April 3, 2014
Mile 109.5 to Mile 121
Meander had been waiting out the rain and snow at Monty’s while I was there tending to my tendonitis and getting new shoes, and we left together from the Warner Springs Community Center.
This time my foot wasn’t hurting as we walked out of town and under the highway where Monty had picked me up days ago.
We hopped from rock to rock over a clear, burbling stream and stopped to replenish our water supply.
Because of the reduction in mileage I’d planned as part of my healing, I knew I’d be dry camping before I reached the next major water source.
As I hauled my dromedary bag, now full and quivering with cool, life-sustaining water, up to my backpack, I found Meander engaged in conversation with a couple day hikers. They seemed friendly enough, but while grabbing some M&Ms that Meander had generously left among my snacks for the day, I noticed a large pistol sitting on the woman’s hip. “What do you plan to shoot out here? What are you afraid of?” I wanted to ask. Then I thought better of it and wished them a pleasant hike as they walked away.
Meander and I continued up and out of the canyon and away from the stripe of vegetation bordering the brook. We climbed until we were again among scrubby chaparral that tugged at our clothing and packs if we veered too close to the edge of the trail.
I stopped and unfurled my foam in a patch of speckled shade. The familiar pain at the back of my calf had subsided, but now the pain on the outside of my foot had worsened. I remembered the podiatrist telling me about my cuboid bone and the path of the tendon’s fibers as they wound around and into the underside of my foot to stabilize my stride. It turns out walking or running on uneven surfaces is a leading cause of peroneal tendonitis. I ran trails to prepare for this hike, and my foot hadn’t flared like this, but had become sore.
I cut some new foam for my insole and examined the tape, now sprinkled with large grains of sand, I’d wrapped around my ankle before setting out. Maybe if I caught it early, I could stop the pain in its tracks before it stopped me in mine.
Meander and I crunched upwards through yellow sand flecked with mica that glittered in the sun like the shards of a broken mirror. High above us, the racing wind scraped icy cirrus clouds across the sky into feathery wisps.
I stopped to adjust my insole again. Each step was punctuated by a stab of pain, as if I was pressing on a deep bruise. A lonely crow croaked as he floated through the updrafts on his way skyward. Meander was up ahead and I shouldered my pack to continue behind him, wondering whether this adjustment would be successful. Was this the cure I’d needed for five days?
We arrived at a trail to the Lost Valley Spring, which was listed in our water report as a “stagnant pool of nastiness.”
“We’ll check it out just in case,” we agreed as we followed a rutted logging road into a fold in the hillside.
Water skeeters skimmed across the still water in the concrete trough, but beneath the surface, the water was clear. With our freshly filtered bottles, we hiked with confidence into the afternoon sun. Massive boulders perched on the hillside, glowing in the light, waiting patiently for the next earthquake to jar them to the valley below.
We curled with the trail around entire mountains, while the sun sank silently away to the west.
The new foam configuration had helped briefly, but the pressing pain had returned and was becoming sickening.
Meander stopped at a side trail to investigate the camping possibilities. He called from a dry wash that there were a few spots, and I followed the spur trail past a site crawling with tiny black ants that I’d found were capable of delivering surprisingly painful bites.
Near a madrone, I pitched my tent and hung my quilt to allow it to breathe and loft in the evening breeze.
Meander and I sat in the dirt. I stirred the rehydrated beans I’d taken from a hiker box that morning. Meander said he’d made those at home but was sick of them.
I stared into the sun. The candy bars and cheez-its that I had looked forward to just days ago now tasted like cardboard. My foot hurt. I looked at my new shoes, still clean after just 10 miles of walking, and told Meander that this wasn’t working. I had to get off the trail to heal.
We talked for a bit, sorting out details of where I could get off and when to leave in the morning. Then he returned to his tent as the air temperature dropped. I retrieved my phone from my pack and headed back down the trail the way we’d came in search of a signal.
My eyes stung and my voice caught as I called my dad and told him I couldn’t go on. I sat on a rock with the entire valley before me and watched the sun fall behind a ridge. It was so peaceful to just sit. I felt simultaneously lucky and unfortunate.
When my fingers started to chill, I walked back to camp and pulled my gear into the vestibule of my tent to protect it from dew. My site was on a gentle slope causing my pad to slip to the downhill edge of my tent, and I fell asleep with my face pressed up against the mesh, too tired to worry or care.