Day 33 – Jackrabbit

I woke up late today.  Oops.  That doesn’t happen too often, but I’m glad I was able to get some extra sleep.  As long as I get up before 12 I can make my usual mileage, so it’s not a huge deal.  Since it rained last night I had to drag my half-dry clothes into my tent with me, so I laid them out on rocks to dry while I did my morning chores.  As I did that the sun rose over the canyon and ignited my face.  Yep, it’s gonna get hot.

Everything dry, packed, and good to go, I looked at the climb ahead of me to get to the trail.  This ought to be interesting.  It was though and a little scary at times as the dirt slipped out under my feet, but I live to hike another day!  Once I hit the trail I tried my hardest to pace myself so I didn’t hike my way into another knee injury, but it’s hard.  My natural stride just feels so right, going against that just creates more work.  I eventually gave up and just did whatever felt best.

As the morning went on the temperatures went up, but the trail was winding around one of the outer edges of the canyon and occasionally there would be a safe haven of shade for me to hide in.  Largely though I’m starting to get used to the heat, albeit barely.  I passed some late morning  thru-hikers as I went and eventually found myself at Deep Creek Bridge.  It’s yet another surreal moment where I saw pictures and videos of this spot all the time as I researched and drooled over this hike the last year, but now that I’m here it just seems so different.  The canyon is a lot bigger than I expected for one.  I crossed the bridge feeling all giddy: “I’m here!  I’m here!”.

I hiked on the opposite end of the canyon for a while, and in the distance I noticed a cluster of hikers standing on the trail.  I assumed they were just socializing, and as I neared I started to try and weave through them.

“Oh, there’s a rattlesnake over here” one of them said.

“Really?  Where?” I asked.

They pointed to some bushes surrounded by rocks along the edge.  I felt there was enough clearance, but I ran across anyways.  I’m pretty certain the snake just wants to be left alone and won’t go out of its way to bite people.  I made it across alive, yay!  Then the hiker behind me decided to go.  She screamed as she ran passed and ran into another hiker trying to stop.  I threw up my hands and yelled “WE LIVED”, we all laughed, and I went on my way.

The trail continued to lead us out of the canyon, and eventually we started going downhill heading towards Mojave Creek Dam.  I’m sure one day it dammed something, but today all there was on the other end was a shallow puddle.  Even that’s giving it too much credit really.  Just a stark reminder that California is in a serious drought.  But it was cool eye candy.  After being in the wilderness for days at a time, sometimes a little reminder that the world of people still exists is cool.

The trail went past the dam and downhill further into a little cluster of trees.  As I neared I noticed a hiker standing around without his shoes on.  I waved hi, and he stopped me.

“You need to take your shoes off” He said.

Well that’s an interesting conversation starter?

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“River crossing.  No rocks, soft dirt” He replied in broken English.

Yay, water!  The trail is constantly burning my feet, so a water break should be awesome.  We both made our way down the creek, and on the other side was a bank full of hikertrash taking a break in the shade and going through the annoying task of filtering water.  I made my way across and started filling my own bottles.  I always take more water than I think I’ll need, because that’s a hell of a lot better than running out.  Especially now that my water needs are totally unpredictable.  When I finished that I did a rare thing and sat down and took a break with everyone.  There wasn’t much conversation, we were all just enjoying the cool air by the water and shoving food into our faces.

I eventually got restless and decided to get going.  The trail went out of the trees and up into the scorched desert dust where everything ever is superheated.  As I kept walking I started to droop a bit.  It’s so fucking hot.  The trail wound back around to another oasis of tall trees and I couldn’t help myself.  Time to hide from the sun again.  I laid in the dirt and stared at the branches above me.  The sun was shining down through the leaves and illuminating cotton and bugs blowing through the air.  It was beautiful, and it hit me that this is kind of my life right now.  I can just stop and hang out in places like this, and I can do it all day if I wanted to.  Not feeling any pressure to accomplish anything, I took a nap.

