Untrammeled: U.S. National Park Policy and Native Sovereignty


European colonization inexorably and instantly changed Native land sovereignty and the relationship Native people have to their homelands. Many people think of our wild and natural spaces as “untrammeled” or unaltered wilderness, despite the fact that Native people have been living here for thousands of years. This concept of wilderness has been intentional, sometimes fluid, and has deeply influenced National Park Service (NPS) policies towards co-management and co-use of our National Park system lands in the United States (Spence). National Park system policies have excluded Native Americans from sovereignty over and use of their lands through exclusion and disenfranchisement, which has created a divergence between how land has been managed for thousands of years and current NPS policies (King 483).

By allowing tribes and native management a legitimate seat at the table, we will be able to diversify and optimize our future plans for land management. Modern laws such as ANILCA, TSGA, ISDA, NHPA, and AIRFA have encouraged the NPS to recognize this and create partnerships with tribes; however, these laws are still largely voluntary on the part of the NPS and tribes have little true power if the NPS chooses not to work with them. The NPS is currently in the process of grappling with how to properly integrate tribes into management processes; the agency still has a long way to go as far as properly recognizing both the harm that their policies have caused – and continue to cause – and the benefit of giving tribes agency over traditional lands.


Two pre-colonial laws shaped early European authority and claims to land, influencing how we view our wilderness and National Parks today. The first originates from ancient Roman law, and the second from a 1493 papal bull (a legal decree written by the pope). Both are part of the common law, law inherited from customs or established through judicial precedent rather than congressional statutory authority. Ancient Roman law had several legal classes for land, the most important of which for the creation of National Park system was res nullius, “property of no-one.” Res nullius encompasses land that has not been claimed yet or has been abandoned. Occupatio of res nullius, or the claiming of such land as private property, is done primarily through taking, claiming, and use of unoccupied land (Adams 6-7). Native people had inhabited the land for millennia, yet European authority to claim land in the New World as res nullius was decreed through the Inter Caetera by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 (Pope Alexander VI). This papal bull established the Doctrine of Discovery, which was the religious, legal, and political justification for colonization of the New World. Through this bull, the Pope demarcated all lands in the western hemisphere as open for colonization by Spain – expressly including those occupied by Native Americans. Since they were not Christian and therefore not considered “human” or able to claim land, it effectively categorized the Americas as res nullius (Doctrine of Discovery). Other European countries such as England later co-opted this papal authority.

It’s important to understand these early laws because they had a huge influence on the creation of the National Parks and tribal sovereignty. The Doctrine of Discovery was an explicit inspiration for Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine – both American claims to lands in the west – and was brought into common law by a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases known as the Marshall Trilogy. These three cases, named after Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, established the federal government’s relationship to tribes and authority over the land they occupied.

  • Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) – Settled a dispute between two men who claimed to own the same land. Johnson had purchased the land from the Illinewek and Piankeshaw tribes, and McIntosh had received a patent for the land from the United States government. It was ruled in favor of McIntosh and established that tribes did not outright own their land to sell it. Only the federal government had that authority, integrating the Doctrine of Discovery into U.S. common law.
  • Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) – Cherokee Chief John Ross tried to establish his tribe as a foreign nation to protect it from state laws in Georgia. The Supreme Court established tribal sovereignty and the “doctrine of federal trust responsibility” with this case, ruling that tribes were “domestic dependent nations” distinct from both states and foreign nations. The relationship between the federal government was like that of a “ward to a guardian” and in exchange for the taking of tribal land, the government was responsible for protecting tribal nations and resources in trust.
  • Worcester v. Georgia (1832) – Established that only the federal government, not the states, have authority over native nations, and reaffirmed the sovereign nature of tribal governments. (Wiseman)

The relationship of the federal government, American people, and tribal nations to western lands were all shaped by the decisions in the Marshall Trilogy. Native tribes did not own their land or the wildlife on it and were instead nations dependent on the federal government. The land was res nullius in a legal sense due to the Doctrine of Discovery. Native communities were also devastated by European diseases, which killed around 50 million or up to 90% of the population, reinforcing American ideas of a vast wilderness (Mann 110-127). As westward expansion under Manifest Destiny began, the public perception of Native people’s role in this “wilderness” continued to shift.

The idea of National Parks was first conceived by the painter George Catlin in 1833 after traveling the west, when he proposed “some great protecting policy of government” that would preserve western spaces as a “nation’s Park containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty” (Spence 10). In Catlin’s time, the west was seen as an “Indian wilderness” and Native communities were considered inseparable from and essential to the idea of vast and wild spaces in the west, while still an obstacle to be overcome (Spence 10-11). After the Civil War western colonization began in earnest, causing the dispossession of Native communities through treaties and forced removal from their land to reservations. The perceived necessity of westward expansion and conflicts with tribes soured American’s impressions of Native people, and the prevailing attitude and federal policy become one of Indian removal. At the same time, conservation of the western landscape became a mounting concern.

The Yellowstone Park Act created our first National Park in 1872, and some of the earliest policies and attitudes of National Park management were that Native people did not belong in the land. Yellowstone National Park was quickly occupied by the U.S. military, with one of its chief goals being the protection of tourists and wildlife from local tribes, often violently (Spence 55-70). Celebrated early advocate for the National Parks and founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra in 1911 of the “strangely dirty and irregular life these dark-eyed, dark-haired, half-happy savages lead in this clean wilderness” (Monahan).  In 1916, the National Park Service was created. By 1964, the passage of the Wilderness Act and its definition of wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” reflected the National Park Service’s “institutionalized notions of static, past-tense tribes and tribal cultures that threatened to displace its concern for living, dynamic and evolving modern tribes” (PL 88-577, King 485). Transitioning through federal Indian policy eras of co-existence, removal, assimilation, reorganization, and termination, we are now in the era of self-determination and growing federal support for autonomy of Native tribes. In the light of this modern policy change, the need to collaborate with and cede certain authority to tribal governments has grown. As such, the National Park Service must also contend with the discriminatory and exclusionary beliefs at the very foundation of the organization.

Policy Actors

The National Park Service is a federal agency contained by the Department of the Interior. The NPS currently administers 423 units that include the National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, historic sites, and wilderness areas (NPS Website). It is unique among land management agencies within the U.S. in that it has a ‘dual mandate’ to “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment [of them] … as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (U.S. House, H.R. 15522). Because of this, a tricky balance must be maintained between recreation, tourism, and conservation, a juggle which is unique to NPS public land.

The Service has legal responsibilities to tribes outlined in the Constitution, treaties, statutes, and court decisions. Because of the sovereign “ward” relationship the U.S. has with tribes, the NPS has an obligation to protect tribal resources in “trust.” The Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 (ISDA) first authorized the Secretary of the Interior to allow collaborations between tribes and NPS units (U.S. P.L. 93-638). Section 403(b)(2) of the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 created an impetus, however, clarifying that collaboration was a primary goal and that “transferring control to tribal governments, upon tribal request, over funding and decisionmaking for Federal programs, services, functions, and activities strengthens the Federal policy of Indian self-determination” (U.S. House, H.R. 3508).

