I check my watch at 3:30am and then drift off again. Around 4am I hear the hat man from the night before pack out loudy and then get on trail. Good riddance, I think.
I rustle around and slowly begin to pack my things. I feel sleepy, achy and tired still. But I need to hike. So I shove some snack bars into my pack while still sitting half way in my sleeping bag. It's cold out and I cling to the warmth. Today I am going to push into Warner Springs, about 18 miles away. This will be my biggest day yet on trail and where I'll get my first resupply. I mix some whey and instant coffee into my old gatorade bottle, the wide mouth allows me to get the whey powder in without spilling too much of it.
While I pack, I can hear AJ moving around. He and Bananas will leave a little later than me. I get all my gear together in the cold predawn darkness and make one last stop at the water cashe. My feet are aching and my blister feels like I'm walking on a golf ball with spikes in it. I fill up and walk back up to our tent site. Bananas pokes his head out.
"The guy next to you last night was rattling your tent, did you hear it?" I ask in a whispered tone.
"What? I felt something but I thought it was the wind. It pulled up one of my stakes"
"It was that guy, he was pissed because you were snoring."
"That's not cool." Says Bananas.
"No, it's not. I'll see y'all up trail."
I set off into the darkness and I can see the headlamp of another hiker bobbing its way along the trail higher up. The sky grows lighter and I pocket my tiny headlamp. I have to poop, so I walk until I find an appropriate place off trail. Sometimes you have to hike a long time to find a level area to do your business. I pack out my paper and get back on trail.
My joints and feet finally warm up and the pain decreases a bit. The morning moves on in a spectacular way and the warm glow of the sunrise lights up the hills and mountains. I'm all alone, and I love it. I'm realizing, that even out here alone time is rather precious on this busy popular trail. I love hiking with my friends, but I wonder how it will affect me in the long run. When I was on the Oregon coast trail, I craved people because there hardly was any out there, now it feels like too much and I wonder about the ways I can mitigate the anxiety and stress it causes me.
Can I even be OK and happy being alone most of the time? How can I find that good balance of hiking my own hike, while enjoying the company of others without it wearing on me?
I begin to cry as I round a corner. The trail is painfully beautiful and this is why I need to be alone sometimes. I come back into my body and back fully into my own experience. I see and hear better and I can feel my feels better. I need to work on this.
It had been so busy leading up to this hike and already a week has flown by at the speed of light and yet time seems so slow. I reminisce. It's as if I've entered an alternate dimension. So much happens it's hard to keep track and then, suddenly I realize I am about to hit the 100 mile mark! I'm only 100 miles in. I can figure this out, eventually. Hopefully.
And then it happens! 100 miles of hiking. White Spot the German catches up to me and we take each others pictures.
I check my maps for the next water source, a cattle trough fed by a pipe in less than a mile. I've done 10 miles by 9am and decide to take a nice break there. I'm even going to cook myself a breakfast lunch with a bag of the freeze dried dinner I found in a hiker box a few days back.
It's cool out and I dump my gear in the shade of oaks and cottonwoods. A few other hikers linger and filter water. Some come and go. I catch up with Jennie and Asiago, two hikers I rested with at Debs house. Jennie has been having foot problems, but she remains cheerful and upbeat.
I boil water and add it to the bag to let it soak. It's a cheesy beef masa meal with spices. I take my shoes and socks off to air out my blisters. I use a few tortillas to hold the strange pasty dehydrated meal and I inhale about three tortillas worth. I can't finish it, so I hand it off to another hiker who gladly takes it. I want to do a nice few hours of rest, but I am anxious and don't see the point in sitting around, so I pack out and leave.
I approach a road and a giant truck flies by, it makes me jump.
I roll through an oaky grassland. The environment is constantly changing out here. Eventually, I cross paths with Little Dipper, who I took a break with the previous day. She moves fast and is ususally solo, we chat and hike together for a while. The sky looks moody and there's a chance for rain, we move quickly. There's a little chill in the air.
We come up to the unique rock formation, from one side it looks like nothing, but from another side, it looks exactly like an eagle with it's wing spread and its head turned. I know no history of the area, but I imagine this was and is a very sacred site to indigenous folks. I don't climb it, or touch it even. I just look, snap a picture and move on.
