Day 22- 13.8 miles from Cleghorn Picnic Area (328.1) to Cajon Pass (341.9)

Hey! I had a week or so of posts that didn’t get written for whatever reason. Rather than delay posting my posts until I find the time and motivation to write them posthumously (basically when I get home after my hike) I’m just going to post a blank post with this message. I just wrote the word post 4 times in that last sentence!

Points of interest:

I woke up.

My foot hurt a bit.

Walked with McGuyver to the McDonald’s at Cajon Pass.

I split a room for super cheap with a bunch of hikers at Cajon Pass.

Day 21- 20 miles from just past Deep Creek Hot Springs (308.1) to Cleghorn Picnic Area (328.1)

McGuyver and I sleep in late. Ziploc and OT walk by, Ziploc making a hurry-up motion at me and Oldtimer giving a cheery good morning.

We take our time packing up. It’s 7 by the time we’re out of our sleeping bags so it’s good we moved on last night to avoid the rangers ticketing campers. I eat things from my food bag and head off. Deep Creek is green below. I cross the rainbow bridge and graffiti and trash start showing up on the side of the trail. “Uh… no homo?” says one, and another points down a steep ravine- “Danger, Bov is death.”

I bring out my trash Ziploc and fill it up with trash as I go. I crush the plastic bottles and cans I find and stuff them in my mesh pocket. This section is really bad with trash, and it’s slow going. The trail starts switchbacking down towards the Mojave Dam, and dayhikers start showing up. I find an unopened beer bottle in a bush that expired in 2016.

Eventually I don’t have room left in my pack and start collecting the bottles in my arms. I ask some of the dayhikers if they’ll pack one or two out for me but they decline. Eventually I just have to make a pile by the side of the trail and leave a note on the PCT marker nearby asking hikers to help carry a couple of pieces of trash out.

I’ve filled my first gallon Ziploc and bring out a second. I filter water with Steve and Veronica and McGuyver at the Deep Creek Ford, and then I walk across in my shoes. There’s much less trash on this side of the river, but I do find a bush covered in unused TP and some more bottles.

I see no one else but Steve and McGuyver for most of the rest of the day. The trail is mostly flat as it follows the side of the hills. It’s a burn area and there are blackened husks of large bushes with new growth at their bases. Purple-blue Penstemon and big yellow flowers grow on the hillsides. In spots where it isn’t sheltered wind gusts batter me.

I want to order pizza, so as the miles go by I keep an eye on mileage and time. As long as I can get to Cleghorn by 7 I’m good. A pizza place will do take-out orders to there. With 8 miles to go I go for it, not stopping to take breaks. I’m ordering pizza for Steve and McGuyver, too. The trail drops briefly down onto the side of the highway to cross the spillway coming from the Silverwood Lake Dam. Then it climbs up again through thick green bush taller than me, and crests the rise to a view of the lake. It’s pretty and big, and there’s much less trash in the area than there was last year. Last year you couldn’t walk five feet without seeing a new piece of litter.

I push on and get to Cleghorn Picnic Area. Big banks of cloud roll over the hills ahead, the wind pushing them fast, but they dissipate and seem to go nowhere. It’s cold now.

I call the pizza place and put in an order for a veggie pizza and a meat lover’s for Steve and McGuyver. Steve comes in and sets up at a picnic table. A guy named Commando because he wears a kilt comes in and we decide to let him share, too. I make some spicy ramen to warm myself up while we wait. The pizza shows up but Macgyver doesn’t, and we huddle around the boxes and eat. It’s pretty good veggie pizza.

Steve and I setup to sleep on the picnic tables. I go to the bathrooms and sit in the warmth for a while before going back outside. I put on all my layers and crawl into my bed. The wind is restless and chilly and searching, and in the distance people are laughing.

Day 20- 22.5 miles from Little Bear Springs Trail Camp (285.6) to just past Deep Creek Hot Springs (308.1)

I wake up to OT and Ziploc almost packed up. I roll over in my warm sleeping bag and shut my eyes for another 2 minutes. I’m tired. After a couple more minutes of loitering I sit up. My sleeping bag is wet from condensation where I wrapped it with my tarp, but at least it was warm. Ziploc comes over and tells me we’re aiming for 16 ish miles to whatever campsite we find before Deep Creek. That will set us up for a 24 mile day to Cleghorn Picnic Area tomorrow. They head off while I’m packing and airing out my sleeping bag.