To this purpose, the American Indian Liaison Office (AILO) within the NPS was created in 1995 to facilitate relationships between tribes, the NPS, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) (King 488). The AILO trains NPS employees to interact with tribes on a government-to-government basis, reconciles conflict between tribes and the NPS, and advocates for favorable federal Indian law and NPS regulations. Some of the realms it serves for tribes are wildlife management, land rehabilitation and protection of sacred sites and cultural resources (NPS Website). Today, many tribes have management and use agreements with the National Park Service that are negotiated via the AILO. The NPS treats tribal relationships as government-to-government, as established through the Marshall Trilogy and later reinforced through statute (American Indian Liaison Office). Only the 574 tribes that are federally recognized have a formal sovereign relationship with the U.S. government and can make contracts with or consult with the NPS and AILO (American Indian Liaison Office).

The Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior serves a similar role as the AILO, except as a direct intermediary between the federal government and tribes. The bureau has several natural resource programs intended to aid tribes, largely through allocating federal funds to tribes and providing legal and technical assistance (U.S. Department of the Interior). Tribes, the AILO, and the BIA all work together closely.  

Because of the direct relationship between the federal government and tribes, most negotiations stay between tribes and the NPS; however, there are outside actors such as non-government organizations (NGOs), corporations, and interest groups who have had influence on tribal rights in National Parks, largely through litigation or lobbying. NGOs that advocate for Indian law include the Native American Rights Fund and the Association on American Indian Affairs. Conservation organizations, such as the Sierra Club and Earth Justice, have also joined either individual tribes or tribal coalitions in suits against the NPS or mining and fossil fuel interests. They share conservation goals with tribes and work with them to create federal land designations and protections. Often user groups such as anglers, hunters, and stockmen support these efforts as they help preserve the lands they use for recreation and their livelihoods.  

Tribes themselves are culturally diverse and have distinct needs and relationships to land. There can be tensions between tribes, and members within tribes do not always agree on the best course of action. Tribes can form broad alliances, such as in 1996 when members of six tribes – the Timbishas, the Miccosukees, the Pai ‘Ohana in Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, the Hualapai on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajos near Canyon de Chelly, and Sandoval Indian Pueblos in New Mexico – formed the Alliance to Protect Native Rights in National Parks (Wilkinson). Not all tribes are federally recognized, with unrecognized tribes having little avenue for negotiations with the NPS. Use agreements are usually very specific, negotiated between one NPS unit and one or multiple tribes.

Policy Issues

Problem definition, noted by Primm, can be a tool for different policy actors to define issues in natural resource management (137-141). There are multiple ways to frame any issue and each definition must be viewed in its political, cultural, and historical context (Primm 137-141). For Native tribes, the emphasis is on the religious, moral, and ecological, as well as the precedent of use. In contrast, the NPS places greater emphasis on management while still acknowledging the importance of Native claims.

Native people have been fighting for their land and autonomy since Europeans first arrived. The land in question is sacred: sites of spiritual significance, places where the world is said to have been created, where man first emerged, where ancestors were buried. The underlying issue then, at its very core, is a moral one. National Parks may be tourist destinations for many, but to Native communities “[the land is] everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us” (Ptak). While few would deny the moral imperative of NPS land repatriation to tribes, the reality, obviously, is that the situation is much more legally complex than simply returning land to tribes. In the absence of new legislature, tribes must work with the existing legal policies in place and negotiate with the NPS – which has other legal obligations and use-group relationships to balance.

Tribes can often be in direct conflict with oil, gas, uranium, mining, or timber interests who disagree on land use priorities; however, many extractive activities are prohibited in National Parks and pose larger issues directly outside park boundaries. More commonly, tribes struggle with the NPS when the agency wishes to complete projects that impact cultural sites and religious freedom.

The policy problem is also largely legal. On NPS land units, treaties – broken or not – often manifest as reserved trust rights that allow for hunting by Native people or management authority by tribes (Nie 1-4). These treaties and various religious freedom and self-determination laws create avenues for tribes to advocate for their interests. The exact powers that some of these laws give are not clearly defined yet and are still being explored by tribes that are wary of establishing negative legal precedents. National Parks are often adjacent to or contain lands that the federal government seized in violation of treaties that were made with tribes before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1871 ended the federal practice of treaty-making (Rice). The federal government is in many cases acting in direct conflict with treaty law by holding land. A recent example is McGirt v. Oklahoma, where judges determined that half of Oklahoma is Indian reservation land under a broken treaty (Wamsley). Even where taking is acknowledged the U.S. does not typically return land, in favor of offering a monetary settlement. Usually, payment is not seen as an acceptable substitute for cultural land which is viewed as a relative (#LandBack).

Another way of defining the problem in the context of management is ecological. Tribes have rich ecological knowledge and relationship with their land, and this knowledge can be invaluable in solving complex management problems (#LandBack). A classic example of this is U.S. fire suppression efforts. Until the 1960s the U.S. wildfire policy was total suppression, based on the belief that wildfires were ecologically destructive and ‘bad.’ This altered the fire regime to intense and destructive crown fires (Pyne). Prior to colonization, Native people managed the landscape through extensive periodic burning (Mann 283-8). When Native people are removed from lands, so are their traditional harvesting and management practices which have kept ecosystems in check for millennia; exclusion has caused complex ecological management problems in National Parks.

Policy Process

There are multiple routes that tribes can go down to gain usufruct rights (rights to use public resources) and protection of land. King notes in “Co-management or Contracting?” that the four main types of collaboration are land transfers and exchanges, co-management, agreements, and tribal parks (488). Agreements are formalized contracts or policies that allow for usufruct gathering and hunting rights for tribes or management agreements, as two examples. Land transfers, exchanges, and co-management are rare and involve preexisting reservations or tribal land later designated as a National Park, or tribes taking on day-to-day management of National Park operations (King 489-90). Tribal parks are parks established on reservations by tribes and funded through the BIA and NPS (492). Another way to categorize policy processes, explored later in this section, is by the laws or programs that enable NPS-tribal cooperation. The NPS coordinates the consultation process through the AILO in order to identify and protect tribal resources, facilitate dialogue between the NPS and tribes, and consult tribes when NPS or Department of Interior (DOI) actions or plans may have tribal implications. Consultation is the main policy process through with tribes can collaborate with the NPS in most cases. (512 DM 4).

The consultation process is initiated as early as possible (512 DM 5). In the initial planning stage, an appropriate DOI official will provide at least a 30 days notice to the tribe, giving an adequate description of the project, a timeline, and outcomes. Tribes may also initiate a consultation. In the proposal development stage, the NPS solicits the views of the affected tribe(s) through negotiations, tribal leader task forces, and a single or series of open tribal meetings. Sensitive tribal information on sacred locations and ceremonies will remain confidential. Afterwards, the NPS may implement a post-consultation review process, and is required to prepare an annual Consultation Summary Report (512 DM 5).

The NPS must incorporate tribal views in their decision making processes, but it is not required to comply with tribes’ suggestions unless it has an explicit legal obligation; the DOI’s policy is expressly “to identify, protect, and conserve tribal trust resources; carry out its trust relationship with federally recognized Indian tribes and tribal members; and consult with tribes on a government-to-government basis whenever [NPS] plans or actions have tribal implications” (512 DM 4). Tribes and NPS units will often formalize their relationship and joint goals with Memoranda of Agreement or Understanding (MOAs or MOUs).

There are three main laws that trigger a consultation process. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1996 compels the NPS to identify and list historic locations, structures, objects, and archaeological sites. Federal projects are subject to a process called Section 108 review, where the NPS must determine if a project will affect a site and if so, work to avoid or minimize that harm (NPS Website). The Tribal Historic Preservation Program provides grant funding for Indian management of historic preservation. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) similarly protects Native burial and archaeological sites (NPS Website). Both of these acts trigger consultation procedures for the NPS. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) states a federal policy of respecting Native rights to practice their religions. Courts have determined that agencies must consult with tribes on projects that may affect religious practice and pay attention to their concerns, but tribes ultimately have no power over a final decision.

