow hotter than the Mojave. The trees are as new as the campus, they offer only the promise of future shade. I look up at a street sign, to see if I am headed in the right direction, only to stop in my tracks with a huge grin on my face. I am standing at the corner of Muir Pass Road and Scholars Lane: the intersection of my summer, of the elusive work-life balance, of my near future all neatly displayed on a nondescript post.

Already I feet at home here with campus streets and residences named for beloved people and places of the Sierra: Ansel Adams, Emigrant Pass, and Mammoth Lakes Roads; Tioga and Half Dome Halls. The staff are incredibly friendly; the family-feel refreshing after UC San Diego’s distant bureaucratic edge. When I cannot find an office and ask for help, I am shown the way by a man I assume to be faculty. “You must be one of the new Postdocs,” he says, never introducing himself. I learn soon after that my mysterious escort was none other than the Dean.

The housing search, however, is not going well. Everything available has disappeared since making appointments from Sierra City. The first house we visit is taken by another couple before we can so much as finish our tour. Corrupt rental agencies refuse to even show houses without expensive credit checks. Apartment complexes have hiked their lease prices in anticipation of the new school year, and still have months long wait-lists. I might just have to pitch my tiny tent under a tiny tree on campus until something opens up.

Finally, on the last morning of the last day before Stephen flies out and I resume walking north, we have success: A modest grey bungalow with two bright bedrooms, shiny bathroom and kitchen; a big fenced yard for a garden and future puppy; and a landlady who is an actual person, and a very kind one at that.

The PCT seems so far away. It is too hot here and too flat. I have walked almost nowhere at all for a week, stumbling from air conditioned car to air conditioned building. I have doubts again, about my capacity to make Oregon, five hundred miles in three weeks. What even is a mile, I think?

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