I leapfrog Carson and Dasha for an hour or two while I listen to music, the trail climbing up out of muskrat-dammed Holcomb Creek and running through small bushy hills. I don’t really listen to music because I’m bored – I usually get bored listening to music, actually- but because I miss listening to it if I don’t. If that makes sense.

After around 6 miles the trail drops from up in the flats to Holcomb Creek again. Ziploc and OT are just packing up after a long break there. Great. I’m not getting on a schedule again of constantly catching them on the tail end of breaks and then not stopping to keep up. I head off in front of Ziploc. The trail crosses the creek again over a log and I lengthen my poles to steady myself, easing my way across. I don’t really need to but I’m being cautious.

Ziploc crosses after me. “If that’s how you cross logs just wait until the Sierra,” he says.

I scowl at him as he walks by. He’s teasing, but recently it’s been getting on my nerves. And anyway, I hiked the Sierra, too, on the JMT, and this year will probably be a lot closer to my experience of that section than his. Grr. It’s frustrating.

I’m tired, though. I take a long break against a tree by the creek crossing, and eat the rest of the chips. Screw it, I’m not going to chase them all day. I’m hiking my hike today.

I walk another couple of miles and stop to take a break under the shade of a tree. I spread my pad out on the soft dirt and cheat grass and lay down. I think I’m going to take a nap. People keep on passing by and I don’t feel comfortable sleeping right by the side of the trail in the middle of the day, so I pick up my things and head up a dry creek bed in the sun. I find a bit of shade under a bush that’s not visible from trail and crash. When I wake up I’ve slept for maybe 2 hours, from 9:30 to 11:30, and I take a while to pack up. The nap was delicious.

I eat a tuna wrap and head out, feeling frustrated about Ziploc. I let it drive me up the trail and another couple of miles go by. I’m getting close to where the trail goes down into the side of Deep Creek Canyon, through flowering bushes that smell like terrible perfume, and buckwheat, lilac, rabbitbrush, and what I think is some kind of bush willow. It drops down. I can see the swath of trees that is Deep Creek cutting through the bottom of the canyon.

I stop at the first bridge across and take a trail down to the water. Ape and Rabbit are here, and Carson and Dasha are heading out. Ape is taking a nap on a rock and Rabbit is balancing rocks in the middle of the creek. They keep falling down and he curses and throws his hands up in the air each time, disappointed. OT and Ziploc just left.

I take my shoes off and wade through the river, the cold water and rough sand feel good on my tired feet. I sit on the bank and watch Rabbit stack rocks. A hiker who came by the picnic area last night comes down and I sit and talk with them for a long time. MacGyver is non-binary and they’re from Portland and started the trail with 40$. They’re funding their trip by putting up poetry on Patreon, and got a lot of their food they’ve sent themselves dumpster diving. They were saving for the trail for 4 years but then broke their back falling off a roof. The conversation is good. We head out together and talk, ambulating slowly with sore feet.

(If you want to check out their poetry and become a patron and help them out on their hike I’m sure MacGyver would be absolutely thrilled and splurge on a 5$ salad in town like a royal. https://www.patreon.com/Gracetopher)

I see OT and Ziploc on a hill set up for the night but I decide to head on with MacGyver. It’s 6 ish miles to the hot springs, and MacGyver and I plan on sleeping a mile before. There’s brain-eating bacteria in there and Ziploc refuses to go in because it’s disgusting, but I’m feeling like doing whatever I want. MacGyver and I stop to eat dinner at the stagnant stream a mile before the hot springs. I make a Knorr rice side and wrap it in a tortilla. We talk and laugh as we eat.

We finish eating. MacGyver puts one sock on.

“Are we keeping going then?” I say.

“I guess so,” they say.

OK.

I put my things away and we walk into the darkening evening together. I manage to keep my headlamp off most of the way, but in some places the beach-sand trail is falling away. We talk about queer Don Quixote and other things. We turn at a sign set up by a guy named Party Boy down to the hot springs in the dark. There’s a hiker box here, and a register. We sign.

