Mile 123.81 to 140.33 — Today’s miles: 16.52
I’ve been chilly most nights so far, but last night I woke around midnight to unzip my quilt, too warm to stay bundled up. My half-asleep brain registered that this probably meant I’d be in for a hot day. In the morning, everything is bright and beautiful. A bee zips around my tent, possibly mad that I’ve set up right between two flowering bushes, disrupting its travel. I look longingly at the sole liter of water I have left. I could guzzle the entire thing right now, but only allow myself a few sips — I’ll need it for the next few miles to a new water source. Back at the Third Gate cache, I bonded with another hiker about how amazing it felt to drink a lot at once instead of rationing. I am learning that I’d rather carry some extra (even though water is ridiculously heavy) than deal with the anxiety of rationing, which only makes me thirstier.
I’m on trail before 6am and make it to Mike’s water tank in good time. As I filter, Mousetrap shows up — he says it wasn’t a big party last night and they grilled some pizzas. He doesn’t mention anything about cold sodas (or apple juice), so I don’t really feel I’ve missed out. I do some extra foot care before heading out again, pack heavy with full water bottles.
There’s some mostly-shaded uphill and then fairly regular breezes up to the top. I pass Mousetrap checking his app, and he reports that “there’s quite a big downhill coming up.” That sounds fine to me. Near the top I have good cell service and (after a thorough snake check) sit on a rock to book a room in Idyllwild. I hadn’t intended to take a zero (i.e., zero miles hiked — a full day off) this early, but my feet really need it. I’ve already decided to hitch around the trail closure instead of doing the alternate route — there has been a lot of debate about these options, with some people suggesting it’s not really a thru-hike if you hitch past, but my feeling is that the trail changes all the time due to weather, fires, landslides, and other things that create trail closures or reroutes. I don’t feel like a purist on this trail, and don’t want this hike to be about that. We all make our own choices, and the most important thing is to feel good about your individual decisions. My body definitely can’t hang with the alternate this time (steep with a fair amount of road walking), and I know I’m doing the best thing for my hike by skipping it. I book two nights in Idyllwild and text Cyn to inform her. Helen, who was in the shade at Lost Spring yesterday, hikes past, saying she saw a big rattlesnake across the trail just now.
When I set off again, my butt is numb from sitting on the rock, and that strange sensation occupies my mind until I begin the “quite a big downhill.” My mood and mental game are much improved from yesterday, and I fly down, miles and miles of down. I leapfrog with Helen and Mousetrap, and eventually pass them both, but it’s after 11:30 and the breeze is infrequent, and I’m struggling through the last mile or two to our mid-day water source/shade break.
When I reach the sign for Tule Spring there is a guy sitting in a sliver of shade up top. The quarter-mile side trail to the spring goes down fairly steeply. I ask him if there’s any shade at the spring. “Yes, it’s amazing,” he says, but I’m too desperate for this answer to fully believe him. “Are you being sarcastic? Don’t joke with me about shade,” I say. “No seriously, I was a dumbass and left my pack up here, but it’s awesome down there, there are like ten people sleeping.” This is all I want in the world. I take off like a shot, down down the hot side trail, and there indeed are at least ten hikers all sprawled on dirty sleeping pads and Tyvek sheets in the shade of some large trees. “What is this paradise?!” I say as I arrive.
Vanessa ([gay] trail name: Scissors) is there with a small group of women, and I flop down next to them. I’ve done over 13 miles so far today. I drink my electrolytes and doze with my feet up on my pack. I wake up just in time to hear Polenta ask “If one of us turned into a big bowl of chili, would you eat them?” There is some discussion about what type of food we would want our hiking partners to become — the core question of whether we would eat our hiking-partners-turned-food is not even at issue. We all chat, doze, snack. We discuss what type of cold drink we are most excited about at Paradise Cafe tomorrow. Sodas and beers are popular choices. When I dreamily say apple juice, Colleen and Rawhide freak out. “So wholesome!!” These folks seem like a good crew — funny, supportive, all cheering each other on. I hope I overlap with them more down the trail. It is also really nice to spend this time with women — most of the time I have ended up sharing breaks and camps with men, and though they’ve mostly been nice people, it is very different from my regular life, which is spent almost entirely with women and a few overtly feminist men. So hanging with these folks at Tule Spring feels comforting and comfortable.
Also comforting and comfortable: chatting with Scissors, a fellow queer with a similar political framework to my own. We decide we’ll camp together tonight, and as the heat slowly (sloowwwwlllyyy) subsides, we venture down to the spring to fill four liters each. It is a harrowing climb/slide down very steep loose sand, to a spring providing water that’s definitely full of iron deposits. Once filtered, it tastes metallic, like blood (as Polenta suggested) or “bitter pennies” (as Colleen described it). But it’s the last reliable source for 14+ miles. There are several of us down here taking turns holding our bottles under the trickle of water, including Mousetrap and A-Game. The climb back up, with four liters of water in hand, is a terror, but somehow we all make it, and Scissors and I set out for 3-5 more miles.
We chat and hike, and it’s quite pleasant, but we’re both fading. We stop around mile 140, glad to be done for the day but a little bummed that we now have 11+ miles to Paradise Cafe tomorrow. We make a pact to wake at 4am and be on trail by 5. I haven’t been hiking before dawn because it freaks me out as a solo hiker in mountain lion territory, but with two of us I’m not worried. We pitch our tents in a nice little campsite with deep beach sand, and I mistakenly set mine up with the door facing away from Scissors and am too tired to repitch it. The mosquitos are out, so we eat in our respective tents, talking through the cuben fiber to each other. It is our little queer campsite, and I feel quite content here, perfectly at ease with another hiker for the first time on this trip.
(Apparently I took almost no photos today! Sorry! I need to get better at taking photos of other hikers I’m hanging with.)