+2 miles to and from Paradise Valley Cafe and +0.6 miles to and from Tunnel Spring =22 total miles! First 20 mile day!
The alarm I set last night doesn’t go off (I set it to PM instead of AM) and instead a mosquito is the one to wake me, flying into my face until finally I’m cognizant enough to wave it away. The campsite is much more welcoming in the daylight, ringed by cheery, oval-leafed manzanitas. I go to pee; it’s nice not to have to search for a semi-private spot among mass campsites. Solo camping for the win!
I pack up quickly. Down in the valley somewhere there is a ranch and a dog barks. Once, twice. The morning is bleary, the sun low so I have to keep my hat brim down and my head tilted to avoid blinding myself, even with sunglasses. I only went 2 ish miles last night from where everyone else camped, but that means I am 2 miles closer to Paradise Valley Cafe and Food!
The trail winds along the top of some sandy cliffs, then up the side of a ridge until I can hear cars moving somewhere ahead. I try to not think too much about how hungry I am. I fantasize about lemonade.
Finally the road is right there. I see a hiker walking back up the road to the PCT and say hi. He’s hiking the alternate. I want to, too, but I don’t want to do it alone.
I don’t feel comfortable yet hitching alone and there aren’t many cars heading down the road, so I walk the mile to the Cafe. I can see it a full half mile before I get there, taking an incredibly long time to come into full view. It’s only 8 and it’s already hot. I come up to the porch, where there are a ton of thru-hikers. Rachel, Nirvana, Tarantino, Baby Jesus, and a bunch of others I recognize but don’t know by name.
I sit down with a hiker I’ve never met before, and the waiter gets me my a menu and some water right away. I try to order my omelette with a side of eggs – it’s already been a hot day and my brain is fried. While I’m waiting for my food I talk with my table-mate, Octane, who is originally from Germany but moved to the states 20/30 years back with almost nothing. He started a plumbing business and has traveled all over the world. The omelette is good but the hash browns are a bit soft.
Everyone is discussing the alternate and Baby Jesus has a map printed out that everyone looks at. It seems like everyone is just hitching straight into Idyllwild and skipping the alternate altogether. Karma comes up and she and Nirvana and Rachel say they’re doing the alternate, so after washing up and texting Colleen our plans (she’s still a couple of miles out from the Café) we walk the mile back up to the trail. A guy in a red truck with a bed-cover pulls over and asks Karma and I if we need a ride. “Umm…” pained, quick thinking“No, we’re good, thanks though!” We say, and then immediately regret it as the car pulls back into the road and we turn back to our long road-walk. Nirvana is waiting in the shade at the trailhead, looking at his phone. He was in the truck… Dammit. Thruhiker regrets.
I keep up with their pace for a while before slowing down. I can keep up with them when they’re not trying to be fast, and when I’m feeling good enough to hike without my little 5-second out-of-shape breathing breaks. When I can it’s good because I can hike faster. I know when it’s not worth it, though. As they disappear up the trail I feel my internal anxiety-pressure to keep up with them fade. Whoosh.
It’s hot, my sleeves are rolled up, my forearms glossy with sweat. I pass a hiker named Beast in the shade. Karma and Nirvana were planning on taking a break at a “shady campsite” 4 miles in and I plan on joining them. I stop to breathe in a green meadow crawling with ladybugs. They swarm like flies in the air and land on my feet. I catch Nirvana and Karma at the aforementioned shady campsite and immediately spread out my foam pad and lie down. I study the maps for the alternate. There are big black flies everywhere and it’s dry. The shade is pretty spotty. “Why didn’t we stop at the ladybug meadow?” I say.
“I don’t know,” Karma says.
I fall asleep and when I wake up I’m sweaty where my body was against the sleeping pad. We get going and Karma and Nirvana both quickly disappear again. The trail is climbing up the side of the ridge around giant granite mounds. The sky is blue and below a valley full of pine and green manzanita stretches out back to the Highway, which is hidden behind rolling hills. It reminds me of Desolation Wilderness and the northern Sierra: home!
I continue the climb, head down and cruising in between breaks to look around and take the scenery in. I get to the signpost which marks the two side trails to water- Karma and Nirvana were planning to go down to Tunnel Springs so I hope I catch them there. I drop my pack and head down with my filtering kit. Beast comes up as I’m starting and goes down with me. It’s steep and I almost trip a few times.
Karma and Nirvana aren’t there- I don’t think I was being that slow so where are they? The spring is a PVC pipe streaming clear water down into a battered metal trough. The water trickles out where the rim of the trough has been bent down (there’s a sign asking people not to sit on the trough) and as Beast and I filter a bird takes a bath in the runoff. Butterflies flutter at the water’s rim. We talk about hunting. He asks if I have a trail name yet and I say no; I say I’d like someone to name me Quickbeam, after the ent in the Lord of the Rings, because he is one of the youngest ents- Beast decides to call me Quickbeam from now on, but I still feel like I should wait for a name to come to me. I’m being so impatient! But it sucks to have to say that I don’t have a trail name yet when people ask. And I want one! But I want it to be right!
I hobble up the climb, clutching my dirty water bladder and smart water bottle to my chest. Then I head off. I’m definitely slow, the trail here is steeper than it’s been, winding up the sides of mountains. Far below is the milky brown desert floor, patterned with washes, and a marching row of coffee mountains. I come up to the top of a ridge and just stop to take it in. From here I can see both the desert behind me, incomprehensibly distant, and rolling green mountains on the other side of the ridge. I stuff food in my mouth, a stiff but warm pleasant breeze blowing the thick green grass, making it brush against my ankles.
I walk through this ridge-top Shire, grassy meadows cradled by pine groves as they gently slope down towards views. I’m going slow and I’m tired but it’s beautiful. The sun is getting low in the sky. I look for Karma and Nirvana’s footprints- i can see Karma’s Altra tracks clearly, and can almost see Nirvana’s. I try to hurry as the sun becomes a ball of orange in the sky, with Saturn-rings of pink. I’ve entered part of the opened burn area, and the sunset paints the bare white tree husks gold. I stop seeing Karma and Nirvana’s tracks on the trail at this point, but I don’t see them off trail either.
The sun goes down below the horizon, and I wait as long as I can before getting out my headlamp, the corners of the forest filling up with shadows and the bumps in the trail losing their clarity. There’s a campsite half a mile ahead, the last one before the switchbacks down the mountains and the Fobes Saddle Junction, where we all said we’d meet to camp. Everything is getting black now, and I’m getting jumpy. I check my Guthook’s app and I’ve just passed the campsite, so I head back up the trail 20 feet and stumble down to the campsite. It’s by a big creepy granite rock with a witch-cave. I play music as I set up my cowboy camp by the light of my headlamp. Below, a city has lit up the darkness in the valley.
I’m sitting in my sleeping bag with my headlamp on, getting ready to sleep. I hear trekking poles and look up and see headlamps! “Hello?” I call, sitting up.
“Amelia?!” Karma says. “Is that you?”
“Yah!” I say. “Come down, there’s room!”
“Is it an actual campsite?”
Nirvana is with her- they didn’t get water at Tunnel Springs and tried to find a trail down to a spring a couple miles back. There wasn’t a trail and there wasn’t water and they wasted a lot of time trying to find it. I have plenty to share, though, and I’m super happy I don’t have to sleep alone next to a creepy witch cave.
We stretch and talk for an hour. For the first time I don’t have the heart or energy to write out a journal post, so I write notes about the day and mileage, set my alarm, and then put my phone in my sleeping bag. Then, sleep.