Day 17- 25.3 miles from midway up Mission Creek (230.9) to Arrastre Trail Camp (256.2)

Either Firefly or Boxtop comes with their headlamps on and taps our heads to wake us up in the dark. I roll over and gather myself to be awake, really, fully awake, and to unzip my sleeping bag. Maddy doesn’t move.

There’s a roaring like a jet taking off in the distance and the ground shudders under my body. Earthquake. It lasts for several seconds, rippling and alive, moving from my shoulders towards my feet. It finally stops.

“Wow! So cool!” we say.

I’m awake now and pack up quickly, the sun not up yet, and head out on trail with Maddy close behind me. The trail crosses the top of Mission Creek a few more times, through copses of aspen, the ground around the water muddy and trampled. I lose the trail briefly and filter water, and climb over a big rocky slope to find it again.

Mission Creek becomes a thin trickle of water near the last crossing, in the center of the sandy stream bed. I pass some dead poodle dog by the camp site and begin the switchbacks out of the canyon. All of the poodle dog I see is long-dead. Does the dead stuff give you rashes too? I don’t know.

Steep, exposed switchbacks in the burgeoning heat up to the ridge. I reach the top, but it’s not really the top. It goes up more, and it’s hot, and now I’m in ugly scrubby trees, brown and dusty and dry and lifeless and steep. Occasionally it traverses along the side of open acres slopes. I smell Poodle Dog Bush and swing around, sniffing and looking. I see a single, turreted plant down the slope.

The trail slowly descends down to the creek again, I don’t think it’s still Mission Creek, it might be. It’s prettier now, under a forest of pine, some dead and burned, some alive. People are gathered by the creek filtering water, and I pass by. Maddy catches up and stops to filter, and I say hi as I pass by and to stop at Mission Springs Trail Camp.

I’m bonking and tired in the heat. Eventually I make it to Mission Springs Trail Camp, and walk past the picnic tables in the sun to set my things down by Captain and Firefly. They’re taking naps. I walk down to the spring and fill my water bottles, the water trickling and cold from over hanging tree roots. I hold my dirty water bag up to the biggest trickle and catch it before it falls into the blue barrel below. I head bag and try to take a nap, but the sun is too hot and the shade too cool, so I can’t get fully asleep.

Maddy comes by briefly. Her hip is still hurting her but it’s feeling slightly better. Her mom is picking her up at Onyx Summit this evening, and I ask her if it would be okay if I went and stayed with them. I’m not sure if that’s really what I want to do and I don’t want to intrude, but I also don’t want to get off-pace with her. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maddy texts her mom to see if I can stay with them, and then heads off.

I loiter around for an hour or so more as people trickle in and I talk to them. Luke shows up and Rotam from Israel, and Ran from Israel. Rotam plays his ukulele and Addy comes in. I finally make myself leave and am stopped a couple hundred feet later to talk to Doug, a funny dude who only carries Soylent and wears a white shirt and white compression socks up to his knees, and Jordan and Steve.

I finally get away from them, too, and at first it’s hot and I’m struggling uphill. Then I reach the top of the climb and stop to poop and suddenly everything is better, the trail is easier and flatter and it’s cooling down.

I get a text from Julie, Maddy’s mom- Maddy is going to be at Onyx Summit by 7, and I’m welcome to come and sleep on the couch at their cabin. Okay! I stop by Coon Creek Cabin, a creepy Forest Service Cabin alongside a maze of wide dirt roads, where Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Captain and Luke are setting up camp. They say Maddy just left 20 minutes ago. Okay, I’m going to try and catch up and go into Big Bear early, I tell them, and say goodbye. It’s 11 miles to Onyx Summit from Coon Creek Cabin.

I’m feeling good, flying down the trail. I think I might even be hitting 3.5-4 mph. The trail is flat and not too rocky, and the sun is getting lower in the sky. Mountains furred in pine rise to the left and the desert floor below to my right.

I pass the zoo, and pause briefly to watch the grizzly pacing around in its tiny chain-link and concrete cage, anger rising up in my belly. But I’m on a schedule. I text Julie to let her know how far I am out. 2.6, 1.8, the sunset rising up into the sky and the light turning gray.

I find the turnoff to Onyx Summit and walk down to the small, unofficial parking area. I don’t see any cars so I settle down on top of a mountain of dirt someone has left by the parking lot and look at my phone and text Julie. Cars whoosh by on the twisty road.

She texts me back and says they’re in Big Bear, and that they need some mom time together and they feel terrible. Oh! I feel bad that they feel bad, and did I impose myself? I don’t know, but it got me to here in record time, so I’m glad, I feel a little awesome.

Ziploc texts me. He and OT are camped 3 or 4 miles ahead. The sun is setting and brilliant in the sky, and I’m feeling good. I think I’m going to go for a 25 mile day and see Ziploc and OT again. I walk back to the PCT and walk until it gets too dark to see, and then stop to pee and get my headlamp out. The dark is nice and welcoming and womb-like, and I call my mom and talk to her while I walk.

The trail is turning rocky and my feet are now sore, so I take it slow as I talk to her the last 2 miles to camp. Moths fly up my sleeves and collars and I pause to turn my headlamp so they’ll go away.

I start seeing tents and I’m here. I say goodbye and goodnight to my mom and set up my cowboy camp as quietly as I can in the dark. I don’t feel like cooking so I eat some Oreos for dinner, and settle into my sleeping bag. Pine loom big and dark above me, obscuring the stars.