There’s only two people down at the hot pool and they call up hellos. MacGyver strips down naked in the dark, and the people down there are naked. Okay! Let’s do this. I keep my underwear on but take off my bra and carefully make my way down and slide into the hot water. Ahh. The bottom is sandy and not too deep. I have to lean back to get properly in. The stars are incredible and Deep Creek bends around a tall rocky outcrop. We talk to Josh and Mariya in the dark. They’re nice people, and we talk about the trail and the Camino de Santiago and many other things for an hour or two.

The night’s become warmer and I slip into the cold creek once to cool off. Yah, brain-eating bacteria be damned. This was perfect. Eventually we decide it’s time to head off to camp. We’re going a mile further since we hear the rangers are coming at 8 tomorrow to hand out fines to campers here. We’d probably be out by then but neither MacGyver or I want to risk it. With their budget 175$ would end their hike.

The scab on my knee from my fall near Paradise Valley Cafe has been soaked enough in the pool that it’s soft and falling off. Below is bare skin oozing blood. Gross, and so much for not having wounds for bacteria to enter. I slather antibacterial cream on and MacGyver gives me a big bandaid.

Josh gives us an unopened 2 liter smartwater bottle to split so we don’t have to filter, and we put our dry clothes and our shoes on in the sand in the dark. We walk a little bit less than a mile in the dark before we find flat-ish places to set up our cowboys. We probably wouldn’t be fined here.

It’s been a long day and it’s almost midnight by the time I finish writing. I miss Maddy and I feel bad that I’m making big miles so it’s difficult for her to catch up. I hope her hip’s doing fine and I’m sure she’s having fun. My foot also hurt a bit all day, just a tired pain from my injury that manifests in the bottom of my foot. It feels like there’s cartilage sliding under the bones that is getting irritated. We’ll see.

Crickets and frogs sing around us. I’m not camped on the flattest campsite and there’s a single rock near my butt. The night is dark and the stars are big and it’s late. Goodnight.

Day 19- 19.5 miles from Big Bear Lake (266.1) to Little Bear Springs Trail Camp (285.6)

I am awake before Maddy and Julie’s alarm. It’s very comfortable on this couch and I slept well. The alarm goes off and we start packing up our things. I lay out all of my food real quick and repackage everything, dumping out the old peanut butter pretzels and sesame sticks I’ve been carrying since Campo and just haven’t wanted to eat. I should have done that earlier. My foot feels a bit swollen and tender as I walk around but it should feel better once I have my shoes on and get walking.

We get breakfast at the Teddy Bear Restaurant, which is a lame name but the food is good. I order a veggie omelet and hash browns and have cinnamon cornbread, and ask for two glasses of water since I think I’m still a bit dehydrated. It’s all good.

Since Julie has a flight at twelve and she’s tight for time I’ve decided that she doesn’t need to make the trip to drop us at the highway and stress. She drops me off at the Motel 6 that OT and Ziploc are staying at that looks like a white-and-blue greyhound station. Julie gives me a big hug and I get one from Maddy and I say goodbye. Julie is awesome and I’m going to miss Maddy, since she got off from Big Bear early she’ll be a day behind and it might take a while to gain on us. Catch up! Please!

I sit with OT in his room for a couple minutes then meet Ziploc outside. He orders an Uber for us back to the trail and I sit in the back with my pack. The driver is playing Billy Joel and River of Dreams comes on and OT and I sing and tap our hands and feet to the music.

“I sing this song to my wife,” he says.

“My Dad used to rock my little brother to sleep with this album,” I say.

We get to the trail. I met Twinkle Toes here last year, and so I send a picture of the highway to her. “Hey! I thought you were going to meet me here again. Where are you,” I write.

Then off! It’s two miles through scrubby pine and bushes to the fire closure detour. It’s magically become a good temperature again since yesterday and the weather is perfect. A cool wind but nothing too chilly and clear blue skies. I fall behind to pee (those two glasses of water at breakfast) and find OT and Ziploc waiting for me at the paved road at the start of the detour. Aww. We all walk it together, I’m a couple of seconds behind. Ziploc and OT walk together, side-by-side on the broad dirt road ahead of me.

