San Jacinto peak to camp near base at mile 201
Didn’t sleep that well, but when I walk outside for the first time this morning, the view stops me in my tracks. “Wow!” My early morning brain forgot to remind me that I was at nearly 11,000 ft.
I’m starting off the day feeling new and optimistic. I’ve got a brand new name. Taking a trail name is a thru-hiker rite of passage and it feels so serious. You have to be careful with what you call yourself. Buckeye gave me a name a few days back, if I wanted it, but I had to let it settle a bit. Gizmo. Pretty good name for an engineer with pack full of gadgets and thingamabobs. I signed the trail register with it this morning, finally put it in ink. Gizmo. Gizmo’s walking all the way thru.
Too bad I can’t walk thru without getting off this mountain first – and there’s 23 miles and 8,000 feet of elevation to lose first. My magic purple shoes took me uphill but downhill has me quaking in my trail runners.
ET is fast, as usual, and takes off ahead. Max is off next, then us. We’re usually last. Time to go down.
We stop to water up and run into Max. We’re just grabbing a liter now, but the next spot will be our last water for twenty miles.
The last water on the mountain is a rushing mountain stream. We dally, but see no sign of Max. Odd. We continue on off the peak and out onto Fuller’s ridge, where there are sweeping views of the green west and the brown northeast… brown is the destination. Another hiker is rocketing down the mountain on our heels, so we pull over to let him pass. We always have to pull over to let people pass.
It’s Tarzan, who we met on our third day at Mt Laguna. He explains he’s so slow because he had to take three days off for the flu, and two more for a foot problem. “Uh, we’ve only taken one day off… We’re just not very fast…” I reply, secretly embarrassed. “Did you see a guy back there?”
“Yeah,” says Tarzan, “there’s a guy back there with a twisted ankle.” And he’s gone.
“We’ll never see him again,” observes J. No kidding.
“Did you hear him say that Max twisted his ankle?” I say.
“No! Is he okay?”
“He didn’t say,” I tell him. “Do you think we should wait for him?”
“I don’t know. Let’s take a long lunch and see if he catches up. I’d like to know if he’s okay,” J replies.
We do take a long lunch, still no sign of Max. J finally decides to head back for him. They are both back in minutes. Max is walking okay, says it’s not too bad, but we convince him to sit down and tape his ankle anyway. We cruise out together, dropping down off Fuller’s ridge.
And down. And down. And down. And down. And down. The trail takes us in huge meandering traverses across the mountain, letting us down in inches. The valley floor is so far away. And down. And down.
Max carries two things with him (besides his pack, etc), a walking stick with a feather, and an aura of calm, beautiful serenity. “You should call yourself the Medicine Man,” I suggest. “Maybe the wizard, or Gandalf, cuz of your staff, but then you’d need a beard.” Max strokes his clean – shaven chin.
“Medicine Man… I think I like it.”
“Let it settle for a day or two – see if it suits you.” And we walk down. And down.
We lose Max sometime in the afternoon. A group of fast hiking dudes blow past us. Always! J and I just can’t seem to speed things up. I try to pace the dudes but can only keep it up for half a mile. “Accept it Gizmo,” I tell myself. “It’s just your ego. This is not a race. This is not a contest. This is not about them. Do you see the magnificent views? Do you see the fields of wildflowers? Get over yourself.” My self help talks are pretty ineffective. At least I know I’m having a bad attitude problem. It matches the day, which is being soured by wildfires to the south, and the magnificent views of the morning drift further and further into thick brown smog. San Jacinto peak looks like a myth.
We stop after 18 miles, totally beat. It’s hot down here, and windy. It’s always windy. I’m always tired and my feet always hurt. J and I stake our tarp down with extra rocks, then I sit down for the worst part of every day and take off my socks. This is when I know how bad things will be tomorrow. And how bad? Real bad. Looks like my magic purple shoes are only purple after all. My feet are exploded in blisters, uphill side, downhill side, flat side, all sides. Our tarp is flapping like crazy but doesn’t seem to do a thing to keep the sand out. I spend a while lancing blisters, then curl up sadly in my bag. I put in a pair of earplugs. If I ignore the world, maybe it will ignore me. Five more miles down, then water. Then the desert.