My tent rattles all night, but it's secure. When I touch my face I feel it covered in dust. The wind howls. Everything is covered in a fine dust. The strong winds kick it up and blast it into my tent, even through the fine mesh. My sleeping bag feels grainy when I stroke the surface of it. I try to sleep and I do a little, off and on. Checking my watch, it's glows that it's 4am. I lay there a while waiting for the slight hint of dawn coming. When it arrives, I gather all my things in the gusting wind. My gear flaps and moves. I have slightly less than one liter until I hit a faucet 12 miles down. My nose is crusted slightly with blood and dust. It's so cold. I blow my nose into my bandana.
The wind presses against me as I begin to descend in the dark. I feel nervous in these hours because of mountain lions lurking in the dark. I watch for eyes with my headlamp. Soon, I make it to the long and forever seeming switchbacks. I can see far down in the valley below all the lights of wind turbines, a far off city and a highway. This is where I am headed. I'll drop down and down and down.
Soon, the sun breaks. I get into a good groove and pick my way down the rocky trail. It gets hot, then cold, hot then cold with the wind, sun and shade. Soon, I can feel my blood sugar drop so I stop in the middle of the trail and eat some snacks. Granola, dates and some Reese's pieces. A hiker named Cola passes me, and I get up shortly after.
The sun rises higher and I apply a little sun screen. The down is aggravating my feet, but I need to press on. I take tiny sips from my water bottle. The city, turbines and highway grow closer and closer.
Eventually, I see a tiny community, a long road coming from the mountain I am descending and tiny dots around what I assume is the water fountain I am aiming for.
I get there with one tiny sip left and I collapse into the dirt with a few other hikers.
We all sit in the dirt drying our socks and eating snacks. The fountain is situated in such a way that the wind takes away most of it and it takes a long time to collect into a water bottle.
A few other hikers around me and myself realize we are lower on food than we'd like to be. The hunger has increased. I agree with guy named Bruce who's from Texas, to hitch into Cabazon for more snacks. We chat as we walk down the paved road. The asphalt is murder on our trail acclimated feet.
In this distance, I can make out a familiar person in a blue shirt. Deb! She's magically everywhere all the time! We hug and are excited and shocked to see each other. She gives us oranges and carrots and offers to give us a ride into town for a little resupply.
We walk through a flat sandy wash. The wind whips through the power lines and strange thin metal towers. It makes an errie sound.
We near the highway underpass, and there's a small sign that says "TRAIL MAGIC! Hot dogs! Beer! Brownies!"
"Oh double trail magic today!" I say.
Bruce and I are greeted by Mama Bear who gives us the biggest hugs. I eat two hot dogs, have a giant brownie, a handful of chips and pretzels and one Budweiser.
Deb shows up and we all load up. She drops Bruce and I off at a gas station and then takes two Germans to the post office. The wind is whipping crazily. I open the door to mini mart and a gush of wind shoves me inside. Like an old western, everyone stops and stares at me. My face feels red and I realize I look rediculous. The bright colors and lights shock my senses. Everything wants me to grab it and buy it. Bruce and I grab foods and make decisions. I buy chili mango, tropical trail mix, nutterbutters, a krispy kream cinnamon doughnut and sour patch kids. After paying I go to use the bathroom. As I walk in I see myself in the mirror for the first time in a little while. My face is red and my hair wind blown. I look tired, but alive. My hands are dark and my nails bright white. I use the toilet and grab a few wads of toilet paper.
Bruce and I wait outside. Across from us is the famous dinosaurs that were in Pee Wees Big Adventure. We start quoting bits from the movie.
"I saw the worst accident, I ever seen!"
"There was a sound, like a garbage truck being dropped off the Empire State Building!"
"Tell 'em Large Marg sent ya! Hahahh."
Then Deb pulls up. She's driving by an In-n-Out and we stop for a moment to get a burger. The clean white inside of the restaurant is weird to my senses that are used to browns, greens, grey.
Soon we're back on the trail, and at the underpass. I sort my gear as cars hiss by above me. I'm so full. I kind of over did it on the food.
My maps say there really isn't any camping for the next several miles and I've already done 16. I tell myself I'll just stop when I see a small site to camp at. I turn towards the trail and begin hiking again.
It isn't terribly hot due to the recent cold front, but it is windy, very windy. Hence the presence of a wind farm. I move along up the trail and hear the errie whoosh whoosh of the turbine blades. The wind blasts me from behind.
I'm moving up a very steep ascent, climbing to the top of a saddle. I have to stop every 5 minutes or so to let my muscles stop screaming, it's so steep. I can feel my Achilles groaning and threatening me with tendonitis.
I reach the top and am looking into a vast exposed rolling mountainous hillside. The trail hugs the corners and switchbacks up and down and goes over the hills to an unknown place. I decide to shoot for Whitewater Preserve, a former trout farm.
The wind beats me again and again. Always at the most dangerous spots on the trail. Where it's eroding, where it turns sharply with a sheer drop off on the one side.
This place is literally inhospitable. What the fuck could even be out here?
As I push up over a hill, the wind hits me so hard I stumble and have to stop. My trekking poles flap in the air like they're nothing. As I press on, the wind makes a sound out of my open mouth, like a jug you blow on. The sun is setting and the temperature dropping. I keep moving as fast as I can, but the wind rips right through my fleece and there's no time to reach for my wind/rain jacket.
Then I feel it, a white hot pain in my left foot. I limp at first, then I get angry and I walk harder. It's a new blister that popped under the pressure of walking under my left big toe, it hurts a lot. But I know that if I keep walking the pain will numb itself eventually. And it does. Smack! Smack! Smack! Goes the wind. It doesn't care about my own little problems.
Far ahead and down below I can see another hiker. This brings me some comfort. I felt like I was the only person out here. I know they're also battling the wind. Out ahead I can see an old river valley floor opening up between sets of mountains. The red hills clash with the blue green of the rocks around the creek that run through it. I begin to hit the switchbacks to make my way down.
The wind is most fierce here. Testing me before I reach my destination. As I round a narrow corner that spills away into nothingness on one side the wind hits me so hard I have to lean back into it and hug the rock wall beside me. The wind doesn't care.
My lucky black hat flips up out of my pack and into the air. I watch it fly with absolute dispare. The wind wants to take everything away from me! But miraculously, it lands in a scrubby sage jutting up out of some rock where it stays until I can reach it.
Not today wind, not today.
The wind batters me again and again on my way down. Soon, I reach the valley floor. I am safe. I find the trail junction and a small sign saying "Welcome PCT Hikers!" giving us directions toward Whitewater Preserve, where we can camp. Another hiker comes up behind me. We don't share words, we both just know what we went through alone up there. We can see our oasis in the dimming light. The sun reflects off a high rock wall about a mile away and it illuminates a grove of cottonwoods. The preserve is within reach. We made it.
A delerium washes over me. Exhaustion, adrenaline come down, my first big mileage day, the feeling that I can rest tonight in a safe place.
I find a spot near Pedia and a few others she hiked with. I battle the wind as I set up my tent. We all speak of the wind, and the wind whooshes through the trees and rattles our tents.
I find the bathrooms and they're a palace! Warm, no wind! Hot water even! I wash a few items and cook a pot of ramen around the corner of the building where there's a wind break. I don't even care if my tent collapses on me in the night. I am going to sleep so well.
I shine my headlamp back towards my tent and I crawl in. My spicy ramen warms my whole body and I snuggle deep into my seeping bag and pass out instantly.