Day 20- 22.5 miles from Little Bear Springs Trail Camp (285.6) to just past Deep Creek Hot Springs (308.1)

I wake up to OT and Ziploc almost packed up. I roll over in my warm sleeping bag and shut my eyes for another 2 minutes. I’m tired. After a couple more minutes of loitering I sit up. My sleeping bag is wet from condensation where I wrapped it with my tarp, but at least it was warm. Ziploc comes over and tells me we’re aiming for 16 ish miles to whatever campsite we find before Deep Creek. That will set us up for a 24 mile day to Cleghorn Picnic Area tomorrow. They head off while I’m packing and airing out my sleeping bag.

I leapfrog Carson and Dasha for an hour or two while I listen to music, the trail climbing up out of muskrat-dammed Holcomb Creek and running through small bushy hills. I don’t really listen to music because I’m bored – I usually get bored listening to music, actually- but because I miss listening to it if I don’t. If that makes sense.

After around 6 miles the trail drops from up in the flats to Holcomb Creek again. Ziploc and OT are just packing up after a long break there. Great. I’m not getting on a schedule again of constantly catching them on the tail end of breaks and then not stopping to keep up. I head off in front of Ziploc. The trail crosses the creek again over a log and I lengthen my poles to steady myself, easing my way across. I don’t really need to but I’m being cautious.

Ziploc crosses after me. “If that’s how you cross logs just wait until the Sierra,” he says.

I scowl at him as he walks by. He’s teasing, but recently it’s been getting on my nerves. And anyway, I hiked the Sierra, too, on the JMT, and this year will probably be a lot closer to my experience of that section than his. Grr. It’s frustrating.

I’m tired, though. I take a long break against a tree by the creek crossing, and eat the rest of the chips. Screw it, I’m not going to chase them all day. I’m hiking my hike today.

I walk another couple of miles and stop to take a break under the shade of a tree. I spread my pad out on the soft dirt and cheat grass and lay down. I think I’m going to take a nap. People keep on passing by and I don’t feel comfortable sleeping right by the side of the trail in the middle of the day, so I pick up my things and head up a dry creek bed in the sun. I find a bit of shade under a bush that’s not visible from trail and crash. When I wake up I’ve slept for maybe 2 hours, from 9:30 to 11:30, and I take a while to pack up. The nap was delicious.

I eat a tuna wrap and head out, feeling frustrated about Ziploc. I let it drive me up the trail and another couple of miles go by. I’m getting close to where the trail goes down into the side of Deep Creek Canyon, through flowering bushes that smell like terrible perfume, and buckwheat, lilac, rabbitbrush, and what I think is some kind of bush willow. It drops down. I can see the swath of trees that is Deep Creek cutting through the bottom of the canyon.

I stop at the first bridge across and take a trail down to the water. Ape and Rabbit are here, and Carson and Dasha are heading out. Ape is taking a nap on a rock and Rabbit is balancing rocks in the middle of the creek. They keep falling down and he curses and throws his hands up in the air each time, disappointed. OT and Ziploc just left.

I take my shoes off and wade through the river, the cold water and rough sand feel good on my tired feet. I sit on the bank and watch Rabbit stack rocks. A hiker who came by the picnic area last night comes down and I sit and talk with them for a long time. MacGyver is non-binary and they’re from Portland and started the trail with 40$. They’re funding their trip by putting up poetry on Patreon, and got a lot of their food they’ve sent themselves dumpster diving. They were saving for the trail for 4 years but then broke their back falling off a roof. The conversation is good. We head out together and talk, ambulating slowly with sore feet.

(If you want to check out their poetry and become a patron and help them out on their hike I’m sure MacGyver would be absolutely thrilled and splurge on a 5$ salad in town like a royal. https://www.patreon.com/Gracetopher)

I see OT and Ziploc on a hill set up for the night but I decide to head on with MacGyver. It’s 6 ish miles to the hot springs, and MacGyver and I plan on sleeping a mile before. There’s brain-eating bacteria in there and Ziploc refuses to go in because it’s disgusting, but I’m feeling like doing whatever I want. MacGyver and I stop to eat dinner at the stagnant stream a mile before the hot springs. I make a Knorr rice side and wrap it in a tortilla. We talk and laugh as we eat.

