I wake at 4:30, coyotes still yipping off in the distance. The morning light begins to glow behind the mountains very faintly. The ground is warm and sandy like a beach.
I pop a little caffeine pill and sort my things around me. AJ asked me to wake him before I headed out, so I walk around the massive boulder and shake his foot.
"Yeah!" He says sleepily from his half collapsed bugnet.
I pack my things quickly. Shake out the sand and heave my pack. I got plenty of water at the cashe and it's only 6 miles to Paradise Cafe, where we'll take a hitch into Idyllwild. My feet are in need of a zero day and rest.
We set off in the morning gloam. The air is cool and it's not too hot. I hike fast, the trail climbs a little and snakes it's way up and over hills and up into a saddle, into an amazing view.
3 miles to Paradise! I bide my time thinking about the food I'll order, wondering if I'll catch my friends there.
I put in some motivational music and it kicks my speed up. I'm flying up and over and around. Burgers burgers burgers!
Soon the trail dips and I can see the road out to my left and down a ways. A few dots of other hikers lingering around the gate. I call my boyfriend Rider, but realize it's 7am still and he's probably asleep, so I leave a message. I miss him a lot.
I'm in home stretch towards the gate and road, there's a handful of other hikers there and someone's abandoned food bag, full of food.
"They probably bailed," one of the hikers says.
AJ comes up from behind. One mile road walk to Paradise!
We set off along the sloping gravel shoulder, the angle hurts my ankles, but I don't care because: breakfast! I walk as fast as I can. Small tents are pitched behind the cafe building situated at a crossroads.
Just then, Honeybuns, Bananas, Knock on Wood, Fran and Annie are all there greeting us! We exchange hugs and are so excited to be reunited again. AJ and I had been alone together for what felt like eons. Time passes in such a strange way out here.
We all sit together, the rest of the group had already eaten and they lounge around in a mild food coma.
I'm craving fresh fruit, but they have none on their menu. So I order a cinnamon bun, a side order of busicuts and gravy and a breakfast burrito. The cinnamon bun comes out with melting butter on top of it, the center is a sticky caramel dream. I consume everything quickly and voraciously.
After we finish we all gather for a photo outside. The whole crew together at last! It's a rarity, since we al hike at varying speeds and make different stops along the trail.
Just as the waitress takes our photo a man in a pickup drives by and asks if we want a ride. We didn't even have to stick out our thumbs! Me, AJ, Bananas and another hiker named Fireball take the ride. The rest of everyone hangs back. Leaning against our packs, we bounce along the dusty road while the California bro like driver in a straw hat lights a joint.
He drops us off at a ranger station, several miles away from Idyllwild still and too far a road walk for tired hikers. We cross the road and stick out our thumbs. In no less than 5 minutes a lady is pulling over and yelling at us to hurry and throw our packs in the back of her SUV. We load up and she almost takes off without Fireball. He runs to catch up and jumps in.
The woman is heavily perfumed and heading to a real estate meeting that she's late for. She asks our names and where we're from. She asks where we all went to college. When it's my turn and I respond that I didn't attend college, I become exempt from the conversation about politics and schooling. So I sit quietly and stare out the window while the loudness of the conversation hurts my ears and the perfume burns my nose.
I don't resent the fact I never went to college, or had a conventional education. But it leaves me out of many conversations I've been in since I started this hike. It's as if I somehow don't exist once someone knows. I'm not seen. Or that what I do know, based on self education and experience is somehow null and void and not worth being validated. A part of me feels like a child again, desperately wanting validation, approval or acceptance but I internalize it all. I become quiet and allow the veil of invisibility to cover me. Why does this bother me so much?
She drops us off right by the public library and grocery store. She takes our photo before she drives off. We then wander into the grocery store, overstimulated, making mental checklists of viable resupply foods. We get a 6 pack of beer, some snacks and scope the town out on our way to a park where we can camp for cheap. We find the pizza joint, a brewery, coffee shops, the laundromat and finally the state park where all the hikers are at. It's $3 a night and we have access to showers. A dollar for one token that gives you 5 minutes of shower time. I buy four. I can't wait to wash the silty creek water out of my hair.
