I wake up late. I have a hiking hangover, it's 5:30am. I get myself ready and I'm not on trail till about 6:30. My feet don't feel as bad as I expected, but they don't feel great.
The trail hugs the canyon walls and down below I can hear the creek roaring. It's already very hot. The sun hits the easterly side of this canyon wall for a good portion of the day and you can still feel the sun from yesterday radiating up out of the rock.
Deep creek hot springs is our destination today. It's less than 10 miles from where we camped last night. I find Ronja an Austrian woman who's been hiking with us for a few days sitting in the shade of a large tree. She's sweating and eating snacks. Bananas comes up behind us. We linger for a while in the heat. It's oppressive and descended upon us sooner than we expected, now that we're at lower elevation.
One by one we get back on trail. We snake around the canyon walls, and I take deep sips from my water bottles and fish snacks from my hip belt. I count the minutes until am at our next water source, which turns out to be a heavenly oasis under cottonwoods and desert willows.
A few other hikers are there. Two of which I have seen once before. They wear what I think is bear claws around their necks with intricate bead work.
I take my shoes off and wade into the knee deep water. I yelp for the first few steps, it's so cold on my hot feet.
"Is that bear you're wearing?" I ask.
One of them turns to me. "It is."
From what he tells me, he is Lakota. It's an heirloom that's been passed on within his tribe and now he cares for it. He goes by Medicine Man and his friend is Meatloaf, who is somehow hiking on a fractured foot. I want to ask a lot of curious questions, but I leave them be since they're packing out.
DG, Annie, Bannanas and I lounge on the rocks in the shade. DGs pack gets overrun with ants, he flicks them off. We tease Bananas because he might be getting off trail at our next town stop. We don't want him to leave, but we understand. He just passed the California BAR exam and needs to take care of some things in his regular life.
Only 2.4 miles to the hot spring! One by one we head out. I put in some music to make the miles fly and then I'm off.
As I work my way down a smooth bit of down hill, the sand is a little thick under my feet, I fall. I crumple on top of my left leg and with all my weight pressed into it, I slide down a little ways. All tangled in my trekking poles.
I laugh at myself, but it also hurts but I mostly laugh. There was nothing to even trip over! Annie speeds ahead with headphones in, she can't hear me. I stand up and holy shit this is worse than I thought, blood is gushing down my leg. Bananas comes up from behind and I grab his attention.
"It's that bear again!" He says (a joke, because I scraped this leg in the same spot before.)
The blood starts to run into my socks. I'm slightly disoriented. How did this even happen? He puts down his ground cloth and he uses the water to wash away the dirt. We wipe at it with alcohol pads and pour on a little hand sanitizer, it hurts so bad I want to scream. But I let out a hardy FUCK instead.
"Fuck fuck fuck!"
"We're like .4 from the hot spring, I can just clean it better there." I tell him. Thank goodness for Bananas.
I walk into the hot springs with a bloody mess of a leg. I sit on a bank behind the tiny beach into the gorgeous pools of cool water and like other springs I've been at, there are man made pools of rock for the hot water. It's a beautiful spot, and a waterfall roars nearby. Knock comes to mother me and everyone pitches in to help me with supplies. Medicine Man brings me gauze, alcohol pads, wrap and some antibiotic/pain cream. Everyone is so generous and kind. As I clean it better, Medicine Man points out I'll need to scrub, because there's gravel lodged into my skin. I give him a pitiful look.
Everyone gives me some space to tend to it. I'm irate about it. Such a stupid fall! The bleeding stops and I finally get it clean. I sit and stare off at everyone frolicking in the water. Oh well, it could be worse. Overall, I'm OK and that's what matters. I eat some tuna and chips and a few snacks to ground myself. I settle down and relax a little.
I take my sun shirt off and wade into the water a bit. I sit on the rocks between the hot and cold pools and wash myself, it feels so good. The cold water is too cold to me, and the hot too hot so I sit where the hot water spills out and I relax. I don't know if getting my wound wet like this is bad or not. Frankly, I don't care right now and I'll just have to find out. I watch a small growing bullfrog sit idly in a tiny pool of water. I lay my shorts out to dry on a hot rock and I make my way back to the bank to lay down in the shade.
