I slept restlessly as usual. The wind had picked up during the night and I woke up several times, shivering in my drafty quilt. My socks and sun hat were blown down the creek bed, but luckily not into the water.
Rally and Squatchie caught up to us in the morning while we ate breakfast. We talked about how amazing our campsites were, discussed our plans for mileage that day, and decided to set off.
I hung back, though, since I had to pee. Leave No Trace rules dictate that you need to be be 200 feet away from water sources before you squat, so after some bushwacking, peeing, and realizing I was lost, I spent nearly twenty minutes trying to find the trail again. Using the Halfmile app and its built in compass I eventually made it to the trail after fording the creek and climbing over a few banks. I recognized Justa’s and Rally’s footprints, and a set of recent Cascadia prints that must have been Squatchie’s.
Playing catch-up took forever. I passed Justa and Squatchie after 45 minutes but there was no sign of Rally even in the visible mile ahead of us. It took another hour for me to catch up with her at the top of a ridge that had great view of Palm Springs in the distance.
“Hey, speed demon!” I said. She was packing up her bag.
“I just finished eating,” she told me. “I was about to get going. I feel really good today – I’m just going to ride it out!”
I knew that feeling well by now – the trail high. I was feeling it too.
I went on ahead of her, playing a random mix of music through my headphones. Someone had spelled out in rocks on the side of the trail, “Keep on going!”. I flew down switchbacks until I found the first shade and water of the day – a large tree next to Mission Creek. I set down my pack and put up my feet. I ate and read on my phone until Rally showed up 15 minutes later, and Squatchie and Justa 10 minutes after that.
We hadn’t seen anyone else all day but within an hour nearly a dozen hikers were sitting under the tree, and several more had passed by, as well as a trail maintenance crew and the mules hauling their tools.
I headed out first, leapfrogging for a while with Limey and the trail crew, slowed by their heavy gear. The trail followed Mission Creek upstream for several miles through a valley. It was a nice break from the normally waterless desert, but I found that the combination of high heat, bugs and marshy trail put a damper on my spirit.
Squatchie and Justa decided to find a place to nap in the shade and night hike later on. Rally and I were still running off of that morning’s high, so we pressed on.
As the sun lowered in the sky and the valley grew darker I was hit with the familiar, dizzying sudden pang of massive hunger that I’d been experiencing since Fuller Ridge. I sat on a rock by the trail and set my bag down. Rally squatted down over another rock but then squealed and jumped up.
“I just sat on a cactus!” She cried, looking over her shoulder at the unassuming prickly pear sticking out from behind the rock. She reached behind her and with a grimace pulled out a big thorn.
“Let me take a look,” I said. She faced away from me and pulled down her pants. Tiny cactus thorns had give right through her shorts and embedded themselves in her butt. “Ouch,” I said emphatically, carefully pulling them out one by one.
We heard voices coming up the trail, and Rally quickly sat on the ground beside me and covered her lap with her shorts.
Three guys approached and started talking to us. It was mostly hiker chit chat: water, mileage, where we planned to camp. I could feel my face stretched into an insane smile the entire time. It almost hurt. As soon as they left I burst into snorting laughter.
“Oh my god,” I laughed. “Do you think they realized you were just sitting there, pantsless?”
I pulled out the rest of the thorns and we continued on another mile to a gravelly creek bed where several others were setting up camp. A handwritten sign next to the trail warned of poodle dog bush up ahead.
“I don’t want to deal with poodle dog tonight,” I said to Rally. “Maybe we can camp here.”
We set up our tents in the wash and chatted while cooking dinner over our stoves. After dark we saw a pair of headlamps pass by.
“Hey girls!” It was Squatchie. “We’re hiking on. We’ll see you tomorrow!”
“See you tomorrow!” We called back. “Watch out for the poodle dog bush,” I added.
Lying in my sleeping bag, I checked my phone for service, but there was none – I hadn’t had service for almost two days. The other hikers became silent in their tents, and without the distraction of social media, I soon fell asleep as well.