Joshua Tree Day 2

To just east of Ryan Campground: about 10.5 miles

I was tucked into my sleeping bag, having fallen asleep at a respectable 7:30 p.m. (backpacker bedtime), all warm and cozy, when I awoke to what sounded like the world’s longest freight train running through the valley we were camped in. I realized pretty quickly that the wind had returned, and that I probably wasn’t going to be sleeping much that night. I looked at my watch. 1:30 a.m. – a long time to lie awake looking at the sky. I heard Toby stirring too and looked over to see him just staring up with a concerned look on his face. “It’s just wind, we’ll be okay,” I said. He replied “I’m worried about the tent, though. Look at the crossbar.” I looked at the 2 or 3 foot bar that keeps our tent from just being a pointy triangle shape and the wind was blowing so hard that it was bending dramatically with each gust. [This is why I came to half-regret my desire to keep the fly off the tent that night. By 2am I realized having those extra stake-out points might have helped take some of the stress off the crossbar, which I spent much of the night staring up at in sleepless concern. The tent was actually totally fine in the end, though, and it was pretty spectacular to look right up at the stars, so… -Toby]

I think I drifted off a little here and there, but not much, and we were both pleased when the sky began to lighten with the sunrise. It was chilly [very, very chilly! -Toby] and still very windy so we decided to eat breakfast huddled up in our sleeping bags, watching the sun light up the mountains around it and trying to mentally hurry its progress toward our tent. It finally happened, but it didn’t feel much warmer, so we sucked it up and packed up, and were on the trail by about 8:15.

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Finally, sunrise.

I must admit that I was beginning to question this whole backpacking thing this morning. It was cold. I hate, hate, HATE wind (the constant noise aggravates my anxiety). And my pack still felt heavy from all of the extra water because we had not drunk nearly enough the day before. We hiked along the valley for a mile or two and felt vindicated at our choice of campground. It was clear nothing better was coming up. But I was still cranky to be hiking on so little sleep.

At the end of the valley, however, we climbed a little bit and began walking along a beautiful ridge. We had expansive views and mountains on all sides of us. The plant life had changed some given the rocky terrain, and the wind calmed down a bit. I loved backpacking again, and that didn’t waver for the rest of the trip.

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Leaving the valley. (Click on panos for the full effect.)

We made pretty good time and stopped for a pee/snack break after a couple of hours. I was sitting on a rock munching on pop tarts when I saw our first other thru-hikers, people who I read as a man and woman in their twenties coming up the trail in the opposite direction. I prepped myself for what I thought was the typical backpacking exchange based on the Wonderland trip – how’s your day going, where did you camp, where are you headed to today – but they just said a quick hello and kept on walking. That was generally our experience out here with the few other backpackers we saw; maybe since the trip was shorter it built less camaraderie. Oh well. That’s fine.

Toby returned and I looked at the topo map and declared that the totally flat trail we’d been promised would begin now. Turns out I still suck at reading topo maps. We hiked down a little and I assumed that the trail would curve right back into a valley floor, where we’d have smooth hiking until we got to the car in two days. Instead the trail curved left, and we started going up, and up, and up some more. To be fair, it was nothing compared to last summer – maybe 500 feet of gain. But I wasn’t quite prepared mentally and grumbled a little. But then I remembered to just slow my pace and take my time, and it ended up being a completely enjoyable little uphill. [We passed another pair of backpackers here, the last we would see on our trip. They were just as taciturn as the previous pair, but I did notice one had his inflatable sleeping pad strapped to the outside of his pack, which I felt was a brave (?) choice in this landscape filled with sharp, spiky things. -Toby]

Views from the ridge!
Views from the ridge!
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Abandoned bird’s nest in a safe place.

 

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At the top of the climb. The landscape we were heading towards…
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…and the one we were leaving behind.

Once we got over the pass the landscape changed again. We were on a high plateau – open and flat and the wind began blasting us again. But we were surrounded by so much green! Toby and I often remarked on this trip about how much more alive the desert was than we would have imagined. So much thriving plant- and wild- life. We went a couple more miles and then decided to break for lunch. We saw a pile of boulders off trail a bit and hiked to them, hoping they would provide some shelter from the wind and sun. They did, though it was hard to find a comfortable place to sit, but we made the best of it and thoroughly enjoyed our meat sticks and tortillas with peanut butter and honey.

