Day 31: Back on the Trail

I meet up with TnT in Agua Dulce. They give Aaron a bottle of Grey Goose and we give them some edibles. Texas is experimenting with anything and everything to get her sore shoulder managed. It’s good to see them again. It’s also hard to leave Aaron and Nisa. Nisa obviously senses that I am leaving and is keeping very close, herd-pleading with her big, brown eyes. Ah, she slays me. I could easily forget all of this and go take a nap on a hotel bed with her. If there is one thing my little family is good at, it’s taking naps. We all pile on the bed and fall into a deep sleep, sometimes all three of us snoring in concerto.

But it’s time to walk, not nap. I make my good byes quickly, as to not distress Nisa and Aaron more than they already are. TnT and I head up the road and I resolutely do not look back.  We chit-chat as we navigate oncoming cars along the roadside. They tell me how they had to look for a way down the mountain outside of Wrightwood. They met an old man who offered them a ride, so TnT packed up all their gear and headed to the parking lot, only to see the old man peeling out and speeding away. Tnt stood there, stunned. They silently made their way back up the trail and re-made their camp. So rude. They did get a good, funny story out of it, at least.

The road walk feels like it goes on forever this early morning, even though I think it’s only a few miles. Asphalt roads lead to dirt roads that lead to the familiar ribbon that is the PCT. We spread out along the trail, all of us feeling like we’ve lost our trail legs. I know I have. The path has mercy, though, and sticks to winding in and out of the low-lying hills, heading down to a brief valley before climbing back up. I see a guy resting among the chaparral. His name is Not Guilty and he tells me that I have to stop at the Anderson’s. “It’s perfect timing,” he adds mysteriously. I have been debating whether or not I wanted to visit Casa de Luna. My friend Kiki would tell me that the ‘universe is talking to me’, so I decide that I will spend the night there tomorrow. TnT are going there, too.

I climb for a little bit, then take a break at a small dip between the hills. Its cloudy and silent. So strange how fast the accouterments of ‘real life’ are stripped away. Not even 12 hours ago, I was working on my laptop, messaging on my phone, playing a game of Hearthstone and listening to Daft Punk all at the same time. Now I’m here, and I don’t miss any of it. Not yet, at least. Even the pack that feels heavy at first quickly becomes kind of comforting, in a way. Now, if only my body would cooperate a little more. I’m already growing new blisters, and the nerve damage in my leg that came from the ruptured disk in my back is acting up. I will probably be lurching up and down the hills by the end of the day. But still. The air is wonderful. The hills are green and rolling. I can see far north, where angular mountains hang on the horizon.

As I’m finishing my break, two people come from behind. It’s Kathy, who knows me from this blog, and a compact, tan man named, Arrow. Kathy and I greet each other enthusiastically, but then don’t really know what to say to each other. Anyway, they’re in the zone and I can tell they want to be hiking, not talking to me. So I let them go and wait awhile longer to see if TnT will catch up to me. When they do, I let them go ahead of me, because I can tell my leg is going to be slowing me down quite a bit.

The trail climbs. It’s a surprisingly friendly grade at first. Chaparral turns to meadow-like grasses, waving to and fro in the wind. The climb gets steeper, and we are all pretty tired when we get to the top. TnT opt to rest there, so I move along, heading down to a water source that is about .64 miles away. I find Kathy there, filtering her water. I don’t need water, but want to take a small break. I climb up above her where I see a nice, flat spot. Unfortunately, I notice the dozens of bees only after I’ve already situated myself, so I do my best to pretend they’re not there. NOT surrounding my toes. NOT landing on my legs. Definitely NOT dive bombing my face every few minutes. Nope.

Kathy and I don’t talk. I prefer to think of it as a comfortable silence. Two new thru’s show up, very young. They look at me but don’t say anything, and I feel snubbed by them. The girl finally manages to acknowledge me about ten minutes later, and her boyfriend kinda smiles. Whatever.  TnT show up, and the girl is just as dismissive of them as she was to me. My eyes narrow. I find this person unpleasant. Please oh please, don’t let this girl be in my hiking bubble from here on out, I think.