Behind me is Meatloaf, Medicine Man and Rocksteady. They're listening to a local hippy dude in a loincloth talk about how he saw a couple having sex on the beach, and that he filmed it.
"Free porno man! Hot chicks will just leave their tops off... great tits... fuckin' goin' at it..."
The three of them look uncomfortable by the man, who calls himself a hippy. Immediately and the moment I saw him I had a bad feeling about him. A burnt out gross old man, drinking liquor and hovering around like a fly.
He goes back to his pack and snorts cocaine.
He's the kind of guy who will molest you if you're not careful. Not being new to clothing optional spaces, or hot springs, this man fits a very specific mold. So I take on the thousands yard stare and make it as obvious as possible that I am not to be fucked with.
"Are y'all PCT hikers?" Ask two women hauling a cooler. "We got trail magic!"
Everyone swarms around, there's beer and sandwich makings! With lettuce!
Each of us dives in. I make a turkey sandwich with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato and slices of cheese. We all stand around half naked and in our underwear under the shade, hiding frl the sun and heat. I tuck the cheese wrappers in my underwear because there isn't a bag for trash yet. I eat two sandwiches and feel very full.
"Here, you want me to take that?" The hippy man says to AJ, who is standing next to me. He grabs the cheese wrappers from AJ and then reaches into my underwear to grab the wrappers I put there.
I freeze. AJ stares at me with shock mouthing "what the fuck," another hiker looks at me appalled. We all stand silently and uncomfortably while I am quietly boiling with rage.
What can I even do? I do nothing. Everyone rally's around me. AJ and Bananas are mad for me. While I felt he absolutely crossed a line, I was not harmed. A person drunk and high on cocaine isn't someone I'm about to start shit with. So I leave it. It taints the afternoon though.
We all lay in the sand, feeling too lazy to move. There's talk of night hiking to make 20 miles for the day. After 6 hours of siesta, we all slowly and begrudgingly pack out and begin walking again into the heat.
The sun beats down on us and the sweat begins. We climb for a little bit and then the trail levels out as we snake our way along the canyon walls. Slowly, graffiti begins to appear and when we look down we see the entrance to an old mine.
Soon, a vast expanse opens up and we can see an old dam, with no water behind it. It's beautiful and depressing at the same time. Like we've entered some post apocalyptic world.
I look up into the sky and see a strange rainbow laces through the cirrus clouds. Cottonwood fluff begins to fill the air and we enter a wooded creek area. There's a creek crossing with some rickety logs to cross over. I decide to wade through with my shoes off.
All of us pile up and eat dinner before we night hike to our camp spot. Mosquitoes are out and the sky turns pink and begins to grow dark. I heat water for lentils and rice with spam.
When we all finish, we equip ourselves with headlamps and walk singlefile into the darkness.
It's hot and windy. My leg pulsates with pain, but I can't focus on that right now. We all pick our way through the darkness.
In the distance we can see an RV and a red light. It's the famous Coppertone! He gives us fruit and donuts. I take a bite and give my donut away, I'm just not very hungry. We thank him and move on into the night.
It's 9pm and dark, Bananas leads us. My body says it's time to rest, and I yawn and stumble. I'm cranky. I don't like this. We have 4 miles until our next water and all I want is to stop, care for my leg and sleep.
Bananas headlamp shines out onto a flat ridge. "There's some camp spots."
"I'm stopping here guys. I don't care if I gotta dry camp." I say.
Everyone else agrees. We're all tired and a little cranky. I find a spot alone next to a big rock and lay all my stuff out. I check my leg and it looks bad. Like hamburger. I took off so much skin, it really worries me.
I bandage it up and tuck myself in. Coyotes yip, there's city lights on the horizon and the stars spread out across the sky. Then, sleep finds me.