The sun is above the horizon when I wake up. The cheatgrass below me last night was like a mattress cradling my body, the moon a searchlight. The windmills rumble like a train. I hear the gate ahead screeching on rusty hinges as someone passes through.
I pack all of my stuff up without even standing. Ah, cowboy camping! I love thee. I stand up; my foot still hurts when I start walking, but it’s not as bad. I really hope it’ll be fine if I rest it for a week in Reno. I continue mulling over the skip-and-flip in my head as I walk, trying to be nice to my foot and not have it hit the trail too hard as I step. If I’m nice to it, it will be nice to me.
I have service and text my mom my plan; I’m going to come home for a week after reaching Lone Pine, then head north from Sierra City. I’ll reach Canada (hopefully) then come home and hike south from Sierra City, ending on Whitney. I know there will still be lots of snow and there will be less people so I might be alone, but it will be much more manageable as far snow and stream crossings than down south. At least, that is what I hope.
I passed an older woman before the gate, and when I’m sitting down talking to my mom, she comes up. “Hey, you didn’t lose a jacket, did you?” I ask.
“Yes, a black Patagonia one. Did you see it?” she says. She has an eastern European accent and looks like she’s in her 70s, with a small purple ULA pack.
“Yah,” I say, and pull it from the back of my pack to hand it to her.
She tells me she lives on the East Coast and is hiking from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows, or beyond. She tells me to call her Oma (meaning grandma). She tries to give the jacket back to me, saying she only brought it for the plane ride and it was expensive to ship back, but I refuse. “I already have a jacket,” I say, and anyway it’s way too small for me. She asks me if I know anyone who wants it but I shake my head. It’s beautiful here, with a long, drawn-out view of the mountains, creamy desert terrain sloping down, slowly transitioning to pine forest and meadow. I say goodbye to Oma and head off.
After about 8 miles I stop and take a lunch break to rest my foot. I make a salmon wrap with mayo and tartar sauce and cream cheese and cheetos. I hold it together with my hands as I eat it, falling apart and dripping with juices. I’m sitting on a pine log in the middle of a shady dry meadow. It’s become Sierra-like, with granite boulders for sitting on, delicious pine groves, and sloping fens. I pick the salmon pieces that fell from my wrap out of the pine needles.
A hiker named Squarepants catches up to me as I’m heading out, and we hike the next 5 miles to the spring together, talking about school and other things. He asks me about homeschooling, and whether I liked it; as usual, I answer and then ask the same about public school. I figure if I have to constantly put up with answering all of the questions about homeschooling, I get to ask a few questions back.
We reach Robin Bird Spring, and join Five, Jukebox, Milo and Chef as they siesta. Outlaw comes, and a guy named Greg who just started. I’ve yet to give a trail name and have someone take it, so I jump on my opportunity; “I’m going to throw a trail name your way,” I say. He looks a lot like the antagonist from the movie Split who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, played by James MacAvoy. I explain the plot and character, probably poorly, and say his trail name should be Hedwig, after the antagonist’s child personality. Greg thinks that you have to take any name that is given to you, but we assure him that he gets to decide whether to keep any of them; anyway, I hope he takes it. Hedwig is a cool name.
I sit and don’t actually do much for a couple of hours, then filter some water and cook ramen for dinner. Then I put my shoes on, heave my pack on, and wince as my foot jolts with pain until I walk a few steps back up the trail. Then it feels okay.
The sun is low and casts the shadows of pine trees across the trail. I read the description for the water source I’m camping at, and apparently there’s car camping and porta-potties. “Are there picnic tables at Lander Camp?!?” I write in the trail register half a mile before.
There are not, but Chef tries to console me by pointing out the water tank and the outhouses, which she explains are apparently almost overflowing but still useable. I am not convinced that this makes up for the lack of picnic tables, and sit down in the dirt and eat bagels with my normal cream cheese and grape jam and trail mix on top for dinner. The air is cool, and the dirt warm and soft. Chef has leftover cookie crumble she made at Robin Bird Spring, which she shares with us. It’s delicious. Outlaw sits and makes cold apple and cinnamon instant oatmeal, which is hilarious as Chef is eating fresh hummus and bagels like a queen. She pours some of her dessert crumble into his pot, which he accepts like a poor person receiving alms, outstretching his pot for donations. We tease him for not having a stove, and call his oatmeal “depression oatmeal,” Chef and I cracking up together in the gloomy, empty campsite ringed by pines.
I manage to stand up, and crawl into my sleeping bag. Outlaw goes to cowboy under the pines. Chef, Jukebox and Milo warn us and say they’re getting up at 3 am tomorrow, which I think they’re joking about. The moon rises up between two pines. I want to do another longer day tomorrow so I can see my family soon, but I also want to enjoy the last stretch before Kennedy Meadows, before I flip up and am no longer in a bubble of hikers. Before I’ll probably be hiking alone.