We finish eating. MacGyver puts one sock on.

“Are we keeping going then?” I say.

“I guess so,” they say.

OK.

I put my things away and we walk into the darkening evening together. I manage to keep my headlamp off most of the way, but in some places the beach-sand trail is falling away. We talk about queer Don Quixote and other things. We turn at a sign set up by a guy named Party Boy down to the hot springs in the dark. There’s a hiker box here, and a register. We sign.

There’s only two people down at the hot pool and they call up hellos. MacGyver strips down naked in the dark, and the people down there are naked. Okay! Let’s do this. I keep my underwear on but take off my bra and carefully make my way down and slide into the hot water. Ahh. The bottom is sandy and not too deep. I have to lean back to get properly in. The stars are incredible and Deep Creek bends around a tall rocky outcrop. We talk to Josh and Mariya in the dark. They’re nice people, and we talk about the trail and the Camino de Santiago and many other things for an hour or two.

The night’s become warmer and I slip into the cold creek once to cool off. Yah, brain-eating bacteria be damned. This was perfect. Eventually we decide it’s time to head off to camp. We’re going a mile further since we hear the rangers are coming at 8 tomorrow to hand out fines to campers here. We’d probably be out by then but neither MacGyver or I want to risk it. With their budget 175$ would end their hike.

The scab on my knee from my fall near Paradise Valley Cafe has been soaked enough in the pool that it’s soft and falling off. Below is bare skin oozing blood. Gross, and so much for not having wounds for bacteria to enter. I slather antibacterial cream on and MacGyver gives me a big bandaid.

Josh gives us an unopened 2 liter smartwater bottle to split so we don’t have to filter, and we put our dry clothes and our shoes on in the sand in the dark. We walk a little bit less than a mile in the dark before we find flat-ish places to set up our cowboys. We probably wouldn’t be fined here.

It’s been a long day and it’s almost midnight by the time I finish writing. I miss Maddy and I feel bad that I’m making big miles so it’s difficult for her to catch up. I hope her hip’s doing fine and I’m sure she’s having fun. My foot also hurt a bit all day, just a tired pain from my injury that manifests in the bottom of my foot. It feels like there’s cartilage sliding under the bones that is getting irritated. We’ll see.

Crickets and frogs sing around us. I’m not camped on the flattest campsite and there’s a single rock near my butt. The night is dark and the stars are big and it’s late. Goodnight.

Day 19- 19.5 miles from Big Bear Lake (266.1) to Little Bear Springs Trail Camp (285.6)

I am awake before Maddy and Julie’s alarm. It’s very comfortable on this couch and I slept well. The alarm goes off and we start packing up our things. I lay out all of my food real quick and repackage everything, dumping out the old peanut butter pretzels and sesame sticks I’ve been carrying since Campo and just haven’t wanted to eat. I should have done that earlier. My foot feels a bit swollen and tender as I walk around but it should feel better once I have my shoes on and get walking.

We get breakfast at the Teddy Bear Restaurant, which is a lame name but the food is good. I order a veggie omelet and hash browns and have cinnamon cornbread, and ask for two glasses of water since I think I’m still a bit dehydrated. It’s all good.

Since Julie has a flight at twelve and she’s tight for time I’ve decided that she doesn’t need to make the trip to drop us at the highway and stress. She drops me off at the Motel 6 that OT and Ziploc are staying at that looks like a white-and-blue greyhound station. Julie gives me a big hug and I get one from Maddy and I say goodbye. Julie is awesome and I’m going to miss Maddy, since she got off from Big Bear early she’ll be a day behind and it might take a while to gain on us. Catch up! Please!

I sit with OT in his room for a couple minutes then meet Ziploc outside. He orders an Uber for us back to the trail and I sit in the back with my pack. The driver is playing Billy Joel and River of Dreams comes on and OT and I sing and tap our hands and feet to the music.

“I sing this song to my wife,” he says.

“My Dad used to rock my little brother to sleep with this album,” I say.

We get to the trail. I met Twinkle Toes here last year, and so I send a picture of the highway to her. “Hey! I thought you were going to meet me here again. Where are you,” I write.

