I wake in the middle for the night to a light shining in my face. I realize that it's just the moon. The clouds cleared and the air had become very dry in the night. My ear plugs gifted to me from Banana Pants are a blessing. All the snoring and sounds are snuffed out. The air is cold and my new woolly tights keep me extra warm and dry feeling and my sleeping bag clean.
I drift in and out of sleep and eventually I have to pee. I walk across the yard, over a dirt road and to the tree line. Inside the shrubby trees I see broken bottles and piles of feces and toilet paper. I squat behind a truck and then wobble back to my pad on the ground.
It's 4am and I am slowly gathering my things. AJ senses this and begins to wake up and pack his stuff up too. We want to be out early to make it as close as we can to Idyllwild. We both do our hiker limp out of camp, we're one of the first folks out. We gather some water at the giant tank. First the first time, we have a longer than usual space without water. So we pack out 3.5 liters.
We begin to climb as the sun comes and lights the sky up. Already, I can tell it's going to be hot today. We shed layers and talk about how we need to poop, but not quite yet. So we wait and we hike on until the time is right.
Three miles in and I am already tired and counting down the time till we take a break to air our healing feet out. Were is all my energy? I take a caffeine pill and sip my chocolate whey that I added an instant coffee packet to. I have my electrolytes, I'm fed and I am hydrated. What gives? I feel like molasses inside and my legs like lead.
A few hikers pass us at our break. We get back up and press on in the growing heat. The air is void of any moisture. The air feels inverted of moisture, like in a negative. It takes it all away from you. My mouth is dry and I take many small sips of my water while we roll up and down the mountain sides. I cannot quench my thirst.
"Stop!" I say.
I cock my head to the side and zero in on the sound coming from somewhere in the brush. It's an unseen rattlesnake. Why can't I just get a good look at one? It turns off its rattle and we shrug and hike on. Up and down we roll, the heat growing, the dryness sapping away our precious moisture. My nose feels crusty and I wipe at it.
"Why is this so hard today?" I ask to no one in particular.
"It's supposed to be hard." AJ says to me.
"I know. But today is especially hard."
"Think about Idyllwild. Think about the burgers at Paradise Cafe and beers and food. I'm getting chips and candy. Gotta get me some chips and candy." He says in his very slight Cajun drawl.
We down down into a dry creek bed where two dogs run a us and bark. "Sugar!" A man says in a stern voice to his one white dog, the other one is black and just sniffs at up.
"I'm Mr. Clean," he introduces himself. He's digging for water for his dogs. He's in need of it now and small pool of it gathers around his feet. His dogs look well fed and very happy. They roll around in the dirt and nibble at grasses while we chat with him. A small plant catches my eye, a type of fragrant galium I think. I pluck it and stuff it in my shoulder pouch. The air is so dry it'll dry up in no time.
We plod on until we come to our next water source. Both of us are hungry enough that we want to cook a meal, so we meander down a steep road to a dried out cistern that's near a slightly flowing creek. We look down the steep slope to the creek. The creek bed is orange and red, but the water is flowing and seems clear. We take off our shoes and lay in the dirt. Slowly we put our pots together and warm some water. I cook up my instant lentils and rice, with a little salt, black pepper and I add in a spam packet. It tastes incredible.
"Yeah, I'm pretty into this lentils and rice stuff. No mac and cheese for me. This is an easy clean up." I say.
"I'm pretty into the easy stuff too. I found this dehydrated potato casserole in the hiker box. Seems OK," AJ says while looking into his pot.
The shade is cool. I rest my legs on my pack and stare up at the waving leaves of cottonwood. I need more of this, I think. To stop and look and enjoy, always rushing and hiking. I roll over to touch the little plant I picked earlier. Sure enough, it is coumarin rich and smells like the sweetest of cut hay. It hovers like a perfume in the dry desert air and around my own hiker stink.
Soon, other show up and go up and down the slope for water. Huffing and puffing down the dangerously steep slope. There's a pile of us in the shade, like a bunch of water buffalo. Chewing and dozing off and swatting at flies. We all nap off an on. Two skinks do laps in the leaf litter around me. Cocking their little heads and sticking out their tongues looking or insects to eat.
AJ and I rouse ourselves to fetch the water. Down the slope me go, getting more dirty and kicking up dust.
