Matters of Mind

Day 1: Warner Springs to Agua Caliente Creek

Trail miles 111.4-114.7

May 3, 2019

By far the hardest working part of my body as I walked from the side of the road where my dad dropped me off to my campsite near the creek was my brain. Although I’d walked this same stretch of trail five years ago, before bailing on my thru-hike attempt, everything felt foreign.

At this point on my last hike, my focus had been entirely on easing the burning sensation in my foot. That meant keeping my head down to scan the trail tread for the next most level place to step. When I did look up, as I am certain I did from time to time, I must not have paid very close attention to the scenery, because my short hike this evening felt unnervingly new.

I followed the trail away from Highway 79 at the outskirts of Warner Springs and wound along the banks of Agua Caliente creek through stands of oak and cottonwood. At 6:30pm, everything was shot through with golden light, and even the lowly grasses and shrubs looked regal.

But as I walked into the warmly lit hills above the creek, my mind worked furiously to identify sources of pain in my body and points of weakness in itself that could threaten my hike.

Feelings of doubt about my ability to complete even a short evening walk raced through my mind as I mentally assessed my toes, ankles, knees, and hips, cataloging signs of pain and ~permanent, season-ending injury~.

The hypersensitivity continued as my mind moved to questions of navigation. Did I really choose the right direction to hike away from the road? Was I walking north like all the other thru-hikers, or did all the footprints I was following along the sandy trail really belong to an obscenely large group of day hikers heading south? Were the people camping near the trail looking at me that way because they were curious about a fellow hiker, or because I was headed in the wrong direction?

When I arrived at the creek crossing just three miles from the start of my hike, it was nearly dark. I abandoned my plan of making five miles before camping and decided to set up in a flattish spot some previous hiker had thoughtfully adorned with a used tea bag.

As I fumbled with my gear in the crepuscular half-light, my mind was still attempting to poke holes in this five-month-hike idea. Did I really remember how to set up my tent? (Yes) Could I find my headlamp in the dark? (Yes) Did I bring a working pen to write in my half-pound journal? (No, but really, Brain, that is of little consequence).

I typed out my journal entry on my phone (an interesting win/loss scenario for my brain, which has decided to keep a daily journal, but which has also decided to use the phone as little as possible), and fell asleep to the croaking of frogs and the steady murmur of the creek.

Eagle Rock, which I’d somehow walked right by during my last hike, was a stop my dad ensured I made before setting out this time.

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