Then off! It’s two miles through scrubby pine and bushes to the fire closure detour. It’s magically become a good temperature again since yesterday and the weather is perfect. A cool wind but nothing too chilly and clear blue skies. I fall behind to pee (those two glasses of water at breakfast) and find OT and Ziploc waiting for me at the paved road at the start of the detour. Aww. We all walk it together, I’m a couple of seconds behind. Ziploc and OT walk together, side-by-side on the broad dirt road ahead of me.

The road is rocky and steep and our packs are heavy, but it’s not too bad, especially in this temperature. Once we get back on the PCT it’s easy going, the trail gentle and not rocky. I get to Caribou Creek and decide to filter another liter of water. Christian is there and we talk as we collect water from the slow-moving creek. I wasn’t sure about him at first, because he was very opinionated about my homemade tarp, but after talking for a while I decide he’s a good cookie and forgive him for his MYOG-criticizing transgression.

I talk with him and Carson and Dasha for a while. Magneto shows up. I finally head off and catch OT talking on the phone to his family. I sit and eat chips and we answer questions from curious and enthusiastic dayhikers. OT shows them his rattlesnake video and they pick up his pack to see how heavy it is. We head off together and talk for a while, with 8 miles to go until camp. It’s pretty, gentle green/dry hills and. Real pine forest. The trail is flat and we make good time. We catch up to Ziploc at a break and head off together. We’re an odd little group but they’re gems and I feel lucky to be hiking with them.

We hike together until Little Bear Springs Trail Camp. I see the composting toilet and let out a low whoop. This is where I got my trail name last year, the picnic table here is The picnic table, and I’m excited for this. Ziploc and OT move in to camp under the trees, but I tell them I refuse to go by without reacquainting myself with My picnic table, and so I go and sit with two Swiss guys who have a giant 2-gallon ziploc of different gummy candies. Their names are Rabbit and Ape, and I talk to them and tell them my trail name story. They don’t like the Red Vines they got and so they pull them from the giant bag and give them all to me. I cook dinner and eat red vines as I wait for it to cook. This is a good picnic table, with extra sturdy, thick wood. It will last a long time.

The sun nears the horizon and is turning bright, so I pack up my things and head off to where Ziploc and OT are camped. OT is eating his dinner. “It’s going to be cold tonight,” he observes, and I start shivering against the cool breeze.

I’m not going to be cold tonight, I decide, so I set up my cowboy camp and put on all of my clothes and wrap my tarp over my sleeping bag like a burrito. I pull my water filter in with me in case it freezes and settle in for the cold night.

Day 15- 21.1 miles from midway down Fuller Ridge (195.4) to before Whitewater Preserve (216.5)

Everyone is packing up around me. Having a comfy sleeping system makes it much harder to get up, so I lay there for a while before sitting up. I’m the second-to-last out of my sleeping bag and the first packed and hiking. I eat some licorice and cinnamon bears for breakfast (balanced).

The sky is just tinged with light, a small city lighting up, yellow, on the dark flat of the valley floor. The sunrise comes in a band of orange on the horizon, and suddenly I turn around a bend and the sun is up, bright and big and brilliant. The trail goes down for another 10 miles from here. We started the descent up at 10,800 feet and are going down to the highway at 1,300. It’s pretty gentle as far as 10,000 foot descents go, though, graded well. We’re able to go pretty fast down it.

Small, round, orange flowers and 4-leaved yellow ones form a tic-tac-toe on the side of the trail, little Xs and Os. We pass by the 200 mile mark and I take pictures, and then by the hyped-up angry bee hive without incident. Then, it’s all just down. Even as the sun was coming up over the the horizon it was hot, and now our first true 90+ heat is settling in. It fills the air, making it feel heavier. I’m sweating even on the downhill.

I drink my last 1/4 liter of water a mile and a half before the faucet and turn on autopilot, cruising down the last section with Melt and Boxtop and Firefly and Maddy.

I flop down in the shade of a small-tree sized boulder next to Pickle. I pull out my water filter and dirty water bag and fill up half a liter and drink it first, then filter the rest and drink some more. The faucet is a drinking fountain, and we laugh as we each try to aim the water stream into our bottles as it leaps around in the air.