Although, she did say something funny. She looked at all of us congregated around the drizzling pipe spring and said, “It’s gonna be all Hunger Games for camp spots tonight.” True. I’ve been off trail 2 weeks and there is already more people than before. Things are only going to get more crowded.

I take off, agreeing to meet TnT in about 3.5 miles. “Good-bye, random people,” I say, as I walk away, and then promptly trip over my own feet. I take a bow and hurry away, red-faced. Thanks, world, for your ceaseless vigilance in keeping me humble.

I make good time, in spite of my leg, and find the campsite. It’s right by the road. Lame. Oh well. TnT show up not far behind me and we set up camp in the sand. My tent keeps falling down and Texas laughs and laughs. I brought my Jetboil this time, so it takes no time to make some Ramen and gulp it down. Yum. Still not sick of Ramen. After dinner, I snuggle under my quilt and listen to the cars whoosh past us. I kinda like the sound. I can hear Texas and Tumbler giggling in their tent. They’re probably testing out those edibles.  Not long after that, I fall asleep.

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Day 26-30: Cajon, Wrightwood, Condensed

I spent one zero at Cajon Pass, and a whopping 4 zeros in Wrightwood. Storms abounded, and TnT were determined to avoid them. Since I spent a lot of time in town, and then went home for a bit to heal and recharge, I’m just gonna write some highlights of my time there.

Hanging out in the foyer of the Best Western at Cajon Pass, I met more thrus than ever before. Everyone was dealing with storm threats differently. It was neat to meet and hang out with other hikers. A friendly guy named Lighthouse munched on a Del Taco, looking like he’d never tasted anything better. Ed, a cheeky man from Newcastle, told me about “squeezy lettuce”: a mushy, green substance on the burgers in England. Conversation got quite crude and hilarious, and when Lighthouse told a story about enjoying the smell of another man’s farts (“I swear, it smelled like cinnamon!” Said he.), I looked over at a young German man named Yence. He had such an odd look on his face. “No?” I said, “Not funny?” Yence replied, “On the inside, I laugh. On the outside, just shame.” I cracked up.

His trail mate, Svetlana, was using the hotel computer to look for jobs on cruise ships. I told her that it probably won’t be fun to be stuck in a box at sea for months at a time. To which she replied, “Well, maybe ‘stuck in a box’ is not the right thing for you, and that is okay.”

By the way, I did enjoy a McDonald’s meal. I had……. (drum roll) 3 cheeseburgers and 2 hashbrowns! And it was pure heaven, I tell ya!

I stayed at the Pines Cabins in Wrightwood. Mornings, I’d hang out at the Village Grind, write, and watch the locals. All the teenagers in Wrightwood seem to have dyed their hair blue, for some reason. Everyone recognized me as a thru hiker, finally. Kinda neat. The ladies behind the deli counter at Jensons poked a lot of fun at me and asked me why I was wearing a trash bag (my green zpacks windbreaker), then made me an extra large burrito bowl.

I met a thru who asked me not to write about them, so I can’t share all the great and silly conversations, but we had an entire friendship within one afternoon. I’d heard of the fast friendships on trail, but hadn’t experienced anything like this before. We clicked so fast, it was as if we’d known each other forever. Unfortunately, they became worried that I was going to write about them, and even when I promised I wouldn’t, they just couldn’t believe me, and our friendship fizzled out. I want to say thank you, unnamed person, for a really fun afternoon and a short, yet complete, 5 hour friendship.

Savvy showed up in Wrightwood, and boy did he look like he’d been through something. He looked ruggedly handsome, too; I think the trail is doing him good. He has been renamed “Perma-smile”and its a much better fit. I was really glad to see him. I figured that it was probably just the heat that got to us the day we argued.

Aaron came and hung out for a day, before taking me home to recuperate. He got to meet TnT and we enjoyed Taco night at the Yodeler (Delicious pizza at the Yodeler, y’all) with Ed and Sandy and her dog, Wiley. The next day, we gave TnT a ride to the trailhead and said our good byes.

Would I come back to the trail? I wasn’t yet sure. My feet were hurt, cracked and sore. I had exhausted myself through heat and dehydration. I was lonely out there, even bored at times. I needed some time to step back, and think.

