I wake up every hour or so. I just can't relax or sleep well, even though I'm tired and can feel it around my eyes. Eventually I will crash hard.
Little red lights are all over camp, the shuffling of fabric and velcro, crinkling of ground sheets and small quiet chatter begins.
I decide to wear my loose baggy shorts today. Normally I wear tights, but I want to experience that airy feeling of loose running shorts. I'm worried about chafe, so I apply some body glide.
I pack up pretty quickly and I'm the third one out of camp. It's about 4:30am. I trail behind Dominic, I can see his headlamp bobbing into the side of the hills. My body feels achy but good. Maya passes me when I stop to pee and make an adjustment.
The landscape is so different and I know so very little of the plant species here. So far I've been able to identify white sage and desert lavender. Purple, white, yellow and pink flowers fleck the trail and hillside. It's green and lush and not what one would think as a desolate desert. There is so much life here.
As it warms, I shed my layers. Today is mostly climbing and I'm going up to the highest I've been yet, around 6000f.
We all like to make quick work in the morning hours to avoid the heat. I walk for a while with Dominic, I like his pace and we talk. I discover that he's the same age as me, I'm very surprised by this because he looks quite young.
The landscape is starting to change. It's green and wet. A high desert micro climate of oak and other trees I cannot identify.
My mind zones out while I hike. I concentrate on my form. Short steps, striking mid foot and not hyperextending my knees. I keep them slightly bent and this helps my knees feel less jarred on the uphill and down.
Soon, I'm climbing again and with another hiker I met named Ryan. It's a rocky hillside and he moves fast. I push myself to keep up, but eventually he drops me when I stop to check for service. The sun has come up and covers everything in a yellowy red wash of color. It feels good. I move through small pockets of warm and cool air. I'm sweating and my ankles and legs feel a bit tender. I can feel the possibility of Achilles' tendonitis building if I'm not careful.
The trail plateaus and I've entered a whole 'nother world. Pines! Big oaks! Grasses! New plants and shrubs. It's smells incredible and I coo and aww at everything around me. This is a special place. I roll quickly through the dirt and duff of the trail. You can see big old burned oaks.
Im going to dip into Mt. Laguna to visit the outfitter, get some water and maybe a little food at the cafe before getting back on trail.
I find Ryan and Dominic at the trail junction to head into the outfitters and store near the campground. There are other hikers talking to them. We split off and head right to the cafe. We leave our packs on the deck and order our food. It still early, so there's oatmeal, coffee, juice and frittatas. I get orange juice, a pine nut coffee and a caramelized onion and sausage frittata with cheese piled on top. It's incredible.
There are hikers all around and I find the person who's wearing the same shoes as me, that aren't the usual thruhiker shoe, Altras. Her name is Sarah and we talk for a bit. She's worried about he gear and hike. Everyone is still unsure about their abilities, it's so early and we're all trying to
Soon, I head to the outfitter and sit on the porch to rest my feet. My shins are very tight and all around my ankles it's achy and sore. Soon, Banana Pants, Honeybuns, Knock on Wood, Fredrick, Fran, Acid Jesus and many folks I've been camping and hiking with are there. Folks are ditching unused items and trying to lighten their packs. A few of them are visibly distressed about the weight of their gear. A massive box of discarded shoes and items sits in front of the door to the store. I go into the store to find Lekoutape, but they're sold out. They have everything a hiker could possibly need. I buy an extra pair of toe socks and a small battery for my headlamp.
They put of free beers for hikers and I have a few. It puts me into a fog and everything seems so complicated and confusing.
There's nothing I'm ready to send home in my pack, so I reorganize and clean it. My shins and feet feel dangerously sore and I consider staying. There's so much activity and decisions to make. Folks wanting to stick together, or hike out on their own. I feel the need to hike with folks I've gotten to know these past few days so I meet them at the grocery store.
There's so much information floating around about water and mileage and and and... everything! It's overwhelming and feels overly complicated.
I decide to hike out. I pass my group of friends at the outfitter. I feel very anxious, scatter brained and needing something all at the same time.
I feel frustrated with myself. My blood sugar drops and I get shaky while I hike along the edge of the camp. I push through it. But eventually I stop to center myself, eat, pee and breathe. I accidentally pee on my shoe a little and then sit on a log in the dappled sun. I eat a nut bar and a eat stick. I watch a lizzard bob his head in the leaf litter. I like hiking with people, but I can't let that desire dictate what I want/need to do for myself on trail. Navigating these emotions, desire and needs is different.
I fall behind Dominic and a Swiss fellow. It's not too hot out and you can see way down into the desert floor, where I will eventually end up. The sight is incredible, and any pain I'm feeling melts away because of the beauty all around me.
We hike at a good clip, aiming for a campground just off a bit of road. Dominic and I wait for the others at a lookout point where visitors take photos and folks do day hikes. We sprawl out together on the deck of the lookout point. A raven preens in a tree above us.
Together, we all shuffle up the road. In the campground we spread out and collect around a table. Cooking food and planning for the next day.
Honeybuns lays in the dirt while his partner Knock on Wood rehydrated their dinner. We throw out ground sheets out and cowboy camp, some pitch tents. Our bags crinkle, we fire up our stoves, eating and laughing. I make ramen and find I am actually really hungry.
We all feel like we've been together forever, but we've only been meeting as a group for about 48 hours. Time passes so strangely. We make plans for a stretch with minimal water. We all feel good about our game plan.
Dusk slips up on us, the moon is high and bright and the stars start popping out. We all bed down for an early morning of hiking. I tuck myself into my sleeping bag and shift around on my pad and stare up at the sky. Happy, nervous, tired, restless.