I wake slowly. After yesterday's big miles, I plan to give myself a slower day for recovery. I get up to pee and then shuffle back into my tent. I can hear Pedia talking to someone and the word "pancakes" is said and I poke my head out.
"Did I hear the word pancakes?" I ask her.
"Yep, trail magic over on the far table!"
A trail angel shows up and has a gas range and makes us coffee and pancakes. He dubs me distribution manager, so I take orders and hand out the pancakes as folks come to the table. When I'm done, I pass the torch to someone else.
Pedia and I agree to meet around mile 235 for camping while we pack up. The going is slow for everyone this morning.
I spend some time doing foot care. It's really important as your feet grow stronger and tougher. I needle and threaded my blisters overnight, allowing them to drain better. Put on some leukotape, dust them up with some gold bond (a new favorite of mine) and sock up. During my breaks I dry my feet out and I never sleep with tape on. This traps moisture and can make healing blisters take longer to dry out. In two weeks, I have become a blister care master.
Finally, I am on trail and making my way across the valley floor. There's trees with highly fragrant blossoms, it's almost overwhelming. I keep expecting to see a rattlesnake, but I never see one. This is perfect temperatures and habitat for them!
Soon I meet up with Angela, now knows as Totes. She's always so chipper and positive. She carries a big brown pack and has the strongest quads. She's often found doing crunches at breaks. She tells me a story of how she lost her partner and that she's carrying his ashes. I tear up a little as I trail behind her on a short climb. Eventually we get up on a ridge that shows the most spectacular view of San Jacinto and where we hiked from.
I move alongside Mission creek and after a while we all gather for an afternoon lunch break under a big oak. A rock is positioned perfectly to sit and soak feet in the cold water, so I do that while I eat chips and listen to folks talk and joke. Jays squawk in a near by tree and the breeze blows gently. It's perfect out and I feel like I could linger forever, but I don't and soon I'm back to making miles.
I crisscross back and forth over the creek again and again. In some spaces it's like a jungle, the humidity spikes. Then I climb out of it and back to the arid dry zone, then back into the jungle, then back to the desert. I wade through cattails, mud and thick grasses. The trail is taking me up to 6k feet for camp tonight, and eventually around 8k feet once I'm out of this beautifully snaking canon. It climbs steeply in some spots and then becomes gentle and rolling.
For most of the day I am alone, and I find I prefer to hike this way.
I move through a very dense area of creekside vegetation. I see familiar cones on the ground and old catkins. Alder! I look up and before me is a smooth pewter barked tree, different than what I know of in the northwest. I stoke the leaves and stand there for a long time. It's my first alder since I started the trail. One of my favorite pioneering tree species.
I take a small break to filter water and add in some electrolytes. I'm sweating in the humidity. I eat some sour patch kids and a few bars. I've got this last stretch to do, then camp. My water report says that Misson creek is near by at a low trickle compared to the earlier spots. I take out only a liter until my camp spot. Hopefully it's enough.
The climb gets steeper and more hot. The last seven miles seems to drag on forever. The wind kicks up a little bit and the fear I felt yesterday resurfaces a little. Will it be windy again?
I don't see Pedia anywhere or the other two. Pitstop and Cowboy she was hiking with. Did I miss them? I feel a tiny panic.
Everything will be fine, you don't need them and you can camp safely on your own. I think. But I still feel shy and nervous of camping by myself. I haven't seen anyone since this morning.
I stop crossing the creek a while back and the wind mutes the sound of any water I might be able to hear. What if the water source dried up, what if... what if... hush! I tell myself.
You're fine! Just walk.
So I do and I find the camp spot and the water situated neatly just beside it. Next to me is a jovial couple section hiking. Shortly after Cowboy, Pitstop and Pedia show up. They got lost in the jungle and took a long break.
We all get our beds ready and make dinner. My stove flickers right as I'm done making my lentils and rice with spam. I hold the canister to my ear and shake it. Pitstop stares at me and my face contorts into worry. He laughs maniacally at me and then apologizes. He goes stoveless and is laughing and my now nonworking cook stove.
I get him back by showing him my Krispy Kream donut.
"Well Pitch, the gauntlet has been thrown!"
30 miles until Big Bear! Tomorrow we go up to almost 9k, plenty of water and we're low on food. We'll be flying.
A chill fills the air and it grows dark. The crickets chirp slowly and the wind moves through the trees. I get my things set up around me and snap myself into my sleeping bag. All the tension flows out of my body as soon as I am horizontal, I breathe a deep sigh of contentment and then I am fast asleep.