Day 16- 14.4 miles from before Whitewater Preserve (216.5) to midway up Mission Creek (230.9)

I’m up and packing around 5:50, the sun just above the horizon but hidden behind a small layer of clouds. I’m glad I waited, even though it was very hot last night and I felt like I was suffocating in my bag, and the relentless wind kept me up. So, I didn’t sleep that well.

The 2.5 miles to Whitewater Preserve go quickly. The views are pretty, Whitewater River opening up in a flat tumble of wide granite on the valley floor. The trail switchbacks down and I cross the two footbridges above the water and follow the rock-lined path down towards the ranger station and picnic area. I head past the wading pool and hikers packing up, and find Maddy cowboy camped in the middle of the field with the group.

I sit with her for a bit and then see Pickle packing up to leave. Maddy says the ants were voracious last night, crawling over everyone and getting into food. My fanny pack is filled with maybe 50 ants looking for crumbs from last night, and I didn’t even camp here. I brush them off each time I use my phone. Pickle had to throw away his new bag of dried raspberry papaya and the licorice I gave him.

I walk over and offer him some of my licorice to sample as compensation for his loss. He’s going to be pushing miles and I probably won’t see him again, but that’s what I said about Chris and Kelsey last year, so. He heads off.

We all eat breakfast at the picnic tables together, Maddy, Luke and his girlfriend Addy, who skipped the descent from Jacinto to save her knees, Firefly, Captain, Boxtop, and Melt. Pickles left at the I-10 to get her foot looked at. She’s been hiking on a stress fracture for 160 miles.

We head to the wading pool and bathe, telling each other sternly not to swim, because of the signs telling people not to. Cinema and Tammus are here, and Cricket comes. Someone pulls out a mini ukulele and starts playing.

Finally we truckle out around 11, needing to get out and start walking even though the timing is terrible with the heat. The heat immediately clobbers us, and the Group, Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Captain, who I followed out, stops and discusses what to do.

“I’m going to walk the mile to the river crossing and I’m going to sit in the water for a couple of hours,” I say, and leave to let them follow me.

We reach it and set our packs down in the shade of a cliff. Melt lies down flat in the rumbling, clear water. He looks like he’s died there. His mom, Boxtop, takes a picture. We all settle down into the water, trying out different pools. I lie down flat in one I find, its bottom soft with fine sand. The water is so clear. I open and close my hand underwater, little bubbles clinging to my fine knuckle hairs, and examine my cuticles. The water is cool but not cold, the pool is soft, and I lie there for 10 minutes letting the water rush over me. I think this might be heaven.

We sit around until one or two before we muster the strength to leave our little oasis. The heat settles into me quickly, and 200 feet from the water I set my pack down and go back to dunk my shirt in the water one last time.

Six miles to Mission Creek. The climb is gently graded enough, but hot and exposed and dry. Even the plants look half-dead, sparse and lackluster. We climb out of whitewater canyon, and down again, and then up again up another canyon until we’re finally on a ridge overlooking what might be the Indian Reservation. It doesn’t take long for my shirt to dry the water from the river and replace it with sweat. I’m lathered in it, slick and wet, sweat forming a mustache above my upper lip. It’s actually not too bad, I don’t mind being this hot, and the climb isn’t phasing me.

I got service and text my peoples, and then continue. There’s a breeze up here which makes the heat feel almost cool. Captain calls Pickles. She has a stress fracture and is getting on a flight home. Crap! :(

Then we catch a glimpse of green Mission Creek and start the short descent down. I find Firefly and Captain under a big tree by the creek and plop down. Everyone else trickles in and we make our dinners. Maddy’s hip has been hurting quite a bit and she finds someone with a ball to roll the muscle or tendon out on.

Eventually we head out again, and now it’s cool, and we make great time up the creek. Last year I was miserable in this section, the heat terrible and draining. I think I took almost until one in the afternoon to walk 10 miles. Now it’s easy, and I feel bad for my previous bad review of this section. Trees cluster around the creek and cool marbled-looking boulders and cliffs flank the trail. There’s so many flowers and the creek burbles along.

We reach the campsite we were going to camp at to find it occupied but not entirely full. We all decide to do another two miles to another campsite while the temperature is still cool. We pull out our headlamps at the end and end up sharing a flat spot with a guy named Jared. Maddy and I squeeze our cowboy camps together into one tent site and I show her some hip exercises that might help with her hip pain.

The creek is loud nearby, and frogs are crossing, and a single cricket screams in faltering succession into the night. The sky is dark tucked away into our little corner of the world, the stars are out, and life is good.

Foot update- My right foot is swollen and looks bigger than my left, which is normal 6 ish months after a surgery, so I just need to manage it. The hammer toes are a different story, they don’t hurt but it stresses out my foot when they’re clamping down, and it hurts when I tape them down, so we’ll see. I think the heat made it swell even more than normal today. It’s all a little funky but it’s working out okay and I think it’ll be fine in the long term.