The thing that is really hard and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and starting the work of being yourself. – Anna Quindlen
My cowgirl night is heavenly. It got absolute silent except for an owl, “Hoo’hool hoooool hoo,” and a snake’s rattle twitching a few times, though I can’t be sure that’s what I heard. One lone buzzing bug came round and I had to put on the bug net, but that allowed me to peek at the stars just as two long shooters burst above me.
I make breakfast as the sky goes pink and cars move along the highway. It’s hard to believe my little self was up here sleeping with the high desert creatures and no one ever came past. I walk for some time without sun and enjoy the fresh morning, arroyos I pass throw out cold air that makes me shiver. I meet two section hikers happy to be out and already congratulating me. I’ll pass the 300 mile mark today, so I’m getting closer.
They tell me they passed six hikers yesterday and I know it’s my friends from the very beginning. They are nice to me, and sometimes not so nice like when I asked about the upcoming water sources and one spoke to me like a teenager to her mother, “We’ve never been there before.” No kidding, just trying to nail down my resources, but if I’m too old or too alone or just not part of your little tribe, I think I can figure it out, I think. It makes me laugh this morning how ridiculous that comment was, also how unfriendly cliques can be to solo travelers. That being said, I am proud that I figured the water sources and my needs and abilities on my own. As things wind down and this group is ahead, I realize how much power I give away. I sometimes assigned them a lot of importance, but it’s likely I’ll never see them again and I doubt they’ll celebrate with me when I finish.
But this is just that one crowd. So many others have been absolutely wonderful and I feel lucky having met them. But yesterday and this morning, I see no thru-hikers. And I love it as I work my way around these mountains with funky rock outcroppings towards the Mojave River Forks Dam. I can see a huge rock wall which I walk past, down to Deep Creek, swift and deep, unusual for the desert. There’s lots of graffiti on nearly every rock, the creek bed is littered, but also lined with sediment from recent flooding. I can’t help but sing ‘Deep River’ as I come to its ford. I grab a liter of water and plunge in, figuring my shoes and socks will dry in the sun.
But it’s a messy walk from here along dusty silt that fills my shoes. A worker is clearing something – downed trees? I lose the trail trying to avoid getting covered in dust, working my way toward the dam and avoiding snakes. It all reminds me of the frustrating portions of the Te Araroa when we’d have to find our way through industrial areas. The PCT is not in wilderness every moment either.
At the top, I see down into a canyon lined with orange and yellow oak trees. A man passes with a big dog apparently afraid of people. I walk along the canyon, into a crotch of mountains that seems to go on forever. The pools are deep and I can hear the water rushing hundreds of feet below. But it’s a bright green. Algae is everywhere and I’m not too keen on putting my body in it. Never-the-less, it’s beautiful to have so much water in Southern California, the creek lined with white rock and filled with trees in autumn-wear. Lizards continue to dart about, and squirrels join in, scolding in high pitches. I cross a curved Monet-style bridge and get a good look at the astroturf-green algae.
It’s an entire day of uphill – gradual and slow, but always headed up as the canyon appears to grow mountains in front of me. Years ago, a boyfriend told me I had no center. It pops in my mind walking in the sun and planning my water stops, knowing I’ll camp near a stream tonight. Loss certainly forces us to get centered and fast. When I developed the neurological condition, dystonia, and watched my life-calling wiped out, I learned to enjoy everything while I can. I walk well now, and I’m amazed at what my body has done this year, especially walking so many miles on the PCT with relatively few physical problems. It won’t last and I’ll slow down over time, not able to move as well and not having all this time and freedom.
So I savor it now, even uphill in heat with little water and shorter days, even in the relentlessness of a thru-hike now in desert with a lot of the same plants. I am alive and singing on this huge trail, amazed that I’m climbing up a magic canyon that creates mountains in front of my eyes every time I turn a corner. I am definitely centered.
I pass a hot spring, not quite in the mood to go in but still I wave at the men lounging around without clothes. One catches me later – shorts on now – and tells me how he gave up the PCT after 500 miles because he wrecked his feet. I tell him how much I’m enjoying walking now all alone and he describes the crowded scene here in April, hundreds tenting at water sources. Ugh, not for me! He agrees and says he’ll try a restart in Washington. I pet his dog and continue up and up, the pine trees returning as well as gnats, but I have my bug net now and it’s a whole new world.
I find a bench in shade next to a bridge, so tank up on water and food for the final nine miles to my intended camp spot. The canyon gets tighter and rockier. I had no idea a place like this existed in Southern California. The colors creep up the mountain looking like North Carolina. Someone spells out 300 in rocks near a long rattler on the trail. I take his picture before lightly tapping my pole near him to cause a gentle slither into the bushes. A huge raptor catches the updraft like a tornado and rises up out of the canyon.
I cross a bridge and continue uphill, but out of the canyon onto a wide, open area. Ahead is a creek, but it takes me a few hours to reach it walking on sand through oak and scrub. I sing assuming no one is here and giving any felines fare warning. My high notes scare up a deer and some grouse, but nothing more. I approach the water hidden deep behind willow. A campsite is deserted as is the next, but I keep walking to the spot where the trail crosses the creek and I’m assured access.
It’s cold and fresh and I drink a liter before setting the alicoop. It feels good to have clean feet and I eat two dinners as darkness falls quickly by 6:30. I’m tucked in now, the creek babbling as a few acorns hit the tarp. The air is chilly, but I sleep best when it’s cool. There will be no more water after here until I reach the turn off for Big Bear. This will be the last night alone for a while as a friend joins me soon. What will that be like, I wonder.