Day 24- 17.3 miles from Van Dusen Road at mile 275.1 to Holcomb Creek crossing at mile 292.4

I wake up and I don’t want to get up because I know it’s absolutely freezzing outside of my sleeping bag. Finally I do, and pack up as best as I can. All of the guys from last night are smokers, and they walk away from camp to roll up cigarettes and I can smell the smoke every now and then.

I get going, the hair on my legs raised against the cold in the weak morning light. The sun does a half-hearted job at peeking through the pine trees. My right thumb is the coldest part of my body, where I held my tent poles as I folded them up.

As the morning wears on, I can’t get fully warm. The air is cold but on the verge of warmth; I try to stand in the sun but it doesn’t help, and I don’t feel like getting warm layers on. I leapfrog with a guy named Rick, who several guys were trying to name Dots since he carries out a ziploc of them.

I follow the trail around a ridge where the trees are sparse, and see an enormous bank of clouds rolling on the not-distant-enough mountains. It looks like they’re headed away, but I’m still nervous as I don’t want to deal with nasty weather. It’s already cold enough in the sun.

I come up on one of the San Bernardino National Forest campsites, which has a composting toilet and picnic tables, and a trough and corral for horses. I sit at the picnic table with the guys from last night; there are so many that I can’t distinguish all of them. There is Linus, and Spiker, and Johnny-On-The-Spot, or just Johnny.

I express my love for picnic tables, and combined with my disappointment about not having a picnic table last night, Linus decides to call me Picnic Table. He jokes that I’m hiking from picnic table to picnic table. I don’t exactly say no; it doesn’t break any of my trail name rules, so I have no excuse prepared for denying it.

After a lunch of salmon in a tortilla and whatever I had in my food bag, and several rounds of hikers packing up and moving on, I drag myself away from my beloved picnic table. I walk down the trail, shivering and my teeth chattering, not able to be warm. I finally stop and get my rain jacket and warm hat out and it’s much better. Sometimes laziness doesn’t pay off. I filter some water in Holcomb Creek where there are muskrat dams creating terraced pools of still, clear water ringed by bush willow. A younger Australian guy named Olly is there. I assume it’s short for Oliver, in typical shorten-everything Australian style.

I hike on. My knee thing is bothering me still, but it’s less pronounced than before. I know hiking on simple injuries can eventually end a hike if you don’t take them seriously enough, but it doesn’t seem that bad, something that will go away eventually. It seems like the muscles, not the actual knee, but I might be wrong. I can soak it in Deep Creek Hot Springs tomorrow.

The trail follows Holcomb Creek at a distance, among small, dithering hills. Eventually it slips back into the creek’s little canyon and dips down and across. There’s a road here covered in big rocks that seems very familiar, maybe from a vlog I watched – I run across Twinkle Toes camping by the creek half a mile down, and after looking at my maps decide to stop so I can have some company. I set up my tent and cook some ramen, the second proper MSG and preservatives one I’ve had in my life, and the first of recent memory. Johnny joins us from her campsite further up and we start a campfire. We sit around and talk. Twinkle Toes is a lot funnier than I expected her to be, doing impressions in a Russian accent at one point.

A hiker named Frederick from Denmark comes up and we invite him to join us at the fire while he waits for his friends to come. Galy the Israeli, David (aka This Way who stayed at the Nobody’s the night after I did) and Spider Bite all come up and we all hang out and cook food. Frederick has a huge pack and has brought a coffee mill, and he makes coffee. They pass around the huge paper bag of Taco Bell hot sauce packets they got in Big Bear. I tend the fire after Johnny and Twinkle leave, and we stay up until hiker midnight. David plays music and we sing. Galy gives me advice about how to enjoy my time in camp more (basically I should probably stop being lazy and just sitting around freezing in my short-shorts). They all hope Hot Sauce and Helen will come into camp, but they must have stopped a bit earlier.

I smell like campfire and I stumble back to my tent in the dark to find a light. I help David put out the fire, head back to my tent, and fall asleep, exhausted, to the white noise of the creek.