Text Box: Courtesy of the NPS Website; archaeology work under NAGPRAThe Indian Self-Determination Act (ISDA), discussed previously, gave tribes the ability to demand contracts and compacts, “636 contracts,” that allow tribes to take over programs meant to “benefit Indians because of their status as Indians” (King 495). This definition has been expanded by a 1988 amendment to include programs under agencies other than the BIA that have “special geographic, historical, or cultural significance” to tribes, such as natural resource management with the NPS (King 495). Contracts allow for tribes to plan and administer programs, functions, services, or activities (PFSAs), while compacts allow the tribe to assume a greater degree of autonomy over both funding and administering of PFSAs (Indian Health Service).  For contracts, the tribe submits for review a Letter of Intent and a Self-Determination Contract proposal, which is followed by negotiations with the agency and either approval or declination. For compacts, the tribe produces a draft compact and negotiates with the Agency Lead Negotiator (ALN) (Indian Health Service).

Policy Analysis

While good on paper, much of the policy process is undermined by lackluster participation on the part of the National Park service and its employees, and the voluntary or cooperative nature of many of the acts and programs; treatment of tribal governments can vary widely between NPS units. In 2017, a report of tribal experiences with the consultation process was published as a joint effort between the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Army. They found that many tribes felt that agency consultations were completed as “box-checking” procedure and not to have a genuine dialogue. Federal staff often had inadequate knowledge of tribal cultures and treated them more like stakeholders than sovereign governmental entities. The consultation process was also often perceived as inconsistent and not properly involving tribes in important decisions that affected them (“Improving Tribal Consultation”).

It should also be noted that more than 200 tribes within the U.S. are unrecognized by the federal government, excluding them from the benefits that sovereign tribal nations have. Additionally, only 40% of recognized tribes are self-governance tribes who participate in the Tribal Self-Governance Program. This has created some alienation between tribes more open to assimilating and those who are not (King 499). For some, participating in federal programs and operating their tribal government in a way that reflects western models erodes their sense of identity.

Routes to more inclusive policies between tribes and the NPS might include creating a system-wide policy for usufruct rights, such as the NPS’ 2016 Final Rule allowing recognized tribes to collect plants on parklands (81 FR 45024). Federal obligations to tribes during consultation processes should be strengthened, giving authority to tribes similar to the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Protection Act. These laws make groups able to sue or halt projects that are damaging to natural resources. Consultation should be strengthened regardless, and tribes should have the full information they need to analyze the impacts of federal projects and activities.

Despite these shortcomings, the tribal self-determination laws and policies of the last 50 years have had a significant positive impact on tribal sovereignty and collaboration with the National Park Service. The Clinton, Obama, and Biden administrations have all published executive orders affirming the executive branch’s commitment to the government-to-government relationship with tribes, as well as their commitment to dialogue and improving the consultation process. The National Park Service, like any agency, is imperfect and continually trying to improve its procedures and contend with its exclusionary foundations. This does not excuse it, but furthering dialogue with tribes and giving their concerns power will give the NPS a chance to correct systemic issues, if they will listen. Tribes will likely continue to, and should, gain more avenues to connect with traditional lands located within National Parks. It will probably not be a straightforward path – little in policy is – but the National Park Service has an obligation to tribes; not only to acknowledge the ecological, spiritual, and cultural significance of tribal relations with their homelands, but to allow them to realize those connections through collaboration and humanity.


AILO – American Indian Liaison Office, within the National Park Service.

AIRFA – American Indian Religious Freedom Act

ANILCA – Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

BIA – Bureau of Indian Affairs, within the Department of the Interior

DOI – Department of the Interior

NAGPRA – Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

NHPA – National Historic Preservation Act

NPS – National Park Service

ISDA – Indian Self-Determination Act

TSGA – Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994


Adams, David A. Renewable Resource Policy: The Legal-Institutional Foundations. Washington D.C., Island Press, 1993.

American Indian Liaison Office. “The National Park Service and American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians: Excerpts and identified sections from Management Policies.” National Park Service, Dep. of the Interior, 2006. PDF.

“Doctrine of Discovery.” Upstander Project, Website. Accessed 20 April 2021.

“Federal Indian Law for Alaskan Tribes: Marshall Trilogy.” U. of Alaska, Fairbanks, Unit 1, Accessed 18 April 2021. Website. Accessed 20 April 2021.

“How Did Public Lands Come to Be?” Wilderness Society. PDF.

“Improving Tribal Consultation and Tribal Involvement in Federal Infrastructure Decisions.” U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Department of Justice, 2017. PDF.

Indian Health Service. “Differences Between Title I Contracting and Title V Compacting Under the Indian Self-Determination Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA).” Office of Tribal Self-Governance, PDF.

Kantor, Isaac. “Ethnic Cleansing and America’s Creation of National Parks.” Public Land and Resources Law Review, vol. 28, 2007, pp. 41-64. PDF.

King, Mary A. “Co-management or Contracting?: Agreements Between Native American Tribes and the U.S. National Park Service Pursuant to the 1994 Tribal Self-Governance Act.” Harvard Environmental Law Review, vol. 31, 2007, pp. 475-530. PDF.

“#LandBack is Climate Justice: Honor the treaties and return stolen land.” Lakota People’s Law Project, 2020. Website. Accessed 23 April 2021.

Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 2nd ed., New York, Vintage Books, 2011.

Monahan, Erin. “Stop Glorifying John Muir.” Terra Incognita Media, Website. Accessed 21 April 2021.

National Park Service Website. National Park Service, Website. Accessed 22 April 2021.

Nie, Martin. “The Use of Co-Management and Protected Land-Use Designations to Protect Tribal Cultural Resources and Reserved Treaty Rights on Federal Lands.” Natural Resources Journal, vol. 48, 2008 (summer), pp. 1-63. PDF

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Primm, Steven A. and Tim W. Clark. “The Greater Yellowstone policy debate: What is the policy problem?” Policy Sciences, vol. 29, 1996, pp. 137-166.

Ptak, Elisabeth. “The Source of All that Sustains Us.” Land Trust Alliance, originally from Saving Land Magazine, Fall 2015. Website.

Pyne, Stephen J. “The Fires This Time, and Next.” Science, Vol. 294, Issue 5544, 2001, pp. 1005-1006. DOI: 10.1126/science.1064989

Rice, William G. “25 U.S.C. Sec. 71: The End of Indian Sovereignty or a Self-Limitation of Contractual Ability?” University of Tulsa College of Law Digital Commons, 1977. PDF.

Russell, Gregory and David Flores. “Integrating Tribes and Culture into Public Land Management.” USDA Forest Service, 2020, pp. 177-185. PDF.

Spence, Mark David. Dispossessing the Wilderness. Oxford University Press Incorporated, 1999.

United States, Congress. Public Law 88-577: An Act to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes. United States Statutes at Large, vol. 78, 1964, pp. 890-896. U.S. Government Publishing Office.

U.S. Congress. Public Law 93-638: Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. United States Statutes at Large, vol. 88, 1975, pp. 2203-2217. U.S. Government Publishing Office. Website.

U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs Website. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, www.bia.gov. Accessed 23 April 2021.

U.S. House. 64th Congress, 1st Session. H.R. 15522, An Act To establish a National Park Service, and for other purposes. Washington, Government Printing Office, 1916.

