I'm the first one up. I try in vain to not make too much sound with my bags and things. It's impossible, oh well. It's very, very cold. I make my chocolate whey and instant coffee drink, eat a bar of some sort of food and I'm on my feet ready to hike. I can see Bananas red light of his headlamp flashing inside his tent. Folks will be behind me soon.
I shuffle up the trail a bit, gathering some water from a cashe and then I'm on my way, climbing gently. Soon, I overheat and I shed layers. Honeybuns, Knock and Bananas are behind me. I take the lead and it's a lovely rolling hike for 5 miles where we stop for a short break. I pour Gatorade powder into my water bottles, this has been a bit of a revelation and game changer for me. I had no idea the stuff was so good. I finish my whey drink, eat more bars and we're back to hiking until we hit our siesta point near a small creek.
The time passes quickly and my feet feel OK. There's a threat of blister formation I can feel building. Why? I thought we were done with this blister business, I tell my feet. The soft duff is nice under my feet and it isn't too hot out. We're cruising through an old exposed burn. Off in the distance looks like an old quarry etched out of the mountainside.
We drop down into a fold between the mountains and see a small wooden structure.
"Is that a privy?" Honeybuns ponders out loud. As we approach, it is in fact an outdoor open privy, with a small solar panel. We each make use of it, for both novelty and practicality.
"There's a fan in here! You get a cool draft on your butt," Knock reports.
Annie meets up with us and she and I go to find the creek. It's a slow trickle, but enough to get some water. I'm feeling OK on time, so I pull out my hiker box sit pad, pull out some snacks and remove my shoes to examine my feet in the shade. Honeybuns and Knock move on ahead. I have a blister forming between my big and second toe. I snip it with my swiss army knife scissors, so it can't refill and I tape my feet up again. Blisters are annoying right now, but not debilitating. My feet are just toughening up.
"I'm going to leave in a few minutes I think," Annie says, laying in the dry creek sand. "I'm so sleepy."
Just then I hear the sound of a snake in the grass and it's coming right at me! I hoop and holler and then realize it's just a garter snake. It has a small baby mouse in its mouth. It loops over the creek and begins to eat the little baby whole. It's sort of sad, but also natural. The snake swallows it quickly and then we watch the mouse bump move along the length of its body. We hear a rustling. The mother mouse has showed up and examines her nest, sensing the baby is gone. The snake hovers near by while she searches frantically. For a moment they stand off with one another. Then they are gone.
"What drama," I say.
Then DG, AJ and Bananas show up.
"Did your filters freeze this morning?" AJ asks.*
"Uhh noo," Annie and I reply in unison.
"They probably did. We just ordered new ones. The water in our bottles was a little frozen this morning," AJ tells us. "Bananas, let me use your filter."
Annie and I exchange looks.
"None of my water was frozen this morning." I tell them. "I guess I'll just get giardia."
"You won't know until you do!" AJ says. He pours water back into the creek. "And that's the sound your ass will make in a few days," He says with his slight Louisianan twang and a smirk.
"Oh what the hell ever. Annie and I are now Team Giardia. Fuck y'all." I say with both annoyance and affection. They tease us for a while. While it does worry me, none of my water was frozen and temperatures didn't drop for long enough for the filters to fully freeze overnight. At least that's what I tell myself.
"We're the Giardia Girls," Annie jokes. We both sip our water. "I guess we'll find out."
Two hours pass and Annie and the rest of us are still there. "How the hell did time fly so fast," she says.
I walk to the privy, which is .2 miles away to poop. I walk back and folks are starting to pack out. I do the same and soon I am the last person left there and I can't find my new sun glasses. What the fuck did I do with those damn things? I walk back to the privy again and they're not there. I search my pack. Right inside on top of everything. I eyeroll to myself.
Soon, I'm back on trail. But I go less than a mile and find everyone siesta-ing again, with Honeybuns and Knock. I linger for a moment with my pack on, and get back on the trail. I'm going to take only one more break until I reach the bridge at Deep creek. I'll enjoy the alone time.
I cruise for a good long while until I come to a curve in the trail where a creek flows over some neatly positioned boulders and roots. The pools are deep enough and come up to my knees. I take my shoes off and dip my feet into the cold water. My tendons are happy and my feet destress.
Soon, the rest of the group shows up. We eat and joke. Annie and I are officially Giardia Girls and AJ joins us because a few drops of unfiltered creek water get in his water bottle, so we tease him.
Bananas makes up a song to the theme of Barbie Girl by Aqua. "I'm a Giardia girl, in a giardia world... you can hold my hair, I'll puke everrrrywhere. Life with parasites, it's fantastic!"
Soon, I'm back on trail. My feet cool and happy from the creek, but it doesn't last very long. They're pretty sore now. I come into an area with service and see a text from Rider. The last words of it really set me off.
I can't be responsible for his emotions.
My thoughts loop around and around in my head always going back to the same old words. I get angry, I get mad. And so I hike very fast. On easy days of hiking, I notice that I am missing something: an endorphin high. So I push it. Even though my left foot screams in protest and my right Achilles begins to ache deeply again. I don't give a shit, I fly up and down and probably a little too recklessly.
I hike away the anger until I am sweat drenched and standing at the bridge leading to a pavilion and down below, the creek. Where I can see other hikers and drunk people swimming. DG comes up behind me. I'm not angry anymore. It's pointless to focus on the shit we can't control. Endorphin high however, full acquired.
"I think I activated my Achilles tendonitis," I say to DG as I pull my shoe off to look at my foot. We're waiting on the others to show up, so we can figure out our sleep situation together.
"Oh thank god! It's just a blister!" I say with relief. The pain of it radiated up through my ankle. Totally manageable. The rest of the group trickles in and we walk up to what is called Splinters cabin, but it's really just a pavilion. Darkness is coming quickly and we cook and stumble around. Frog chirp and we can hear the water flowing near by. We try to make words with our mouths but we're all so exhausted.
I put my sleep pad down on the concrete. Rider texts me an apology and I do too. I organize my night things and get myself tucked in. Finally, the sweet feeling of exhaustion and being horizontal does it magic and I slowly close my eyes under a start filled sky.
*Sawyer filters can break and loose their ability to filter water correctly if they freeze.