We spread all of our snacks and beer out on a ground sheet in the sun. We chat and drink, other hikers mingle around. AJ and Bananas make plans for the movie theater. I'm thinking about finding a place to hole up and write and drink coffee.
Hikers come and go. There's a picnic table in the middle of our designated camping area that acts as a hub. A food storage box turned hiker box get rifled through. There's burnt out gas canisters, olive oil, weird dried foods in bags and half used medical supplies.
As the evening moves on, there's more beer brought in by other hikers. Laughing and joking. AJ, Bananas, DG and I decide to go get pizza. Small groups of hikers huddle at circular tables. We all eye each other in some sort of silent hiker acknowledgment. The staff takes an awkward Polaroid photo of us for their wall of hikers. We order two large pizzas and eat until we can hardly move anymore.
We wander back to camp in a pizza stupor. I am so full I feel delirious and I vow to never eat that much again. It grows dark and hikers are still drinking and cajoling around the picnic table hub. I gather my toiletries and limp to the showers where I take a luxurious 15 minute shower. I feel drunk with food and sleep in the dim light of the shower stall, trying to wash away all the dirt.
I feel warm and clean when I'm done and I fumble my way to my tent, where I curl up and fall asleep to the sounds of drunkish hikers and firelight.
The next morning I wake to Bananas sitting outside my tent, checking to see if he passed his BAR exam.
"What do you think this means?" I see the words PASS in an email on his smartphone. He is now Banana Pants, Esquire!
I crawl out of my tent and fetch left over pizza. AJ begs for a slice from his tent door, still in his sleeping bag. I give him the last slice. He shamelessly eats it next to his bottle of whiskey in the dirt.
Then, it's business time. I get laundry going and a coffee and I begin to write, write, write. When laundry is done, I move my way to the library, where I continue writing. Eventually, hunger overtakes me and I buy a small prepackaged blue cheese salad with bacon and tomatoes. I add in some chicken from the hot case. I take it all outside in the sun and assemble my lunch. A woman busks with a violin, and I eat my salad in a parking lot surrounded by mountains, sunshine and people coming and going in a parking lot. A strong wave of introversion comes over me as I watch the hikers mill around the front of the library. I wanna be alone and I am, but I can't seem to find that space, even on trail it seems.
I gotta break away from everyone at some point. I feel too dependent. How will you ever be able to do this when you're really alone out there? Will you even know how to be alone?
I wander back into the library and crawl into a memeory tunnel vision of writing. Everything is blurry on the edges as I work up the passing of time on a computer screen.
Soon, the librarian reminds me is almost closing time and by a stroke of luck, I am finished right at that moment. Caught up! I can relax, a little.
Anxiousness washes over me again. I worry that my friends will be upset that I want to break away, or that I will dislike being alone, or that I'll be alienating myself. Decisions.
I buy a 22oz of beer and decide to try and relax with the others at camp as evening descends on us. When I get there, other folks are drinking and hanging out. Some cooking dinners and others coming back from the movies. The conversation goes in many directions and I find myself becoming greatly irritated by an older hiker who mansplains to me, challenges me when I say anything semi intelligent and generally treats me as though I am only there to act as a smooth stepping stone for his inflated ego. But instead, I trip him. He hovers like an irritating fly, so I distance myself.
Then, Honeybuns and Knock on Wood show up with birthday things! It's Honeybuns birthday and Knock got a bunch of stuff together to celebrate. We put on pointy hats and sings songs, eat cake and pizza. We lightly plan out the next day of hiking, it's up and around Mt. San Jacinto! 9000 feet in elevation. The highest I've been with a pack on. I debate if I want to summit with everyone, and I lean towards not wanting to. It'll save my legs and I'll get the distance and alone time I've been needing. I decide to make the call at the spur trail when we go up in the morning.
Night falls and there's a little clean up before we all tuck in. 5 days until our next town stop of Big Bear. My feet feel good and I'm itching to push myself and test my limits this round.
I slip into my tent and push in my ear plugs and fall fast asleep.