March 28, 2014
Mile 59.5 to Mile 77.2
In the morning, I turned over on my sleeping pad and felt a frigid spray of condensation rain down from the walls of my tent. I unzipped the silnylon and peered out at LaVonne’s frost-covered tarp. Camping in the grass had doomed us to a dew-soaked start.
I polished off my leftover mashed potatoes and grabbed handfuls of nuts and dried apricots while I packed up for the day.
A short jaunt across the highway and down a side trail led the three of us back to the familiar strip of rock and dirt we hope to follow to Canada. The wind that had been a constant during the past few days had finally abated and we quickly shed layers of clothing. The sun lifted my mood remarkably and I felt happy cruising with ease through the rugged mountains. David, LaVonne and I chatted as we hiked and I continued to stretch my hip to relieve the tension in my knee. On our way up a hill covered with prickly desert shrubs, we heard a voice from behind us and stepped off the trail to let two trail runners pass.
“You guys thru-hiking?”
Today was the first day I actually felt like a thru-hiker. It was the first time I was asked by anyone not selling me gear or handing me my resupply box whether I was trying for Canada. I’ve encountered the question many times in town, but to be able to answer “Yup” while actually hiking with a backpack full of gear and food is new. It made me feel proud. I haven’t finished the trail yet by any means, but to be on my way and to think of being labeled a thru-hiker is special. I let the feeling swell inside me for a while before returning to the reality of the crunching of my shoes and the thwack, thwack of my poles on weathered rock.
We stopped for lunch near a large water tank stocked for use by wild land fire fighters. After filtering the water we dragged from the tank with an old Gatorade bottle on a rope, we spread our sopping tents out to dry and tucked ourselves into the shade of some large bushes. My foot had begun to hurt in the same place where it had just a month earlier when I developed tendonitis. I made a mental note to have my mom send me the new shoes I’d ordered before leaving for my hike.
On the long descent to Scissors Crossing, we met some day hikers from Sacramento, of all places, and stopped to talk. Soon we were on our way again, heading down, down to the valley below. Jet fighters buzzed the canyons we hiked through, drawing our eyes skyward.
I was hiking behind LaVonne when I heard a loud buzz and a hiss to my left. Startled, I stopped short and saw the Mojave rattlesnake coiled a few feet from my leg. It was poised to strike, but I was pretty sure I was out of range. “A few steps back never hurt anyone,” I thought, as I recoiled in fear. David was able to make his way down the slope and around the snake while it was paying attention to me. Then he distracted it with his pole so I could continue forward safely. Back in a group of three, we watched the snake retreat to the shade and promised to keep a better eye out for deadly reptiles.
We continued our descent and stopped in the shade of a massive boulder for some more candy and water. I don’t always eat candy, but when I do, I eat Snickers and Almond Joy and PayDay and Reese’s and M&Ms and pretty much anything that’s 250 calories and fits in my palm and can be happily consumed in three bites or fewer.
Finally on the valley floor, we began to pass desert poppies and other wild flowers we hadn’t seen in our previous eco-zone.
While walking through a burned-out agave field, LaVonne remarked that our trio represented three different generations. Each of us started solo with plans to reach Canada by the end of the summer and we connected on the trail within days due to a similar hiking pace. There’s no guarantee we’ll finish together, but today we were together hiking through unfamiliar hills and gratefully filling water bottles from the Scissors Crossing Cache. And tonight we are together on the warm sand under the desert stars listening to the barks and howls of coyotes echoing from the mountains we’ll climb together in the morning.