Skipping breakfast in the morning made breaking camp fast and easy. I hiked out of the dry creek bed and up an incline onto a ridge. From one side I could see a thick cloud of fog moving in. From the other – back toward the creek bed – I saw a group of at least four campers, including the Tits, on the other side of some shrubs and boulders from where I’d camped. So much for the victory of camping solo, I thought.
The fog settled in quickly, coating the shrubs and cacti in dew and lighting the trail in a strange, soft pink glow. The trail wound its way up a ridgeline, sometimes at a knifes edge where looking down the sheer drops revealed nothing but foggy infinity.
With no food or water to weigh me down, I jogged the six miles into Cajon Pass, carefully hopping over endless highways of ants. I had just slowed down at the bottom of some switchbacks when a voice behind made me jump in surprise.
“You’re so hard to catch!” It was Misery, running down the switchbacks behind me. He must have been booking it to catch up with me. Why bother, I wondered.
“I’ve just been taking it easy,” I lied. Sort of.
I didn’t slow down, and the two of us made it to the junction in half an hour. The early morning smell of exhaust was heavy in the misty air, and the traffic sounds of the highway seemed loud and alien.
It was only eight in the morning but the Mcdonalds was packed with people stopping for breakfast on their morning commute. I sat at a booth with Misery and two other hikers I hadn’t met before – Huck and Tour Guide. Tour Guide was also Canadian and wore Hokas like mine. I’d been following her footprints all morning. She gave me a big hug and asked about my hike.
“I lost my group,” I said. “I’m thinking about staying at the hotel here and waiting for them.”
“You’re a lot faster than them,” Misery said. “You should hike out with us this morning.”
I shrugged. It was true that I was getting faster, but I’d rather slow myself down than leave the group. I spaced out over my pancakes as the conversation turned to an analysis of hiking speed and mileage, but snapped back to attention as I saw two familiar faces enter the restaurant.
“Hey guys!” I jumped up and greeted Fancypants and Bucket with unnecessarily prolonged hugs. It was nice to see friends again. They had stayed at the Best Western the night before and were hiking out later in the day. They said the hotel might be fully booked for the night.
I told them I’d see them later and excused myself. On the way up the road I crossed paths with Cool Breeze, who assured me that there was still vacancy. At the hotel I stopped to chat with Shaggy and Papa Smurf who were on their way out.
“There should definitely be room,” they said. “The breakfast here is awesome.”
At the check-in counter, however, I was disappointed.
“If I hang around for a while, do you think you’ll get any vacancy?” I asked. The receptionist frowned in apology.
I joined Fancypants and Bucket in their room, where they let me use their shower. Afterward I sat on the floor while they organized their resupply, food spread across the bed.
“It looks like there’s a highway that goes straight from here to Wrightwood,” I said, checking Google Maps on my phone. It was only 11 miles, as opposed to the 30 miles on trail. “I heard the next section is smoggy and full of poodle dog bush so I might just walk the road and get to Wrightwood tonight.”
Shortly after I was on the side of the busy highway, hiking east and away from the PCT. The traffic was busy and fast and I felt more than a little vulnerable in the boundary of the tiny asphalt shoulder.
A car did a U-turn and pulled up next to me. It was Shaggy and Papa Smurf hitching into Wrightwood. They asked if I wanted a ride.
“No thanks,” I said, although part of me desperately wanted to accept. “I’m trying to do the continuous footpath thing.” I said I’d see them later in town.
In a mile I turned north up a secondary highway. It was long, flat, straight desert road with hardly any shoulder, and no shade whatsoever. As the sun grew higher in the sky and the day got hotter I began to regret my brilliant decision to roadwalk.
A car pulled up next to me. It was O’Terry; I could see his backpack in the backseat. It was weird seeing hikers driving cars. I graciously declined his offer for a ride and moved on.
The road was tedious and I passed the time by listening to a history podcast about Rasputin, and taking breaks every half hour or so. When I finally made it to Wrightwood, it was evening and I was exhausted.
I got a text from Rowan saying a few people were sharing a hotel room in town if I wanted in. I joined him and Roxanne, Puff Puff and Lucky at the Pines Motel. After visiting, we all went out to explore the small town, eventually ending up at a local dive bar, where we drank cheap pints and played pool until midnight.
When I finally went to bed that night I silently scolded myself for deciding to roadwalk; the route was hot and exhausting, and now I was even further ahead of my group. On the other hand, at least I was with friends, and tomorrow I would enjoy a much-needed zero day before getting back on the trail.