Mile 131 to mile 149
I slept hard deep in my sleeping quilt in the freezing canyon and had strange dreams- I dreamt that a fashion designer was critiquing my posture, and that I saved a boy from drowning. At dawn I sat up in my bag and assembled my oatmeal for soaking- oats, chia seeds and dried fruit with a little water in my plastic peanut butter jar. I would put the jar in my pack, and after a few hours of hiking it would be ready to eat.
The cold made us slow, but as soon as the sun hit us we regretted it. Another hot day in the desert, stumbling in the dust over rocks. I need new nouns to write with, I thought as I plodded up the hills. Dust dust dust, dirt dirt dirt.
At 9 a.m. we arrived at the first water- Tule springs, a little cluster of oak trees in a ravine. The water came out of a metal spigot on the edge of a dusty clearing. There was a short length of hose attached to the spigot. I was caked all over with dirt, and my shirt and shorts were stiff with salt. I dropped my things in the shade and, since the spigot was a little hidden from the trail, I took a sort of bath there. I also took off my shoes and carefully washed my feet, inspecting my blisters- a few of them were hardening into calluses, a few of them had blisters of their own, and I had a new one on my heel. My tendonitis, amazingly, had not been bothering me, although if I pushed myself too hard it would twinge at the end of the day. My heel, now, was like my knees had been, back when I used to bike alot- when they started to twinge I knew I was nearing my edge, that special danger zone where injury happens, and that I needed to back off a little.
Angela, Ben and Thyra arrived and we rested in the shade. A young man appeared and sat in the dust next to us, pulled a glass jar of jelly from his pack, and began to assemble a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He smiled at us while he ate his sandwich. He had long, beautiful blonde hair and perfect white teeth. His name was Whistler and he carried a huge pack, stuck all over with patches.
“I hiked the AT,” he said. “I got my name there, because I whistled.”
“Did you know that there are whistling competitions?” Said Ben, who was stretching his knee. “My hairdresser was in a whistling competition.”
Thyra was eating runts, those powdery little candies shaped like fruit.
“I’m running low on food,” she said. “This is all I have to eat, besides things I have to cook. Do you want some runts?” She handed me a handful. Thyra had gotten the runts at a candy shop in portland where they had been sorted by fruit, and she had ended up with only the banana shaped ones.
A time later after setting out again I happened upon Whistler and Angela at an old concrete cistern on the trail. There was a snake trapped in the cistern, not a rattlesnake but some other kind of snake. The snake was slithering, slither slither slither, but it couldn’t get out of the cistern. Whister stuck his trekking pole in the cistern to try and save the snake.
“Is that a biting kind of snake?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Whistler. “I guess I’ll find out.”
Whistler pulled the snake out and it slithered away, into the creosote bushes.
The afternoon was brutally hot and there was no shade. Our last water source before camping for the night was the Hiker’s Oasis cache and I pushed myself forward in the heat, sweating in my already filthy shirt, telling myself that I’d rest in the shade when I got to the cache. I hadn’t planned my water well and was out before I got there. I stumbled into the cache thirsty and irritated. There was no shade and I filled up my bottles and sat in the dust, feeling angry and overly hot. The others circled around, looking for bits of shade and laughing deleriously. Whistler passed us and walked on into the baking hills. An hour dissapeared somehow, with no relief from the sun, and then we got up and pushed on too. I fell behind the others, walking so slowly it was as though I was dragging myself up the steep trail. The sun, I said. This is what the sun does to me.
The trail climbed up for many hours. I fell further and further behind the others. After a time I spotted two banana shaped runts, a green one and a yellow one, lying on the dusty path. A half hour later there was another one, a red one. And then another, shiny and blue in the dust of the trail. I rounded a bend and there were Thyra and Ben and Angela, sprawled in a bit of prickly shade, looking as though they’d died. I lowered myself onto the ground next to them, wincing at the pain in my hips.
“Sciatica!” I said. “Goddam sciatica! This trail is so steep!”
Angela and Thyra were having intolerable footpain due to their lack of insoles, and Ben had his knee. We lay there in the dirt, feeling small and weak and broken. Of course, after a while, there was nothing to do but move on. There was no water here, and night was coming.
At dusk we reached our campsite, a trampled spot in the chapparal three miles from Highway 74 and the Paradise Valley Cafe. I threw down my ground sheet and my sleeping pad and collapsed in the sand.
“I can barely move,” I said, as I tried to stretch. “All that climbing. I hurt everywhere.” I shook my sleeping quilt to loft it and pulled it over me. The thing I’d read about happening to others had finally happened to me- my exhaustion at the end of each day now overpowered my fear of imaginary desert monsters, and I was cowboy camping every night.
“That climb was so steep,” I said again, before I fell asleep. “I can’t believe how much climbing we just did.”
I had no idea what was to come.