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Wilkinson, Todd. “Native Americans Challenge Park Agency for Land Rights.” The Christian Science Monitor, 1996. Website. Accessed 23 April 2021.

Wiseman, Joseph J. “Judicial Toolkit on Indian Law: An Overview of Key Federal Indian Law Cases.” California Courts, PDF.

81 FR 45024. “Gathering of Certain Plants or Plant Parts by Federally Recognized Indian Tribes for Traditional Purposes.” National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 2016, Federal Register pp. 45024-45039. Website.

512 DM 4. “Policy on Consultation with Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations.” Department of the Interior, Departmental Manual. PDF.

512 DM 5. “Procedures for Consultations with Indian Tribes.” Department of the Interior, Departmental Manual. PDF.


Hello, my lovely people. You are rad.

I have about 100,000 words total written for my PCT 2018 journal, which is approximately half of what there will be should I finish writing/expanding entries I missed. The detail that my perfectionist brain requires of me takes a lot of time. On-trail an entry would take an hour or two to write, which is why I started cutting myself some slack- I was getting too tired from the lack of sleep, and it was affecting my ability to enjoy myself while hiking. I would like it if I had a burning desire and motivation to start back-writing like I did last time, but I don’t (spoiler alert though, I finished the trail this time). In fact, every time I start thinking about the enormous task I feel that I don’t want to do it, like eating a salad with chopped-up bell peppers in it, or eggnog, or milk, or an egg with slimy whites, or… insert food that you would eat if you really had to, but will otherwise go out of your way to avoid. Because it’s unpleasant. Eggnog is unpleasant. Fancy ice cream that uses egg yolks to taste richer is also pushing it, honestly.

Long diatribe about foods I don’t like aside (there aren’t many I don’t like), the point was going to be that I am going to honor my lack of desire to do the work, even though I really want the end product. What am I doing other than writing and editing 100,000 words that I don’t feel like writing, you may ask?

Well, I am taking a couple of college classes right now to keep me amused and busy before summer and going to university in the fall happens. The semester started out pretty disappointing, with my friend and I dropping a class we were going to take together, the realization that my botany professor is one of the worst teachers I’ve had, and some snots in my drawing class, but it’s definitely improved and I’m the happiest I’ve been since the PCT in Washington. I am visiting both Northern Arizona University and Montana State in the next month to see how I like them. I keep hitting my bum knee (also PCT spoilers) against things like a fool™ and making it angry again. My knee is a bag full of bees who are tired of being bees in a bag.

Anyways, if ya’ll want to see what the heck silly old Picnic is drawing in her drawing class, I created a separate Tumblr to post all of that on. My Tumblr blog name is Tablepicnic for those who are savvy, or there’s a link at the end of this paragraph. I figure there’s a few or more people who have started following this blog for some reason since the PCT and I just wanted to keep it separate, but ALSO certain family members might be interested (hi grandma P, love you).


Day 22- 13.8 miles from Cleghorn Picnic Area (328.1) to Cajon Pass (341.9)

Hey! I had a week or so of posts that didn’t get written for whatever reason. Rather than delay posting my posts until I find the time and motivation to write them posthumously (basically when I get home after my hike) I’m just going to post a blank post with this message. I just wrote the word post 4 times in that last sentence!

Points of interest:

I woke up.

My foot hurt a bit.

Walked with McGuyver to the McDonald’s at Cajon Pass.

I split a room for super cheap with a bunch of hikers at Cajon Pass.

Day 21- 20 miles from just past Deep Creek Hot Springs (308.1) to Cleghorn Picnic Area (328.1)

McGuyver and I sleep in late. Ziploc and OT walk by, Ziploc making a hurry-up motion at me and Oldtimer giving a cheery good morning.

We take our time packing up. It’s 7 by the time we’re out of our sleeping bags so it’s good we moved on last night to avoid the rangers ticketing campers. I eat things from my food bag and head off. Deep Creek is green below. I cross the rainbow bridge and graffiti and trash start showing up on the side of the trail. “Uh… no homo?” says one, and another points down a steep ravine- “Danger, Bov is death.”

I bring out my trash Ziploc and fill it up with trash as I go. I crush the plastic bottles and cans I find and stuff them in my mesh pocket. This section is really bad with trash, and it’s slow going. The trail starts switchbacking down towards the Mojave Dam, and dayhikers start showing up. I find an unopened beer bottle in a bush that expired in 2016.

Eventually I don’t have room left in my pack and start collecting the bottles in my arms. I ask some of the dayhikers if they’ll pack one or two out for me but they decline. Eventually I just have to make a pile by the side of the trail and leave a note on the PCT marker nearby asking hikers to help carry a couple of pieces of trash out.

I’ve filled my first gallon Ziploc and bring out a second. I filter water with Steve and Veronica and McGuyver at the Deep Creek Ford, and then I walk across in my shoes. There’s much less trash on this side of the river, but I do find a bush covered in unused TP and some more bottles.

I see no one else but Steve and McGuyver for most of the rest of the day. The trail is mostly flat as it follows the side of the hills. It’s a burn area and there are blackened husks of large bushes with new growth at their bases. Purple-blue Penstemon and big yellow flowers grow on the hillsides. In spots where it isn’t sheltered wind gusts batter me.

I want to order pizza, so as the miles go by I keep an eye on mileage and time. As long as I can get to Cleghorn by 7 I’m good. A pizza place will do take-out orders to there. With 8 miles to go I go for it, not stopping to take breaks. I’m ordering pizza for Steve and McGuyver, too. The trail drops briefly down onto the side of the highway to cross the spillway coming from the Silverwood Lake Dam. Then it climbs up again through thick green bush taller than me, and crests the rise to a view of the lake. It’s pretty and big, and there’s much less trash in the area than there was last year. Last year you couldn’t walk five feet without seeing a new piece of litter.

I push on and get to Cleghorn Picnic Area. Big banks of cloud roll over the hills ahead, the wind pushing them fast, but they dissipate and seem to go nowhere. It’s cold now.

I call the pizza place and put in an order for a veggie pizza and a meat lover’s for Steve and McGuyver. Steve comes in and sets up at a picnic table. A guy named Commando because he wears a kilt comes in and we decide to let him share, too. I make some spicy ramen to warm myself up while we wait. The pizza shows up but Macgyver doesn’t, and we huddle around the boxes and eat. It’s pretty good veggie pizza.

Steve and I setup to sleep on the picnic tables. I go to the bathrooms and sit in the warmth for a while before going back outside. I put on all my layers and crawl into my bed. The wind is restless and chilly and searching, and in the distance people are laughing.

Day 20- 22.5 miles from Little Bear Springs Trail Camp (285.6) to just past Deep Creek Hot Springs (308.1)

I wake up to OT and Ziploc almost packed up. I roll over in my warm sleeping bag and shut my eyes for another 2 minutes. I’m tired. After a couple more minutes of loitering I sit up. My sleeping bag is wet from condensation where I wrapped it with my tarp, but at least it was warm. Ziploc comes over and tells me we’re aiming for 16 ish miles to whatever campsite we find before Deep Creek. That will set us up for a 24 mile day to Cleghorn Picnic Area tomorrow. They head off while I’m packing and airing out my sleeping bag.

I leapfrog Carson and Dasha for an hour or two while I listen to music, the trail climbing up out of muskrat-dammed Holcomb Creek and running through small bushy hills. I don’t really listen to music because I’m bored – I usually get bored listening to music, actually- but because I miss listening to it if I don’t. If that makes sense.