Little Dipper and I chat our way into an incredibly gorgeous grove of what appears to be old growth oaks. The grass is green and there's that sweet scent of dried grasses on the air. Crickets chirp, ravens croak and a small stream burbles parallel to the trail. It's absolutely stunning. Litter Dipper breaks away to use the bathroom and I keep hiking. Stopping for even a moment allows all the pain to kind of reload back into my feet, if I keep moving I will feel less of it.
I come to a trail junction. I can take a spur trail to the post office or straight to the hikers resource center. As I decide it suddenly hits me that I have to pee really badly. I squat in the grass at the junction hoping no one walks up on me. Just as I pull my pants up, Dipper walks around the corner.
"Hello!" I say.
We both decide to skip the post office and head right to the resource center. We confront a small herd of cows along the way and then do a small road walk.
I reunite with Honeybuns, Knock on Wood, Fran, Annie, Mr. Tidy and a whole bunch of other folks I've hiked on and off with. It's good to see them. I check in inside the community center and the woman at a desk gives me a run down.
"There's bucket showers out back, we can run you to the post office if we have enough people and we have a small resupply store. There's drinks and ice cream in the back if you like too. Camping is under the tree and around it."
I thank her and then grab a Dr. Pepper and ice cream sandwich. The elderly women running the place seems stressed and streched thin by all the needy thruhikers milling about.
Outside is a giant mess of hikers, their packs, resupply boxes and foot soaks. It's loud and brash. I get a ride to the post office and come back to the resource center with my box. Right away I already know I won't be eating mac and cheese, it's just too messy to cook in the desert where water is a precious resource. I have my fancy ramen, a few tuna packets, instant lentils and rice, dried flattened bananas from Trader Joes, a new baggie of vitamins, some coconut oil packets, two separate baggies of vanilla and chocolate whey, a whole bunch of bars and meat sticks and some face wipes. I add and subtract a few things. I only need about four to five days of food until I hit Idyllwild.
I lazy about and drink a beer. I hang out with Mr. Tidy, the Austrian guy I hiked with for a bit. A bunch of other folks are around. There's lots of joking and teasing and talk of the Sierra. Always talk of the Sierra.
Eventually Acid Jesus and Bananas wobble into the asphalt we're all spread out on. The whole group is reunited. We cajole and poke at our resupply boxes. I give some of my extra food to AJ and he does his resupply out of the overflowing hiker box.
Soon, most of the group decides to hike out. Before they go, Bananas gifts me some ear plugs, he felt bad about the snoring incident even though it wasn't his fault. AJ and I choose to stay behind because of our blistered feet. AJ and I agree that we feel totally fine, it's just our blisters holding us up. We stratigize on keeping them clean and doctoring them up. Tomorrow we'll hike out in the afternoon.
We wander off to the local school where they're making Indian tacos for a fundraiser. We see the angry hiker man from the night before. He's loitering around the young foreign girls and flirting with them in a way that disgusts me. I suppose folks like that are bound to happen, thankfully they're rare out here.
I learn than an Indian taco is fry bread with all the taco fixings on top of it. We both order one and a fry bread drizzled in honey and dusted with sugar. It's delicious and puts me into a delirium. Dark will be growing soon and I still need to set up my tent and care for my feet. Oh, all the chores. They add up.
I accidentally leave my trekking poles inside the now closed resource center, I need them to pitch my tent. Thankfully another hiker comes to my rescue and lets me borrow their pole. There's a sea of tents under a massive old oak. I wander off to fill a bucket with hot water and wash my feet. I sit myself behind the building, surrounded by datura. A young steer stares at me curiously and chews his cud. I hear a loud hoot hoot, and when I look up, I see two creamy barn owls next to a large nest in the top of an oak. I relax and I breathe deep. I'm finally alone, relaxed and sitting with soapy feet. Poking at my blisters with an alcohol sawb, I realize I got two new ones today. I use a needle and thread and lace them, so that the fluid can drain overnight. They'll take a while to heal, but once they do it'll be better hiking and less pain.
I limp back to my tent and burrow in. It's been a very long day. As I stretch out on my sleeping pad, everything relaxes and releases. All around me are snoring people, farts, yawns, crunch of sleeping pads, mesh being zipped and the flap of thin synthetic material. It sounds like some sort of strange animal herd as I lay there. The moment I close my eyes, I am out like a light.