I wake up to people with headlamps on packing in the dark. I get up, too, and pack up my things. My sleeping bag is damp with condensation. I go to the bathroom and then join everyone else for breakfast; French toast, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and fruit. I don’t eat the French Toast.
Then we get into the cars and drive to the terminus, the sun just rising and glaring into my eyes so I have to block it with my hands. I am over with the psycho analysis of last night. I am still not excited or anxious. I think it only bothered me because I deeply want to need this trail, to want it with my whole being. But I think I’m fine. I’m ready.
We park and I join the steady trickle of hikers making their way to the monument. Everything is chaparral. The monument is bigger and glossier than I thought it would be. We take pictures and then we head off. I join a train of people that slowly disperses. It’s hot, but green, very green, and flowers everywhere. Tropical. I don’t know most of the names or faces of the plants around me.
It feels just like a normal backpacking trip, except this time I happen to be going a bit further. It’s hilly and the trail winds around ridges and through a burn. There is water everywhere. Around 11 it starts getting hotter and I start hopping from shade spot to spot. I can’t walk at a good speed for more than 20 feet without stopping to cool down. I find several shade spots and spend a while at each of them, cooling down and then getting impatient and moving on. It’s 90 degrees. The trail goes through a maze of manzanita as big as juniper trees. The rocks are granite like in the Sierra.
I leap frog with everyone. I sit for a while with Rachel, who I met yesterday, and who’s sitting it out for an hour or two, which is what ideally we should all be doing. But I’m impatient and it’s the first day and I don’t want to sit for too long! She cuts me a star out of Leukotape and I put it on my leg so I’ll get a tan tattoo.
Everyone is going to Hauser Creek and we begin the long descent down. My feet start to ache. I see my first tick after going pee in some tall grass and stop to check there aren’t any on me. Everyone is cooking their dinners in a big circle, talking, and I join them and make curry lentil soup. Rachel and Jono decide to hike up the huge ridge to Lake Morena tonight. Rob, a section hiker, makes a ramen bomb and is hilarious. I cowboy camp next to Alex and Bridget and there are MOSQUITOS LET THEM ALL DIE.