"Doesn't look too bad," I say.
"Naw," AJ replies.
We fill our bags and take turns filtering it.
"Yep, tastes like irony creek water," he observes.
I taste it and crinkle my nose. "Eh, yeah." So far we've been very spoiled by quality water sources out here. I know it's not always like this.
Back up the slope we add electrolytes and flavorings to it. Soon, we're back on the hot dusty trail. In no time I am hot and miserable again. No hiking in the day like this again, I think. I feel suffocated. There's no shade anywhere and even if there was, I wouldn't let myself stop. Occasionally, a cool breeze sweeps up and chills my sweat drenched sun shirt.
I day dream about cold drinks, the ocean, being at a waterfall. Any water, any cool water at all. To be home in my temperate rain forest again. I obsess and I allow the heat to get to me. A small black fly hovers just inches from my face for a long time. I swat at it, but it always returns to mock my suffering. AJ and I break apart, me ahead of him. I listen to music and towards the end of a beautiful song, it's the sound of cascading water, dripping water.
I sip the iron creek water from my bottle and I feel like it makes me even more dry. I pause in a dry creek bed with cottonwoods and a few willows. I pull out my head phones and I hear a deafening buzz of a hive somewhere. Is it echoing from the rock walls? I can't see it, and it sends me into a mild panic. I don't want to be stung! I hike fast up the switchbacks and I plod on and on. Will this ever end?
Overwhelmed with heat and feeling the verge of heat exhaustion, I collapse right on trail in the barest scrape of shade. Flies instantly descend on me, but a breeze kicks up and cools me down. I have many more days like this ahead of me.
AJ rounds the corner and joins me. We kick our shoes off. The dirt leaves glimmering bits on our feet and it looks almost like a patina of shimmery makeup.
It's about 3PM and the sun has only one way to go and that's down. So we pack up again with the knowledge that it will cool off eventually. We pass several other hikers in the same boat and better spots of shade if we had just walked 50 feet or so up the trail. Oh well.
We continue on and together this time, so we ma suffer together.
Suddenly I smell something cooking and I become rabid.
"DO YOU SMELL THAT?" I demand.
"It's like french fries or some shit. Like McDonalds french fries!" I say exasperated.
"Mmm, fries," AJ says dreamily.
"I hope there's water at that next cashe. Water report last said it was empty." I tell him. We plan to dry camp tonight and a little extra water would be nice.
We see the road where the cashe should be and I see the bobbing head of two hikers, Bamboo and Rocksteady. They're hovering around a blue box and for one reason only would they hover. There's water!
We hang on to our creek water for cooking and refill our bottles and drink deeply from the cool cashe water. We take only 2 liters, to make sure other hikers can get in on it. I the logbook I see that Mr. Tidy is just ahead and a few other friends.
"How about that campsite in just a mile? I am so beat." I ask AJ.
"I'm totally down."
We climb and find a large area of massive boulders that act as windbreaks. In the shade it's cool and the breeze blows a little. The ground is warm and it's one of the most beautiful site I've camped at yet. We cook little pots of food and chat. I have a strange anxiousness that overcomes me and I confide in AJ about it. he Sierra, all these people, the town stops, keeping up with writing. It's hard and stressful. I ca't seem to relax, even though we're at camp.
"All you gotta think about is the next resupply and that's it. No further," he tells me in a calm and reassuring way.
"You're right. You're very right. I always get ahead of myself."
With a little shame, I pull out a single American Spirit cigarette and climb up on a boulder facing east. My spine is on fire and my body pulses with a nervousness I can't shake. I take a deep breath and look at the mountains. I remind myself of where I am, how long I have planned for this, why I am here and how badly I longed for it. I smoke half the cigarette and on the exhales I send out a small prayer to the land in thanks. I center myself and I feel better.
I also have to poop now, so I go and do that.
I get my tent setup, since I saw some fire ants milling around. It's still light out and I can hear the yip of coyotes far off. It's beautiful and the ground is warm, the air has cooled.
I set my things out for the morning and for the night. Headlamp, pants, shoes and socks, water bottle. Everything in is place.
I lay down and all my tension relaxes. My legs hurt, but I feel much better. No sooner that I am horizontal, do my eyes shut and I pass out.