Day 18- 20.3 miles from Black Mountain Road at mile 190.5 to dirt road past Highway 10 at mile 210.8

I wake up to people packing up around me. I keep my eyes shut for a while longer, then sit up and go to pee. I was freezing last night, and holding my pee all night probably did not help the situation. There were tents everywhere last night, but most of the people have either left or are packing up. I talk with Cate, her husband who I don’t remember the name of (Mike?), Shipwreck, Iguana, and Rawhide and Colleen. Nirvana and Karma kept on going last night, they’re trying to hitch from Big Bear to LA to hang out with a friend (Nirvana) and to go to a friend’s wedding in Washington state (Karma).

It’s 15 miles of all downhill today. My knees feel wobbly and loose at first until they warm up. I can see Cabazon and Highway 10 far below, and the casino and a big quarry, as I leapfrog with Mousetrap. It’s a delicious brown down below, and however much I like the mountains, I want to be back there, where it’s not cold.

I pass Iguana and Shipwreck as they’re sitting to enjoy the view. “That’s super ugly, you should turn around and look there instead,” I say.

Iguana gets the joke and screws up her face as she looks over her shoulder at the intersection of two dirt roads. Shipwreck doesn’t. “Really?” he says, confused.

“I was joking,” I say.

Iguana grins.

“I think it’s a little bit too early in the morning, Shipwreck,” I say, grinning too, and walk on, enjoying the view.

I stop to get water at Snow Creek. Scissors is there, and also A-GAME and Gusher, who I’ve heard about from Colleen’s blog, and were part of the group I hiked into camp with last night. Gusher got her name because she got several nosebleeds a day in the beginning; A-GAME because her name starts with an A and she hiked the AT from Georgia to Maine. They’re both from Maine and are hiking together.

I head off again, and when I turn a corner, the view of Highway 10 and the valley below has disappeared, replaced by a sea of white clouds that stretches all the way to the mountains far in the distance. It’s like San Jacinto and Fuller Ridge are floating islands. It’s beautiful. I take a few pictures of the mountains being engulfed by white before switchbacking down into the fog.

It’s not too eerie; somehow knowing it’s daytime makes everything better. I decide to try and listen to music since the grey misty world doesn’t seem like it’s going to end very soon. I pop my earphones in and listen to a Neil Diamond album. I hear someone sneeze several times somewhere below me and I say a bless you into the fog.

I catch up to two women as I’m rounding a switchback, and when I talk to them it turns out they’re Hobo and Caddy Shack, who I’ve heard about along the grapevine. They’ve named 8 people so far, including Shipwreck. They try to give me the trail name of Bo Peep because of my hat, but I just laugh and say no. Afterwards, I realize she may have been teasing because I told her repeatedly that she looked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with her bright green rain jacket, green buff pulled over her face, red puffy vest, and green ULA pack. I talk with Catty for a while and then she waits to see where Hobo’s gone to.

I descend below the fog after an hour or two, a mile or so before mile 200, to the mountains opening up in a V and cradling a view of golden valley floor filled with little white windmills. The cloud is now an enormous vaulted ceiling. I take a picture of the 200 someone has written in rocks in the middle of the trail, but of course there are always seem to be multiple markers; there’s an official pillar that’s closer to mile 201, and I later see pictures of another rock-marker that I missed. I’ve probably walked more than 200 miles with the alternate I did into Idyllwild, anyway.

Then more long stretches along the side of the mountain, slowly and imperceptibly descending downwards, punctuated by switchbacks. I see Rawhide taking a break and I stop with her, eating some lunch and then lying down on my sleeping pad. I fall asleep for a few minutes, the temperature a perfect, radiating warmth. I haven’t been sweating much today, and I haven’t been able to decide whether I want to wear my rain jacket, either putting it on or taking it off at each break.

Once I get hiking again, I don’t take a break until the water faucet at the bottom of the descent, in just 3 miles. I kind of want to go into Cabazon to get some In-N-Out, but I don’t want to hitch alone; everyone in my little traveling group is camping here tonight. Mousetrap is going to Cabazon tonight to meet up with Tarantino, and a guy named Mark wants to go but doesn’t think he’ll get a hitch. I offer to be his ride-bride (women have better luck at hitching because we’re seen as less threatening, so a ride-bride is a woman who helps a guy hiker get a hitch), and the three of us head out.

Mousetrap worked as a travel consultant, designing luxury trips for wealthy people; I ask him how to get cheap flights to Thailand, since I decided a week before leaving for the PCT that I was going to go with my friend, Parker, in November. Mark is a doctor, and after Mousetrap stops at a road to catch an Uber because his ankle is hurting, he tells me stories about various patients he’s had and his time doing a residency as a forensic pathologist, doing autopsies on murdered people.

The trail is along a wide river bed here, so it’s not exactly clear where it is, but we don’t get lost. We get to the I-10 underpass, poke at the empty coolers there, and then move on. We walk to the on-ramp, and stick our thumbs out a few times. We’ve heard the hitch into Cabazon is really tough, and since it’s so late in the day and overcast we decide to check Uber. It’s pretty cheap so I hail (what is the proper verb here) a ride and we sit down on some rocks in front of a creepy barb-wired building to wait.

A guy named Robert with a Prius picks us up. When we get to the In-N-Out, Colleen, Shipwreck, and a bunch of other people who were all camping back at the water faucet at 205 are all there! They got an Uber from the faucet and are taking food back for a bunch of other hikers.

I get a grilled cheese (gluten is treating me well, except for maybe a little bloating, so yay!), animal fries, and a chocolate milkshake. Everyone who isn’t from California is bemused by our enthusiasm for this place, and I guess the food here isn’t all that great, but it’s nostalgic and I don’t know.

Mark and I get another Uber back, this time from a guy named Tommy with a leather-seated Camry. He drops us off, and asks us how long we’ve been out there. “I’ve been out here for maybe 18 days,” I say.

“Wow!” he says.

We explain that we’re hiking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.

“I wish I could do that, I’m too old!” he says. He’s not old at all, so we laugh and say that people retire and do it all the time, and people do it in their 70s. As we’re walking off and getting lost in another maze of dry stream beds, I wonder aloud about the people we meet, and whether or not them meeting us will be the spark that will inspire them to do the PCT someday.

We catch up to Rosy and a hiker I’ve never met before, who introduces herself as “Fiona, or Snow White.” She says she hopes it doesn’t rain because she accidentally left her tent in a hotel room in Idyllwild. We set up camp next to Gusher and A-GAME. Rosy and Snow White move on.

As I’m putting on my rain fly, light drops of rain begin to fall. I crawl into my tent and listen to it gently spit on the fabric of my fly, and wait for it to turn into real rain, but it never does.