Day 20- 16.1 miles from first Mission Creek crossing at mile 226.1 to ridge after camping closure at mile 242.2

I sleep in until a luxurious 7, after staying awake until almost real-midnight. By me, Helen opens her eyes and then turns to go back to sleep. I take my time getting awake and packed until a hiker who has some kind of stomach bug comes by to hang out in the shade near my camp-spot. He’s been vomiting up all of the water he’s tried to drink under a tree nearby. Even though he’s a nice dude I decide to get out of there- I don’t want to have anything to do with a sickness that could knock me out for a few days.

The trail follows along Mission Creek for a good 10 miles today, a steady uphill with about a dozen creek crossings. I leapfrog people; Rachel, Helen, Rainbow Snake. I stop around 12 at one of the later crossings and realize I’ve only done 5 miles. Even though it’s not 90-degree heat as far as I can tell, it definitely saps my energy. I take a nap for two hours in the shade by the creek.

Then slowly, more walking. Walking is definitely hard, and can be boring. The sun is so bright I wear my sunglasses for a bit. There’s Poodle Dog bush somewhere along the trail today, and I step around every plant that looks remotely like the description I have of Poodle Dog, which means anything with purple flowers or stalks. At the last Mission Creek crossing where I’m taking a break with Rachel and Justin, Rainbow Snake backtracks to tell us that there is a first patch of Poodle Dog ahead of us, and where it is so we know what it looks like.

Right after a blowdown and on both sides of the trail, just where Rainbow Snake said. They kinda look like cute little baby Joshua Trees. They’re very easy to identify, unlike Poison Oak. We’re entering a burn area, where camping isn’t allowed for a 4 mile stretch. The trail switchbacks out of the canyon where we’ve been hiking all day along the creek, and then down into dry pines, and then up again into the burn.

The trees are blackened and eaten out by fire until they’re just husks. The slope is covered with burnt wood and black debris and ash. A creek runs through the burn, babbling and swathed with new green. I stop at Mission Camp to get water at a spring cascading down into a round, blue trough. It’s set in a small hollow under sparse willow, and the water is icy cold. My fingers turn numb from holding my dirty water bag under the water. There are a bunch of people camped here even though it’s halfway through the camping ban. Justin and Rachel come to get water, and we warn all of the campers that they aren’t supposed to camp there; two hikers got a 2,500$ fine each for hiking the fire closure near Idyllwild, and even though we don’t know what the fine would be, we know it’s not worth risking an end to our hike if someone came up the road and caught us.

I hike on through the burn, the sunset pink across the horizon. I get out of the fire section in the dark, hiking in front of Justin and Rachel without my headlamp, peering at the darkening trail. We finally find a flat spot. I set up my cowboy camp even though it’s probably going to be freezing tonight, and cook baked potato soup and eat it in the cold and the dark, as Justin and Rachel make ramen. I put on all my layers and try to sleep.