I wake to what I think is a person shining their headlamp in my face, but it's just the moon through the trees. I go in and out of sleep, until I do have a headlamp shining in my face. The early folks are stirring and so I do too.
At the trough I filter a little more water before I head out into the warm growing light. I aim to do as many miles as I can before it gets too hot to walk anymore. I swing my pack on and head out, Twisted somewhere behind me.
The morning moves on beautifully. A slight downhill makes it all very easy walking through the golden scrubby oak. Twisted passes me while I stop to take a pee and do a little bidet to avoid butt chafe. My gold bond powder plooms around me and I smell weirdly of hiker BO and mint.
The pause makes my feet ache and I walk a little slower before I warm up again and the pains subside. Up and down and over and over through big old oak, punctuated here and there by pines. I come up into a big golden grassy meadow and stop for a second to eat sour patch kids, my current candy fuel of choice. It's almost siesta time.
I round a corner and see the fattest rattlesnake I've ever seen. I tap the ground and it moves lazily up the left slope of the trail. Quietly and cautiously I sneak by it, then turn to look at it where it suddenly realizes I am and it rears up into a high arch and rattles angrily at me. Time to go!
Moving into a big pine forest I start to scope out siesta spots until I see Twisted sitting down in the woods, under dappled shade.
"Can I join you?" I holler.
"Yes!" He replies.
I plop into the soft duff. It's quiet and beautiful and tucked away from everything. We sort our food and talk quietly. Twisted rants to me about American cheeses and how "veird" our sausages are. I laugh hysterically at some of his words and he shoots me dark looks. I nibble on peach rings and relax on to my sit pad that gives me just enough room to curl up into a ball. We move in and out of sleep for a long time it feels like. We both wake and watch hikers move past us, unseen.
Soon it's the golden hour and time to continue on for the rest of our day. We pack up and move out on to the dusty trail. The trail soon moves into an uneven dirt road with lots of rocks. It becomes a bit irritating after a while.
After a while, I begin to shake and become a bit weak. Blood sugar dropping and already, it's time to feed again. I sit on a rock in the middle of the road and shove a Lara bar, a meat stick, some candy and a cookie into my mouth and wait until it stabilizes me before I pick up and move on again. The road turns and curves sharply and then suddenly: Mile 600.
I snap a quick picture and move on.
A small weird house sits right off the road/trail and for moment I am tempted to go check it out. But I hike on anyway, heading for the junction where I'll split off and down towards a spring for the night.
I mingle behind Twisted and another German hiker for a bit, until I take a left and down towards the trickling spring. I meet a few other hikers, Stranger Danger, Spice Merchant, Lucky Charms and Dragonfly.
An opening in the tree line shows a valley down below us and a dramatic sunset. We all sit in the ruins of some former structure, cooking our dinner. Stranger Danger tells us all of a story of how another hiker was held at gun point around mile 600, right by the weird creepy house. Someone who was apparently squatting there. The girl was fine and managed to escape just fine and was able called the cops.
We all sit a little shocked and mentally prepare ourselves for a nighttime bandit raid while we cook over our pots in the descending night. Mosquitos bite us here and there and a small mouse runs past my feet. My "sea food stew" makes me very happy. I mixed together some spicy sea food ramen, with instant potatoes and a tuna packet. It's like heaven in my mouth. The stars come out and begin to twinkle as I clean my pot. I'm too lazy to pitch my tent, so I situate my bug head net over my face with a hat as I snuggle into my sleeping bag for the night. I still manage to get bit, right on my lower lip and it swells.
And then, my carb rich dinner lulls me into a sweet, sweet hiker sleep.