The moment I woke up in the morning I realised that I’d forgotten to update my phone plan. Now expired, I’d have to call AT&T to renew since I would no longer be able to do it online. I packed up and hiked out with Misery as the sun rose above the horizon, and I soaked my shoes fording the ironically shallow Deep Creek.
A mile out Misery went ahead and I sat down on a rocky incline to sort out my phone issues. I spent 45 minutes on the line with various levels of AT&T management, trying to figure out how I can pay using a credit card with a Canadian postal code. While on the phone I was passed by Don and Cool Breeze. I grew frustrated as I waited on hold and the day grew hotter. When I was finally finished I hoisted on my pack and raced ahead.
I realised a few hours into the day that for the first time I didn’t have a plan. I was alone and I didn’t know where my friends were. I didn’t have plans to break, eat lunch or camp.
I stopped to filter water from a stagnant, algae covered pool. I had a couple bars of service so I spammed several people with a “where are you?” text. Then I sat in the dirt and batted away flies while waiting for responses.
Ding! Rowan sent me a photo of a horned lizard he caught. He was almost a day ahead of me, nearly at Cajon Pass.
Ding! It was Rally. They were behind by at least a couple of hours. I thought about waiting, but the pressure to push on ahead weighed on me. The day was only getting hotter, and I dreamed of cheap, fast food at Cajon Pass, only twenty-five miles away. I could make it by tomorrow morning, I thought.
Hours of desert contour walking subsided when I reached a paved road and a bridge running parallel to another large dam. A hiker sat on the bridge in the shade of a lone tree.
“Mind if I join you?” I asked. He said sure and moved his pack to make space for me. He introduced himself as Kirby from Texas. He was section hiking part of the PCT. He wore old rolled up jeans and a black cotton tee shirt; his pack was huge, with a massive sleeping bag rolled up and tied to the bottom. He said he was only doing five or ten miles a day.
“I only have half a litre of water left,” he said, “and I’m running out of food.” I couldn’t help him with water since I had about the same, but I gave him a Snickers bar and a Mountain House dinner. He thanked me graciously.
“Thank you!” I returned. “You’re helping make my pack lighter.”
Kirby hiked on and I stayed for a while in the shade before deciding to move on as well. The trail continued up the paved road, through a small industrial area, and then alongside a highway before leading back up a hill. By this time it was sweltering. Halfway up the hill on the side of the trail was a cooler that read “For PCT hikers”. Inside was a logbook And about a dozen bottles of water. I grabbed one and signed my name in the logbook. I saw Kirby’s signature before mine, as well as Cool Breeze’s, Misery’s, and several others that I recognized. Even though I was ahead of my regular group, I felt like I’d fallen behind.
The climb up the hill seemed to get only steeper, and I was drenched with sweat. It was easily the hottest day on the trail so far. I’d already finished the bottle of water I’d grabbed from the cooler only half a mile before.
As I crested over the hill, however, I was hit with a blast of cool wind and the unexpected sight of a dark blue expanse – Lake Silverwood.
I excitedly rushed down the trail, passing Kirby and reaching a small beach where Bangarang was lounging on the sand.
“This is amazing!” I said, dropping my pack into the sand, and running into the lake. The cool water felt wonderful, and I swam around the little cove until until my body felt cold enough to crave the desert heat.
The trail continued along the perimeter of the lake. On the other side was a beach crowded with people. Even from across the lake I could smell them – sunscreen and hot dogs and sugar. I wanted to be there. I thought, this must be what bears feel like around campers.
I reached the lake campground and was excited to see the Tits – Bushtit and Tomtit – and Cool Breeze. I disposed of my trash and filled my water, contemplating setting up camp for the night. It was only four o’clock though. I knew I could keep going, but there were few tent sites listed on my map in the next ten miles.
I decided to risk it and push ahead. Worst case scenario, I could sleep on the trail or just push through to Cajon Pass late that night.
The day grew cooler and the trail grew higher, contouring up hills filled with shrubs and the occasional patch of poison oak. There was a single tent site in four miles that I decided to aim for. The contouring was repetitive so to pass the time I texted friends and listened to music.
When I reached the tent site, however, I saw that it was taken by a hiker bundled up in a blue sleeping bag on a sheet of Tyvek – Misery. Exhausted and disappointed I moved on, hoping to find a spot soon. I didn’t have the energy to night hike into Cajon Pass.
I got a text from Rowan with a tip for a campsite coming up in a mile. It was a dry creek bed, obscured b from the trail by shrubs and rocks. I reached it just after sunset – It was perfect.
“It’s my first night camping alone!” I texted. I was excited and too tired to be afraid of the boogeyman.
I set up my tent and rain fly and curled up in my quilt with my phone and a cookie for comfort. The light of the full moon filtered through the rain fly like a slightly dimmer sun, but it was not enough to prevent me from falling into a deep sleep – the result of my longest day on the trail so far.