After around 6 miles the trail drops from up in the flats to Holcomb Creek again. Ziploc and OT are just packing up after a long break there. Great. I’m not getting on a schedule again of constantly catching them on the tail end of breaks and then not stopping to keep up. I head off in front of Ziploc. The trail crosses the creek again over a log and I lengthen my poles to steady myself, easing my way across. I don’t really need to but I’m being cautious.

Ziploc crosses after me. “If that’s how you cross logs just wait until the Sierra,” he says.

I scowl at him as he walks by. He’s teasing, but recently it’s been getting on my nerves. And anyway, I hiked the Sierra, too, on the JMT, and this year will probably be a lot closer to my experience of that section than his. Grr. It’s frustrating.

I’m tired, though. I take a long break against a tree by the creek crossing, and eat the rest of the chips. Screw it, I’m not going to chase them all day. I’m hiking my hike today.

I walk another couple of miles and stop to take a break under the shade of a tree. I spread my pad out on the soft dirt and cheat grass and lay down. I think I’m going to take a nap. People keep on passing by and I don’t feel comfortable sleeping right by the side of the trail in the middle of the day, so I pick up my things and head up a dry creek bed in the sun. I find a bit of shade under a bush that’s not visible from trail and crash. When I wake up I’ve slept for maybe 2 hours, from 9:30 to 11:30, and I take a while to pack up. The nap was delicious.

I eat a tuna wrap and head out, feeling frustrated about Ziploc. I let it drive me up the trail and another couple of miles go by. I’m getting close to where the trail goes down into the side of Deep Creek Canyon, through flowering bushes that smell like terrible perfume, and buckwheat, lilac, rabbitbrush, and what I think is some kind of bush willow. It drops down. I can see the swath of trees that is Deep Creek cutting through the bottom of the canyon.

I stop at the first bridge across and take a trail down to the water. Ape and Rabbit are here, and Carson and Dasha are heading out. Ape is taking a nap on a rock and Rabbit is balancing rocks in the middle of the creek. They keep falling down and he curses and throws his hands up in the air each time, disappointed. OT and Ziploc just left.

I take my shoes off and wade through the river, the cold water and rough sand feel good on my tired feet. I sit on the bank and watch Rabbit stack rocks. A hiker who came by the picnic area last night comes down and I sit and talk with them for a long time. MacGyver is non-binary and they’re from Portland and started the trail with 40$. They’re funding their trip by putting up poetry on Patreon, and got a lot of their food they’ve sent themselves dumpster diving. They were saving for the trail for 4 years but then broke their back falling off a roof. The conversation is good. We head out together and talk, ambulating slowly with sore feet.

(If you want to check out their poetry and become a patron and help them out on their hike I’m sure MacGyver would be absolutely thrilled and splurge on a 5$ salad in town like a royal. https://www.patreon.com/Gracetopher)

I see OT and Ziploc on a hill set up for the night but I decide to head on with MacGyver. It’s 6 ish miles to the hot springs, and MacGyver and I plan on sleeping a mile before. There’s brain-eating bacteria in there and Ziploc refuses to go in because it’s disgusting, but I’m feeling like doing whatever I want. MacGyver and I stop to eat dinner at the stagnant stream a mile before the hot springs. I make a Knorr rice side and wrap it in a tortilla. We talk and laugh as we eat.

We finish eating. MacGyver puts one sock on.

“Are we keeping going then?” I say.

“I guess so,” they say.


I put my things away and we walk into the darkening evening together. I manage to keep my headlamp off most of the way, but in some places the beach-sand trail is falling away. We talk about queer Don Quixote and other things. We turn at a sign set up by a guy named Party Boy down to the hot springs in the dark. There’s a hiker box here, and a register. We sign.

There’s only two people down at the hot pool and they call up hellos. MacGyver strips down naked in the dark, and the people down there are naked. Okay! Let’s do this. I keep my underwear on but take off my bra and carefully make my way down and slide into the hot water. Ahh. The bottom is sandy and not too deep. I have to lean back to get properly in. The stars are incredible and Deep Creek bends around a tall rocky outcrop. We talk to Josh and Mariya in the dark. They’re nice people, and we talk about the trail and the Camino de Santiago and many other things for an hour or two.

The night’s become warmer and I slip into the cold creek once to cool off. Yah, brain-eating bacteria be damned. This was perfect. Eventually we decide it’s time to head off to camp. We’re going a mile further since we hear the rangers are coming at 8 tomorrow to hand out fines to campers here. We’d probably be out by then but neither MacGyver or I want to risk it. With their budget 175$ would end their hike.

The scab on my knee from my fall near Paradise Valley Cafe has been soaked enough in the pool that it’s soft and falling off. Below is bare skin oozing blood. Gross, and so much for not having wounds for bacteria to enter. I slather antibacterial cream on and MacGyver gives me a big bandaid.

Josh gives us an unopened 2 liter smartwater bottle to split so we don’t have to filter, and we put our dry clothes and our shoes on in the sand in the dark. We walk a little bit less than a mile in the dark before we find flat-ish places to set up our cowboys. We probably wouldn’t be fined here.

It’s been a long day and it’s almost midnight by the time I finish writing. I miss Maddy and I feel bad that I’m making big miles so it’s difficult for her to catch up. I hope her hip’s doing fine and I’m sure she’s having fun. My foot also hurt a bit all day, just a tired pain from my injury that manifests in the bottom of my foot. It feels like there’s cartilage sliding under the bones that is getting irritated. We’ll see.

Crickets and frogs sing around us. I’m not camped on the flattest campsite and there’s a single rock near my butt. The night is dark and the stars are big and it’s late. Goodnight.

Day 19- 19.5 miles from Big Bear Lake (266.1) to Little Bear Springs Trail Camp (285.6)

I am awake before Maddy and Julie’s alarm. It’s very comfortable on this couch and I slept well. The alarm goes off and we start packing up our things. I lay out all of my food real quick and repackage everything, dumping out the old peanut butter pretzels and sesame sticks I’ve been carrying since Campo and just haven’t wanted to eat. I should have done that earlier. My foot feels a bit swollen and tender as I walk around but it should feel better once I have my shoes on and get walking.

We get breakfast at the Teddy Bear Restaurant, which is a lame name but the food is good. I order a veggie omelet and hash browns and have cinnamon cornbread, and ask for two glasses of water since I think I’m still a bit dehydrated. It’s all good.

Since Julie has a flight at twelve and she’s tight for time I’ve decided that she doesn’t need to make the trip to drop us at the highway and stress. She drops me off at the Motel 6 that OT and Ziploc are staying at that looks like a white-and-blue greyhound station. Julie gives me a big hug and I get one from Maddy and I say goodbye. Julie is awesome and I’m going to miss Maddy, since she got off from Big Bear early she’ll be a day behind and it might take a while to gain on us. Catch up! Please!

I sit with OT in his room for a couple minutes then meet Ziploc outside. He orders an Uber for us back to the trail and I sit in the back with my pack. The driver is playing Billy Joel and River of Dreams comes on and OT and I sing and tap our hands and feet to the music.

“I sing this song to my wife,” he says.

“My Dad used to rock my little brother to sleep with this album,” I say.

We get to the trail. I met Twinkle Toes here last year, and so I send a picture of the highway to her. “Hey! I thought you were going to meet me here again. Where are you,” I write.

Then off! It’s two miles through scrubby pine and bushes to the fire closure detour. It’s magically become a good temperature again since yesterday and the weather is perfect. A cool wind but nothing too chilly and clear blue skies. I fall behind to pee (those two glasses of water at breakfast) and find OT and Ziploc waiting for me at the paved road at the start of the detour. Aww. We all walk it together, I’m a couple of seconds behind. Ziploc and OT walk together, side-by-side on the broad dirt road ahead of me.

