Mile 71 (anza borrego) to mile 91 (san felipe hills)
J is telling me to wake up – it’s morning. I’m totally stiff – I don’t think I moved once the entire night. Our little campsite is calm and quiet. We’ve got some miles to make.
The trail has taken us through the hills of Anza Borrego state park, then traversed across their north face. Today we’ll need to finish the traverse, cross the valley, then head back up the San Felipe hills. We can see the switchbacks from here. There are no water sources in reach today. There are two water caches, but last I heard the scissors crossing water cache was no longer being maintained, and I don’t know much about the other. J and I still have nearly nine liters apiece, so we’ll be fine regardless, but we’re starting out heavy. I feel very grounded, as in, pressed into the ground.
Our descent into the valley quickly takes us from manzanita and shrubs to cholla and agave. This is desert I recognize. I adore agaves and it’s difficult to not keep taking pictures of them. I think they might be my favorite plant, but I have all day to reconsider. All the time in the world…
Seven miles into the day and we’re at the scissors crossing. The trail angels who have been maintaining the water cache there gave up in disgust a week ago from all the trash and abuse of the cache. J and I had planned on being able to do without it, but – there it is. Glide On had been by and left water, a cooler of soda, and a jug of chocolate covered almonds. Chocolate covered almonds! J and I savor a handful then split one of the last two sodas. We bless Glide On then take his advice: we glide on. We top off our water and then head for the hills.
The long steady uphill feels great. Downhill is terrible, flat is still bad, but uphill suits me fine. My knee feels good, my feet don’t hurt much, and the views are spectacular. The San Felipe hills are rugged and dry. The south face is covered in barrel cacti, making a Dr. Seussian landscape. The barrel cacti have rosy spines, and from a distance the hillside looks like it’s sprouted a bad case of acne. It’s beautiful though, and between the barrel cacti and jumping cholla and prickly pears I feel like I’m back with old friends.
Climbing takes us up into ocotillo and agaves. The views across the valley are sweeping and magnificent. “I think this is my favorite stretch so far,” says J. Strong words coming from a guy who just hiked 10 miles uphill with 8 liters of water on his back. Not only that, but we passed a pegmatite vein with quartz and big black tourmalines and now he has rocks in his pocket as well. “Geologists are like the anti- ultra – lighters,” muses J. “We put rocks in our packs on purpose.”
My shoulders are getting tired and my attitude is slipping, so J and I try swapping packs for a while. It felt great. J got the ULA circuit, while I got the Gossamer Gear mariposa. They’re both small cottage manufacturers, so there was no opportunity to try on the packs first (I mean, I could have gone on a couple more training hikes, but what’s your point). There are a lot of great features on the mariposa, but it’s not holding up as well under the weight. More importantly, the straps are made for someone with a much bigger chest and torso. For someone narrow across the shoulders, like me, the circuit seems to fit much better. I may get one yet.
J and I are both starting to drag hard. We’re strong enough to walk the miles, but really battling with our feet. We’d like to stop and camp but there are few places flat enough and it’s all exposed. So we keep walking.
And walking. And walking. At twenty miles (a new personal best!) we arrive at the third gate water cache. Another water cache?! I don’t know how I missed that memo. There are three other parties here, and water, but most importantly – plenty of space to camp. What a relief. I’ve been walking like a crone for miles, bent over, leaning on my walking stick, hobbling. But I’m here. I made it. Warner springs tomorrow.