Mile 195.5 to mile 220.5
I sleep bad, wind coming and going, first hot then cold, wake up for the last time at 5 a.m. with the others and stuff my things away, golden light burning just over the edge of the dark world. I’m thirsty, but my gatorade bottles are empty. I have no water. 10 miles downhill to the water fountain in the baking valley- but it’s early and not too hot, so I can hike it thirsty, right? I remember last year, my long waterless descent off san jacinto, this same stretch. Dehydration edge play. I thought I would make better choices this year- I’d originally planned to make it to the fountain last night. I eat a handful of trailmix so I don’t crash. You know what though? Eating sucks when you’re thirsty.
I know I’m in trouble as soon as the sun comes up. 6 a.m. and it’s fucking HOT. I’m thirsty, so thirsty. Fantasizing about pepsi in a to-go cup, filled with ice. The fantasy is excruciating. I hike faster but it’s hot, so walking fast makes me even thirstier. The baking valley is way below, down ten miles of switchbacks. I try to hike faster. My mouth is dry. I run my tongue along my teeth- it’s gross.
The heat goes up and I’m dizzy. I stop to rest in the shade next to a boulder and have a hard time catching my breath. I feel like retching. My stomach hurts and I start to cry, but my body won’t let me. Tears are wet I guess. You can do this, I say to myself. Carrot you can do this. Jesus christ, says another part of me. A ten mile descent in the heat with zero water. No shade. What was I thinking? Should’ve night hiked to the fountain last night.
The scariest thing is the breathing. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, something. Something happening in my chest. Hyperventilating? But I can’t stop walking, no matter what- I’ve got to get to the water.
In spite of my panic, time passes, miles. I’m tired and I roll my ankles a couple of times. My lips are cracked, my throat like sand. It feels too hot in my brain. A mile from the drinking fountain I can see it, way down below. Hikers like little ants. There’s some sort of trail magic- someone has set up big tents for shade. And them I’m at the fountain, filling my bottle in the little arc of water. It’s 9 a.m. Hikers around me are laughing, the nice trail angel is trying to push a snack tray on me. I dump a packet of elecrolytes in my water. I feel overwhelmed.
I sit in the shade by myself, facing away from the party. I take a mouthful of water but it’s difficult to swallow. I try again, and this time it goes down. As soon as the water hits my system I start to cry. I keep my suglasses on so no-one can see. I finish the liter and lay on my side on my sleeping pad, my hat over my face. The nice trail angel, Tarzan, puts a wet washcloth over my head. My friends try to talk to me, but I don’t want to say anything. I keep crying, secretly. I can’t believe I came so close to taking a helicopter ride. I can’t believe I planned my campsite so poorly. I can’t believe that everyone was fine but me- that I was the weakest link. I feel embarrased and ashamed. It’s all just too much.
I lay in the shade for an hour, eat some food, and when I feel almost normal again I fill up my bottles and set out for the five mile slog across the valley to ziggy and the bear’s, the trail angel at the base of the mountains on the other side. It’s brutally hot, baking heat rising off the sandy ground, but this time I have water so I’m alright. I reach ziggy and the bear’s and everyone is there- NotaChance, Twinkle Toes, Sherriff Woody, McButter. Along with a million other hikers. I take a cold shower and it’s one of the most pleasurable things I’ve ever experienced. I put my clothes on wet and lay on the ground. It’s noon and a hundred degrees in the shade. We’re hiking out, we decide, at 4. Fuck this brutally hot day.
The afternoon passes sluggishly, everyone sweating and rifling through the hiker box, eating candy. Just after 4 we head back out into the baking world, climbing up into the hills. I feel off- overly warm and my water tastes bad. I haven’t been peeing. I eat granola from a ziploc while I walk, watching the others get farther ahead. My stomach is upset and my ankles are sore. I’m so tired I can’t stand it.
We drop down into a cool canyon and roll out our bedrolls at dusk next to the whitewater “river”, a narrow sandy waterway. I soak my feet and it feels like the best thing in the world. We laugh a lot. Trail mix for dinner. Everything’s gonna be alright.
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