April 27, 2022
Campsite at mile 112.5 to campsite near Tule Spring, mile 137
The original plan is 18 for today. We wake up early and start hiking around 5:30. The trail turns steep, and almost immediately, my foot catches on a rock and I land hard on my knee. I’m okay, and manage not to lose my water bottles down the side of the mountain, but in the process of falling I rip a hole in my brand new rain pants. I’m really annoyed for a while. Those were expensive. If I’d just been bold and started cold, I wouldn’t have ripped them! But I eventually suck it up and let it go and keep hiking, because what else am I going to do.
A little while after that, we enter a section in a beautiful woodland beside Agua Caliente creek for a bit, crossing and re-crossing the babbling waters. It’s so weird to be in this valley with all its water!
Soon the trail begins to ascend out of the valley, switchbacking gradually up the slope. Grasses and deciduous trees give way to manzanita and scrub oak. Andy and I play the Word Game, which entails counting down from three and saying a random word, and then eventually trying to say the same word as the other person. Sounds dumb, is actually really fun.
I have to stop for cathole time shortly after that. Then I catch back up to Petra and Andy at the water source, but it’s a fairly long downhill to the spring and I really don’t want to go down there. I have a little water left, and Andy gives me a little more, so we are good to keep going. It’s more uphill for a while, then more manzanita, narrow trails, steep drops, and branches reaching into the trail.
The heat hits all of a sudden when we enter a valley strewn with huge pinkish sandstone boulders. The sky is an even, deep blue against their rounded shapes. It’s a beautiful and unique landscape, but I am suddenly so overheated and so thirsty that all I can think about is sitting down in the shade and drinking water. I kick it in as the trail goes up to a crest, then follows a ridge. Finally, we see the sign for Mike’s Place, the home of a trail angel who provides water (and occasionally food) to thru-hikers.
When we arrive to Mike’s Place, we see a huge group of hiker trash that we’ve been hiking around for the past few days: Dirt Magnet, Cam, Frankie, Sean, Penicillin, Rookie, Fizz, and a few other hikers whose names I’m not sure of. We join them in the shade, filter water, eat lunch, and chat for a couple of hours. While we’re sitting there, we talk about how close we are to the famed Paradise Valley Cafe. If we push a little farther today, we could make it by lunch tomorrow. Andy and I decide to keep hiking, review how we feel, and then potentially go further so that we can get a burger tomorrow.
Petra heads out first, then, a while later, Andy and I start hiking again. We are feeling pretty good, so we will go an extra five miles so that we have a little less than 15 tomorrow to PVC. We walk pretty slowly in the afternoon heat. It’s pleasant: sometimes talking, sometimes quiet, sometimes moving, sometimes taking in the view or a lizard or a wildflower. There are a few sections with steep drops that are a little sketchy. Mostly, the trail descends the rest of the day.
I take a break under a tree and check Far Out. I’m at 19.43 miles for the day, farther than I thought I would be by now. Andy catches up, then Frankie, Sean, Dirt Magnet, and Cam. We start hiking as a group. At first it’s fun, but then I start getting really tired, really out of it, having a hard time keeping up the conversation. I dip out, allowing them to continue. The silence fills in the space. I sigh and keep walking quietly and on my own. I feel the sudden urge to put my face in the trees. I notice and appreciate the cool evening air.
A little while later, I run in to Andy waiting for me on a rock. We hike the rest of the way together, picking up Petra at a campsite with a few other hikers. We chat with them for a bit, then continue the hour or so more to the campground. I am so exhausted these last few miles. I am totally out of gas socially and physically. I start to tear up a little at the mere idea of not getting a good night’s sleep tonight. My feet are screaming and my knees are burning. I try to take in the scenery, the beautiful fading light and the curves of the mountains. But I am just so tired. So tired.
Finally, we see the sign for the spring. Tule Spring! We are finally, finally done. I toss my bag down and lean over it, unable to summon the energy to do anything else for a few moments. I finally unpack my tent, boil water for dinner, and eat it, clinging tenuously to consciousness. Andy and I go down to the spring to get water. I realize that I’ve accidentally left my filter and headlamp at the campsite. Doesn’t matter. I still go down. We come back up. I lay down and prepare to absolutely pass out.
It’s our longest day yet, not much shorter than my longest day on a trail, ever. But we did it for the burger. Tomorrow: Paradise Valley Cafe!