The few miles after this were just stunningly beautiful. The plateau was giving us desert flowers left and right and in front of us we began to see new mountain ranges that were covered in red rock, very different from the ones we’d seen before. I was hiking in front as usual when a desert hare ran right in front of me. I expected it to keep going after it crossed the trail, but instead it stopped about 10 feet from us and held perfectly still. Toby and I froze, mesmerized by how beautiful it was and how lucky we were to get such a great view. I very carefully pulled out my phone for a picture and it still didn’t budge. Instead it relaxed and started nibbling a few blades of grass while we stood there whispering about our amazing luck. After a few minutes we decided it was time to move on and quietly thanked the hare for spending time with us. [This was one of the most magical moments of the whole trip for me. That feeling of wonder carried me through the next mile or two with ease. -Toby]

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Trail lined with flowers.
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Desert hare, agreeably posing for a photo.
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Flower explosion.
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More flower explosion.
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Afternoon pretty.

After maybe two more miles we reached our second backcountry board [at Juniper Flats board, at Keys View Road -Toby] and our first water cache! Luckily we both remembered where it was and found it still there waiting for us, though it was clear to us now that our water would have been safe even if we left it right under the board. We pulled the two gallons out from the bush and then sat in the parking lot to funnel. We realized we only needed one of those gallons though (and resolved that we would force ourselves to drink more water from now on), so we funneled that into our bladders and relabeled the other one as free water and left it under the board. We hiked about a mile to Ryan Campground to recycle our jug and use the pit toilet, and then it was time to start looking for camping spots.

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Single brilliant cactus bloom near Keys View Road.
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Looking a little dazed but actually happy. After crossing Keys View Road, proof that we were on the Riding and Hiking Trail.

This was a major day hiker area and we were trying to avoid those trails. We were in a valley again and I was worried about a repeat of the wind events from last night, but after hiking a mile and a half or so, the valley was narrowing and it looked like more rocky terrain ahead. We decided we probably needed to find a spot or risk having to hike several more miles to get to something (or backtrack if we didn’t find anything. Backtracking seems like the absolute worst, in my opinion). The mountains were close though and everything around us was pretty rocky. We started walking along some washes (always maintaining a good sense of where the trail was – it would be so easy to get lost in a wash) and I kept saying “what about this spot?” “no wait this one,” “no this one a little farther ahead,” my anxiety rising each time we approached a spot and decided it wouldn’t quite work. Finally we found something flat and soft, and with a few large rocks in a semi-circle that we immediately started calling the dining room because of course we’d be sitting on those to eat dinner.

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Hiking away from Ryan Campground.

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At last, a campsite, with a view of the mountains we’d hiked over earlier in the day in the far distance. [In this photo I am relieved to have found a viable site, but also stressing that it isn’t as optimally leave-no-trace as I would like. -Toby]
We set up camp and began to wind down for the day. For me this involved getting in the tent, pulling out the little massage ball I was carrying, and spending about 45 minutes rolling out my feet and lower legs. Not only were my feet stumps of pain on the Wonderland, but it took months to be able to walk without pain once I got back. Our friend and massage therapist suggested that it’s because everything gets so tight in my feet and lower legs, so from now on I’m taking a proactive approach. And it helped so much. Still a little pain while walking, and some when I first got up in the morning. But nothing like it had been last summer. And have I mentioned that Toby and I had not yet and would not develop blisters on this trip? No blisters! I didn’t even know that was possible! I finally caved and switched to trail runners instead of hiking boots, and Toby got some new trail runners with a larger toe box, and this seems to have been a great move for both of us (not to mention that my feet feel so much lighter now!!). Of course this is a very different trip from the one we’ll be undertaking this summer, but I have high hopes for an improved foot situation. Which is great because everything else will be about 100 times harder.

After my feet were all taken care of and our tent was set up, we sat in the dining room and ate what was our dinner every night on this trip: individual tuna packets with mayo and relish (and mustard for me) mixed in, potato chips (mine bbq, Toby’s salt & pepper) and a nutella packet. We gazed off into the distance, at the mountains that we had climbed over earlier that day. And then the sun was setting and the air getting chillier so we curled up in our sleeping bags, hoping for a quieter night than the one before. –Cyn


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