The road is rocky and steep and our packs are heavy, but it’s not too bad, especially in this temperature. Once we get back on the PCT it’s easy going, the trail gentle and not rocky. I get to Caribou Creek and decide to filter another liter of water. Christian is there and we talk as we collect water from the slow-moving creek. I wasn’t sure about him at first, because he was very opinionated about my homemade tarp, but after talking for a while I decide he’s a good cookie and forgive him for his MYOG-criticizing transgression.

I talk with him and Carson and Dasha for a while. Magneto shows up. I finally head off and catch OT talking on the phone to his family. I sit and eat chips and we answer questions from curious and enthusiastic dayhikers. OT shows them his rattlesnake video and they pick up his pack to see how heavy it is. We head off together and talk for a while, with 8 miles to go until camp. It’s pretty, gentle green/dry hills and. Real pine forest. The trail is flat and we make good time. We catch up to Ziploc at a break and head off together. We’re an odd little group but they’re gems and I feel lucky to be hiking with them.

We hike together until Little Bear Springs Trail Camp. I see the composting toilet and let out a low whoop. This is where I got my trail name last year, the picnic table here is The picnic table, and I’m excited for this. Ziploc and OT move in to camp under the trees, but I tell them I refuse to go by without reacquainting myself with My picnic table, and so I go and sit with two Swiss guys who have a giant 2-gallon ziploc of different gummy candies. Their names are Rabbit and Ape, and I talk to them and tell them my trail name story. They don’t like the Red Vines they got and so they pull them from the giant bag and give them all to me. I cook dinner and eat red vines as I wait for it to cook. This is a good picnic table, with extra sturdy, thick wood. It will last a long time.

The sun nears the horizon and is turning bright, so I pack up my things and head off to where Ziploc and OT are camped. OT is eating his dinner. “It’s going to be cold tonight,” he observes, and I start shivering against the cool breeze.

I’m not going to be cold tonight, I decide, so I set up my cowboy camp and put on all of my clothes and wrap my tarp over my sleeping bag like a burrito. I pull my water filter in with me in case it freezes and settle in for the cold night.

Day 18- 9.9 miles from Arrastre Trail Camp (256.2) to Big Bear Lake (266.1)

The tent that was near me last night is revealed to me in the light of day as Ziploc’s. He gets out of his tent and looks at me. “Come on, let’s go, get packed, move,” he says, clapping his hands at me and giving me his best intense stare.

“Hello, good morning, I’m happy to see you again, too.” I yawn.

Oldtimer is sitting at the picnic table behind me and I wave good morning and Ziploc and I give the rundown of where we’ve been since we last saw each other at Idyllwild. Then I pack partway up and join Oldtimer at the table and make the ramen I was going to have last night. I have my last half bagel with cream cheese and put the remaining glob of cream cheese in the noodle broth and stir it around. It doesn’t quite melt in well but it tastes pretty fine, tart with the lime flavor and the cream cheese.

Cody’s here and we talk and then Ziploc gets impatient and I pack and we start walking. I text Maddy to see if her and her mom are up for picking us up from the highway, since Maddy texted me this morning offering to. The trail is kind of dry and scrubby and beige, and aside from a nice, washed-out creamy view of the desert floor below there really isn’t much to look at. Ziploc and OT pass me as I stop at a small stream to fill up another liter of water. I see OT on the trail ahead occasionally as I walk.

Finally I’m up over the final rise, the heat killing me on even the gentle terrain. Someone’s left boxes of sodas and I pick up a cherry 7-up and sit down with Ziploc and OT in the shade. I text Maddy but after a while of no reply I assume she’s not looking at her phone and text her mom, Julie, and then soon enough they’re both here, pulling up in their rental car.

Maddy bounds up in clean cotton clothes her mother brought, and hugs me, and Julie comes and hugs me too. She brought cold sodas and fruit and she leaves some of them in the coolers up the trail a bit, and we all hop in the car and drop Ziploc and OT off at the Motel 6.

I don’t know where I’m staying. Julie and Maddy don’t seem to mind so I end up driving with them to their cabin and I’ll sleep on the couch tonight. Julie is awesome and it’s good to be with Maddy again, and we walk down to the lake. Maddy runs with her socks on into the muddy lake and announces the mud is up to her ankles. Julie and I try picking our way across a mud flat to get to the docks but our feet sink in. Now my shoes are engulfed in gross, sticking mud.

We sit on the dock and I stick my feet with the shoes on into the water to clean them. We walk back and I take a shower, and then head off to pick up Ziploc and OT for lunch and resupply. I get fried avocados and beer-cheese fries, and eat it all. At Von’s I wander around, my eyes wide, and pick food off the shelf even though I’m so full I don’t even want to look at any of it, much less eat anything. Maddy and I’s laundry is getting done at the laundromat and I get there just as it’s finishing washing, and I collect it and we drop Ziploc and OT off again.

Then I sit with Julie and Maddy on the porch and we talk, and I’m grateful, and I hope I get to keep hiking and hopefully Maddy will catch up with me from getting off at Onyx Summit. I sit and catch up on my blog and Maddy researches different exercises to help her hip, and we eat ice cream and strawberries and chips and salsa and later that night Maddy gets some pizza. I’m full.

I’m so grateful that I got to meet Maddy’s mom and that I didn’t have to spend another stop in Big Bear alone. Thank you so much, Julie, if you’re reading this!

My foot is a little irritated and swollen, probably from my big day yesterday, but I’ll ice and elevate it and see how it goes. Tomorrow, since Julie has to rush off to her flight back home and we don’t want to have anyone be stressed out or rushed, Julie will drop me off after breakfast tomorrow with OT and Ziploc and we’ll find a way back to trail. That way I’ll also have more time to sort my food resupply, which in all of my blog posting I forgot to do.

So busy, but so good. Goodnight.

Day 17- 25.3 miles from midway up Mission Creek (230.9) to Arrastre Trail Camp (256.2)

Either Firefly or Boxtop comes with their headlamps on and taps our heads to wake us up in the dark. I roll over and gather myself to be awake, really, fully awake, and to unzip my sleeping bag. Maddy doesn’t move.

There’s a roaring like a jet taking off in the distance and the ground shudders under my body. Earthquake. It lasts for several seconds, rippling and alive, moving from my shoulders towards my feet. It finally stops.

“Wow! So cool!” we say.

I’m awake now and pack up quickly, the sun not up yet, and head out on trail with Maddy close behind me. The trail crosses the top of Mission Creek a few more times, through copses of aspen, the ground around the water muddy and trampled. I lose the trail briefly and filter water, and climb over a big rocky slope to find it again.

Mission Creek becomes a thin trickle of water near the last crossing, in the center of the sandy stream bed. I pass some dead poodle dog by the camp site and begin the switchbacks out of the canyon. All of the poodle dog I see is long-dead. Does the dead stuff give you rashes too? I don’t know.

Steep, exposed switchbacks in the burgeoning heat up to the ridge. I reach the top, but it’s not really the top. It goes up more, and it’s hot, and now I’m in ugly scrubby trees, brown and dusty and dry and lifeless and steep. Occasionally it traverses along the side of open acres slopes. I smell Poodle Dog Bush and swing around, sniffing and looking. I see a single, turreted plant down the slope.