*Again, sorry to condense things. I am back on the trail and wanted to catch up closer to where I’m at. I’ll be making some “real” posts as soon as I get to Tehachapi.*
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Day 25: Cops, Cowboys and Saved By the Mighty TnT

Although I dream in spates about spoonfuls of food, for some reason I don’t eat breakfast. I break camp so, so slowly, like I’m stuck in mud. Everything hurts. I still have a headache. I still feel parched. It’s weird because I drank way more water yesterday than I usually do, and even drank throughout the night, yet it feels like I can’t get enough.

It’s 8 am by the time I’m ready to go. I have a bit of a hard time figuring out where the trail is among these sandy Jeep roads. When I turn to backtrack to where I slept, I see him: Zig, wandering along the bottom of the dam. “There you are!” he shouts, stumbling toward me. My heart sinks. Is he looking for me? Did he find me last night? Did he see me naked and sweating in my tent? And what craziness does he bring me today? I don’t feel equipped to deal.

Zig tells me that he called for help all night, yelling all the way down the canyon. He tells me he needs help. I point to the paved road that leads up to the dam, where people are bound to be. But Zig has confused, garbled reasons why this doesn’t work for him. He sounds like he’s about to cry. Even though his story doesn’t make sense, he strikes me as truly hungry, thirsty, and in the midst of an ordeal he can’t handle. I offer to call someone for him, and he says, “I’m at the point where I just want you to call 911. I don’t know where I am; I need help.” Well, okay. I call 911, and when the operator comes on, I hand the phone to Zig. He just ends up confusing her, so I take over, sounding much more in control of the situation than I am. “You’re an angel. You’re my angel,” Zig keeps muttering while I try to hear what the operator is saying.

When I hang up, I tell Zig that the police are calling us back in about 30 minutes and that they’re sending a helicopter to pinpoint where we are. Then I give him my water, my breakfast and the rest of my Fritos. I tell him to lay down and stay in one place. He continues to tell me that God sent me to him. “God is my buddy. He’s looked out for me my whole life,” says Zig, between mouthfuls of cheese danish. “I’m going to pray for you every night. You’ve got a friend for life,” He cackles. “Someones’s gonna be getting a Christmas Card from me every year!” I assume he means me.

While we wait, I try to untangle his story, but can’t, and I don’t feel well enough to focus and put it all together. The CHP officer calls me, and while she tries to figure out where we are, she goes over the information the 911 operator gave her. When Zig hears her refer to him as 71 years old, he jumps up and shouts. ” Seventy-one? Seventy-one? Try sixty-one!” he begins to pace. He starts to walk away. I’m trying to get him to stay in one place like the police asked, and also wave down the helicopter while talking to the officer.

“He was befuddled, but now he’s getting agitated,” I tell her. The helicopter finally sees us, and then the officer says she needs to hang up again to call headquarters. I hit End Call and stride angrily toward Zig. “What are you doing? Why are you walking away? They told us to stay over there,” I can’t hide my frustration. “If you’re sick, you need to be laying down. People are trying to help you. You need to do what they say.”

“I’m not getting in any helicopter,” he snaps and starts moving around again. “I don’t need a MedEvac. I just need a ride to my car.” My jaw drops. Did this dude have me call 911 so he could catch a ride to his car?? Great. Now I’m complicit in wasting the money and time of our Emergency Services. My head is pounding. I want to walk away, but I have no choice but to see it through.

The cops send an ambulance down the paved dam road and Zig heads toward them, already spouting some story. An officer comes and questions me, gets my name, my address, says thanks. We part, and as I resume my search for the trail, the cop calls out to me. “Eh, this guy, he didn’t mention anything else, did he? Like a missing person? Maybe he was with someone else?” It sends shivers down my spine. I don’t know. His tone is a little too innocent and casual. “No. I’m sorry. He didn’t say anything.”

It’s 11 am now, and in my own crazy befuddlement, I walk right over the water next to my campsite and forget to fill up. The next water source is 8 miles away. The trail climbs moderately, and all I want to do is drink water and sleep. My stride is pitiful. It’s starting to rain, yet I’m sweating in the most absurd way. It’s terrible. After 5 miles, I know I can’t go farther. I have to get off the trail. I have to try to hitchhike, something I swore I would avoid (mostly because I already have enough scary hitch-hiking stories from my youth). Anyway, I know that Hwy 173 is to my right, maybe I can hitch to Silverwood Lake.

