We slept in that morning and took our time getting ready. Fancypants and Bucket were more proactive and caught a cab back to the trailhead before Rally, Squatchie and I were even out of bed. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining. It was hot enough even by morning that all evidence of last night’s storm had already dried up.
Justa had stayed at Ziggy and The Bear’s that night, so we aimed to meet up with her later that morning. We all decided to hike a short day since we’d pushed ourselves more than twenty miles the previous day.
The three of us walked a block over to the convenience store to resupply. We had to carry four days’ worth of food to our next resupply opportunity in Big Bear. It would be tough to plan since our appetites were growing every day. I was actually kind of worried; I’d stuffed my pack full of food in Idyllwild and nearly ran out in two days. My hunger seemed insatiable, and I could only carry so much.
I loaded up on cookies, chips, popcorn, chocolate, pastries – the highest calorie snacks I could find. I was breaking so many food rules that I felt like I was betraying the part of me that always skipped the snack aisles in the supermarket.
Our food supply replenished, we returned to the trail angels’ house to find Justa. All the other hikers who had been stuck there had already left. It was sunny and warm – and quiet. We spent some time chatting with the trail angels and I raided the hiker box for sun hats. No luck. I’d have to get creative with my bandana.
When the four of us got back on trail it was almost noon. We gathered at the top of a small rise and looked back to the sight of Mount San Jacinto towering over the desert floor. Now free of clouds, we could see the enormity of the mountain we’d climbed and descended. There was snow at the top from last night’s storm. Whoever was still on the peak that night would have had a rough time. We’d heard that a couple of hikers called 911, and that another was still missing.
I sped up a short way ahead of our group when I came across a sun hat lying in the middle of the trail. Real trail magic! It was better than my old hat and fit perfectly. I decided I’d claim it at least until I found its owner.
We entered the wind farm. The noise of the generators reverberated through the valley sounding like spaceships. There was a turnoff to the wind farm office with a sign that said “Water and shade”. I used my trekking pole to write “PT” in the sand with an arrow pointing down the path so that the rest would know where I went.
Near the office was an actual cabana roofed with palm fronds. Inside was a flat of water bottles. When the girls caught up we gathered inside and had lunch and checked our phones. It would probably be the last cell service we’d have for a while. We wrote a thank you note to the wind farm workers and returned to the trail.
I fell behind the group as we went up a brief but steep climb to a small pass out of the valley. Even though my pace was getting faster I was still slow on inclines. Squatchie, on the other hand, was great at them. Despite being nearly a foot shorter than me, I always struggled to keep up with her on climbs.
After the ridge it was all a gradual downhill to Whitewater Creek. We spread out again and I practically flew down the switchbacks to the Whitewater Preserve turnoff. I felt energized and alive. My sinus infection was history and I was getting stronger and healthier every day. Even the desert heat didn’t bother me. I waited for the rest of the group on a shaded rock at the bottom. When we reconvened we decided to split up for the night. Squatchie and Rally wanted to camp at the Preserve, but Justa and I felt like we had a few more miles in us. We said goodnight to the other two and continued on at an easy pace through the rolling terrain.
A mile in we came across a cow carcass on the side of the trail, all sunbleached bone and a partial hide that was still red and lustrous like the cow had died just yesterday.
“Cool,” we both said, taking photos from various angles.
Not long after we reached the creek ford. It was a beautiful open space on the white sandy bank, so we decided to call it a day and set down our packs. I soaked my feet in the cold water while Justa sat against a giant rock and read. The rock itself was maroon coloured with recesses and looked like it belonged in a giant aquarium somewhere. We layed out our sleeping gear next to it, just a few feet from the water.
As the sun set I read through the Kindle app on my iPhone while feeling very sedated by the sound of rushing water next to me. At some point mid-chapter I fell asleep, hand still clutching my phone.