The road is rocky and steep and our packs are heavy, but it’s not too bad, especially in this temperature. Once we get back on the PCT it’s easy going, the trail gentle and not rocky. I get to Caribou Creek and decide to filter another liter of water. Christian is there and we talk as we collect water from the slow-moving creek. I wasn’t sure about him at first, because he was very opinionated about my homemade tarp, but after talking for a while I decide he’s a good cookie and forgive him for his MYOG-criticizing transgression.

I talk with him and Carson and Dasha for a while. Magneto shows up. I finally head off and catch OT talking on the phone to his family. I sit and eat chips and we answer questions from curious and enthusiastic dayhikers. OT shows them his rattlesnake video and they pick up his pack to see how heavy it is. We head off together and talk for a while, with 8 miles to go until camp. It’s pretty, gentle green/dry hills and. Real pine forest. The trail is flat and we make good time. We catch up to Ziploc at a break and head off together. We’re an odd little group but they’re gems and I feel lucky to be hiking with them.

We hike together until Little Bear Springs Trail Camp. I see the composting toilet and let out a low whoop. This is where I got my trail name last year, the picnic table here is The picnic table, and I’m excited for this. Ziploc and OT move in to camp under the trees, but I tell them I refuse to go by without reacquainting myself with My picnic table, and so I go and sit with two Swiss guys who have a giant 2-gallon ziploc of different gummy candies. Their names are Rabbit and Ape, and I talk to them and tell them my trail name story. They don’t like the Red Vines they got and so they pull them from the giant bag and give them all to me. I cook dinner and eat red vines as I wait for it to cook. This is a good picnic table, with extra sturdy, thick wood. It will last a long time.

The sun nears the horizon and is turning bright, so I pack up my things and head off to where Ziploc and OT are camped. OT is eating his dinner. “It’s going to be cold tonight,” he observes, and I start shivering against the cool breeze.

I’m not going to be cold tonight, I decide, so I set up my cowboy camp and put on all of my clothes and wrap my tarp over my sleeping bag like a burrito. I pull my water filter in with me in case it freezes and settle in for the cold night.

Day 18- 9.9 miles from Arrastre Trail Camp (256.2) to Big Bear Lake (266.1)

The tent that was near me last night is revealed to me in the light of day as Ziploc’s. He gets out of his tent and looks at me. “Come on, let’s go, get packed, move,” he says, clapping his hands at me and giving me his best intense stare.

“Hello, good morning, I’m happy to see you again, too.” I yawn.

Oldtimer is sitting at the picnic table behind me and I wave good morning and Ziploc and I give the rundown of where we’ve been since we last saw each other at Idyllwild. Then I pack partway up and join Oldtimer at the table and make the ramen I was going to have last night. I have my last half bagel with cream cheese and put the remaining glob of cream cheese in the noodle broth and stir it around. It doesn’t quite melt in well but it tastes pretty fine, tart with the lime flavor and the cream cheese.

Cody’s here and we talk and then Ziploc gets impatient and I pack and we start walking. I text Maddy to see if her and her mom are up for picking us up from the highway, since Maddy texted me this morning offering to. The trail is kind of dry and scrubby and beige, and aside from a nice, washed-out creamy view of the desert floor below there really isn’t much to look at. Ziploc and OT pass me as I stop at a small stream to fill up another liter of water. I see OT on the trail ahead occasionally as I walk.

Finally I’m up over the final rise, the heat killing me on even the gentle terrain. Someone’s left boxes of sodas and I pick up a cherry 7-up and sit down with Ziploc and OT in the shade. I text Maddy but after a while of no reply I assume she’s not looking at her phone and text her mom, Julie, and then soon enough they’re both here, pulling up in their rental car.

Maddy bounds up in clean cotton clothes her mother brought, and hugs me, and Julie comes and hugs me too. She brought cold sodas and fruit and she leaves some of them in the coolers up the trail a bit, and we all hop in the car and drop Ziploc and OT off at the Motel 6.

I don’t know where I’m staying. Julie and Maddy don’t seem to mind so I end up driving with them to their cabin and I’ll sleep on the couch tonight. Julie is awesome and it’s good to be with Maddy again, and we walk down to the lake. Maddy runs with her socks on into the muddy lake and announces the mud is up to her ankles. Julie and I try picking our way across a mud flat to get to the docks but our feet sink in. Now my shoes are engulfed in gross, sticking mud.

