Sleep is delicious. I wake up and want more of this sleep, unpunctuated by cold or shifting around to find a comfy spot on my egg-carton foam sleeping pad. Colleen isn’t in the room. We take turns using the bathroom and text her to find out where she is. She’s waiting for the continental breakfast downstairs. We sit around on the two beds looking at our phones and half-heartedly pushing our piles of gear around. Finally we get the will to go down. I pull my windpants over my sleeping pants to look less pajama-y and follow Twerk and Karma downstairs.
It’s a great continental breakfast. Yogurt, big pieces of fruit, lots of breads and cereals, instant oatmeal, orange juice. I go back for more.
Then more puttering around with our gear and talking about upcoming water sources. Colleen isn’t sure how reliable the two sources between here and Warner Springs are, and this convinces everyone to fill 6 liters worth of water. I groan dramatically as I pick up my water-heavy pack. I leave last and go over to Carmen’s to drop off my little moleskin journal and my tornado tube I tried to use for a gravity filter system in the hiker box. I order a big breakfast burrito and sit around in a confusion of hikers arriving and leaving, coming and going. I feel like I need to get going but I also feel I need one more meal before heading out. Carmen seems annoyed in general even though she breaks into smiles for incoming hikers and I feel uncomfortable being here.
The burrito is huge and delicious. Gluten tortillas and burritos are probably the things I’ve missed the most, a big gooey and stretchy and supple pocket stuffed with potatoes and eggs and cheese and salsa spooned on top. It’s gorgeous and heaven.
Then I sit around and wait for someone I can hitch out of Julian with, antsy to leave. I walk down to the Post Office with Colleen and meet Karma there. Karma shows us a Facebook post Carmen made yesterday, complaining about hikers not tipping her waitress and wanting 2$ in change for the 3 dollar breakfast burritos. I feel even more uncomfortable now. I would have paid 5 dollars for that burrito, gladly. But I don’t think I did anything wrong? Aghhh!!!! The amount of generosity we’ve received at towns and roads is astounding, but sometimes I feel like it can be a little bit too much. For both the hikers, and the trail-angels who have welcomed hikers, now in ever-swelling numbers. I feel so bad.
I stick my thumb out and the first car stops, a couple on a business trip down to San Diego who are visiting the Anzo Borrego Desert for a few days before going back home. They know about the trail and the husband is currently section-hiking.
They drop us off and we walk to the Scissor’s crossing underpass to wait out some of the heat. We meet one of the people who maintains the cache and he says that both of the water sources we were worried about are very reliable. I drink one liter and dump another one over my head in celebration so I only have to carry four. There’s a trash can, recycling, a log book, and bins of water jugs and bins to leave the empty jugs. The pillars are graffitied with charcoal. Someone drew smiling cat faces everywhere.
I eventually leave, Karma and Colleen packing up behind me. I’m stopped by an eager couple trying to do trail magic and I accept some tangerines, then point them to the underpass where all of the hikers are. They’re hiking next year. Then up! All of the plants are different on this side of the valley, barrel cactus and prickly pear and ocotillo with spiny snaky branches reaching up to the sky and tasseled with orange blooms. The switchbacks that looked so scary from yesterday’s descent are actually quite nice and gradual, winding around bends in the hills.
We cruise and leapfrog each other. I try to text my friends that are still back in Julian to see if they’re staying, but no-one replies. I’m up ahead, the sun setting, less than a mile from our tent site, when I have to stop and break out my poop kit. I scramble up the hill to find somewhere private. Colleen and Karma walk by below. I’m digging my cat hole when I see them walking along the other side of the ridge. (They can’t see me, or at least I hope not, though they know I’m there because I left my pack). “Amelia, we heard a rattlesnake by the bend so be careful,” Colleen shouts. “Okay!” I say back. A hummingbird flits by and stares at me. There’s a huge owl or eagle feather on the ground. “It’s on a ledge,” she says. “Okay!” I shout again.
I finish up and start walking. I’m watching for the snake, looking for it especially at knee level where there are some ledges.
It’s right there by my foot. Stretched out about a foot away from me by the side of the trail. I utter something and run back several steps. I scream for 15 seconds, staring at it, and then scream for 15 seconds more. Then the sheer reaction wears off and I stab the trail with my poles, insulting the snake and yelling. It still hasn’t moved at all. I throw a small rock at it to see if it’s alive and it still doesn’t do anything. I take a picture. I talk to it as I’m doing this, calling it a good snek-snek and telling it to go away and asking it if it’s alive. There’s a orange rock cliff right against the trail and a steep drop off below, so it would be difficult to get around. It’s a dusty orange just like the rocks. I throw more rocks at it to try and make it move and suddenly it realizes I’m there, and is hissing and rattling and coiling up. Fff fff ffff f.
I text Colleen. Halp, I say, It’s right on the trail and it’s pissed. I stand there for a long time. Finally two other hikers show up, Aaron and Ashleen, and we try to figure out what to do. It’s getting dark and I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes. Luckily it’s not cold. It won’t move so eventually we go below the trail to get around. We have to throw our trekking poles up onto the trail and pull ourselves up some rocks. The snake is still right there and it’s started moving towards us but we’re around it. The sun is down and we walk the darkening trail in our headlamps. There’s a sliver of the moon and the valley below is maroon with dusk. I walk in front and jump at every stick or round thing or striped object. It’s fully dark when we get to Karma and Colleen, and they help me set up my tarptent in the wind with my headlamp on. My tent stake breaks and I hold my tent up while Colleen gets the extra stake I gave her back at the boulder field. Then I sit in the dirt in front of my tent and eat things from my food bag. Two babybel cheeses, and Almond Joy, handfuls of trail mix and granola and chili cheese Fritos. “Am I hungry or am I stress eating?” I ask. “Hungry,” says Karma, and I realize I’ve only had two oranges in the past 5 hours.
It feels kind of sad and lonely for all of us this evening and we talk about it as we rummage through our food and eat it. Most of our trail family is not here anymore, either ahead several days or probably still in Julian, and we’ll probably spread out soon, too- I might want to start trying for 20 mile days after Warner Springs in a few days, and would probably start sooner if it wouldn’t be Sunday when I’d hit it, with my first resupply boxes. It’s inevitable but it’s hard. I want to stay with my trail friends for a long time, because they really are like a family and I love being around them and laughing with them about silly things, but we have different bodies and speeds and needs for mileage. This trail for me is about saying goodbye to people. I hate saying goodbye and I think I’m going to cry just thinking about it. I think I’ll have to get used to it, though.