Joshua Tree Day 4

To the end of the trail (near North Entrance station): about 7 miles (we think?)

I did not sleep well our last night on the trail. In fact, I hadn’t been sleeping well at all on this trip. I’m a finicky sleeper, and the hiking wasn’t wearing me out enough to help me sleep the way I did on the Wonderland Trail. Around dawn I heard Toby start to stir. I knew he was excited to watch the sunrise and to spend as much time at our beautiful campsite as possible before we ended our trip. I dozed on and off while he got out some trail mix for breakfast and settled in on a rock to eat. [I’d slept like a champ and was happy to bask in the sunrise. Early mornings remain my very favorite time on trail. -Toby] Eventually I made my way out of my sleeping bag to join him, and we sat quietly soaking up the views, thinking about our last miles and the inevitable challenge of reentering the world.

Sunrise, taken by Toby while I slept.
Sunrise, taken by Toby while I slept. [With an almost-full moon! -Toby]
Last breakfast of the trip. I was still a little grumpy but couldn't deny how beautiful the morning was.
Last breakfast of the trip. I was still a little grumpy but couldn’t deny how beautiful the morning was.

We packed up and were off a little after 8. We said goodbye to our best ever campsite, found the trail, and turned right toward the car. The boulders that we had been hiking toward for a while thinned out and eventually ended, and the trail continued through a desert with wide-open views of near and distant mountains, and occasionally the town of Twentynine Palms in the distance. The deep sand continued, so even though the trail was a slight downhill most of the way it still felt like a bit of a slog. Every quarter mile or so, some utility workers had clearly recently dug down to expose big metal trap doors in the ground labeled “Danger! High Voltage!” We made jokes about being stuck in an episode of Lost, and wondered what was really down there. A bunker with Abba playing on the record player?

Overall, though, our hike was beautiful and uneventful. It gave me a lot of time to think about my frustration on our day of dropping water caches around the park. I had gotten really cranky that day and couldn’t quite figure out why until I realized that we had driven through most of the park and I was worried that we’d seen too much of it already, and that it would make the trip feel less special. Hiking these miles looking at the same view for a couple of hours, I remembered how different of a perspective hiking gives you. Sure I’d been hiking toward the same valley for at least an hour now, but with each step I got a slightly different angle, different lighting, new details and colors appeared as we got closer, I began to see the glint of the sun off cars and windows in the valley down below as the sun rose higher — hiking gives me an entirely new perspective on the world around me, and that’s one of the things I love most about it. [We did see an adorable clan of quail at some point, zipping across the trail with their cute little hats bobbing. -Toby]

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If you look really closely you can see these cute little red cactuses (we think) among the rocks. I joked that they were like Jim Henson characters and then we imagined that they were like the characters at the end of Labrynth telling Sarah "Should you need us. . ." as we left the trail.
If you look really closely you can see these cute little red cactuses (we think) among the rocks. I joked that they were like Jim Henson muppets and then we imagined that they were like the characters at the end of Labyrinth telling Sarah “Should you need us. . .” as we left the trail.

Finally, we saw the 37 mile marker. We hadn’t stopped for more than a few quick swallows of water because there was no good shade or spot to sit, so we were feeling really ready to be at the car. That mile marker should have meant that we had .3 miles left. But of course as we learned last summer, signs on the trail are often lying liars. We kept hiking, clearly having gone more than three-tenths, but not a backcountry board in sight. [Around this time I started to feel like I was Jennifer Connelly in that scene in Labyrinth: “There aren’t any turns or openings or anything! It just goes on and on!” -Toby] We started to suspect that we had a full mile to go, and that the signs were slightly off since they marked the trail going in both directions. Our suspicion was correct and I spent that last mile trying to will myself to stay in the moment and enjoy these last minutes on the trail instead of rushing back to the comfort of some clean clothes and a snack. It mostly worked.

Finally the backcountry board appeared and we’d finished our trip. We stopped for a quick picture, and then headed the car to change our shirts and pour some water over our heads. This had definitely been the hottest day of the trip. Just minutes later a car pulled up next to ours and four young guys got out and started to organize themselves to start what we’d just finished. We shared some tips and wished them good luck, and then watched them start off with huge packs in the hottest part of the day. We figured that younger people than us can get away with things like that.

Happy to have finished. Sad to be leaving.
Happy to have finished. Sad to be leaving.

Then we were in the car and of course our next project was food. Given that we were in California and hadn’t eaten our beloved In N Out yet, we were on a mission. We drove through the mountains and I tried hard to focus, having trouble adjusting to moving so quickly through traffic. But an hour later we had arrived at the first In N Out between us and San Diego – exactly at lunch time. It was packed and we both smelled and felt self-conscious and irritated with everyone around us. But we ordered and found a table and 5 minutes later we were digging in to two double cheese burgers protein style, two orders of fries, a chocolate milkshake for Toby and a neapolitan milkshake for me. It was incredibly delicious and well earned. With our bellies full, we got back in the car and headed back to San Diego, feeling sad about leaving the beautiful, quiet desert and already chomping at the bit to tackle our next backpacking adventure coming up this summer, the John Muir Trail. –Cyn

In N Out is the perfect post-backpacking food.
In N Out is the perfect post-backpacking food. Tired and sunburned but so thrilled with the eating.

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