We sit on the dock and I stick my feet with the shoes on into the water to clean them. We walk back and I take a shower, and then head off to pick up Ziploc and OT for lunch and resupply. I get fried avocados and beer-cheese fries, and eat it all. At Von’s I wander around, my eyes wide, and pick food off the shelf even though I’m so full I don’t even want to look at any of it, much less eat anything. Maddy and I’s laundry is getting done at the laundromat and I get there just as it’s finishing washing, and I collect it and we drop Ziploc and OT off again.

Then I sit with Julie and Maddy on the porch and we talk, and I’m grateful, and I hope I get to keep hiking and hopefully Maddy will catch up with me from getting off at Onyx Summit. I sit and catch up on my blog and Maddy researches different exercises to help her hip, and we eat ice cream and strawberries and chips and salsa and later that night Maddy gets some pizza. I’m full.

I’m so grateful that I got to meet Maddy’s mom and that I didn’t have to spend another stop in Big Bear alone. Thank you so much, Julie, if you’re reading this!

My foot is a little irritated and swollen, probably from my big day yesterday, but I’ll ice and elevate it and see how it goes. Tomorrow, since Julie has to rush off to her flight back home and we don’t want to have anyone be stressed out or rushed, Julie will drop me off after breakfast tomorrow with OT and Ziploc and we’ll find a way back to trail. That way I’ll also have more time to sort my food resupply, which in all of my blog posting I forgot to do.

So busy, but so good. Goodnight.

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.

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.

Day 15- 21.1 miles from midway down Fuller Ridge (195.4) to before Whitewater Preserve (216.5)

Everyone is packing up around me. Having a comfy sleeping system makes it much harder to get up, so I lay there for a while before sitting up. I’m the second-to-last out of my sleeping bag and the first packed and hiking. I eat some licorice and cinnamon bears for breakfast (balanced).

The sky is just tinged with light, a small city lighting up, yellow, on the dark flat of the valley floor. The sunrise comes in a band of orange on the horizon, and suddenly I turn around a bend and the sun is up, bright and big and brilliant. The trail goes down for another 10 miles from here. We started the descent up at 10,800 feet and are going down to the highway at 1,300. It’s pretty gentle as far as 10,000 foot descents go, though, graded well. We’re able to go pretty fast down it.

Small, round, orange flowers and 4-leaved yellow ones form a tic-tac-toe on the side of the trail, little Xs and Os. We pass by the 200 mile mark and I take pictures, and then by the hyped-up angry bee hive without incident. Then, it’s all just down. Even as the sun was coming up over the the horizon it was hot, and now our first true 90+ heat is settling in. It fills the air, making it feel heavier. I’m sweating even on the downhill.

I drink my last 1/4 liter of water a mile and a half before the faucet and turn on autopilot, cruising down the last section with Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Maddy.

I flop down in the shade of a small-tree sized boulder next to Pickle. I pull out my water filter and dirty water bag and fill up half a liter and drink it first, then filter the rest and drink some more. The faucet is a drinking fountain, and we laugh as we each try to aim the water stream into our bottles as it leaps around in the air.

We all head off in a big herd the last 3 ish miles to the highway. I walk in the back with Pickle and talk with him. He has a small Palaante Simple Pack and he walks super fast, and hiked the AT same year as OT, so I don’t think I’ll keep up with him for long at all, but I enjoy talking gear and trails with him and I’ll enjoy his company for now. That’s how most of my trail friendships work. Temporaneous but good.

He moves through the line of people and I attempt to keep up on the flat, deep, churning sand. It’s a game, and I manage to pass everyone except for Luke. The trail follows a dry riverbed and the walking is terrible. I hate walking on sand.

At the underpass, I walk under and set my pack down with everyone else’s as they come in behind me. There’s a strange vagrant person here who has an impressive halo of bleached hair like Einstein that stands almost a foot from their scalp in either direction, and a form-fitting striped cotton knit dress. They’re obviously not a hiker but trying to blend in and using the hiker boxes to get free food. Not a bad plan, to be honest. We politely ignore them as they fiddle with their things and walk past us to get food.

The highway 10 underpass is a weird place, regardless of vagrant non-hikers; there’s a kid’s play set, the kind with twisted wires that you pull a wooden bead along, and coolers of random food, and trash bags, and cardboard to sign your name on, and the cars overhead make everything shudder, and it’s dark and grungy.