We all head off in a big herd the last 3 ish miles to the highway. I walk in the back with Pickle and talk with him. He has a small Palaante Simple Pack and he walks super fast, and hiked the AT same year as OT, so I don’t think I’ll keep up with him for long at all, but I enjoy talking gear and trails with him and I’ll enjoy his company for now. That’s how most of my trail friendships work. Temporaneous but good.

He moves through the line of people and I attempt to keep up on the flat, deep, churning sand. It’s a game, and I manage to pass everyone except for Luke. The trail follows a dry riverbed and the walking is terrible. I hate walking on sand.

At the underpass, I walk under and set my pack down with everyone else’s as they come in behind me. There’s a strange vagrant person here who has an impressive halo of bleached hair like Einstein that stands almost a foot from their scalp in either direction, and a form-fitting striped cotton knit dress. They’re obviously not a hiker but trying to blend in and using the hiker boxes to get free food. Not a bad plan, to be honest. We politely ignore them as they fiddle with their things and walk past us to get food.

The highway 10 underpass is a weird place, regardless of vagrant non-hikers; there’s a kid’s play set, the kind with twisted wires that you pull a wooden bead along, and coolers of random food, and trash bags, and cardboard to sign your name on, and the cars overhead make everything shudder, and it’s dark and grungy.

We all walk to the road and figure out a game plan to Uber to Cabazon. There’re 9 of us, so we’ll need 3 Ubers, we decide. I have the app on my phone and order one. They keep on declining to pick us, but eventually we get it at around 11. The driver that Maddy and Melt and I get in with doesn’t seem overly friendly or keen to have us, and I’m self-conscious of the hands sweating dirt onto my knees, so I don’t move them the entire trip.

In-n-out is packed with extremely trendy southern Californians in floral prints and shorts, and I order and then stand bewildered in the middle of the restaurant, people roaring and milling around me. Anxiety rises up in my stomach and chest and shoulders, familiar. This place is horrible. I go to the bathroom and wash my hands and face, waiting until the coast is clear before I do it so the incredibly beautiful and well-dressed people won’t see the dirt coming off of my hands and face. There was a big smear of dirt across my chin.

I get my food and join everyone outside, which is almost as busy. It’s good, nothing remarkable – overhyped – and I eat too much and can’t finish my second basket of fries. Pickle comes and we go to the gas station and a touristy, overpriced “fruit market” to get some things to supplement our resupply into Big Bear.

We get back and decide to move to the Starbucks for the AC and electrical outlets to charge our things. We settle in the corner and I fill my water from the bathroom sink. We sit there for an hour or two, sipping our drinks, and then move on again to Taco Bell. I get some burritos to pack out. And then, around 5, Pickle and Maddy and I get an Uber back to the trail from an enthusiastic guy named Francis.

We head out, Pickle quickly leaving us in his dust. The heat radiates from the ground and is blasted into our skin by the wind. I fight back nausea all the way to Mesa Wind Farm where I catch up to Maddy. I don’t know if it’s from eating too much or maybe heat exhaustion, so I drink a bunch of water. Maddy’s hip is bothering her and she’s worrying about it, so eventually she tells me to go ahead and she’ll catch up.

It’s finally cooling down a bit, and I climb the canyon up into the crest, where I’ll finally see the beginning of Whitewater. The sun is setting. I come over the top and the wind comes. The sunset is visible from the top, incredible hot pink spilling across the sky, and I see the hills above whitewater. I love it, and sing songs on the way down. I’m content and happy in this moment, tired and footsore but happy, in one of my favorite sections of trail. My chest swells.

I jaunt down the switchbacks, the light slowly fading around me, and suddenly I’m very bummed that I won’t be able to see this section into Whitewater, one of my favorites. There’s not much camping though and it’s pretty windy, so I might be forced to miss it. Frick. Everything is turning black around me. I go searching up a hill for a flat spot but I feel spooked at the top alone. I turn my headlamp on, resigned to keep walking. Oh well, I guess.

I think I’ve been developing butt chafe for a while, and now it is starting to burn. I’ve been ignoring it so far. I’ve never had chafe there. It hurts and distracts me from the darkness.

