The manzanita branches are silhouettes against the gray morning sky as I wake up, my shirt hanging up to dry above me. I pack up my things, putting my hiking shirt on and carrying my Hawaiian shirt crumpled in my hand as I walk down. I set my pack down against the concrete walkway across from the hose, and go sit with Hop Along and Catch Em and Kyra on the couch. I get some pancakes, and cover them with a mixture of soft butter, peanut butter, and fruit jam. They are so springy that I have to saw my fork against the paper plate to cut through them. Catch ‘Em finds a Santa Clause outfit and goofs around in it. He accidentally leaves me a long voice message of us talking with his phone, as it’s glitching and he can’t turn it off.
Several vanfuls of hikers leave, and I wait for my phone to charge before getting in one too, with a couple I don’t know and Godongo. I hug Hop Along and Kyra goodbye- they seem to be sucked into the vortex, and even though they say they’re leaving today, I’m not sure they will. Catch Em is trying to convince them to stay. We get going, but someone’s forgotten something behind, so we go back and I hop out quickly for another round of hugs. I even get one from Catch ‘Em. He’s grown on me quite a bit. He grew up in Russia with American and Italian parents. His dad was a military officer, and he most recently lived in Japan designing robots. He wears a thick wool coat and scarf that hangs down to his waist, smokes weed constantly, and loves anime and Pokémon. The people you meet hiking.
I hang out with Godongo as we situate our packs at the picnic table by the fire station. I drink some more water and fill my bottle back up, then walk up the road to the trail. I make it a bit up before I plonk myself down in a tiny patch of shade by the side of the trail, already soaked with sweat. It must be too hot to hike. I listen to some music and write, until Godongo finally comes up and I realize the sun has moved and I’ve lost most of my shade patch.
I pack up quickly, and I head up the steep trail with Godongo. There’s a patch of trees in the distance by a bald hilltop, which is my goal for my next shade break. I go very slow. A couple of day hikers stop us to talk for a long time. It’s much less hot when you’re not moving. The trail doesn’t go all the way up to the trees, which seem to be further away the closer we get, and instead goes over the ridge and drops down along the other side of the hill.
I stop in another shade spot to eat while Godongo moves ahead, and pull out my bagels and cream cheese while flies crawl on me and bite into my legs. I have my cream cheese tub open, when the cream cheese flops out in one big lump and lands in the dirt. I do a fake-shout that sounds like Uncle Vernon shouting after Aunt Marj as she floats away in Harry Potter. I pick up the lump, everything encrusted with dead leaves and soil. I carve the inside out as much as I’m able and put the clean cream cheese on my bagel, then put the dirty lump back into its tub and throw it into my trash ziploc. I eat the bagel with my salvaged cream cheese, then eat my last bagel as consolation, too. Flies are biting into my flesh and I do a constant little shimmy to keep them off me.
Then I hike on, past other hikers sitting in the shade and across a road. It’s cooler on the downhill, but after the road it starts climbing and I slow down to a crawl. I meet a Godongo setting up in the shade and join him for an hour, sitting in a tired stupor on the side of the trail. Godongo is a psychotherapist and we talk about psychology and our evolution from chimps for a while. I hope he doesn’t mind me crashing his break spot.
Then I trudge another mile up in the heat to a water source. It’s in the shade, water dripping down from a tangle of roots and making a trickling music. I throw my pack down even though I have enough water to get me to the next source, and filter some of the water. Someone’s used a dried banana snack package to funnel the drips into a steady stream. The water is cool and delicious, so much better than the hot hose water that I have. I filter two and a half liters.
Sometime in between arriving at the spring and leaving, it’s gotten cool and beautiful out. The trail winds along the green hills, deciduous trees peeking over the ridges ahead. The sun is low and makes the shadows of the bushes long. Below another line of hills, the Mojave stretches out, flat and dry. Windmills dot the surface, swirling blades of negative white space amid the creamy brown valley floor. Far in the distance, a mountain rises that reminds me with its slumping shoulders of Spanish Springs Peak, the mountain I’ve grown up under.
The last two miles into camp are long, as always. I turn on some music and walk, my feet complaining of being sore with each step. I tell them shh, be quiet, stop complaining. They are contrary.
I reach the first camp, and elect not to hike the half mile to the next campsite. I begrudgingly set up my tent without the rain fly after I realize there are mosquitos, then walk down past Pegasus’ tent to sit with Christine and two girls from Denmark and the Netherlands, Tetris and Spider Mama. I eat things from my food bag and listen to one of the girls read from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I eat a whole bag of dried apricots before realizing or caring that it’s probably a bad idea. Harry gets his golden egg safely, and we interrupt often to crack jokes and critique the plot holes and logic.
It’s almost pitch black by the time the chapter is over, and I stumble back to my tent in the dark, trying not to stab myself on the giant pine cones littering the forest. I stumble through the dark with my headlamp, down a thickly needle-carpeted forest road to dig a cat hole. A coyote howls close by. I hurry back. Wind rushes through the pines, and I sit in my tent and itch my mosquito and fly bites until I gather the conviction to put my sleeping clothes on and crawl into my sleeping bag.