The trail slowly descends down to the creek again, I don’t think it’s still Mission Creek, it might be. It’s prettier now, under a forest of pine, some dead and burned, some alive. People are gathered by the creek filtering water, and I pass by. Maddy catches up and stops to filter, and I say hi as I pass by and to stop at Mission Springs Trail Camp.

I’m bonking and tired in the heat. Eventually I make it to Mission Springs Trail Camp, and walk past the picnic tables in the sun to set my things down by Captain and Firefly. They’re taking naps. I walk down to the spring and fill my water bottles, the water trickling and cold from over hanging tree roots. I hold my dirty water bag up to the biggest trickle and catch it before it falls into the blue barrel below. I head bag and try to take a nap, but the sun is too hot and the shade too cool, so I can’t get fully asleep.

Maddy comes by briefly. Her hip is still hurting her but it’s feeling slightly better. Her mom is picking her up at Onyx Summit this evening, and I ask her if it would be okay if I went and stayed with them. I’m not sure if that’s really what I want to do and I don’t want to intrude, but I also don’t want to get off-pace with her. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maddy texts her mom to see if I can stay with them, and then heads off.

I loiter around for an hour or so more as people trickle in and I talk to them. Luke shows up and Rotam from Israel, and Ran from Israel. Rotam plays his ukulele and Addy comes in. I finally make myself leave and am stopped a couple hundred feet later to talk to Doug, a funny dude who only carries Soylent and wears a white shirt and white compression socks up to his knees, and Jordan and Steve.

I finally get away from them, too, and at first it’s hot and I’m struggling uphill. Then I reach the top of the climb and stop to poop and suddenly everything is better, the trail is easier and flatter and it’s cooling down.

I get a text from Julie, Maddy’s mom- Maddy is going to be at Onyx Summit by 7, and I’m welcome to come and sleep on the couch at their cabin. Okay! I stop by Coon Creek Cabin, a creepy Forest Service Cabin alongside a maze of wide dirt roads, where Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Captain and Luke are setting up camp. They say Maddy just left 20 minutes ago. Okay, I’m going to try and catch up and go into Big Bear early, I tell them, and say goodbye. It’s 11 miles to Onyx Summit from Coon Creek Cabin.

I’m feeling good, flying down the trail. I think I might even be hitting 3.5-4 mph. The trail is flat and not too rocky, and the sun is getting lower in the sky. Mountains furred in pine rise to the left and the desert floor below to my right.

I pass the zoo, and pause briefly to watch the grizzly pacing around in its tiny chain-link and concrete cage, anger rising up in my belly. But I’m on a schedule. I text Julie to let her know how far I am out. 2.6, 1.8, the sunset rising up into the sky and the light turning gray.

I find the turnoff to Onyx Summit and walk down to the small, unofficial parking area. I don’t see any cars so I settle down on top of a mountain of dirt someone has left by the parking lot and look at my phone and text Julie. Cars whoosh by on the twisty road.

She texts me back and says they’re in Big Bear, and that they need some mom time together and they feel terrible. Oh! I feel bad that they feel bad, and did I impose myself? I don’t know, but it got me to here in record time, so I’m glad, I feel a little awesome.

Ziploc texts me. He and OT are camped 3 or 4 miles ahead. The sun is setting and brilliant in the sky, and I’m feeling good. I think I’m going to go for a 25 mile day and see Ziploc and OT again. I walk back to the PCT and walk until it gets too dark to see, and then stop to pee and get my headlamp out. The dark is nice and welcoming and womb-like, and I call my mom and talk to her while I walk.

The trail is turning rocky and my feet are now sore, so I take it slow as I talk to her the last 2 miles to camp. Moths fly up my sleeves and collars and I pause to turn my headlamp so they’ll go away.

I start seeing tents and I’m here. I say goodbye and goodnight to my mom and set up my cowboy camp as quietly as I can in the dark. I don’t feel like cooking so I eat some Oreos for dinner, and settle into my sleeping bag. Pine loom big and dark above me, obscuring the stars.

Day 16- 14.4 miles from before Whitewater Preserve (216.5) to midway up Mission Creek (230.9)

I’m up and packing around 5:50, the sun just above the horizon but hidden behind a small layer of clouds. I’m glad I waited, even though it was very hot last night and I felt like I was suffocating in my bag, and the relentless wind kept me up. So, I didn’t sleep that well.

The 2.5 miles to Whitewater Preserve go quickly. The views are pretty, Whitewater River opening up in a flat tumble of wide granite on the valley floor. The trail switchbacks down and I cross the two footbridges above the water and follow the rock-lined path down towards the ranger station and picnic area. I head past the wading pool and hikers packing up, and find Maddy cowboy camped in the middle of the field with the group.

I sit with her for a bit and then see Pickle packing up to leave. Maddy says the ants were voracious last night, crawling over everyone and getting into food. My fanny pack is filled with maybe 50 ants looking for crumbs from last night, and I didn’t even camp here. I brush them off each time I use my phone. Pickle had to throw away his new bag of dried raspberry papaya and the licorice I gave him.

I walk over and offer him some of my licorice to sample as compensation for his loss. He’s going to be pushing miles and I probably won’t see him again, but that’s what I said about Chris and Kelsey last year, so. He heads off.

We all eat breakfast at the picnic tables together, Maddy, Luke and his girlfriend Addy, who skipped the descent from Jacinto to save her knees, Firefly, Captain, Boxtop, and Melt. Pickles left at the I-10 to get her foot looked at. She’s been hiking on a stress fracture for 160 miles.

We head to the wading pool and bathe, telling each other sternly not to swim, because of the signs telling people not to. Cinema and Tammus are here, and Cricket comes. Someone pulls out a mini ukulele and starts playing.

Finally we truckle out around 11, needing to get out and start walking even though the timing is terrible with the heat. The heat immediately clobbers us, and the Group, Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Captain, who I followed out, stops and discusses what to do.

“I’m going to walk the mile to the river crossing and I’m going to sit in the water for a couple of hours,” I say, and leave to let them follow me.

We reach it and set our packs down in the shade of a cliff. Melt lies down flat in the rumbling, clear water. He looks like he’s died there. His mom, Boxtop, takes a picture. We all settle down into the water, trying out different pools. I lie down flat in one I find, its bottom soft with fine sand. The water is so clear. I open and close my hand underwater, little bubbles clinging to my fine knuckle hairs, and examine my cuticles. The water is cool but not cold, the pool is soft, and I lie there for 10 minutes letting the water rush over me. I think this might be heaven.

We sit around until one or two before we muster the strength to leave our little oasis. The heat settles into me quickly, and 200 feet from the water I set my pack down and go back to dunk my shirt in the water one last time.

Six miles to Mission Creek. The climb is gently graded enough, but hot and exposed and dry. Even the plants look half-dead, sparse and lackluster. We climb out of whitewater canyon, and down again, and then up again up another canyon until we’re finally on a ridge overlooking what might be the Indian Reservation. It doesn’t take long for my shirt to dry the water from the river and replace it with sweat. I’m lathered in it, slick and wet, sweat forming a mustache above my upper lip. It’s actually not too bad, I don’t mind being this hot, and the climb isn’t phasing me.

I got service and text my peoples, and then continue. There’s a breeze up here which makes the heat feel almost cool. Captain calls Pickles. She has a stress fracture and is getting on a flight home. Crap! :(

Then we catch a glimpse of green Mission Creek and start the short descent down. I find Firefly and Captain under a big tree by the creek and plop down. Everyone else trickles in and we make our dinners. Maddy’s hip has been hurting quite a bit and she finds someone with a ball to roll the muscle or tendon out on.