I look at my maps and find a dirt road that leads to the highway. I take my hair down, smooth out my clothes, place my pack at my feet and hold my trekking poles out in plain sight. With the addition of the rain, I must look pretty sad. A car comes. I stick my thumb out and force a gigantic smile on my face. The car flies past, two older women inside carefully avoiding my eye. It feels like grand, universal rejection and I tear up. The next two cars fly past me. Really? I mean, I’m no young cutie, but still! A nice lady, obviously in need, standing in the rain, crying? How can people pass that? Why is the whole world so cold and cruel? I see a pick-up truck. I see two cowboy hats. What’s that that Carrot Quinn always says? That……dudes in a truck are the patron saints of hikers!

And they stop instantly. Fine men, born and raised in this area, and proud of it. Their dog sits in the back seat with me, nuzzles my hand and lays her head in my lap. They take me to the Silverwood Lake entrance and shake my hand firmly before they leave. They won’t take my money. A sincere thank you to my two real and true California Cowboys.

But then. I’m still really sick. Maybe heat exhaustion? Dehydration? I dunno. It’s pouring on me. I feel the tears welling up again. I have no choice but to find a campsite and wait out whatever is wrong with me.

Then my phone rings. I hear Tumbler’s voice, far and crackling. “Amy Bee! Texas is having shoulder problems. We pulled out at the Mojave Dam and are getting a ride to the Best Western. Where are you, girl?”

“I’m……I’m at Silverwood Lake. I’m…sick, I think, ” I say in disbelief.

“Hold on squirt; we’re coming to get you.”

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Day 24: A Nice Man, A Naked Man, and a Crazy-Confused Man

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.

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Day 23: Success is Warm Ramen at the End of a Personal Best

This is probably the flattest camp spot I’ve had thus far on the PCT and I actually got some sleep last night, despite my flurry of emotional outbursts. Sometimes I need to cry until I’m empty, and the storm clouds will pass over me without too much damage. Yes, it’s dramatic and weak and embarrassing, but before medication, these same episodes would be disastrous, destructive, and the chaos would last days and days, not just one pitiful night in my tent. So, I’m fortunate! I’m here! Still trying. Still chugging along.

I’m up and out by 7am. The morning is clear and the trail is still contouring the high desert-forest mountainside. I amble along, enjoying the fresh air, the clean pine scents. I find TnT packing up their gear a few miles down the trail, their campsite has a pile of rocks fashioned into a kind of table. “Welcome to our kitchen!” Texas says.

“I missed you guys!” I say. I’m happy to see them. Maybe I won’t try to go faster. I should just stay right by their side forever. But, yet. The trail calls. My body wants to quicken the pace, even if my feet aren’t cooperating. “Did you see the cute young guy last night?” Texas asks me. I shake my head. “He’s a long, lean thing. Neat tattoo on his leg. Name’s Alex. He started before us and has taken 9 zeroes.” Tumbler laughs and says, “Ah, he said he’s taking his time, partying his way through all the trail towns.” “Excuse me,” Texas retorts, “I’m pretty sure that’s what YOU said, not him.”

Tumbler is on Guthooks map. We want to meet at the next water source. He keeps assuring us that it is in 4 miles, but I know it is closer to 8. We agree to meet at “Holcomb Creek”. I can’t tell if Tumbler is saying ‘4 miles’ to con Texas into thinking it’s closer than it is (The first day I met him, he told me: “Sometimes I’ll lie a little, tell Texas it’s fewer miles than it is, and if I say it long enough, I start to believe it myself!”), so I don’t dispute him and head out. I check my maps when I’m out of sight, though, and yep: 8 miles.

The trail is slowly making its way out of the mountains this morning, there is a generally downward directional pull. A fire has swept through this area sometime in the last few years; it’s like an uglier version of parts of Oregon I hiked last year. Rolling hills, as far as I can see. The terrain transforms yet again into the sandy, dune-like, dry deserts of days ago. Complete with a resurgence of the mean, prickly plants that like to scrape and scold. It’s warm but windy, and the long switchbacks take their time depositing me to the flat area close to where I am to meet the mighty TnT.

