Mile 91 to mile 101
All day I slept curled on my side beneath the thorny tree. The sun floated overhead, the warm dapples shifted like constelations across my body. Tiny ants crawled over me, using my body as a bridge from one side of the tree to the other. I slept.
In the afternoon we woke and sat groggily in the dirt, heating pots of food over our tiny alcohol fires. It was 6 pm and 9 miles to the next water source, barrel springs. We would camp there, and in the morning hike the 4 miles into Warner Springs. We all had resupply boxes there, waiting for us at the post office. We had also heard that there would be burgers there, and a little store. Burgers, we had said as we hiked. Burgers burgers burgers.
An hour after setting out from our desert oasis we rounded a mountainside and met the cool, damp air from the sea.
“Fuck!” said Angela. “It’s fucking freezing!” It was nearly dark, and big wet clouds raced across the sky. The wind was howling.
A little later we crouched in a fold in the mountain and attempted to cook dinner on our stoves. Thyra and Angela sat on the trail. I poured the last of my fuel into my stove and tried to light it in the wind. I boiled a handful of noodles and added some olive oil and salt. After this I only had a few dried plums left in my food bag, and I would eat them for breakfast.
As we hiked in the dark in the damp cold from the sea the landscape changed, and the shadowy forms of trees and leafy plants began to tangle up the mountainside. I shivered as I hiked, hungry and exhausted. I was ten minutes ahead of the others, walking in the dark with the dim light of my headlamp trained on the trail, and I felt a little spooked. There were noises in the forest here, little crunches and scufflings, creatures lurking in the tangled undergrowth. This was no arid expanse of dust and barrel cactus. This was someplace- there was moisture here, rain sometimes, plants and fog and springs. It was eerie to feel all that activity around me after the empty warmth of the desert.
I hung back and waited for the others.
“It’s creepy here,” I said. “You think we should all hike together?”
“Yes, let’s all hike together,” said Thyra.
A little later we can upon the number 100 made of stones on the side of the trail.
“Mile 100!” Said Thyra. “We’ve reached mile 100!”
“I guess we’re not day hikers anymore,” I said. We all trained our headlamps on the marker and tried to take a picture, but our batteries were dying.
The eerie 100
“Just one more mile to Barrel Springs,” .said Thyra. Thyra and Angela had both bought insoles in Mt. Laguna, from the man in the outfitter there who liked to peddle them to hikers, and today their feet were screaming.
“Ah,” said Thyra, sitting in the dirt and pulling out one of her insoles. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.” She pointed to the edge of the insole. “Right here. It feels like knives in my foot.”
“At least it’s just a mile left,” I said. “Since we’ve seen the 100 mile marker.”
“Fuck,” said Thyra, and she began to limp sideways down the trail.
A little while later I rounded a bend and there, in a sandy little wash, was another 100 made of stones.
“What?” Said Thyra, when she came up behind me. “Which 100 is the real 100?” She was having so much foot pain now that she could barely walk at all, and she leaned on her trekking poles like crutches.
A little while later there was another 100, a little one in the grass.
“The longest mile,” said Thyra. “This is the longest mile.”
The dark path curved down into a fold in the mountain and suddenly there were oak trees overhead, grass underfoot, and the sound of bullfrogs. The air smelled of lilacs. We heard the trickling sound of water and then we were in a little clearing, swinging our dim headlamps around at the tents and cowboy campers rolled up like burritos in their bivy sacs.
The spring was water trickling from a pipe into a square stone trough. In the trough floated cans of soda. I plucked a few out- diet lemon soda, big K cola, and looked at them in the beam of my headlamp.
“Soda!” I said. “There’s cheap soda in these springs!”
We pitched our tents in a little patch of grass and fell inside of them. We hadn’t slept a full night’s sleep in several days, and Angela hadn’t slept at all in the past 24 hours- she’d curled up next to the trail at the last cache and people had woken her over and over throughout the day, saying “where’s the water? Where’s the water?”
It was cold here, and there was no wind. I burrowed deep into my bag, pulling it up over my face. And then I slept harder than I could ever remember sleeping.