We all walk to the road and figure out a game plan to Uber to Cabazon. There’re 9 of us, so we’ll need 3 Ubers, we decide. I have the app on my phone and order one. They keep on declining to pick us, but eventually we get it at around 11. The driver that Maddy and Melt and I get in with doesn’t seem overly friendly or keen to have us, and I’m self-conscious of the hands sweating dirt onto my knees, so I don’t move them the entire trip.

In-n-out is packed with extremely trendy southern Californians in floral prints and shorts, and I order and then stand bewildered in the middle of the restaurant, people roaring and milling around me. Anxiety rises up in my stomach and chest and shoulders, familiar. This place is horrible. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands and face, waiting until the coast is clear before I do it so the incredibly beautiful and well-dressed people won’t see the dirt coming off of my hands and face. There was a big smear of dirt across my chin.

I get my food and join everyone outside, which is almost as busy. It’s good, nothing remarkable – overhyped – and I eat too much and can’t finish my second basket of fries. Pickle comes and we go to the gas station and a touristy, overpriced “fruit market” to get some things to supplement our resupply into Big Bear.

We get back and decide to move to the Starbucks for the AC and electrical outlets to charge our things. We settle in the corner and I fill my water from the bathroom sink. We sit there for an hour or two, sipping our drinks, and then move on again to Taco Bell. I get some burritos to pack out. And then, around 5, Pickle and Maddy and I get an Uber back to the trail from an enthusiastic guy named Francis.

We head out, Pickle quickly leaving us in his dust. The heat radiates from the ground and is blasted into our skin by the wind. I fight back nausea all the way to Mesa Wind Farm where I catch up to Maddy. I don’t know if it’s from eating too much or maybe heat exhaustion, so I drink a bunch of water. Maddy’s hip is bothering her and she’s worrying about it, so eventually she tells me to go ahead and she’ll catch up.

It’s finally cooling down a bit, and I climb the canyon up into the crest, where I’ll finally see the beginning of Whitewater. The sun is setting. I come over the top and the wind comes. The sunset is visible from the top, incredible hot pink spilling across the sky, and I see the hills above whitewater. I love it, and sing songs on the way down. I’m content and happy in this moment, tired and footsore but happy, in one of my favorite sections of trail. My chest swells.

I jaunt down the switchbacks, the light slowly fading around me, and suddenly I’m very bummed that I won’t be able to see this section into Whitewater, one of my favorites. There’s not much camping though and it’s pretty windy, so I might be forced to miss it. Frick. Everything is turning black around me. I go searching up a hill for a flat spot but I feel spooked at the top alone. I turn my headlamp on, resigned to keep walking. Oh well, I guess.

I think I’ve been developing butt chafe for a while, and now it is starting to burn. I’ve been ignoring it so far. I’ve never had chafe there. It hurts and distracts me from the darkness.

I startle a kangaroo rat and a big toad. I’m still bummed out by my missing the views when I turn a corner and find a sheltered little camping spot against the wind. Aha! I settle my pack down and set up camp. The group I camped with last night walks past with their headlamps, and then Maddy with two hikers I can’t see. I’ll see them tomorrow, I tell them.

I eat a burrito and some crackers for dinner. The wind is loud but I’m sheltered and warm. The Big Dipper is right above me. I’ll wake up and bathe at the Preserve tomorrow and hang out with my friends. It will be another hot one.

Day 14- 17 miles from Saddle Junction (179.4) to midway down Fuller Ridge (195.4)

Maddy pokes me awake. Ugh, it’s cold, and my sleeping bag feels damp with condensation inside. I think I’ve been breathing into it at night too much. I will myself out of my bag and pack myself up. I eat a half of a bagel with cream cheese and head out with Maddy. I keep up with her for a while through thick, still-dark but brightening pine forest. It’s hard uphill, though, especially with the altitude, so I tell her to go ahead. The trail traverses along the side of the mountain, the trail rocky so that I have to step up, and I’m unmotivated and it’s hard work. I stop and breathe every minute or so. Finally I realize I might need to eat, and I stop for salmon jerky and cookies.