The creek is about 1/3 of a mile away, but there is something here. An……outhouse? And a picnic bench! Hell yeah! I clamor up onto the table, and pull out a Pay Day, kicking my legs to and fro as they dangle. Picnic benches are such a treat on the trail. And this one is extra long, too! I take off my shoes and socks. I even take off my sun shirt, to let my pale arms try to play catch up to my super tan legs. It’s wonderful here. A great place to take a nap. I stretch out, flexing every muscle in my body, and yawn like a cat. Purrrrrfect. I use my shoes as a pillow and fall asleep.

An hour later I wake up and wonder where TnT are. Am I really going this much faster than them? Is it going to be a problem down the line? They find me a half hour later, and plop down, as happy as i was to find a picnic bench. Tumbler seems a tiny bit grumpy, possibly because the miles were twice what he thought? We exchange pleasantries, but I’ve been here so long, I need to get moving again. We discuss the campsites that are still about 10 miles away. Well, one is 9 and one is 10. We agree that we will all meet at the campsites at the end of the day. It’s only after I leave that I realize we didn’t specify which campsite.

I collect water from Holcomb Creek, which has a surprising amount of water, and I will pass several times. It’s hot now and the climbing round and round is tedious on my mind and my feet. It’s beautiful and sparse. The sky is a gorgeous blue. I know I’m not stopping to enjoy it like I should. I pretty much have to spend a lot of time distracting myself from the pain in my feet. I stop at a little clearing to let them dry out and rest. TnT don’t show up.

Off I go again, the terrain flirting again between desert and forest. There’s a good amount of green because of the creek on my left. I wind back down to that creek and stop once more to collect water and eat some mixed nuts. I disturb a really neat looking snake; green with two yellow stripes running down its length. The trail ‘fords’ the creek here, and I hop along the small boulders to the other side. No sign of TnT.

A while later I ford the creek again, opting not to shake and quiver my way across the thin log and instead just slosh over to the other side. Then I’m climbing, collecting dirt on my wet shoes and gaiters. I reach the first campsite. Cool. I’ve gone 16 miles, breaking the 15 mile barrier my feet have set. Am I suppose to meet TnT here or the next one? It’s only 5pm, and I think about how last night they had continued on because they wanted to hike until 6pm. They’re gonna go to the next one, I decide.

I make camp about 1.5 miles later: 17.5 miles for the day! Now if I can also conquer this stupid stove. I had asked TnT earlier about their stove. “is it supposed to take 30 minutes?” I ask. “No.” Texas snorts. “Turn the gas all the way up,” Tumbler advises. So now, I turn it all the way up, and after ten minutes get little, pre-boil bubbles. Good enough. I pour and wait 5 more minutes. Take a bite. Yummy!

Bundled up in my quilt, I feel quite satisfied. I tolerated the pain, and made it farther than I expected. it’s a good feeling. I take one last peek out of my tent before drifting off to sleep. Still no TnT. They must have stopped at the other camp. I silently wish them a good night.

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Day 22: Yup, I’m Still Bipolar, Hooray :(


It’s a beautiful morning here in Big Bear Lake. There is a cool breeze as I walk to the Post office to send my bounce box to Cajon Pass. TnT are running late, but they’ve procured a shuttle that will take us to the TH at Hwy 18. While I’m waiting, a man comes up to me, and asks me if I need help. He is a section hiker named Mountain Lion, and he’s willing to pick up people, even if they are as far away as the Sierra. When he sees I don’t need help, he hands me his card and jumps back into his truck. How nice is that? Some people are finally seeing me as a thru hiker, and not just some lady that dresses weird.

TnT show up, mail their boxes, and we then we are off. The shuttle driver tells us the same stuff that most locals seem to relish telling all the hikers: how aggressive the snakes are (“They like to strike at eye level,” he warns), that mountain lions will stalk us, that snow is impassable, stuff like that. When he hears I’m from Sacramento (and therefore familiar with California), he ditches me and focuses his fear-based lore on TnT. We all seem kinda grumpy this morning, but try to keep the pleasantries up as best we can.

