We pack up and get breakfast at Warner Springs Grill. Then we stop by the airstream to say goodbye to Pillsbury, and we’re off. Maddy and I hike together, talking, all the way up. We leapfrog Oldtimer as we go. Through some more fields, through the abandoned roles and obstacle course. Nearing Agua Caliente Creek we join a steady stream of dayhikers who look like they’re doing a guided or group hike, led by ecologists who are identifying the plants for everyone.
A hiker going the opposite way stops us. “Are you thruhikers?” She says.
“I’ve got something for you guys, one second.” She rummages through her day pack and pulls out a half-gallon ziploc full of mini snickers.
“Thank you!” We say, although neither of us really likes snickers, and we are carrying a full resupply to Idyllwild already. We couldn’t refuse. Oldtimer comes by as she’s heading off and we’re putting the snickers into my mesh back panel.
“You were Yogiing that poor woman?” He accuses.
“No!” we say, laughing, “she gave them to us!”
“Yogi and Boo-Boo, terrorizing poor dayhikers,” he says, shaking his head, and keeps walking.
I stop and ask one of the hike leaders if they’re a local and the names of some of the chaparral plants around us. “Oh, that’s Chamise,” he says of the common scrubby plant that we’ve seen every day. The big tree/bush plants with bright, feathery green leaves and red bark peeling off the trunk in strips is Red Shank, the maple-oid climbing vines are Wild Cucumber, and he identifies the long pole-like cacti as something we can’t remember.
We stop and filter water near the top of Agua Caliente, and Maddy and I splash around in the creek and eat and sit in the sand while Ziploc and Oldtimer move on. We head off, too.
“Red Shank, Chamise, Wild Cucumber, Bob’s Cacaw Gordelle,” I chant as we walk. We’ve decided that that’s what we’re calling the cactus with the unmemorable name. I identify the other plants around us. Yucca, Manzanita, Joshua Tree, Agave, Cheat Grass, Sagebrush, Desert Mallow.
The trail goes up, up up, all the way up the mountains. Even though it’s cool out and breezy, with a cold front blowing in, my forearms sweat. Last year this climb was incredibly hot and I couldn’t take any breaks because of the biting flies.
We finally climb over to the other side of the mountain, the weather chilly and windy. Giant rosy granite boulders stand upright, speckling the mountainside. Maddy, a climber, is excited about them and points out different ones with cool textures that she’d like to climb. She stops at one. “That is a nice boulder,” she says, and I laugh and repeat what she said in Donkey’s voice from Shrek.
Clouds and wind start moving in. We stop and take a break together in the shade, OT and Ziploc and Maddy and I, and we quickly become cold. Brrr. We jump up and keep moving to the water tank at Mike’s Place, fighting the wind. It’s not quite enough to throw me around but it’s biting and chills me. I’m worried about camping in it. We reach the hand-painted signs pointing up the side trail and follow it up a rise and then down onto Chihuahua Valley Road. Maddy and I swing our packs down and Ziploc and OT come behind us. The sky is turning grey and stormy.
“You know, I hate to say this, but we may need to go and camp down at Mike’s Place to keep out of the wind,” Ziploc says. The only camping up ahead is on a ridge-top that was windy even on a nice night last year. I hate to agree, as I don’t particularly want to spend a night at the property, but in a group I should be fine. And hopefully we’ll be sheltered from the brewing weather.
The inside spots are all taken, in the sun room and the ancient, dilapidated RV. We set up in a row against the house and pound our stakes into the ground with a hammer. I pin the bottom of my tarp flat to the ground and crawl under to spread my groundsheet and sleeping pad and quilt down. It looks very, very miserable, dirt already encroaching onto my Tyvek.
Off-trail, the person who takes care of Mike’s property and the hikers, pulls out a veggie pizza and it’s warm in my freezing hands and it’s soft and good and makes my sleeping situation feel a little bit better. I put all of my possible clothing on and still I’m not quite warm, fleece and sleep clothes and rain gear and wind pants.
I stand around and contemplate my sleeping situation. I want a tent. Finally it’s cold and dark enough outside that I give in and literally slide myself under my tarp, which lies flat against the dirt. Yep, a tent sure would be nice. I sit up and write bullet notes for the day. My hands are too cold to type on my phone and even the short 3-word notes are riddled with typos.
It’s actually not too bad under the tarp, kind of warm and snug, and the ground which required a hammer for our stakes because of how rock-hard it was is not too hard under my foam pad. It smells like weed here, from somewhere, and the porch light shines on my left side. The worst of the wind is blocked by the house and I’ll have a dry porch to pack up under tomorrow if it rains. I hope it doesn’t rain.