I feel a bit more energetic afterwards, and make my way through the granite and manzanita and pine to the top. I reach the junction a third mile from the summit. Almost there! I pass the emergency shelter hut, the windows covered with stickers. The trail disappears near the top and I start scrambling up granite boulders, bending over and grabbing tree branches. “Maddy!” I call out. I hear her reply, and I scoot along a rock and around a tree, and I’m there. There’s a guy named Cricket, and Maddy, and the view. 360 degrees, all the way around, desert and mountains and cities. I can see the mountains the PCT goes through across Hwy 10. It’s worth the climb. Maddy and I do a photo shoot and head off. We beat the Boy Scout troop who camped down at the junction to the top!

As we head down, the trail becomes inundated with day hikers and backpackers and thruhikers heading up to the peak. There’s a big group of 15-29 hikers from Vietnam, and when they find out Maddy and I are PCTers they get super excited and take a picture of us with them in it, too. They tell us we look very clean, and we just laugh because we smell pretty bad and I have dirt stains all over my shirt. Another woman wishes us a happy Cinco de Mayo, and then “have a nice meal!”

“What meal?” we ask ourselves. We’re not even going to be at a road until tomorrow at noon.

We stop at a fork of the Jacinto River and filter water and eat lunch. Cricket is there, and a guy named Cody who has been a hiking guide in Denali and Yosemite. Then off! I’m looking forward to the picnic table in 4 miles at Black Mountain Road. I hike with Cricket for a while and talk.

Soon enough I leave him behind on a climb and crest over to the north side of Fuller Ridge. Last year, this section of trail was covered with slushy, slippery snow. Now it’s completely clear, sunny and warm through the sloping pine forest. I catch glimpses of the windmills on the brown desert floor below.

Dropping down into Black Mountain road, I see cars and car camping tents. No, no no- and yes, I walk into the clearing and see they’ve taken the picnic table. My picnic table. I sit down in the pine needles across the clearing with a hiker I learn is named Pickle.

“Is it wrong that I feel entitled to the picnic table because my name is literally Picnic Table because I like picnic tables? Like, shouldn’t I get an automatic claim to it or something?” I ask him, grumbling and comically shooting dark glances in the direction of the campers, and he laughs.

Maddy comes and sits with me after getting threatened by the car campers’ dogs, and after a break eventually we move on. Pickle and I are both going to go to Cabazon tomorrow for food and we’re going to try and recruit more people for an Uber.

I stop to pee and when I come back Pickle comes by. I stop him to show him the old Miller Light can I found, and a tall woman hiker in colorful green tights who he knows comes up.

“Hi Pickles,” Pickle says.

“What?” I say, confused.

I finally figure out they’re both named Pickle, except the woman is plural Pickles. They both like pickles. They get ahead, and I find their entire trail group of 7 or so people plus Maddy at the campsite we’d planned to meet at. We all decide to head down to a campsite 2 more miles down. They’re all crushing it down the trail, and I am the last in the big line, even though I’m going as fast as humanly possible without jogging. We all reach the campsite and sit around, too lazy to start up camp. There’s just enough room for all of us to squeeze in and cowboy together, and when we start unpacking it’s like hiker tetris.

It’s a fun group and we talk and crack jokes. I make risotto for dinner that’s really good. We learn Pickle knew OT on the AT when they hiked in 2016. OT and Ziploc are camped 12 miles down at the faucet, and will probably stay ahead for a while from them skipping part of the alternate.

Maddy spills salmon juice all over the front of her jacket, and we throw variants of Salmon Juice and Smoked Salmon at her as trail names. I’ve tried both Stickeen and Power Goat for her because of the way she jumps fearlessly down steep trail, and Hiccup because of her constant yet sporadic, loud hiccuping. I don’t think she likes any of them.

We all journal and laugh into the dark. Some of the hikers find red ants crawling all over them across the flat spot and move to empty spots near me. So many names- Pickle and Pickles, Melt, Boxtop, Luke, Firefly, Captain. We’re getting up early tonight for In-n-out. It’s nice camping like sardines.

Day 13- 17.3 miles on Mountain Fire Alternate from Spitler Peak Trail (mile 4 off of 168.6) to Saddle Junction (179.4)

I wake up and lie in my sleeping bag for a while. It’s my first night with it back and I slept very well, finally. Warm and secure. It’s so worth the extra weight. Maddy is still asleep. I start putting my sleeping bag away.

