Sometime in the night the wind ceases. Not even a breeze. It’s almost too warm in my quilt and puffy. The reprieve allows me to get chunks of sleep in 40 minute increments, rather than 20. That’s amazing for me, on trail. The sunrise this morning is awesome, too. I feel almost refreshed. Possibly even energetic. And hungry. So hungry. Out of nowhere!
I decide to use this surprise burst of energy to walk the next 10 miles with no break. I’ve had to stop every five miles because of my feet, take off shoes and socks, and rest for like, forever. My best time for hiking has been mornings, because that’s when my feet are at their freshest. Once I break, things get slower and slower from there. I’ve been thinking about the Mojave, how I’m going to need to do as much as I can in the morning, rest my feet in the afternoon, then try to get 5-10 more miles in the evening. So, I need to practice. Push my feet past this whole five-mile limitation.
Also, there’s Savvy. Great guy, but I have this feeling he’s gonna try to hike with me. (Or past me, still sore about yesterday!) I’d rather hike alone, zone out, or focus on my surroundings rather than on him. Both TnT and Savvy have elaborate morning rituals; they make coffee, they make oatmeal, they enjoy and savor. Not me. I eat a cheese danish and I’m out, agreeing to meet them all at the bottom of this crazy downhill.
Today we have a trail angel picking us up at 4 p.m. (Due to the Mountain fire closure; so far there are no legal options to hike into Big Bear.) That’s gonna be a lot of downtime with only 10 miles of hiking. I’m suspicious that this is why TnT are going extra slow; they’re gonna draw it out and leave me to contend with Savvy. That’s okay with me, as long as I don’t have to hike with him.
The trail tread is better than how it ended last night, but it is tedious. Long traverses with switchbacks across several hills and valleys makes it feel like I’m not getting anywhere. And it heats up fast. I accidentally stuffed my hat down in the bottom of my pack, and I don’t want to break my stride, which is quite brisk, if I do say so myself. I bow my head each time I’m walking into the sun, tell myself it’s not that hot. I don’t need to stop for my hat. I don’t need to stop to apply sunscreen. I. Will. Not. Stop.
But I need to pee. I can sense Savvy somewhere on the switchbacks above me. But how far? There’s nowhere to hide on the side of this mountain; I’m gonna have to do it on trail. Will he round the bend right in mid-stream? That would be true to how my life works, usually. I hold it as long as possible and almost pee my tights trying to get those sweat-saturated suckers down. Ah, relief. Why did I wait so long? Why do I torture myself like this? Unanswerable questions.
Last year, I got lost and bushwhacked for about an hour or more because I missed a switchback. The trail in Section O had been full of dead trees, blow downs and general chaos and destruction. So when I saw the trail ‘disappear’ into sharp brambles, gigantic rotting trees and dangerous soil erosion, I didn’t question it. I just walked (okay, climbed) straight into it. Today, I’m proud to say it does NOT take me over an hour to figure out I have strayed off trail. It takes a mere 5 minutes of steep, overgrown chaparral and no path in sight for me to think, Hey. Wait a minute. Is it possible I missed a switchback? “Well,” I answer myself, “You HAVE been known to do that a time or two.” I reverse my roll and find the switchback. How embarrassing. Luckily no one has been around to see when I do this (yes, it happened three times today), because I just know there’s an unflattering trail name to be had with such silliness.
Down. Down. Down. I think about Walking Dead and how Morgan says if he hadn’t saved the Wolf, the Wolf wouldn’t have saved Denise. But Denise wouldn’t have needed to be saved at all if Morgan had just killed the Wolf! And no one calls him out on this! I think about Cajon Pass, still so far away, and what my McDonald’s order will be. The Sausage McMuffin will be playing a main part, I’m sure. I think about Savvy, and how he’s going to climb Mt. Whitney, even though it will be mid-May when he gets there. As he’s told me several times, he has climbing experience, but still. It’s so early in the season.
I worry about this for a while. He didn’t even know there were cables up there. What if he gets stuck up top in a storm? What if he slips and falls? I picture him dangling from his ice ax, nothing but air beneath him. Perhaps his sunglasses fall to the depths below. He cries out, but no one hears. Eventually his hand will freeze and he will fall to his death. I won’t even know until a month later, when trail gossip catches up to me. “Yeah, Savvy? He died doing what he loved,” people will say. Will I cry? Will I say, I hiked with that guy. He could be draining, but what a fine, fine man.
It’s my complete immersion in another person’s tragic, albeit fictional, death that causes me to trip over a giant rock and fall fantastically forward on my hands and knees. My backpack shoots over my head, then snaps back on my back with a thump, knocking the wind out of me. My water bottles are projected like weak little missiles out of my pack and on the trail in front of me. “Oh shiiiiiiiiit,” I gasp. It takes a moment for me to be able to push myself up and assess the damage. I look around. I can’t believe that nothing, including me, fell over the side of the mountain. My knee is cut up and bleeding, that’s all. Well, okay, the ego might be a little bruised.
Down. Down Down. My feet hurt and I ignore them. My shoulder starts to ache. I probably fell on it weird. Ignore it. My nose and cheeks are beginning to feel burned. Too bad. Ignore it. My stomach rumbles mightily. Hush. Just get to the bottom. Just get there, already.
Finally, I see a long water pipe. Then the water fountain attached to it. And a giant boulder with a bit of shade. 10 miles without a break! Minus the pissing part. And the fall. But still! I lay out my groundsheet. Sit and take off my shoes and socks. Wiggle my toes. Hello, toes. Good job. I wet down my bandanna and wash the blood off my leg. Then drink a full liter of water. And eat the best Payday ever. Check my phone, and ba-da-bing! Service!
It’s barely 11a.m. I feel great. My whole life is in front of me. I wonder how long it will take Savvy to get here?