I startle a kangaroo rat and a big toad. I’m still bummed out by my missing the views when I turn a corner and find a sheltered little camping spot against the wind. Aha! I settle my pack down and set up camp. The group I camped with last night walks past with their headlamps, and then Maddy with two hikers I can’t see. I’ll see them tomorrow, I tell them.

I eat a burrito and some crackers for dinner. The wind is loud but I’m sheltered and warm. The Big Dipper is right above me. I’ll wake up and bathe at the Preserve tomorrow and hang out with my friends. It will be another hot one.

Day 14- 17 miles from Saddle Junction (179.4) to midway down Fuller Ridge (195.4)

Maddy pokes me awake. Ugh, it’s cold, and my sleeping bag feels damp with condensation inside. I think I’ve been breathing into it at night too much. I will myself out of my bag and pack myself up. I eat a half of a bagel with cream cheese and head out with Maddy. I keep up with her for a while through thick, still-dark but brightening pine forest. It’s hard uphill, though, especially with the altitude, so I tell her to go ahead. The trail traverses along the side of the mountain, the trail rocky so that I have to step up, and I’m unmotivated and it’s hard work. I stop and breathe every minute or so. Finally I realize I might need to eat, and I stop for salmon jerky and cookies.

I feel a bit more energetic afterwards, and make my way through the granite and manzanita and pine to the top. I reach the junction a third mile from the summit. Almost there! I pass the emergency shelter hut, the windows covered with stickers. The trail disappears near the top and I start scrambling up granite boulders, bending over and grabbing tree branches. “Maddy!” I call out. I hear her reply, and I scoot along a rock and around a tree, and I’m there. There’s a guy named Cricket, and Maddy, and the view. 360 degrees, all the way around, desert and mountains and cities. I can see the mountains the PCT goes through across Hwy 10. It’s worth the climb. Maddy and I do a photo shoot and head off. We beat the Boy Scout troop who camped down at the junction to the top!

As we head down, the trail becomes inundated with day hikers and backpackers and thruhikers heading up to the peak. There’s a big group of 15-29 hikers from Vietnam, and when they find out Maddy and I are PCTers they get super excited and take a picture of us with them in it, too. They tell us we look very clean, and we just laugh because we smell pretty bad and I have dirt stains all over my shirt. Another woman wishes us a happy Cinco de Mayo, and then “have a nice meal!”

“What meal?” we ask ourselves. We’re not even going to be at a road until tomorrow at noon.

We stop at a fork of the Jacinto River and filter water and eat lunch. Cricket is there, and a guy named Cody who has been a hiking guide in Denali and Yosemite. Then off! I’m looking forward to the picnic table in 4 miles at Black Mountain Road. I hike with Cricket for a while and talk.

Soon enough I leave him behind on a climb and crest over to the north side of Fuller Ridge. Last year, this section of trail was covered with slushy, slippery snow. Now it’s completely clear, sunny and warm through the sloping pine forest. I catch glimpses of the windmills on the brown desert floor below.

Dropping down into Black Mountain road, I see cars and car camping tents. No, no no- and yes, I walk into the clearing and see they’ve taken the picnic table. My picnic table. I sit down in the pine needles across the clearing with a hiker I learn is named Pickle.

“Is it wrong that I feel entitled to the picnic table because my name is literally Picnic Table because I like picnic tables? Like, shouldn’t I get an automatic claim to it or something?” I ask him, grumbling and comically shooting dark glances in the direction of the campers, and he laughs.

Maddy comes and sits with me after getting threatened by the car campers’ dogs, and after a break eventually we move on. Pickle and I are both going to go to Cabazon tomorrow for food and we’re going to try and recruit more people for an Uber.

I stop to pee and when I come back Pickle comes by. I stop him to show him the old Miller Light can I found, and a tall woman hiker in colorful green tights who he knows comes up.

“Hi Pickles,” Pickle says.

“What?” I say, confused.

I finally figure out they’re both named Pickle, except the woman is plural Pickles. They both like pickles. They get ahead, and I find their entire trail group of 7 or so people plus Maddy at the campsite we’d planned to meet at. We all decide to head down to a campsite 2 more miles down. They’re all crushing it down the trail, and I am the last in the big line, even though I’m going as fast as humanly possible without jogging. We all reach the campsite and sit around, too lazy to start up camp. There’s just enough room for all of us to squeeze in and cowboy together, and when we start unpacking it’s like hiker tetris.