When I woke up I made lunch and got going, back out into the sun.  Yep, still hot.  The trail followed along a cliff face for a while then spat me out by a.. I dunno what to call it, valley?  I dunno, flat land with some hills surrounding it.  It was beautiful, I’ll just settle for that.  I couldn’t stop to admire it for long however, I needed to find my next source of shade to cool off.  The trail continued up to a dirt road with a parking lot, and in that parking lot was an RV.  I passed a sign: “CopperTone is here”.

Trail Angel!  I see this guy posting on one of the Facebook groups all the time.  He popped his head out of his RV.

“Hey man, I’m about to go to the store to resupply, but there’s pie and cookies over there on the table if you want” he said making a gesture to my right.

I looked at the snacks.  I’m hungry.  I’m always hungry, turning down food is insane but it’s so hot and my mouth is constantly dry.

“Dude, you’re so awesome and I appreciate it, but my mouth is so dry.  I can’t eat anything right now.  I really appreciate the offer though” I said.

He smiled, waved, and went back in his RV.  I hate turning people down when they’re trying to do something nice, but I can’t fathom a world where eating something right now would be pleasant.  I shook my head as I walked on, I can’t believe I turned down food.  I looked ahead of me and saw the trail spiraling up and over a mountain.  No shade.  This should be interesting.

At the foot of the mountain was one last oasis of shade where I took a ten minute break, then I pushed on.  The longer I wait, the hotter it gets.  If I were further in for the day I’d take a long break and wait out the hot part of the day, but I haven’t done much by way of mileage.  I have to push through it.  I pushed my sleeves down and pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the sun.  Lets do this!

The moment I stepped out into the sun I started to burn.  I pushed it to the back of my mind as I kept walking.  I kept this up for maybe half an hour before I was starting to frantically look for shade.  As I walked I passed a woman with an umbrella.  Hey I know her!  She was the one who sprinted past the snake earlier today.

“How’s that umbrella working out for you?” I asked.  I’m starting to think maybe I should have gotten one, I had no idea things would get this hot.

“They’re great but I can’t figure out how to attach it to my pack!  My arm gets tired carrying it around” she replied.

We talked about the heat for a while, said goodbye, and went our way.  My hunt for shade must continue.  I passed by a few other people having no energy to say anything.  Eventually I found some shade uphill under a bush hanging over the trail a ways.  I crawled up the hill and under the bush, pulled the hood of my head and took my hat off.  Ahhhh, fire extinguished.  I sat there for a moment and the same woman I’d run into all day passed by and sat under the shade as well.

“I’m not complaining because I chose this, but it’s so hot” she said.

“They couldn’t have bothered to put up an awning or something along the way, right?” I said, laughing.

Another hiker walked up and stood under the shade with us.  The conversation about heat continued, and eventually we all traded names.  The woman’s name is Hodge-Podge, the newcommer’s name is Forest.  Forest started talking about how something (likely a bear) stole his food in the forest outside of Big Bear.  I suddenly feel happy I take a moment to stash my food somewhere safe every night, even if it looks silly to other thru-hikers.

Forest left, and Hodge-Podge followed soon after him.  I remained in the shade for a while, then eventually I hopped down the hill and pressed on as well.  Once I got back in the sun my energy levels dropped dramatically once again, and I was looking for shade yet again.  It wasn’t until an hour later that I found something.  I plopped down exhausted.

Why am I out here doing this?  I’ve had every reason to quit recently but for some reason I just can’t stop going.  I can barely even walk downhill like a normal person, I have to hop like a.. Oh!  Okay, I’m breaking rules here but I don’t care.  I’ve come 300+ miles completely alone, I feel like I’ve earned the right to do this.  My trailname is Jackrabbit.  I’m following the rules to a point in that I’m not naming myself Nuclear Savage Badass President Jackrabbit or something like that to sound ridiculous, it was born from a situation on trail.  One that almost took me off trail and continues to threaten to take me off trail.  Having a name to own that is a nice reminder to myself of why I stay out here.  So, Jackrabbit it is.

