Trail Angel Mike’s to Anza water cache
The four of us shuffle out of the bunkhouse to a perfectly calm, blue morning. Mike’s put a thermos of coffee out, so we shake off the morning haze and get on our way. We’ve barely hit the trail when Buckeye yells, “Promise!”
A hiker way down the trail yells back. It’s Promise, another Appalachian trail alumni who had hiked with both Buckeye and E.T. They decide to wait up for her and Latestart, who is hiking with her. Things are not feeling great with my knee or my feet this morning, so J and I decide to walk ahead and let them catch up. I’m determined to walk slowly today. I can’t let my knee keep giving out on me after lunch – I need it to work all the time.
They pass us in no time, and soon even J has gone ahead. Nine in the morning and I’m limping hard. I turn a corner on the trail, and suddenly I’m on the north side of the hills we’re hiking through, and the view unrolls before me in ridge after pale blue ridge. It’s awesome.
The trail is a slight, brown ribbon winding all the way down to the valley, twenty-five miles by trail. That’s terrifying. Downhill is so hard. I take a deep breath: “every step a new step,” I tell myself. And slowly, slowly, I start the descent.
The deep calm of the trail is with me though, the wind at my back for this morning. I’ve been feeling rough – all angles and corners – ever since getting home from the Peace Corps four years ago. The PCT is rough too, but in the way that the wind and the rain are rough. I hope I can come rolling out of this summer whole and smooth as a river stone.
After a few more hours of mincing downhill, a bone-deep weariness has settled in next to the calm. My right knee is overworked from favoring the left, and I’m exhausted. I’m trying to take less ibuprofen because I don’t want it to disguise a true injury, or have it become a crutch, but now I don’t care. I also get out the ipod that’s been hanging out in my pack. I thought I was morally opposed to listening to headphones while hiking, but I welcome the ability it gives me to dissociate from my surroundings. I can still hear the wind, but not my footsteps. The landscape is like a dream now, and I float gently down, down, down.
At lunchtime J and I catch up with others, who are making lunch and taking siestas under huge cottonwoods by Tule Spring. The dense chaparral of the morning has ever so gradually been thinning and shrinking, and we’re back in low desert. The green of the spring drainage glows against the dustier desert beside it. J and I lie down in the welcome shade with the others.
When we finally get up, my left knee seems like it’s decided to warm up for the day. I’m feeling a bit faster and the rest of the group is feeling a bit slower and we can all keep pace for once. My body is going to get this hiking business worked out eventually. Even better, the steady downhill has been replaced with a meandering traverse through the low desert foothills. There’s a lot of downhill, but some uphill too. It actually doesn’t feel like we’re going anywhere at all – just up and over and around and over and it could all be circles except that we’ve reached the water cache at mile 143.
There are plenty of places to camp here, and plenty of us. Buckeye tells us all to get down here for family dinner. Our evening talk is a discussion on how to get around the fire closure before Idyllwild. There are a couple options, none that are great. Promise wants to hitchhike in tomorrow. J and I think that maybe we’d like to hike a little closer to the closure before bailing to town, although I am secretly enticed by the thought of a hot shower and taking a day off. In the meantime, we should hit the Paradise Cafe tomorrow, just one mile off the trail, and I hear there are milkshakes.