Day 25- 21.3 miles from Holcomb Creek crossing at mile 292.4 to North Fork of Mojave River at mile 313.7

As I’m opening up my tent to get up in the morning, shivering with the cold, Frederick passes by with a towel around his waist, headed to the creek. “Shower time!” he announces, and then there’s a splashing noise somewhere out of view.

I stare in shivering disbelief at Galy, who is taking his rainfly off his tent to pack up. “Did he really just get into the creek?” I ask.

Galy says yes.

I shake my head. “Just thinking about it makes me cold.”

“Me too.”

I pack up, waiting until the last minute to take off my puffy. Galy makes coffee and offers it around, so I get my pot and have some. It’s hot and black, and sits warm and hearty in the pit of my stomach and the back of my throat.

I leave first, lengthening my trekking poles to cross the creek along a high and precarious log. I help Twinkle Toes across, then race up the trail, trying to bring the feeling back to my toes and fingers as they sit numbly in my shoes and around my trekking poles. It’s nowhere near as cold as the day before, but it is still chilly.

I suddenly have a sudden desire to see Whizkid again, even though I’ve only seen her a few times. I miss her random trivia and her little jingle that she sings whenever she sees me, “Ameelia!! Fuck yeah!”

I write a silly little jingle for Twinkle Toes as I walk, to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and I sing it to her when I pass her taking a snack break:

Twinkle, twinkle little toes, my oh my, what are those. I haven’t seen mine for weeks, hidden under dusty sheets. Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle toes, My what pretty feet are those!

It’s a silly song but it makes Twinkle happy when I recite it to her. Not long after seeing Twinkle Toes, Frederick steamrolls up the trail with his long legs and giant magical pack, David hot on his heels. Galy and Spider Bite are next, not nearly as fast but still faster than I want to be going right now.

I come up to Fred, Galy and Spider Bite by the side of the trail, where they’ve found service. I tell Frederick that his trail name should be Steamroller. The international hikers seem much less impressed by the trail name thing; apparently Fred already has 3 trail names, and David has accepted This Way as his trail name even though he doesn’t use it. I play “Steamroller” by James Taylor as I walk away. Still not sure if Fred is impressed, but I feel like it was one of my better exits. They all steamroll past me again less than a minute later. Maybe it should be their group name.

The trail winds along the side of the Mojave River canyon, the side of the hill across dotted with big green bushes. I pass the 300 mile mark(s). There are a bunch of benches by the side of the trail, and I pass Spider Bite sitting on one of them, her bright red backpack perched beside her. It would be unfortunate if the backpack fell off the bench and down the cliff below…

The trail crosses a creek that flows down into Deep Creek. It’s cool and sandy under cottonwood trees, and I almost want to stop but there are at least 10 other hikers here, and I know none of them, not even their faces. It’s disorientating and I turn around in place a few times searching for someone I know. I hop over the clear, clean, sandy creek, thinking about how nice a swim here would be. But, the hot springs are only a couple of miles away.

I stop to watch two vultures circling on an updraft. Spider Bite passes me just before the turn off to the Deep Creek Hot Springs. A pool has been built with boulders and concrete to catch the hot water trickling right out of the sandy creek-bank. I set down my pack and pull off my shoes, and walk down to the pool which is built into the creek. I hiss and scream quietly as I put my legs into the water, the heat burning the chafe on the inside of my legs. Once it stops burning my skin it feels good, and I switch several times between the hot springs and the chilly river water.

Twinkle Toes comes, and then Johnny. “Picnic!” she says when she sees me. I’m not sure about this name, but it certainly seems to be sticking a bit. Several people from the picnic table yesterday come up, saying “Picnic Table!” very enthusiastically, and I have to explain to everyone else why. “Because you have to appreciate the simple luxuries,” I say, although I don’t really remember the exact conversation chain that led to the name being suggested. I even introduce it as my maybe-name to a couple of people.

I’m hungry so I get out to eat lunch, tortillas with tuna and cheese and random things. I hear a kerfuffle somewhere behind a rock, and Spider Bite exclaims “Oh! Someone please pull them apart!”

