May 30, 2022
Campsite at mile 654 to campsite at mile 676
It’s morning: sunlight. No alarm. I stretch and wake up slowly. There are real advantages to early starts, but having a bit of a lie-in is exactly what I needed today. I eventually sit up and have a nice chill breakfast. So chill, in fact, that I’m still eating by the time DLT is essentially packed and ready to go. I realize this, then hastily (or perhaps not so hastily) pack up. I have service, though, and I can’t resist checking my email. When I do, I get some good news: one of my essays that I submitted for publication to a literary journal called The Dillydoun Review right before I left is going to get published in June! This will be the first creative piece to be published in my adult life. I could not be more excited.
This news, plus the beauty of the day, fuels me in the morning. I walk with DLT for a while, then when he pulls over, I zoom ahead. I’m so full of energy and life and gratitude. I feel like things are happening that I’ve been working towards for a long time. I’m meeting my goal of writing every day (mostly…) and I’m here hiking this bonkers beautiful trail. What did I do to get here? How do I deserve such beauty? The privilege of it is amazing. It’s uphill, but I absolutely cruise it. The trail is a work of art cut into the side of the mountain. It’s giving me San Jacinto vibes. The Sierras are coming, and I can handle them. The sun is on me and Alt-J and Coldplay and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are in my ears and I am just so alive.
I start to lose energy a bit when the trail turns downhill and returns to the forest. I pull over into a lovely shaded campsite to filter water and eat a snack. DLT joins a few minutes later. It’s not a shoes-off break, but it’s still relaxing. We make a huge dent in our respective M&M bags and breathe for a minute. Then it’s more downhill, exiting the forest and going into the desert again.
There are Joshua trees everywhere, which is apparently making DLT emotional because we’re about to leave Joshua land and enter the higher elevations. The lizards will turn into marmots. The cacti will become pine trees. He spots a particularly good bunch of Joshua trees and asks me to take his photo. (“Its Jimmy and Joshua, hanging out!”) We play a few rounds of Green Glass Door that leave me nearly in tears. (“Can Ronald Reagan go through?” “Can a print-out of my trekking poles go through?”) I roll my ankle once, then again really badly, and have to sit for a minute to wait for the pain to dissipate. I drink some water, take a few deep breaths, and keep going.
There is another huge hill soon after that, and DLT goes ahead while I listen to Alie Ward interviewing Dr. Amy Christianson, an indigenous woman who works for the Canadian Fire Service and who is passionate about indigenous fire practices and cultural burning. It’s very interesting and relevant for where I am. I take the climb slowly and in no time I’m at the crest of the hill. DLT calls me over to the little patch of shade he’s found, and we eat lunch.
It’s downhill after that, but I can feel my energy dwindling. We stop for water at Spanish Needle Creek and talk with Sheets, who we haven’t seen in a couple of days, and Granddaddy, who we haven’t met before. I camel up on water, then filter a few liters because it’s another long carry and a huge hill coming up. I’m not ready for it. I don’t want to do it. Can we just sleep here? Waah. But up we must go.
DLT does zoomy podcast mode and I’m bringing up the rear on my own. Step, step, stop. Breathe. I have to pull over for a cathole and almost step on a huge snake. It’s not a rattler, but it rears up at me when I get too close. “I’m going, friend!” I say, backing away. My cathole is less of a hole and more of a ditch, but I can’t do any better in this rocky soil. I stand up into a tree afterwards and almost fall down the hill. I am next-level disaster today. But on the bright side, I find a lovely Steller’s Jay feather. Thanks for that, forest.
I keep heading up the hill after that. It takes hours, and it’s awful. I have used up all of my hill-climbing energy already today, and I feel like I’m dying. I have to take so many breaks. The trail is rocky and unpredictable: sometimes with switchbacks, sometimes going straight the fuck up the mountain. I still love this trail, but I hate this hill with everything I have.
Finally, I reach the end of the steepest part, according to Far Out. I take a breath and a drink of water and switch over to some chiller music. There are some annoying blowdowns that I have to step over. I reach a clearing where there is supposed to be another campsite that we might stay at, but the wind picks up again here with a vengeance. I’m at the pole-dragging stage of the day now, and I cannot fathom the idea of walking even one more half-mile.
I come around a corner and a very cold-looking DLT is there. He sees my next-level doneness and wraps me in a hug. “This is the only spot I see here,” he says, pointing to a flat patch of dirt beneath a pine tree that is dancing frenetically in the wind. Ugh. I don’t want to walk any more, but there is no way I can stomach another night of terrible windy non-sleep. We keep going.
He stays with me for the two miles to the next camp, talking. The bottoms of my feet are protesting loudly, but I keep moving. Finally, we find a space just below the ridge that is somehow out of the worst of the wind. It’s a little slopey, and we’ll have to do some weird contorting to fit there even with just cowboy camping, but it’s going to have to work. We call it a day.
Once we’re set up, I put on an episode of Stuff You Should Know, and we listen while we “cook” (we’ve just been cold-soaking couscous for the past few days because fuel has been hard to find). It makes me feel a little more normal, like watching an episode of my favorite show while I eat dinner. I stretch, brush my teeth, and lie down, feeling that deep bodily relief of being horizontal after a tough day.