It’s a fun group and we talk and crack jokes. I make risotto for dinner that’s really good. We learn Pickle knew OT on the AT when they hiked in 2016. OT and Ziploc are camped 12 miles down at the faucet, and will probably stay ahead for a while from them skipping part of the alternate.

Maddy spills salmon juice all over the front of her jacket, and we throw variants of Salmon Juice and Smoked Salmon at her as trail names. I’ve tried both Stickeen and Power Goat for her because of the way she jumps fearlessly down steep trail, and Hiccup because of her constant yet sporadic, loud hiccuping. I don’t think she likes any of them.

We all journal and laugh into the dark. Some of the hikers find red ants crawling all over them across the flat spot and move to empty spots near me. So many names- Pickle and Pickles, Melt, Boxtop, Luke, Firefly, Captain. We’re getting up early tonight for In-n-out. It’s nice camping like sardines.

Day 11- 0 miles in Idyllwild

I don’t have much to do today, mostly just eat and get my box with my tent and sleeping bag at the post office, and send it back with my quilt. I think I’m going to keep trying my tarp.

We all meet up and have breakfast at The Red Kettle, which is good. I get pancakes, hash browns and scrambled eggs.

The rest of the day is spent vegging in our room, writing blog posts and post cards, eating leftover pizza, and going to the post office to get and re-send the big box my mom sent my sleeping bag in. Thank you Mom!! ❤️ Maddy and I wander around touristy shops and try on hats. Drippy was going to head out today but Oldtimer and I convince him to stay in our cabin on our extra couch.

We all meet up again for dinner. They choose the Gastrognome, and I’m too full of pizza to eat, so I get a fancy ginger beer and sip it and catch up on journal writing, skipping in and out of the conversation until Ziploc announces that my new trail name is “Huh, What?”.

I can’t decide whether or not I want to see Infinity War again tonight since tickets are half off and cheap and why not, so I call my family and talk to them on the way to the theater. The line is out the door, though, so I decide not and walk back.

I sit outside for a bit on the porch swing talking to my parents, and then come inside and watch Yes Man with Jim Carrey on the TV with Oldtimer and Drippy and Maddy.

Maddy and I look at the maps and water for the section ahead. We’re going to carry 1 liter from Idyllwild to Tunnel Springs. We’re hitching back up to the PCT at Highway 74 tomorrow and starting the section up to the alternate, and doing the alternate together- it looks like we’re the only ones in our group doing the full thing. Then we’ll swing by Idyllwild to resupply for the full section into Big Bear ahead.

Day 10- 6.3 miles from Mary’s Place/Walden (145.4) to Idyllwild via Paradise Valley Cafe/Hwy 74 (151.8)

I am awake. Wow. That’s cool. My makeshift rear tarp pole stick held up for a while last night, I think, but then I made the mistake of using one of the nail/peg stakes that I had leftover from my tarptent, which doesn’t stay very well, and it fell out, and now my sleeping quilt is being molested by my condensation-covered tarp, and now it is damp.

I was not feeling nearly that dramatic about it when I was there this morning, but I am writing this now, at night, and feeling silly and dramatic. So there you go. In reality I was feeling very practical and non-dramatic, and as soon as I woke and heard packing up I set about my task of packing up in the misting morning. I shoved the stake back into the ground where it came from and propped my spare trekking pole up against the roof of my tarp to give myself even more headroom. Ahh! I also usually write in present tense but you either must forgive me, or stop reading in disgust.

Then I pack up. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to pack up wet camp and gear with the intention of hiking that day. I get everything except my tarp and ground cloth and pad packed away, and then clamber out into the world.

Maddy’s still packing up her things inside her little cuben fiber tent, and Oldtimer pulls me towards her tent. “I want to talk to you two about something,” he says.

“What, did we do something wrong?”

“No, no. I’ve just got a bad feeling about one of the guys yesterday,” he says, and says his name.

Maddy’s eyebrows arch up as she glances at me.

I say his name out loud to confirm.