I see someone sprinting down the trail with no pack. The runner comes by and says hello. “Is this the PCT?” he asks.

I explain about the alternate around the fire closure, and he says good morning and runs off. Maddy is awake now. I have no idea where he started running from if he came down from Spitler. Fobes Saddle?

There’s condensation on our sleeping bags and shoes and ground sheets. I pack up first and head off, the alternate going from trail to road walking until the highway. It’s pretty though, and Maddy soon catches up. There’s a stream running alongside the road which doesn’t have much traffic. When it does the cars speed fast around the curves.

We get to the back fence of Herkey Campground. Maddy wants to walk to Lake Hemet and swim; it’s only a mile or so so I go with her. We walk along the side of the small highway for a bit, then see the lake and cut down from the road through some small copses of trees and bushes. We follow a sandy wash and step over a barbed-wire fence.

“No trespassing,” Maddy reads from a sign facing away from where we came. Oops. And then there’s the problem that is the heavy duty fence topped with barbed wire that runs along the dirt road we just trespassed to reach. “It looks like a private lake,” Maddy says.

We’d have to walk all the way around to the Hemet Store on the highway with no guarantees of being able to get in to the lake, so we give up and head back, the proper way this time. We stop at Herkey Campground back at the alternate and use the bathrooms and eat some food at the picnic tables.

Two guys come and sit down. They’re called the Girl Scouts, and I only remember Michael’s name. They bring out some vintage-looking Alpine Air meals with graphics that look like they were designed sometime in the 70s or 80s. Some older hikers gave them to them. They check the best-by date; they both expired last year. How far ahead do they date those things? They start heating water for them and we head off.

The alternate follows a different route from Herkey Campground from last year. Instead of broad networks of Forest Service roads, it follows a spindly and washed-out path through the hills at the bottom of the valley. Eventually it joins the old route on a dirt road by a grassy meadow, and the going gets steep, and I’m sweating even though it’s cool enough out, drenching my arms and giving me a sweat mustache.

Eventually we turn off the alternate into paved road, steep and winding and pavement-less winding down to the heart of town. Maddy sticks her thumb out as we walk down and eventually a car stops, and we’re spirited down the last 1/2 mile. Idyllwild is so different in the sun; hikers wander around everywhere, congregating to talk on the sidewalks, tourists interspersed among us.

We get lunch at the Red Kettle, leaving our packs inside. I get a sandwich with cream cheese, avocado, tomato, and sprouts, which is delicious, and a slice of blueberry pie. I finish before Maddy and the two hikers we sit with, Katie and? So I head down to the library to charge my electronics. I drained my battery taking pictures yesterday. I find a copy of the Silmarillion and read the creation story of Middle Earth.

Maddy finds me and sits with my stuff while I do a quick resupply. She has her box and we sit in the benches in front of our library, sorting our food away. Locals and hikers join us at the benches and talk to us. Finally we’re ready, and we wander through town one last time to get to the road. We stick out our thumbs and a retired couple picks us up and ferries us up the steep road walk.

We follow the road up to Ernie Maxwell Trail, which is gentle and graded and pretty in the trees. We pass dayhikers heading down from Devil’s Slide Trailhead, where we sit for a while. I eat my bag of chips and we use the bathroom, and off! I struggle with the steeper grade and elevation of Devil’s Slide and let Maddy go ahead. The sun starts setting, the mountains hazy and in rising gradient far off in the distance, the sun shooting light rays through the trees on the far slope. I catch Maddy sitting up on a rock ledge watching the sky, the squirrel! and we walk the last part up to the PCT again together.

There’s a no camping sign at Saddle Junction, but apparently it’s fine as long as it’s on the PCT side of the junction. We wander around looking for campsites, Maddy being indecisive. Finally we set up a bit away from some other thruhikers. I cowboy camp on a deep, soft layer of pine needles and put all of my non-shell layers against the creeping chill. I have a half-bagel and cream cheese and some chili lime ramen. Maddy comes and sits on my feet and eats her cold-soaked noodles and lentils.

We say goodnight and I snuggle into my sleeping bag. It’s going to be a cold night.