The camp sites are listed sparsely this first day. There is one in 11 miles, and another in 18. Neither option suits me well. I don’t feel great, but want to continue trying to condition my feet to take fewer breaks. We are starting so late, too, about 10am. I warn TnT that I don’t know how far I’ll go today; that we may be separated this whole section. They say okay, but Tumbler doesn’t seem to like the idea. I feel like maybe they are irritated at me, or maybe they are merely immersed in their own grumps and pains.

I have 4.5 days of food in my pack, plus 4 liters of water. It feels so heavy at first, but my body quickly adjusts to the weight, an almost comforting sensation, like a pack on my back is the normal state of being. It does make me move slower though. Plus the trail winding between the mountains is extremely rocky. It alternates between larger rocks that look engineered to get past washouts, and small rocks that lay like landscaping cobble on the path. When I walk on the larger stones, they make a pleasing sound as they crunch against each other.  My ankles twist this way and that as I switchback up the mountainside. My feet ache and shout obscenities at me after only an hour of walking.

Eventually, I round a curve and the terrain changes. I’m in an almost standard forest scene; the trail turns to dirt and pine needles and there is a faint waft of that great smell only a mountain forest has. There are no real views, although the lake pokes through here and there on one side, and glimpses of the dry hills that lead down to the desert are seen on the other side. It’s easy, boring walking, and I’m enjoying it. The feet let up a little. I can quicken my pace. I let my mind wander. Sing songs with mangled lyrics. Envision berating the cyclists in Sacramento about how lame they are. Update my Cajon Pass McDonald’s order: now I want some Chicken McNuggets, a hashbrown and a vanilla shake.

I am definitely the hungriest I’ve been on the trail. I’m thinking about food, even though I was just in town. I’m having a harder time meting out my water, too. I just want to drink it all, right here, right now. I stop to unwrap a Slim Jim, let it hang out of my mouth like a farmer chews a piece of straw, then continue stomp along the lovely dirt path.

It’s only 3pm when I get to the 11 mile campsites. I can’t decide if I should stop here. It’s so early, but I don’t know if there will be anywhere to camp ahead. On the map it looks like the trail is hugging a contour the whole time. I have to commit to at least 7 more miles if I want to go. Even though I’m not feeling my best in my head, I sense that I could probably push myself, that today could be the day I break the darn 15 mile barrier.

I go a mile farther before I chicken out. I have so far gone from marked campsite to marked campsite, and even though I have seen that there are actually campsites everywhere, what if this time is different, and I become miserable and trapped on the side of the mountain. I know, I know. It’s embarrassing that these things plague me, and I completely talk myself out of being brave and taking this one small step in taking my hiking to a new level.

I consider hiking back a mile to the campsites. Maybe I can wait for TnT and see what they’re doing. It would be good to see them anyway, so they know I’m not trying to get away from them. I go find a place to pee and there it is. A hidden, perfectly flat campsite. I wait about a half an hour to see if TnT will catch up to me. When I don’t see them, I feel certain they stopped at the 11 mile campsites, so I set up my tent in this little hidden oasis.

I’ve decided to try out my new stove on this leg, and brought along some Ramen, the one food I never get sick of on trail. I sit there for twenty minutes, watching the water in my new Titanium cup not boil. I stick a finger in, it’s barely even lukewarm! I hear some people coming along the trail. It’s TnT and they are heading a few more miles up. The Guthook app (which I have, but never look at) shows that there are, in fact, a few campsites up ahead.

Dang it. I should’ve been brave. I should have pushed myself. Why do I give up so easily? TnT continue on without me and I go back to my tent, where water is still not boiling. I say screw it, and pour the tepid water into my Ziplock. Try to allow the noodles to soften, but yeah, they’re not going to. I eat about five bites before throwing the rest out by a tree. I don’t like to do that, but I can’t eat it.

In my tent, I pretty much go into full panic. Everything strikes me as scary and lonely and negative. I use my InReach to text Aaron. He manages to talk me down a little bit. It’s very similar to a manic-depressive episode, and I have no choice but to ride it out. I cry and cry, over everything. Over nothing. I can’t bear being in the moment, I can’t bear the feelings, the suffering, the ambiguity of life. Soon, the waves of emotion ebb and break off. I can finally find some solace in sleep. I drift off, sniffling, listening to the sounds of a critter eating my discarded chicken Ramen.

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