I don't sleep too well. I wake at three am and think that it is 4. I planned on getting up at 4:15. I wait. Wide awake. A couple across from me switches on their red lights for their head lamps. I make my move to get ready and out. I'm packed up in about 15 minutes. I rest my pack by a tree near Brian and Evan. Two hikers I rested with the day before.
I eat a meat stick and hemp seed bar, squatting in the dirt. I frown. I'm going to climb up into a black rocky hillside in the dark morning hours. This makes me nervous. But I tell myself it'll be fine. I linger to see if anyone else is about to leave. They're all still eating and shuffling around in the darkness.
I heave my pack, clip up and head out.
I climb very slowly with my headlamp on. I'm looking out for two unblinking eyes from the bushes. This is likely mountain lion habitat.
The light grows and the tips of the shrubs, who's names I do not not, glow in the growing morning light. It's absolutely breathtaking. I heat up quickly and shed layers. I overdressed for the morning. I hear voices and a couple from the night before pass me.
"I figured I'd spare you seeing my butt," I say. They laugh. They're east coast AT hikers and already relaxed with such possibilities of seeing a butt on trail.
With my layers off, and in my shorts and shirt. I make work of the climb. It's steep, but not terribly so. The light growing is glorious and I grow more and more happy by the moment. Brian and Evan pass me as I filter a little water and say good morning. Their quick pace makes me antsy and after I crest the top, it levels out. I have a liter of water and less food than yesterday. I feel fantastic, so I take quick short and gentle steps and I'm flying. It's cool and perfect this morning. The hike is amazing.
I'm on the PCT and the PCT is beautiful.
Eventually, the sun crests the hills and it's time for the sun hat and shirt. I catch Brian and Evan and trail behind them a bit without saying anything.
"Hello, I'm behind y'all," I say.
Evan jumps. "Sorry!" I tell him.
We chat and get to know each other a little. As we fly down the hill silently, something shoots out of the bushes towards my right and comes straight at my leg. I scream and jump back. Evan yelps and jumps to ask if I'm ok. I clutch my trekking poles to my face and laugh hysterically.
"It was just a baby bunny," I tell them. We all laugh and keep hiking.
In the distance we see one of our first prominent landmarks. Lake Morena. We stroll into the park as a small group to use the bathrooms, load up on water and have some snacks. Brian, Evan and I eat and talk when a woman called Ms. Focus chats us up. She's doing some trail support for husband who's hiking. She's got watermelon and beer for us later on down the trail.
"I just found out my brother is terminal," she says suddenly shifting into sadness. "Tell me something funny."
After a little while, it's time to hike again. I set off alone. Tonight's aim is Fred Canyon where there's a good running creek. The trail is sandy and climbs a little, but gently. The grade is so great and the gradual climbs I have experienced so far feel deceptive.
The trail straightens out and I hear a loud buggy buzz. My eyes lock into a beehive in the neck of a tree. I run!
Soon, I find an eerie sight of vultures sunning themselves. Their wings spread in an ominous way. They all look at me.
"I'm not going to die," I tell them.
It's getting hot. I have cell service and check a few things. It says it's only 75. Impossible! I am sweating and huffing and puffing. I find Fran stopped and staring off into the distance.
Last night at Hauser Creek, we both agreed we felt crazy and oddly sad. "I seriously was wondering why I even wanted to do this," she says. Today is good though. We both agree.
I drop down to cottonwood creek. One of the first people I hiked with was there, Brook. She wades around I the water looking at tadpoles. A woman on her horse rides by. Brook and I then set off into the afternoon heat on the flattening trail. The heat swirls around us like a blanket, holding us and making us sweat. I can see bare foot tracks in front of me, and the same tread tracks of my own brand of shoe. Someone out there I haven't met is wearing the same shoes as me. Will I ever see them?
I come to the deepest creek I've seen yet. I take my shoes and socks off and wade into the calf deep water. It's cold, my hot feet release all their tension. It feels so good, I stay there for a while. A blood red dragon fly flits around. Brook arrives and we stand there together. Staring into the heat. We have to go back into it.
The trail winds around oaks and grassland, eventually taking me to a horse camp, Boulder Oaks.
Many hikers are at a picnic table. I decide to join them. I meet Honeybuns and Knock on Wood, Coyote and Nicole, Fran, Gus and Banana Pants. Banana Pants and I knew each other from having shared shade on my first day.
We eat and talk. We are a strange obnoxious group. Eventually, we break apart to continue on. I leave with Banana Pants and Gus.
We climb for a good long while. We stop frequently, Banana Pants is chatty and fun to be with. He's snarky and cracks lewd jokes, a style of humor I appreciate. We have good political discussions and talk about life. It's strange how people who just met, become vulnerable and open so quickly when you suffer together. We're caked in dirt and crystallized sweat. Through the course of our conversations, Gus is called Acid Jesus. Because he did some of his resupply on acid, worked as a carpenter and has a slight resemblance. He's unsure about it though.
Eventually we drag ourselves up into a road and hug the side of a mountain. I charge ahead of everyone. I just want to get to camp and sit on my butt. As I hike, I move briskly. Rounding corners, stepping up rocks. To the east, it spills down into a valley.
I while I'm cruising I stop dead in my tracks, there's a large rattlesnake stretched out over the trail. "Snake!" I say. Finally! I've been wanting to see one. I turn around and when I thought the rest of everyone was behind me, it's a tall and lean man standing right over my shoulder. "I'm sorry! I thought you were someone else, there's a snake up there." I tap my trekking pole on the ground and take a step forward. The snake scoots along quickly but pauses in the bushes next to the trail. I tap near him again with my pole, he gives me an irritated rattle and slithers down the slope. What a polite snake.
Dominic is the name of the man behind me and we hike into camp together. We keep a good and similar pace. He's from Austria and an engineer for water conservation.
At camp it's lively and jovial. Lots of us sit together and cook our meals. A creek runs right through the areas so we filter water and clean up. Tomorrow we climb up over to Mt. Laguna. It's going to be another very early start to avoid heat, and I'm looking forward to it. I make packaged taco rice and tuna and I have to force myself to eat it. I still don't have much of an appetite. Bugs are swarming and biting me.
As I pitch my tent, Banana Pants revisits a previous conversation about how I like to spend a little too much time on making sure my tent is well pitched and nicely taught. And how it pains me to see a poorly pitched tent. He jokes with me.
"Would you say that's the perfect pitch?"
"Perfect pitch!" Someone yells and others echo it.
Collectively, I am named Perfect Pitch. And I keep it.
We all bed down. I have mosquitoes in my tent and it's very buggy. I swallow one on accident. It's sticky and hot and my sleeping bag clings to my skin. Another restless night I think. Slowly I close my eyes to the sound of frogs, an owl and crickets.