I’m asleep when Colleen leans over me in my tent. “Amelia. Amelia. Wake up!” I am awake now, my sleeping bag is toasty hot even though the sun has only just risen. I take my time in camp, learning how to pack up with a different tent. I’m going to try putting the poles on the side of my pack today, I think it was too rigid inside yesterday and was hurting my back, not too mention poking into my butt.
I’m out after everyone except Twerk. The trail is in the shadow of the opposite ridge at first, the sun just brightening a spot on the horizon. 6 ish miles in I stop to take an extended bathroom break to clean myself up, finally changing my socks, which are stiff like cardboard from the salt and sweat pounded into them. Everyone is ahead of me now. It’s very hot, even though the sun is still low and the side of the ridges that the trail follows are still mostly in shadow. It was forecasted to be 100 degrees today. I pass Karma, Colleen, and Twerk just before the trail down to Tule Spring and fire tank. Kathleen is there, and she decides to walk the quarter mile down with us to wait out the heat of the day. It’s only 10.
I grab my water filtering ziploc, food bag, maps, and sleeping pad and shuffle down the road. I set up in the shade as the crew filters in. I try the fire tank pump but it’s empty. Laziness defeated, I scramble down a steep bank to get some water. Then we sit around in the shade, talking, eating food, napping. I make Mac and cheese and my fuel runs out halfway through. Karma lets me borrow hers. I welcome people and point them to the water and shade. Everyone looks beaten by the heat as they come down the road for water. Scissors is here, as well as Twerk, Karma, Colleen, and Rawhide. We talk with Toby, who is a gender and queer studies professor, and Shipwreck and Iguana. We finally start out at 4, after 6 hours of waiting for the heat to die down.
I’m now ahead. I see my second rattlesnake as I’m pulling myself foot-by-foot up a hill. I hear something rustle by my foot, and look down to see the zebra stripes and supple, muscular curves. I quickly step back. It doesn’t rattle, but begins making its way up the hill, then changes its mind and goes across the trail again. It hides behind a granite rock, peeking its head over to watch me. Iguana and Shipwreck come up and it decides to head down the slope.
A few minutes later, Twerk sees me coming from his perch up by a behemoth granite slab. He says there is another rattlesnake by the trail. I step around and join him on his slab and watch as the snake meanders its way along the rocks. The sun is hiding behind a cloud so it feels like dusk, even though we have a few more hours of light. It’s still hot as heck. My sleeves are rolled up and they gleam with sweat.
I’ve decided I want to try and walk the fire-closure alternate into Idyllwild tomorrow instead of hitching down, and want to get as close as possible so my day isn’t so long tomorrow. I join Twerk briefly at the Sandy Road Water Cache, then head across the beach-sand road at a clip. I get to the campsite where we were meeting tonight at mile 144 and call out Karma’s name. She replies, and I find her and tell her I’m going to go ahead and night hike, and that I’m trying to get into Idyllwild tomorrow on the alternate.
I stop to pee and stuff my hip belt pockets with snacks and get out my headlamp. Then off I go, weaving in between views of the valley and the twinkling lights of houses, and dark manzanita. It’s light out, but it starts getting darker as the trail bends back into the folds of the ridges. I start to think of all of the horror movie commercials that I’ve ever been forced to watch on YouTube because there’s no skip button.
Finally I stop and pull my ear buds out, and turn on Jack Johnson’s album, Brushfire Fairytales. If I walk fast enough and focus on the music, which is happy and bouncy and brings me to a sunny beach in Hawaii, I’m not too freaked out. I think about yetis and cougars. My right trekking pole rattles like a rattle snake with each step and the squeak of my backpack sounds like angry hissing.
I come upon a picnic area called Walden. There’s a library box and cutouts of Thoreau with Walden quotes and the group of guys camped there invite me to stay, but I feel antsy as well as uncomfortable camping with a bunch of dudes I’ve never met. I shake my head no and wish them a nice night before heading out again. They seem impressed, but I want to keep going and I had caffeine Mio from Rawhide during the break today so I have energy.
I’m sweating, jumpy from being alone in the darkening maze of looming manzanita bushes. Finally it gets dark enough that I decide to stop at the next campsite. For sanity’s sake. Even though I’ve only gone maybe two miles further than everyone else. The sun is now just a slightly lighter-colored red smudge on the dark horizon. I set up a cowboy camp alone, with Jack Johnson still playing. The Big Dipper is upside down across the horizon. Everything is dark but I feel safe with the music playing and with the routine of setting up camp. Goodnight.