Day 8: The brutal desert is brutal

Mileage 14
Mile 57 to mile 71

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Morning in the best campsite ever.

I woke up at dawn in my little campsite among the boulders and shook my water bottle. Empty. I’d been hungry before bed and I’d eaten a sugary bar and a bunch of jerky, and then when the moon had risen like a flashlight in my face I’d been both unable to sleep and terribly thirsty. I had stared at the moon for two hours, thinking anxious thoughts about my dogs, life, the future, everything. And I had drunk all my water.

I sat in my sleeping bag for a moment, looking at the long bands of light reaching over the boulders. Jean Francois passed on the trail below, leaning on his trekking poles, headed out. I yawned and stuffed away my quilt.

Three miles is not so long until you are thirsty and do not have any water. I was overjoyed when I reached the horse trough at the sunrise trailhead; it was glorious to pass the gallon jug that was there through the cool, murky water to the valve that let out clear water. Last night had been my first time dry camping; I was still learning how much water I needed to pack.

I stood drinking my water, looking down at the minnows that swam in the horse trough. How did the minnows get in here? I wondered.

After drinking a liter of water I sat in the dappled shade of a creosote bush beyond the horse trough and ate a breakfast of pepitas and dried figs. I felt sort of bleary and disoriented; it was already hot and I hadn’t slept well. On the other hand, my achilles tendon wasn’t troubling me at all. It seemed as though the surgery I’d done to the back of my shoe had done wonders, along with changing my socks and rest. Hallelujah, I thought.  

After a time I walked back to the trail and there were Angela, Thyra and Ben, piling out of the back of a pickup truck. They’d just come from kickoff, and had gotten a ride from some trail angels. We set off down the dusty path together, the four of us, stumbling a little in the heat. It was eleven o’clock.

In just an hour the sun was directly overhead, it was too hot to walk any longer, and there wasn’t any shade anywhere. We found a patch of sloping dirt next to the trail that was partly shaded by a creosote bush; we wedged ourselves into this dappled shade as best we could and settled in to wait out the hottest part of the day, cramming things beneath us so we wouldn’t slide down the slope into the scorching path. Angela made a pot of instant mashed potatoes; Ben fell asleep, his water bladder with its in-line filter hanging above him like and IV bag.

At 3:30 we were too antsy to wait any longer.

“I’m going out into it,” said Angela, squinting out at the scalding desert. Eight miles away was our next water source, a concrete tank on a fire road. There was a spigot on the tank that sometimes worked; when the spigot was broken one lifted the steel lid from the top of the tank and drew water from the inside. Often hikers forgot to replace the lid and rodents got inside; sometimes there were dead rats floating in the water.

It was now not only brutally hot, bright and shadeless; it was windy too. I clutched my hat as a I walked carefully along the trail that hugged the edge of the mountain, looking with apprehension at the baking valley below. Tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow we cross that valley.

We reached the water tank at six; the spigot, by a stroke of miraculous luck, was working perfectly. I filled up my bottles and drank; I washed my socks and laid them in the sun; I sat on my sleeping pad in the dirt, cooking a pot of noodles. Other hikers arrived, bleary and sunburnt, and pitched their tents in the clearing next to the tank. While crouched under the creosote bush in the afternoon we had formulated a logistical plan for our desert crossing- we would hike on this evening, and well into the night, until we were tired, and then we would camp. In the morning we would be just a few miles from the huge water cache, known as “scissors crossing” and stocked by trail angels, that was on the other side of that flat and awful desert.

Night hiking, we had decided. Night hiking was the answer.  

The trail leaving the water tank hugged the edge of the mountain, as it would until we dropped down into the valley in the morning. Dark fell, but there was no moon; the moon, which was waning, would not rise until midnight. I switched on my headlamp as the rosy light faded in the west. The big dipper blinked on above me. I was ten minutes ahead of the others, and I could not see their lights; it was just my little light against the dark backdrop of the creosote mountain, and the land falling away to the black valley below. It was a little cooler, now, and I felt the wind in my sails; I hiked quickly, watching the rocks in the path below my feet. I followed the folds of the mountain and after a time I looked back and saw three little lights opposite me, across the deep ravine. I switched my headlamp to its blinking red setting. Blink blink blink, went my headlamp. Blink blink blink, went the little lights across the mountain in the darkness.

We stopped to camp in a dusty clearing next to the trail once we figured we were four miles from scissors crossing.
“We can even sleep in if we want to,” we said. “We can sleep til seven if we want to. Four miles is not so much. Even across that brutal valley.”

The moon rose at midnight and shone again like a flashlight in our faces. I woke and slept, woke and slept.

“It’s so moony!” I wanted to shout, to no-one in particular.

It was hot, and I was sweating in my sleeping bag.

“It’s nighttime and not even cold,” I thought, as I lay in my sleeping bag, staring at the moon. “What does that mean for tomorrow?”

Also! Here are the fantastic blogs of my hiking partners, for more trail reading-

Angela- http://trail-fresh.com

Ben- http://benwalks.blogspot.com

Thyra- http://bearsinthesewoods.blogspot.com

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3 thoughts on “Day 8: The brutal desert is brutal

  1. I’m enjoying (sitting in my A/C office in San Diego) your description of your hike so far. This may have been the year to start early due to the low snow pack but you’ll know better in a few weeks. Best wishes on your hiking through the remaining hot days and for all of the interesting days you have ahead of you.

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