To me, there’s no greater act of courage than being the one who kisses first. – Janean Garofalo
It’s quasi cowgirl camping in our enormous tent with no fly. The stars don’t disappoint before the moon rises over the ridge obliterating them. No campfires in this tinder box means everyone’s asleep when it gets dark. It’s quiet except for an owl and a few acorn bombs.
Richard and I pop right up before it’s light, packing up and getting me caffeinated. He comes to the trail with me, walking through closed Burnt Rancheria campground and hoping to spot the resident mountain lion. No such luck, though we receive a bird chorus and a stunning sunrise from the ridge. Richard takes most of my gear, leaving me just food and water for a fast day of mostly downhill ‘slackpacking.’
I leave the views for a gorgeous forest, cool this morning. Most people don’t realize the mountains of Southern California are thick with pines, the tawny grass hiding a few cactus. This will be my last walk through forest and the last time this high. I breath it in and smile. I am walking away now, but these beautiful places will be inside me forever. I drop lower and leave the woods behind for mesquite, and views to waves of mountains laid out in front of me, all the way into Mexico.
I don’t stay up here long, though, dropping into a canyon of oak, their limbs heavy and bent. Ice cold air flows out like air conditioning on high. A stream washes through here, the last of the entire hike. Always a shock such freshness in this parched place. It would have been a nice place to camp – and maybe see a lion. I have heaps of water, so move on. Oaks past peak with curling brown leaves looking on silently, then shake in the breeze like applause as I pass.
Walking on earth gives me the permission I seem to need to be here. I gain confidence and, quite literally, groundedness when I walk. All those expressions like ‘standing on her own feet,’ ‘standing up for herself,’ standing strong’ buzz through my head. Perhaps that’s why I walk. I’m overwhelmed by cowboy perfume in huge clumps of sage. The trail leads up and out of this beautiful place and I catch my first glimpse of interstate 8 slaloming in parallel paths into the valley I’ll cross.
The trail passes ancient rock, compressed intensely, becoming a kind of shale, then tipping up and coming to rest at right angles. The fingers of stone stick up into the air as number one’s, cheering me on. I meet a road and backtrack into mountains and lose sight – and sound – of the freeway. I stop to drink a liter and eat some food on a shady rock, then head up and over, looking down into an area I was told by a hunter is full of predators. It’s perfectly laid out, even if too close to speeding semis. A huge flat plain of green-yellow cottonwoods lies below hills peppered with rock viewing platforms. I sidle around looking below for deer and calling above, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” My lion is full from his mid-morning snack. His tail swishes when I call, claws extending gently as he stretches his fore legs. It’s too hot and he’s sleepy, still sitting up as his eyes close and my passing visage disappears.
I work deeper down on switchbacks, holes cut into the fence by someone for something. Under the freeway are enormous trees in sandy soil. It leads me to Boulder Oaks campground, full of each as well as a handful of campers. A couple in an RV with hits of the ‘80s cranked offer me a soda and some water, telling me they’ve come to this exact site for thirty years to hunt deer with family and friends. When I ask if they’ve seen many hikers, they tell me a group came through with headlamps last weekend. He suggests I avoid night hiking because of rattlers and ‘wetbacks.’ Not very PC, though I wonder if the holes in the fence were made by smugglers.
I thank them for the trail magic and walk in deep sand through an environmentally sensitive area cordoned off by rope, leading to an alley lined in barbed wire and finally a long flat trail piled high with tumbleweeds. Gorgeous oaks reach out with cooling shade as I pass twenty five miles to go.
Gang graffiti and a fire ring greet me under a bridge and then it’s up to a beautiful lookout, golden trees and lakes ahead. Granite slabs with odd knobs remind me of Enchanted Rock near Austin, minus the armadillos. I head down into the valley where houses appear and more trails for bikes and dog walkers. I reach the campground, but have no signal. Richard and I can communicate through the gps, but he still needs signal to get those messages and looks for me for nearly an hour. A little nervous and maybe moving too fast, he crunches the car on a bollard. It’s actually not a catastrophe, but I freak out a little worried about money and bad omens.
There’s really not much that can be done now, so we set the tent in the PCT area and have a beer with a view. It’s dinner at the malt shop where I run into Myra (Wonder) and her parents. I met her in Bellingham and we started the same day. She cheered me up way back in Oregon when hiker attitude was wearing me down and ever since, she’s been my model for stick-to-it-tiveness. She finished yesterday and her patents assured us Richard can drive to the end. My day is tomorrow!
It’s off to bed now for an early start on the final, waterless twenty miles. See you at the border!