“Yes. I had a dream about him. God’s telling me you shouldn’t trust him. He was waiting for you to catch up with him so he could hike with you. I just don’t want you two to get hurt.”

Okay, we say. I nod.

Then I sling my pack on and start walking, Ziploc and OT just behind me. It’s cold. The world is buried deep in cloud, and I can’t see very far. The plants are wet as my shoes brush past them. I have my trekking poles strapped to my pack so the cold metal doesn’t drain the heat from my hands. I wear my sleeping socks on my hands and feel like Squidward.

I think about what OT said as I walk. I trust him. He may not be right, but I trust his intuition and experience with people, and I trust him as a person. The guy OT was talking about is charismatic (I removed that part of my journal from yesterday because I don’t want to hurt anyone when it’s just a hunch), but that’s exactly what someone who would take advantage of us would be. I didn’t find him creepy. But I’d rather trust OT and be wrong than not pay attention and have him not be wrong. I’m not assuming that he has bad intentions, but I’m going to keep up a guard and I’m not going to seek to further a friendship.

OK, that’s a decision.

My bad foot is hurting. The blister isn’t healing very well, I should probably be covering it or something. The skin is new and raw in a patch where the skin came away, and it presses against my shoe every time I step down. I start altering my stride to alleviate the pain, which puts strain on the muscles and bones on the outside of my foot. On top of that, my hammer toes are arching up and there’s a slight, dull pain in the ball of my foot from the weather and barometric changes.

We came to the decision before leaving that we were going to hitch into Idyllwild on the highway 6 miles from camp and take our zero early. Ziploc and OT and I stop to look at room availability and online booking, and Maddy catches up. The Idyllwild Inn is full, but I snag a room for 2 nights at the Silver Pine Lodge for Maddy and OT and me.

Then we hike to the highway in the fog. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I want to be warm and clean and full. We get there and stand on the side of the road on the gravel shoulder, and Maddy and I stand up front and stick our thumbs out at passing traffic, looking cheerful. “Maybe if we look more miserable they’ll pity us and stop,” I say. More cars pass by, headlamps emerging from the fog, turning into cars, then speeding away and around the corner.

We decide to walk down to the Paradise Valley Cafe where another road joins, where there will be more traffic, and so we’re not sitting around getting cold. Oldtimer sticks a thumb out as we’re walking and a car pulls up. Maddy and I laugh and run partway there.

“See, they’ll stop for the old guy,” OT says, grinning amiably.

“You’ve just got to show more leg,” says Ziploc, pulling up his pant leg and baring his calf to the road.

The woman was only going to bring us to Paradise Valley Cafe, but then gives us a ride to a gas station a couple miles past the turn-off. We stand and stick our thumbs out some more. A white truck with a covered bed pulls off. There’s already some hikers inside, but Maddy and I squeeze in the back with our packs and OT and Ziploc find room in the front. We’re dropped off in Idyllwild. “Thank you so much,” we repeat emphatically.

We walk to Silver Pines Lodge. Our room isn’t ready, so we sit and call our families in the warm sitting room, with deep leather couches and two fireplaces. We finally get in, and explode everything from our packs into every surface and corner of the room. We set up our sleeping quilts and tents in front of the heater to dry.

We meet Drippy down at Idyllwild Pizza Co., where Maddy orders gluten-free pizza and I get a large Gourmet Veggie, which considering doesn’t have many veggies on it, or any colorful ones. I have plenty extra pizza to graze on. Drippy has a room at Idyllwild Inn, and has been sick with a cough and chills.

We go back to our rooms and veg. We’re going to all go see Avengers: Infinity War At 7. It starts raining outside, and briefly snows. We’re all incredibly happy to be inside and warm, and not sleeping outside in it. We get our laundry done at the lodge. We walk to the theater together in the cold- I’m super excited for the movie, and to see which characters die. I’m super hyped up about it, after watching all of the movies this fall and winter with my injury. I take pictures of all of the old posters with women swooning and showing leg and pathetically clutching the chest of the male heroes.

