The wind changed direction early in the morning and I woke to the pungent smell of the nearby pit toilets. Around me were close to a dozen tents. It took hardly any time for me to pack away my things, save for my food bag, which I carried over to a picnic table to prepare breakfast.
The camp started to stir and I saw some familiar faces emerge from their tents. Fancypants and Rowan joined me at the picnic table and I told them about my night hike and how amazing the sunset was from the summit of Baden-Powell.
It was still early when I hiked out and the trail descended into thick, cold fog that dropped from the trees like rain and covered the needles in frost and sometimes layers of ice. The trail went up over freezing mountain ridges, and then down across empty foggy road, then back up and back down.
I took a break at an empty rest area along the highway. Everything seemed dreamy and desolate in the quiet white fog. I leaned against the picnic table and a sudden, unexpected sensation shot through my hand and up my arm. It was both painful and numbing, like my arms had turned to ice and then melted a second later.
Huh, I thought. Nerve damage. From my poles? Or maybe my pack?
I saw a hiker walking down the highway and out of the fog toward the rest area. I recognized Rowan by his hat and waved as he approached. We talked about the upcoming trail detour that called for seven miles of road walking. It bypassed a chunk of the PCT to protect an endangered species native to the area. The official alternate involved over twenty extra miles on unmaintained trail, so to me even road walking seemed like a better alternative.
“Cuban B is doing the twenty mile alternate,” Rowan said. “He’s singlehandedly saving the endangered yellow-legged frog.”
We hiked through the endless fog on the highway where not a vehicle was seen or heard. We passed an abandoned ski lift where we briefly explored the gutted warming hut, looking for contraband or food, or maybe treasure. Shortly after Rowan found a roll of duct tape on the side of the road.
“I’ll take it,” I said, putting it on my wrist like a bracelet. I didn’t really need it but it was too good to throw out.
By the time we rejoined the trail, the sky began to clear up. We passed a small manmade rock formation on the side of the trail and I did a double take.
“400!” I said excitedly to Rowan as we high fived. 400 miles already – it felt surreal. Around the corner, however, was another 400 marker made of pinecones and rocks. And then another a minute later made of sticks. Then one scratched in the dirt that read ‘400.12’.
“This is getting ridiculous,” I said.
We filled up our water from a spigot at an empty boy scout cabin and continued along the contouring trail until we rounded a corner to find Roxanne sitting on the side of the trail and talking with two day hikers.
“I’m so glad you guys are here!” She called out to us. “I’m having the worst day.” She had mentioned some pain in her foot back in Wrightwood and it had now manifested into what was probably tendonitis.
The day hikers introduced themselves and offered us coconut water and fresh strawberries.
We thanked them and the three of us hiked on at various limping paces through the heart of the Angeles National Forest, dodging poodle dog bush through a burn area and fighting against the increasing winds. Our good weather had not lasted long.
We set up our tents at the Sulphur Springs horse camp just as rain began to fall. I read for a while to pass the time, followed by a long period of trying to sleep, staring at the roof of my tent. The silence was eventually broken by the sounds of subdued panic coming from Roxanne’s tent.
“Oh my. Oh my god. I am such an idiot.”
“What happened?” Rowan and I both called out.
“I set my tent on fire,” she respond, strangely calm. We got out of our tents to observe the damage. Roxanne had tried cooking couscous in her tent and her stove malfunctioned, sending flames up into the mesh and burning in it a hole the size of her head.
“This has been the worst day ever,” she said. “Does anyone have duct tape?”
“Oh, I do!” I said, grabbing the roll out of my tent. “I knew there was a reason I kept this.”
While Roxanne painstakingly patched up her tent I returned to mine to continue my book. Soon it became a struggle to stay awake and I slowly fell to sleep as the sound of the rain on my tent transformed into the muffled, soft sound of snow.