Day 27- 19.1 miles from Cleghorn Picnic Area at mile 328.1 to Swarthout Canyon Water Cache at mile 347.2

I slept okay last night, but I think I was restless because I drank a bunch of water with caffeine Mio drops in it. I’d definitely recommend picnic tables for sleeping on- it’s so nice to not have to stand up from the ground. My sleeping bag feels slightly damp from condensation, but everyone who didn’t sleep under the pavilion has very wet sleeping bags. Pressure D (he’s a basketball coach), who came in late last night, leaves. Twinkle Toes heads out next, and I follow right behind after having to put on cold, wet socks. I was clever last night and washed both of my pairs.

My feet feel like frozen hamburger meat inside my shoes, and I hike fast to get blood pumping to them, back up the dirt road I took down from the trail last night. I can still clearly hear Karmel talking with a friend on the phone, which is weird since I’m well past the pavilion. The trail goes down and joins a road, and Karmel and Ram are walking along it, despite having left several minutes after me. I’m quite jealous of their little shortcut.

The plan is to hike to the Cajon Pass McDonald’s for lunch and to hang out there for a couple of hours. I still feel very full from the pizza last night as I hike up to the top of the ridge- but when I start heading down, the hunger hits me. My stomach feels empty and I think about the food I’m going to be able to eat soon. I’ve never been to a McDonald’s, so all I know for sure I’m ordering is a large chocolate shake.

It’s very pretty, the trail bringing us through meadows of turning purple grasses, and right under a power line. I’m hiking right ahead of Twinkle when the dirt bank on my left drops away and I’m hit by a view of multi-hued mountains stretching away, and blonde sand-colored cliffs falling away several hundred feet below us. Twinkle gets really excited when she realizes one of the mountains in the distance is Mt. Baldy, which she hikes often.

Then, we try to hurry to the pass. The highway comes into view, split lanes with pale semis floating along and glinting in the sun. It’s so weird that there are so many cars on the road in the middle of a Thursday. Apparently LA is just behind Mt. Baldy and this is the main road to Las Vegas.

It’s frustratingly close. The trail switchbacks down the hills and along ridges, until we enter a canyon with a trickling stream at the bottom. I watch for rattlers as it seems like prime habitat. I check the distance left to the Highway. “Half a mile!” I say to Twinkle, who’s just walked up behind me. We move with renewed purpose down the trail.

Then we’re at the road, with the sign pointing to the McDonald’s. Fred walks by, carrying a stick for scaring out rattlesnakes; I was right that it seemed prime habitat, but everyone else must have scared them off. We walk down the road, the Golden Arches leading us onward, the highway beside us reeking exhaust.

I set my pack down with Mark the doctor and Buddha, who I met on the walk today. I try to find out what to order, staring at the TV screen menus that hypnotically flash completely different menus every 3 seconds. “I’d like a large chocolate shake, first off,” I say when I go up to order.

“Sorry, but our machine isn’t working right now,” he says.

“How stereotypical,” I say, my heart sinking a bit. I have no idea what to get, so he helps me out. I order 2 egg mcmuffins without ham, two cheeseburgers without patties, fries, and a drink. It comes quickly and I dig in. Mark is amazed that I’ve never eaten McDonalds before. My grand junk food taste test continues…

We sit there for 4 hours, charging our phones and talking and updating various blogs and vlogs. We get a few strange looks from leggings-wearing LA folk, but a lot of people know about the trail or are friendly and curious. Claire comes in and says that Christine couldn’t walk today on her bad knee and she had to hitch to Wrightwood from the picnic area. Karmel and Ram show up, and I see Sprite, Soulshine and Roadshow.

I head out last, after finally getting my shake and ordering an egg mcmuffin to pack out. I see Linus and tell him I’ve taken Picnic as my trail name, since he’s the one who gave it to me. I tell him the story of the picnic cooler and he laughs and claps my shoulder. Then off I go! The trail takes a long dark underpass below the freeway, goes over and under railroad tracks, until finally we’re up in the mountains and away from the slow-moving, never-ending necklace of semi-trucks.

The trail dilly-dallies along ridgtops, a view of the mountains around rising with it. It’s probably the most gorgeous desert section so far. In the golden hour light, I walk through a shoulder-height field of whispering yellow grasses, through velvety green growth in a burnt section.

I pass by Twinkle setting up her tent and decide to head on in the hour or more of daylight left. Smog from LA smudges the horizon as I march down to the broad valley floor. There’s a water cache by a dirt road and a bunch of people are camped here. I look at where this will put me out of Wrightwood tomorrow, and decide to stop here tonight. A bird sits on a Yucca stalk and sings. I make a ramen for dinner and eat the egg mcmuffin I packed out- probably the least healthy dinner I’ve eaten in my life.

I set up camp in a sandy spot. Coyotes yip in the distance. The heat is coming back after the cold snap following the snow, and I’m planning on waking up before the sun tomorrow to avoid the heat during the long and steep climb into Wrightwood.