The theater has blankets, and we put them on our laps. The movie starts, and it’s funny and entertaining and nice. I start feeling chills running through my body though, so I really hope I don’t have whatever Drippy got. Towards the end, one of the group of teenagers behind us starts breaking into loud sobs, which is distracting, but also hilarious, and the movie ends and Poof! Poof! Poof! (If you’ve seen the movie you know what I mean by poof). I find it all absolutely hilarious and am not sad at all, and when the lights turn on I laugh and laugh. It’s a mean cliffhanger and not entirely fair. Jerks.

We walk back in the dark and freezing cold. Ziploc goes off to try and find some ice cream. It’s cold out! Ridiculous. The rest of us walk back to our cabin and get ready to sleep.

I got ice cream! Ziploc texts me later.

Nerd, I tell him.

But I got ice cream!

Neeerdd, I say.

Day 9- 18.5 miles from Mike’s Place (126.9) to Mary’s Place/Walden (145.4)

I wake up to Ziploc and Maddy conversing with each other from their tents. I was surprisingly warm last night, pinned under my tarp. I lift the edge of my tarp to see Maddy’s face and a sliver of incredibly gray sky. “Hello, good morning,” I say.

“Good morning,” she says, and laughs.

Apparently condensation has pooled into two little puddles at the base of my sad little tarp’s pitch. When I feel the outside of my quilt, its is a little bit damp on the outside from the internal condensation, but it’s not too bad. I finally gather myself to wriggle up out of my cave and onto the concrete slab.

The entire world is gray, but it didn’t rain. Ziploc thinks we’re just in a cloud. I pull my quilt out and pat it dry with my sleep socks and leave it to dry on the table on the front porch. I slowly pack up. Off-Trail announces there’s hot dogs and coffee in the food hut, so I get my pot out and get some hot coffee to warm my hands. Later I’ll make myself drink it. I don’t particularly care for coffee and it doesn’t look like it’s particularly good. I cook some couscous for breakfast, which is absolutely gross. I force down half of it and dump the rest of it in the food pile of banana peels in the field.

Ziploc and OT head out. Someone starts a drum solo on the drum set inside, I finish packing up and head out with Maddy into the cloud. At first it’s all grey and cold, but within a couple of minutes the cloud starts clearing and the the sun shines down on us, clouds shifting across the chaparral hills and faraway mountains like white, lumbering, ponderous giant snakes.

We stop and strip off our extra layers. It’s so pretty!! Last year this section was so hot, that it was 90 degrees by 10 in the morning. It was also early enough that the sun was too bright to see much. I can see what I assume is San Jacinto in the distance.

We hike together, Yogi and Boo Boo, chatting occasionally and taking pictures of the view. We hike with a guy named Clayton who we’ve been calling No-knees, since he has a technique of walking he says doesn’t use his knees. He also has rigged magnets to his trekking poles and pack so that he can just attach them up when he’s hiking.

“Magic Man, or Magician, or Magic Trick,” I say, “What’s better? Wait. What about Magneto?” I say.

Maddy likes it, and he doesn’t have any complaints. “Mag-no-knee-to!” she says. He’s funny and gets our humor and is fun to hike with.

We take a long break at the clearing above Tule Springs. Several people come back up without getting any water because it’s so bad. It’s probably the worst source in the desert, so maybe the entire trail, so we all skipped it.

Then onwards! I talk about ecology and I identify more of the plants around us. We look at agave plants and I postulate about their possible evolution, the way if looks like there were once several leaves that fused together. It’s cloudy and getting chilly. We listen to music on our phones and sing out loud on the downhills.

I briefly get behind her and catch up to her and Magneto at the water cache at the dirt road. We talk and hike to Walden, aka Mary’s Place, a section of her property that a local named Mary lets hikers sleep on and that she’s set up with an outhouse, picnic tables, a Little Free Library, and a water cache that Mary maintains herself. She comes in as we’re setting up our tents against the wind, and Ziploc stops by to talk to her and thank her.

We all sit at the picnic table to eat our dinner. Ziploc and OT and Magneto and Maddy and a section hiker/PCT veteran Girl Scout. It’s going to be a cold night and we’re all preparing for rain. The sky is gray with fast-moving clouds that don’t look like too much rain, but you never know. Whatever happens it will be chilly and I will be damp with condensation in the morning. I crawl into my tarp, which I’ve pitched low at the end with a stick I’ve found. I’m pretty sure my pitch will hold.