Total miles: 77.3
The clouds raced and the wind howled all night long. I didn’t sleep or if I did it can’t have been long. I lay on my side, like a burrito in my tent fly and curled up in the fetal position. All night I shivered or found a small amount of warmth or lost that small amount I had found.
I know what I should have done. When my bag first started to get wet I should have woken the boys next to me, asked them to shift just a little, pitched my tent and crawled inside where I could have been warm. I did none of these things.
Instead I just lay there. Lay there inside a little nightmare all of my own. Lay there cold, wet and miserable. Lay there as my foggy brain told me I shouldn’t wake them up, that they would be annoyed, that morning would come soon enough, that perhaps the night would warm up or that pitching my tent wasn’t worth it.
I lay there and just when I thought morning would never come, it at last appeared, but the sun did not arrive with it. The world was still frigid and the mist still swirled and the wind still howled and I was still cold. No 4:45 alarms to start our day like we had talked about – but it was still early when the Neoairs began to hiss and the ground sheets crinkled and all the hikers around me rose in the dawn.
We all packed up our limp wet bags, smooshing them into our packs with numb hands. Then it was time to leave and I would have shivered into my cold weather gear, if I wasn’t already wearing it all.
Then we were off – all five of us Felix, Yiran, James, Goddam and then me taking up the back into the fogged out world – where ridges dropped down into the great wide white nothingness. The land of no views.
All I could think about was sleep. Sleep is all I want. Oh and sun. Sleep and sun. Where are these things? Isn’t this the desert?
My mind drifted and I fantasised about all the other things I wanted. About a big warm bed, about a crackling fireplace and about a big steaming mug of coffee under many different types of heavy blankets. All the things I had only recently left behind. All the things I couldn’t have right at that moment.
The hours passed as we marched down the trail in hiker train formation. Slowly the wind died down, then the grey sky was tinged blue and the sun began to burn its way through the clouds. The sky grew brighter and brighter as we wound around the mountains on the rocky trail. We began to spread out. Some darting ahead and some falling behind.
I was still groggy and slow and stumbling around, but I could see the sun beginning to touch the trail and then beginning to touch us and then finally it was all over us. It was beautiful. It shone brightly in my eyes and started warming my tired little bones.
I was thirsty all of a sudden. I’d barely touched my water at all in 10 miles, just a few tiny sips even though I had been trying to force myself to keep drinking in the cold I just couldn’t. So I walked the little side trail to Sunrise Trailhead, promising myself I would drink more to prepare for the next long carry.
Sunrise. I’d slept right here on my forth night last time. How wild to think about – that here I was on day two – in that exact spot. How different will the trail be this time and how soon will it all be over?
We sprawled in the sun in the dirt. The layers we had taken off were put back on. Hikers are always cold, that’s how you spot us. We are always inappropriately cold, especially in town. Short shorts and a rain jackets on in the blazing sun, in the line at Burger King, near the drink sachet mixes at the supermarket and sitting on the edge of a parking lot. That’s our life – cold in an instant and craving the sun always.
I lay my damp sleeping bag out in the sunlight and my dripping tent right next to it in an attempt to dry them out.
I throw around the idea of making Scissors Crossing that night – 29 miles from where we slept. 29 miles I thought. I used to find that easy didn’t I? I have done that. I can do that and even though I wished just a little that it could be 30 miles – 29 today sounded just about right. It seemed that fever for miles had laid dormant inside of me since the end of the trail but now something was beginning to stir.
We peeled off, one by one, stuffing our now dry things into our packs. I crammed a little trail mix in my mouth, drank an entire litre of water and then rejoined the trail.
I walked alone on the path in my own little world for hours. High above the dry desert floor, following forest service roads, passing Prickly Pear and stabby plants, faded PCT signs and all the tiny memories too. Passing moments in time. Passing where I met my first long term trail friend. Where he had almost sped by me with his tiny backpack and even the shortest shorts. Memories of how I had followed behind him in the blazing sun barely keeping up, huffing and puffing and sweating and grilling him on his secrets. Tom my first friend. I missed his company, his sarcasm, the way he taught me almost everything I could know about the trail at the start. I wished he was here again – I wished all of my friends from last were here again. I miss all their faces so dearly.
By late afternoon I felt the cold leave me while I was sitting at a water cache with the others. They sat in the shade, while I lay on the bare ground in the dirt – basking in the sun with my slightly tender feet propped up on my pack. My energy had been restored and what started as a low hum was now buzzing. Hike hike hike!
I set out in front this time – energy was at an all time high as I sped up and down and through the folds of the mountains. All of us spread across the trail, experiencing it all at once in so many different ways.
Then it was all the way down along the ridges and I was listening to club bangers and cruising. I was trying not to stumble over stones, my knees hurt a little and the hot spots on my feet were growing more tender, but there was no stopping me now.
The light grew softer, it tinged the edges of the world golden and the shadows stretched out as I touched the desert floor. I remembered – I remembered this all. We walk the desert floor all the way to the road. Then just when we think we are there we walk alongside that road for what feels like forever. Then the bridge pops out and you are delivered to the scissors crossing underpass.
And what I remembered was true, except this time sun was not killing me – except this time I was not hobbling. In fact I felt amazing and when I looked around the world was glowing and gentle and beautiful.
As I walked along the road I realised I had service and I was feeling so happy. I make a thousand stupid little videos on my phone.
Then the bridge was above me and so familiar. The boys trickle in, one by one, looking happy or tired or sunburnt or skipping if you are Felix. We tossed around the idea of going into Julian, but none of us really needed to. Even though I wanted to it felt too early to go into town this time.
So we blew up our pads and lofted our sleeping bags and arranged ourselves in a symmetrical little cowboy camping row along the side of the underpass in the soft warm sand. Felix lined up his oatmeal packets on his groundsheet, counted them in German and works out he has 14 packets. He doesn’t know why. We all debate the merits of carrying a pillow on trail then unanamously decide that a cuben body pillow is the way forward in trail comfort.
Then the sun slowly dipped behind the mountains, but the night stayed warm and then finally I knew I could sleep a real sleep. The sky turned dark and full of tiny little glowing stars, twinkling all a above us but I had no idea because I was sound asleep under a bridge in Southern California with what felt like the whole world at my feet – next to a trail that means so very much to me.