I don’t sleep well, but my horrible mood has dissipated in the night. I watch the sky turn colors as the sun makes its grand entrance to the day. It’s beautiful. Every time. In non-trail life, I feel disconnected from sunrises and sunsets. It’s definitely better since we moved to Sacramento, because we live by the American River and get to enjoy a lot of sky and river wildlife. But still. I spend way too much time indoors. Maybe one of the best parts of the trail is the constant outside. When I was a kid, no one spent any time in each others’ houses. It was pure outside, from morning til the streetlights came on. The trail kinda feels like that. Like youth.
That said, packing up in the morning is lame, and I put it off as long as possible. Then I’m walking and the awesomeness of hiking outweighs the unpleasantness of camping. The morning is cool, but I can tell it’s gonna be a warm day. The trail is climbing out of a boulder field and then winds itself among the chaparral, heading to mile 127, where a person who lives nearby has set up a water tank for hikers.
On my way up the spur trail to the tank, I see a woman heading back down. She is a tall, skinny woman with elegant features and dressed in tans and light greens. She looks startled to see me. “Is there water?” I ask. “Yes.There is a man down there that will tell you what you need to know.” She is polite, but seems anxious to move along, so I don’t keep her. I walk toward the gravel driveway, happy there is water here, because I had counted on it and was worried I might have miscalculated.
A large man is standing on the side of the driveway. He has a tiny laptop perched upon a wooden post. A dog that looks like it’s seen some things lounges nearby, and comes to attention when she sees me. She gives me some warning barks. “Don’t worry,” says the man named Tom, “She’s just letting me know you’re here.”
“I miss my dog soooooo much,” I tell Tom. “Can I pet her?” No, he says, she won’t let anyone pet her. We commiserate over missing dogs when one is on the trail. I say that I have so much intense love for my dog, that I can’t imagine what people with kids must feel like. “Oh ho, no no,” he says, “Losing a dog is much, much worse than losing a kid.” Then he giggles just a tiny bit. Well. I don’t know what to say to that, so I kinda nod and make a non-committal sound.
Tom tells me that past the tank, there are breakfast burritos and coffee for thru hikers set up near the house. I say thanks, and make my way to the water tank. Oh man. You KNOW how I feel about coffee. But if I go down there, there is no telling when I will come back up. And I need to climb that big hill over there. So I don’t partake, just fill up my bottles and leave a nice donation.
Back up the driveway, Tom says that right exactly where he is standing is the only place he can get internet to play his video game. “What’s your game?” I ask. “Bomb Beach.” he replies. I can’t get service even when I stand right next to him. He says I’ll get service three miles up the trail, on the ridge. We say our byes, and off I go.
The climb is on the sunny side of the hill, cutting long contours of red dirt among the dry brush. It’s a nice hike, even though my feet are yelling at me. I haven’t mentioned my feet much, but the blisters are bad and get worse by the end of each day. It slows me down. I pant my way to a flat semi-saddle, and it’s the perfect place to take a break. The view is fantastic. It calms my soul. And, to top it off, I have a cell signal, just like Tom promised.
There is a guy currently on the trail, named Pete, who has been randomly messaging me and tagging me on FB. It has been a friendly interchange, and I have been expecting to run into him and his partner, Nikki, at some point. I’m pretty sure I’ve been following their footsteps since Warner Springs. I get a ping from him while eating mixed nuts and texting Aaron. It looks like the message was sent about 1.5 hours ago and it says they are at mile 130. Huh. I’m breaking here at mile 129! I’ve caught up to them. Maybe I will see them today or tomorrow.
I shuffle along the trail for another few hours (hot trail dirt= swollen, blistered feet) and come upon a couple dressed in all white sitting in the only shade around. I try not to sneak up on them, say “Hi,” and as I work my way past them, the man points at me and shouts, “AMY BEE!!!!!” I’m startled. What the- oh! It’s Pete and his fiancé Nikki (Pete’s Blog). We laugh and make pleasantries. Pete is an older gentleman, tall and hearty, his blue eyes twinkle with trail happy. Nikki is a cute, petite woman who seems to always be teasing Pete just a bit. They are decked out in all white desert gear. Both have slight Texan accents. We talk trail and guess that since our paces are pretty close to each other, we’ll probably be leap frogging each other. I tell them that I’m taking a break up ahead, where I’ll have to spent a good amount of time resting my feet, so we say bye, happy to have finally met each other.
At break, Pete and Nikki pass me, and Nikki admires my poncho groundsheet. “Well your house is better than ours,” she comments as they walk by. I have to sit there for about 40 minutes, and then I’m off again to the next water source, Tule Spring.
I see Pete and Nikki coming up from the spring as I’m heading down. They’re talking about getting a ride to Idyllwild from Paradise Cafe tomorrow, and invite me along. I had planned on taking the detour into town, but they are friendly and persuasive, and I can’t resist. I tell them I’m gonna camp at Nance Canyon and they decide to stop there, too. They move ahead while I spend time getting water and resting more.
The hike to Nance Canyon is taking way longer than I expected it to. The miles are coming at a snail’s pace, probably because my feet hurt too much. It makes my legs heavy, it makes me want to stop and sleep. I zone out, rousing myself only for the more interesting views and objects. That’s why I don’t see the snake on my right until I am already at its rattle. It’s a strange moment. Adrenaline shoots through me while simultaneously my heart drops because I’ve screwed up, I am about to get bit by a rattlesnake and there is nothing I can do about it. I take a leap-step away from the rattle. Turn around. He’s right there, tongue flicking, fangs literally inches from where my calf just was. Yet I’m not bit. Sweat pops out all over my forehead and my chest thumps. I’m not bit. I stare in wonder. He’s all gorgeous tans and reds and he has a long rattle and he DID NOT BITE ME. I take a picture and back away. Start to cry. Relief and fear and something unnameable wash over me. I stumble the rest of the way to camp, tears in my eyes, searching back and forth along the trail for any other snakes that might want to come and make right on my close call.
In camp I tell Pete and Nikki what happened. Show them the picture. Maybe it was a fake rattler, I suggest. They look at me askance. “You know, a copycat rattlesnake,” I explain. “Amy Bee,” says Pete, “Now I’m from Texas and if there’s one thing I know, it’s rattlesnakes, and what you got right there is a picture of a rattlesnake.” I look at Nikki for support, but she agrees with Pete. “If there are two things Pete knows,” she says, “it’s BBQ and rattlesnakes. Trust him.”
I head out to the sandy, beach-like camp spot. Set my tent up and eat Fritos. I shake my head. What a day. What a day.