Waking up is getting harder, I want more and more to sleep in and or stay in the warmth of my sleeping bag. I can hear bird song swirling around me. The morning is warmer than it was the night before it feels like. I sit upright and mix my vanilla chocolate whey and instant coffee sticks together. Soon I am making more noises that rouse the others. The crinkle of dyneema, plastics and sleeping pads makes lots of noise, even if you try to be quiet.
"You gunna eat that donut for us?" Asks Pitstop in a sleepy daze.
I sarcastically roll my eyes at him. The others pack out faster than me because they cowboy camped. I filter a little water and make an electrolyte drink. I take my time.
Soon, it's feet on the trail and I'm immediately climbing. It's steep and the elevation still labors my lungs and makes my muscles burn. When will I ever acclimate? I wonder. The wind is serious. It hits me in the cold shade and in the sun, the temperatures fluctuate drastically in such a short space of time. The oak leaf litter is slick and I find myself occasionally slipping or tripping.
I around a corner and move sharply up and it's Pedia. I jump. I was lost in my head and her sudden presence spooked me. She spoons some sort of paste looking food from a plastic freezer bag next to a creek. We all show up, one by one and gather water and eat snacks. 5 miles done so quickly, how did that happen?
We shovel in some food and get moving again through a burn area. The sun beats down on the pines and high elevation conifers and the scent is overwhelmingly amazing. Warm resins, duff and dried grasses mix with hot sand and the remnants of old fire. The trail levels out and I begin to fly, fly, fly. Sometimes I catch a good groove and rather than mincing my way along a rocky trail, I leap like a mountain goat from rock to rock. My speed is great and I feel amazing.
ZING. Goes a weird pain in my right foot, along the outside ball near my pinky toe. I make a face and limp a little. Then it goes away. Always a new pain when an old one goes away. I slow a little and pick it back up again. My feet ache, but I push on through it anyway. Slowing down just makes it worse.
Soon, I begin to near an old cabin where we all agreed to meet up for lunch. There's a little privy near by and some picnic tables. We're higher up, at around 8k feet. We spread out along the wall of the cabin and pick at our feet and food.
Cowboy eats a tortilla covered in peanut butter and a melting chocolate bunny. I share my chili mango and nibble on chips and Reese's pieces. We use the privy and rate it a 9/10 for smell and cleanliness. Such a luxury!
We're back to hiking and the trail rolls beautifully. We all separate and slip into our own little worlds. The trail occasionally is signed by pine cones and rocks that points us in the correct direction at road junctions. We're all going to meet at our next water source, a faucet. I find Cowboy reading with his back up against a tree. To his left is a stagnant pool of water with tracks all around it. We pick our coyote, bobcat and possibly cougar.
Soon, Pedia, Skippy and Pitstop arrive. Skippy and I watch packs while they find the faucet and fill our water bottles. We only have 5 miles left. What an easy day so far! Water bottles filled and snacks had, we're back on trail and approaching a rather famous oddity of the trail. A private "zoo" where they have trained wild animals that they use in films. A few additional hikers follow up behind us as we approach the chain link fence. We can all see a lounging Bengal tiger and then a bear that weaves back and forth in it's small cage.
We walk a little further around the enclosure and see another sad bear and a mountain lion. The sound of an actual African lion roaring is heard. Then, a very tall and big man with full tattooed sleeves and a mohawk approaches us with his hands gloved.
"Hey guys. I'm getting ready to move a cat. I'll give y'all a few minutes to look and then I'll need you all to move away. How about this wind, amirite?" he says to us very casually.
We all look like small children with our mouths open and fingers intertwined in the chain link fence. We say yes in a daze and move on.
"Poor bears. Poor cats," I say with sadness.
Soon, we all gather at the infamous trail couch. Pitstop and Make it Rain flop on to it. We loiter around and make loose plans for town. I'm interested in splitting a hotel to save some money. We all sort of agree we want to do this. We'll figure it out at camp. Tomorrow it's only 10 miles to town, where I'll get my box and some rest.
We begin our last little stretch, only 3 miles left to our camp site. The trail is rocky, but I am moving well. It's the golden hour and the sun is casting beautiful rays through the trees. Just then I see a big brown fuzzy thing move silently through the woods. I stop to peer in between the trees, but I hear and see nothing. Oh well, I keep moving.
I slow myself down and I begin a little descent into an old pine forest. Sometimes it's easy to forget you're here. My body is increasingly feeling like a car and I am the driver. I fly past things and don't see very much, even though I am in the middle of it all. Even though I take breaks in it and sleep in it. It's easy to get lost in my head. I need a reminder to practice regular mindfulness.
I can see newly budding wild roses and their hips from last year in the quiet dusty sun beams. For a moment, I am blissfully happy. I hang on it to as I roll into camp. There are lots of spots for everyone and I pitch my tent for a little extra warmth tonight. I eat a small pot of tuna and chips, since my stove is out of fuel. Everyone else is passing around a bottle of whiskey and smoking pot. I pass on it. For some reason, I feel like an outsider to this little bubble of people. They all gather round tightly and I sit alone on the bench. We crack jokes at one another. I wonder if I am too much, or if I come across as aggressive since I sometimes voice strong opinions. I eat some candy and brush my teeth.
I do my night routine of peeing before bed and getting my things organized for the morning.
I gotta figure out this social game, I think. Or should I even care about it?
I don't think too hard on it and soon, I am drifting into sleep.