Fred and Galy spring up and sprint down the beach a hundred yards to where the commotion is, out of view. I stand up to look and there’re two guys arguing, a guy with long blond dreadlocks and a guy in a baseball cap who Fred is in front of, gesturing at his face where it’s bleeding and bruised a bit on his cheek. I don’t think either of them look like thru hikers.

Twinkle wants to camp here tonight, but with the fight and all of the people and the several hours of light left, I want to head on. I stay for an hour or two more, talking to people in the pool. I’m surprised to find I have my first blister, on a spot that’s been tender for a few days in the side of my heel. I hadn’t thought to look at it because I thought I had just bruised it on a rock. I drain it and cut all of the skin away, since I’ve heard leaving it on can make it worse with the dead skin rubbing against the new skin; Chris the doctor uses this method and Colleen swears by it, so I trust it. The blister is not too deep.

The guy with the cap who was in the fight comes over, and it turns out he is a thru hiker, which is super weird. The guy he hit was his friend, who came to visit him along with his girlfriend. His friend “made a move on her” and he went for him. I kind of understand, but then I don’t know why anyone would want to start a fistfight… I definitely don’t want to hang around this guy too much even though he seems nice enough now.

I head out with Johnny, finding the trail again amidst the maze of other trails. My last glimpse of Deep Creek is of a nude man is being pulled around the side of the hill, far away, by a white husky.

There’s graffiti everywhere on the rocks with all of the day hikers visiting the hot springs. The trail crosses above the creek on a rainbow bridge, and then follows the curves of the canyon high above. My plan is to get to the picnic area that is 20 miles from the hot springs tomorrow afternoon, where you can order pizza delivery, or at the very least have a bathroom and picnic tables and running water. Picnic areas, picnic tables, it might be sticking… Then it’s 15 miles from there to the McDonald’s at Cajon Pass. I’ve only ever gotten milkshakes there, and the fries smell super gross from what I remember, but it’s food so I’m excited.

Johnny and I turn a corner to a view of the valley ahead, far off, the sun setting pink through a bar of clouds. Fog rolls off of the mountains to the left, and I can see a marching line of miniature power lines on the horizon. It’s very pretty, and the hiking feels wonderful, the temperature perfect.

I convert Johnny to trying a pee rag, and the trail switchbacks off the side of the mountain and past a vast concrete slope, and across the base of a gravel dam the size of a mountain. Both testaments to human vastness, surely, even if they serve no apparent purpose. We walk by a field of green tumbleweed, and I tell Johnny that it’s edible, so we both put some of it in our mouths and chew. It’s pleasantly hairy and crunches between our teeth. We think about making tumbleweed salad, with vinaigrette and big fresh heirloom tomatoes. Johnny wonders whether you could get enough Vitamin C from tumbleweed to prevent scurvy. I tell her the daily nutritional value of tumbleweed is probably not online.

We cross the creek again, passing a bunch of people setting up camp and passing on their offers to join them. A bunch of people are camped on a big wide sandbar in the middle of the creek, an Israeli couple and a German couple, and we decide to camp with them. Karmel and Ram, and Julian and Anika. We take our shoes off to cross, and set up our cowboy camps. I make a ramen bomb for dinner.

We tell our neighbors about the fight at the hot springs, and they tell us Sarge at the Big Bear Hostel had to call the police to get the same guy off the property. Apparently he was super drunk and disrespectful, and when he was asked to leave he started shouting and being belligerent. He was chased off the grounds by the police. He was also apparently littering at the hot springs. He’s also hiked the AT, and everyone on our little island is just as surprised as I was to hear he’s a thru hiker, since everyone on trail is as a rule really nice and respectful.

Anyway, trail gossip, as it is. Not much to gossip about usually.

We decide to call our island New Honolulu, and when two hikers come by in the dark, we invite them too. It’s Phil and Austin, who were both at the hot springs though I didn’t recognize them without their hiking clothes on. A train blares in the distance and I tell Phil and Austin that it’s the Ghost Train coming to get them.

I scrape my pot clean in the light of my headlamp, and send my nightly Spot signal out. We don’t decide on the mayor of New Honolulu before everyone falls asleep.

“The Mayor?” Julian asks. “There’s already a hiker called The Mayor.”

The river gurgles as I write my blog post and the stars peek out from behind the cottonwood trees.