Much like the last two days, I wake up hungry and thirsty. I can’t do much about it, since I purposely go light on food, and all I can do about the water is drink up when I get to sources.
It’s another nice day. The trail this morning is a friendly, leisurely stroll downhill. I’m traipsing along, lost in my own world when I hear a cough. I yelp and look to my right. A tall, skinny young man is among the boulders, packing up his gear. “Are you Amy Bee?” he asks. “Yes. Are you Alex?” I reply. We smile. This is the guy Texas told me about. He asks me how I like things so far. “I vacillate between loving it and hating it,” I admit. He nods but I can tell he doesn’t relate. “Obviously, you totally love it and wouldn’t change a thing,” I smile, and he laughs. “Well, I set up my whole life to do this thing, so, yeah. I’m happy.” We exchange more pleasantries before I head off to find the water that is ahead. Eyeing Alex as I leave, I predict he will catch up and pass me in no time. His pack is small, his legs are long, and he looks to be about 25. Top of the world, he is.
Alex does indeed catch me a few miles later, at the water source. We look at the steep trail down. “There’s more water in a couple of miles,” I suggest, “Maybe I’ll just chance it.”
Alex slows his pace, and I let him lead us up and around, up and around the mountains. He is a talkative guy, and he tells me he is ADD. “You think I talk a lot now?” he says. “You should see me when I’m not on pot. Then I never shut up!” Alex is remarkably well off at 25. He has already accumulated a lot of money and sold a house, to which he claims has earned him “a lot of haters” within his circle of acquaintances. He’s humble-bragging, but he’s friendly and interesting, so I settle into the role of listener as we make great time climbing over rocks strewn across our path. Deep Creek sinews between giant boulders in the canyon below us; beautiful blues and greens- and full of great fishing spots, according to Alex.
We are immersed in a conversation about his parent’s divorce when Alex jumps back into me. We both see the rattlesnake in the same moment. “Fuck!” he shouts. “Oh shit!” I exclaim at the same time. “I gotta film this,” Alex says, pulling out his GoPro. He has an attachment for his trekking pole, so he sets it up and pans the GoPro along the length of the snake, which is maybe about 2.5 feet long. It makes the most amazing rattle sound, unlike the rattlesnakes I have come across in Northern California. It slithers away, shaking its rattle long after we can see it.
We make it to the next water source and take a break to get water and Alex enjoys a joint and then a rolled cigarette. We talk about getting to Deep Creek Hot Springs, still about 5 miles away. Alex hasn’t decided whether he’s gonna stay there. I’m not sure, either. Technically no camping is allowed around here, and after the springs, the no camping rule continues for miles and miles. Staying at the springs puts me at 15 miles, but what about the no camping rule? I think that this might be my 20-mile day.
I head out before Alex and continue the hot, sometimes steep climb high above the creek. The heat is getting to me, and I’m going through my water way faster than I usually do. I also feel incredibly hungry, and when I make it to another seasonal creek, I stop again to collect water and eat some mixed nuts. Alex passes me, and we have a brief conversation about using drugs as recreation. The consensus is that we are both for it. Honestly, though, I haven’t done drugs for fun in a very long time. For the most part. 🙂 Then he continues along, while I have to stay longer to dry out and rest my feet.
About a mile from the hot springs I spot a man heading toward me. Minus a day-pack and Vibram shoes, he is naked. And very tan. And shaven. Everywhere. He is also well endowed, and it takes all my concentration to maintain 100% eye contact. He’s looking for other hot springs. I quiz him on the ones I’m heading to, and he tells me that there’s a lot of people camping there and that it’s a good group today, “unlike the group last night.” I don’t ask him to elaborate. “I love it here,” he says, “It’s just nice. A nice way to be.” A nice way to relax and let it all hang out, I almost agree. I say good-bye to the naked man and plod along, wondering how Alex reacted to the naked hiker man.
By the time I get to the springs, I’m exhausted. I am thirsty. I want to get water here, but the water is listed in the report as contaminated. It’s a clothing optional hot springs, but most people are dressed. I don’t see Alex anywhere. Should I continue? Can I do it? I decide that if I see Alex, and he has found a spot, I will ask to join him. Otherwise, I will continue on and hope I find a camp spot in another five miles.
I don’t find Alex, but I do find a man sitting on a rock. It’s a steep climb at first out of the canyon, and I am huffing and puffing, taking small breaks to urge myself on. The man starts talking to me before I can hear him. He is disheveled; he has nothing on him except the crusty clothes on his back, a ragged towel around his neck, and a guitar slung over his shoulder. He is baby boomer age, and with his shaggy blonde hair, looks like a dude in a classic rock band. A half liter of water sits at his side. “I ditched all my stuff,” he calls down to me, “Except my guitar. There’s no way I’d leave my guitar here.” I learn this man’s name later, but I will call him Zig, both for privacy and for fun. Zig is confused and confusing. He says he is lost, has been lost for days. “I don’t know how to get out of here,” he moans. “have no food, no water,” I suggest he head back to the springs, where people can help him. But Zig doesn’t want to go backward. Where have you been sleeping, I ask. Under rocks, he says. Does this trail get me out of here, he wonders? Yes, I confirm.
I’m sooooo confused. How is this dude lost? Why did he ditch his stuff? I offer help, but he says no. So I continue on. I worry about him as I hike, a distraction from my burning feet and burgeoning headache. Should I have offered to use my InReach? Even though I feel concerned, I begin to feel even more worried that if I do find a campsite, this guy will catch up to me, and he makes me a little nervous. So, much to my body’s protestations, I quicken my pace.
The trail out of the Deep Creek Canyon is never-ending. It winds and climbs and winds and climbs forever. I need to stop so bad. But I don’t. I can’t. What would I do otherwise? Sleep under a rock with Zig? NO, I have to push on, push forward, step by painful step.
I make it to the Mojave Dam and see what could be makeshift camp spots down below. I can’t believe I just hiked 20 miles. My excitement is brief, because I’ve become dizzy and nauseous, and I stumble down the hill to sandy jeep roads that cut through a large copse of trees. I’m so spent. It takes me an embarrassing amount of time setting up my tent. It’s all sand, and there are no rocks to anchor my stakes. I finally give up and let half of the tent sag on me. I’m too tired to eat, so I skip dinner. I have a pounding headache. I sleep for about 3 hours before I can’t sleep anymore. I’m sweating, and I drink almost all of my water, minus a half of a liter. I am sweating so bad that I take off all my clothes. I finally sleep in fits; restless dreams about water and spoonfuls of food.