Eventually we head out again, and now it’s cool, and we make great time up the creek. Last year I was miserable in this section, the heat terrible and draining. I think I took almost until one in the afternoon to walk 10 miles. Now it’s easy, and I feel bad for my previous bad review of this section. Trees cluster around the creek and cool marbled-looking boulders and cliffs flank the trail. There’s so many flowers and the creek burbles along.

We reach the campsite we were going to camp at to find it occupied but not entirely full. We all decide to do another two miles to another campsite while the temperature is still cool. We pull out our headlamps at the end and end up sharing a flat spot with a guy named Jared. Maddy and I squeeze our cowboy camps together into one tent site and I show her some hip exercises that might help with her hip pain.

The creek is loud nearby, and frogs are crossing, and a single cricket screams in faltering succession into the night. The sky is dark tucked away into our little corner of the world, the stars are out, and life is good.

Foot update- My right foot is swollen and looks bigger than my left, which is normal 6 ish months after a surgery, so I just need to manage it. The hammer toes are a different story, they don’t hurt but it stresses out my foot when they’re clamping down, and it hurts when I tape them down, so we’ll see. I think the heat made it swell even more than normal today. It’s all a little funky but it’s working out okay and I think it’ll be fine in the long term.

Day 15- 21.1 miles from midway down Fuller Ridge (195.4) to before Whitewater Preserve (216.5)

Everyone is packing up around me. Having a comfy sleeping system makes it much harder to get up, so I lay there for a while before sitting up. I’m the second-to-last out of my sleeping bag and the first packed and hiking. I eat some licorice and cinnamon bears for breakfast (balanced).

The sky is just tinged with light, a small city lighting up, yellow, on the dark flat of the valley floor. The sunrise comes in a band of orange on the horizon, and suddenly I turn around a bend and the sun is up, bright and big and brilliant. The trail goes down for another 10 miles from here. We started the descent up at 10,800 feet and are going down to the highway at 1,300. It’s pretty gentle as far as 10,000 foot descents go, though, graded well. We’re able to go pretty fast down it.

Small, round, orange flowers and 4-leaved yellow ones form a tic-tac-toe on the side of the trail, little Xs and Os. We pass by the 200 mile mark and I take pictures, and then by the hyped-up angry bee hive without incident. Then, it’s all just down. Even as the sun was coming up over the the horizon it was hot, and now our first true 90+ heat is settling in. It fills the air, making it feel heavier. I’m sweating even on the downhill.

I drink my last 1/4 liter of water a mile and a half before the faucet and turn on autopilot, cruising down the last section with Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Maddy.

I flop down in the shade of a small-tree sized boulder next to Pickle. I pull out my water filter and dirty water bag and fill up half a liter and drink it first, then filter the rest and drink some more. The faucet is a drinking fountain, and we laugh as we each try to aim the water stream into our bottles as it leaps around in the air.

We all head off in a big herd the last 3 ish miles to the highway. I walk in the back with Pickle and talk with him. He has a small Palaante Simple Pack and he walks super fast, and hiked the AT same year as OT, so I don’t think I’ll keep up with him for long at all, but I enjoy talking gear and trails with him and I’ll enjoy his company for now. That’s how most of my trail friendships work. Temporaneous but good.

He moves through the line of people and I attempt to keep up on the flat, deep, churning sand. It’s a game, and I manage to pass everyone except for Luke. The trail follows a dry riverbed and the walking is terrible. I hate walking on sand.

At the underpass, I walk under and set my pack down with everyone else’s as they come in behind me. There’s a strange vagrant person here who has an impressive halo of bleached hair like Einstein that stands almost a foot from their scalp in either direction, and a form-fitting striped cotton knit dress. They’re obviously not a hiker but trying to blend in and using the hiker boxes to get free food. Not a bad plan, to be honest. We politely ignore them as they fiddle with their things and walk past us to get food.

The highway 10 underpass is a weird place, regardless of vagrant non-hikers; there’s a kid’s play set, the kind with twisted wires that you pull a wooden bead along, and coolers of random food, and trash bags, and cardboard to sign your name on, and the cars overhead make everything shudder, and it’s dark and grungy.

We all walk to the road and figure out a game plan to Uber to Cabazon. There’re 9 of us, so we’ll need 3 Ubers, we decide. I have the app on my phone and order one. They keep on declining to pick us, but eventually we get it at around 11. The driver that Maddy and Melt and I get in with doesn’t seem overly friendly or keen to have us, and I’m self-conscious of the hands sweating dirt onto my knees, so I don’t move them the entire trip.

In-n-out is packed with extremely trendy southern Californians in floral prints and shorts, and I order and then stand bewildered in the middle of the restaurant, people roaring and milling around me. Anxiety rises up in my stomach and chest and shoulders, familiar. This place is horrible. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands and face, waiting until the coast is clear before I do it so the incredibly beautiful and well-dressed people won’t see the dirt coming off of my hands and face. There was a big smear of dirt across my chin.

I get my food and join everyone outside, which is almost as busy. It’s good, nothing remarkable – overhyped – and I eat too much and can’t finish my second basket of fries. Pickle comes and we go to the gas station and a touristy, overpriced “fruit market” to get some things to supplement our resupply into Big Bear.

We get back and decide to move to the Starbucks for the AC and electrical outlets to charge our things. We settle in the corner and I fill my water from the bathroom sink. We sit there for an hour or two, sipping our drinks, and then move on again to Taco Bell. I get some burritos to pack out. And then, around 5, Pickle and Maddy and I get an Uber back to the trail from an enthusiastic guy named Francis.

We head out, Pickle quickly leaving us in his dust. The heat radiates from the ground and is blasted into our skin by the wind. I fight back nausea all the way to Mesa Wind Farm where I catch up to Maddy. I don’t know if it’s from eating too much or maybe heat exhaustion, so I drink a bunch of water. Maddy’s hip is bothering her and she’s worrying about it, so eventually she tells me to go ahead and she’ll catch up.

It’s finally cooling down a bit, and I climb the canyon up into the crest, where I’ll finally see the beginning of Whitewater. The sun is setting. I come over the top and the wind comes. The sunset is visible from the top, incredible hot pink spilling across the sky, and I see the hills above whitewater. I love it, and sing songs on the way down. I’m content and happy in this moment, tired and footsore but happy, in one of my favorite sections of trail. My chest swells.

I jaunt down the switchbacks, the light slowly fading around me, and suddenly I’m very bummed that I won’t be able to see this section into Whitewater, one of my favorites. There’s not much camping though and it’s pretty windy, so I might be forced to miss it. Frick. Everything is turning black around me. I go searching up a hill for a flat spot but I feel spooked at the top alone. I turn my headlamp on, resigned to keep walking. Oh well, I guess.

I think I’ve been developing butt chafe for a while, and now it is starting to burn. I’ve been ignoring it so far. I’ve never had chafe there. It hurts and distracts me from the darkness.

I startle a kangaroo rat and a big toad. I’m still bummed out by my missing the views when I turn a corner and find a sheltered little camping spot against the wind. Aha! I settle my pack down and set up camp. The group I camped with last night walks past with their headlamps, and then Maddy with two hikers I can’t see. I’ll see them tomorrow, I tell them.

I eat a burrito and some crackers for dinner. The wind is loud but I’m sheltered and warm. The Big Dipper is right above me. I’ll wake up and bathe at the Preserve tomorrow and hang out with my friends. It will be another hot one.