40 minutes later I had only managed to crawl my way a mile through the sun to meet a little creek.  In seconds my pack was off my shoulder, water bottle out of its holster, lid off, water pouring out and directly onto my head.  I’ve been wanting to do that all day.  I chugged the other two liters I had readily available and started filtering.  As I did this I met a guy named Memento who had hiked the CDT.  I’ve only met a couple other CDT hikers and I’m always excited to hear their take on it, most of the time I get the feeling that they hated it.  Memento says it’s beautiful, but extremely hard.  The trail isn’t well marked through a lot of it – or rather isn’t finished.  Town stops aren’t nearly as luxurious, and there’s not a lot of people out there on it.  I’d like to give it a shot some day, but I have other plans for my next big trip.  I feel like my only incentive to do that and the AT is to go for my Triple Crown (meaning you’ve hiked all three major trails in the USA).  I don’t know if I really care about that, there’s other trails out here that look so cool, the AT not being one of them to me.  There’s places all over the world I want to see.

As I walked on I drank my freshly filtered water.  It tasted weird.  Actually it was disgusting, but what can ya do?  It’s all I’ve got.  I decided I’d try and make it to Silverwood Lake today which is a longer day than usual, something like 18 miles total.  I really want to get out of this heat though.  The trail wound along in nonsensical directions through the mountain range for the next couple of hours.  PCT, why do you do this?

I eventually made it out of the maze and got dropped onto a dirt road leading down into what looked like some kind of industrial area.  There were large pipes scattered here and there and barbed wire fences guarding who knows what.  It was a change of pace, one I thought was kind of cool.  Hikers were hanging out on bridges and in the pipes, but I wanted to see what other kinds of crazy things waited ahead.  I made it out of the construction area and got thrown out to a street.  I walked along a dirt path by a side and crossed a bridge, cars zooming by as I made my way across.  I stared at them as they drove by: that could be me driving home from work right now.  I shifted my focus to the terrain around me, I felt oddly comfortable here.  It was so big, but so small.  There’s nothing around me here.  This is the kind of place I could live in someday.  It had that same kind of vibe Warner Springs had.  I don’t want to live in the city anymore.

I was hiking alone along the side of the road and started to sing with my music as I walked.  My throat was so dry that I imagine I sounded absolutely horrible, but I was in a good mood.  The trail eventually went back up into the trees where I saw some hikers gathered around a cooler.  Trail magic!  Inside was cold water (actual cold water!) hardboiled eggs and some popcorn.  I settled for cold water and signed the trail register with my new name.  We all talked about camping strategy:  There was a picnic area about halfway around the lake that looked promising, but we weren’t sure if camping there was allowed.  I decided I’d go for it and see what happens.  Forest was there and I talked to him for a while until the next group of hikers came through.  I left to give them some space to enjoy the magic.

The trail went uphill a ways, and once I got to the top I got hit by the most amazing breeze of my life, and in front of me stood the lake where the temperatures dropped.  Yeah, I’m in love with this place.  I made my way around the lake quickly passing hikers camped along the beaches around the lake and found myself at the picnic area.  There was a group of hikers already here, and I took a place at one of the picnic tables.  I think I’m going to try cowboy camping tonight (camping without a tent).  I don’t really feel like setting up my tent.

I traded names with all the hikers around the area, but didn’t really feel like jumping into the conversation.  It was mostly about weed, and I don’t know what to say in exchange there.  “Yeah this one time I smoked it and I got high”.  Good addition to the conversation right?  Not really.  I sat alone and made my dinner.  The group eventually left and then it was just me – or so I thought.  A solo hiker came down and started talking with me.  His name was 42.

The conversation eventually got to the ‘why’.

“Why are you hiking the PCT?” he asked.

“I dunno.  I just found out about it and decided to do it.”

His reason was about the same really.

“That’s what I love about thru-hikers,” he said. “None of us really have a good reason for being out here”

It’s true.  Occasionally you get people who are out here to find themselves and such, but mostly we’re all just out here because the trail exists and we felt inclined to hike it.

Another group came in and 42 went over to talk with them for a while.  I sat on my bench and stared at the lake.  Thank you lake for your awesome breeze and escape from the sun.  42 eventually came back and we started making jokes about what kind of horrible creatures probably exist in the lake, which went to horror movies and such.  He’s apparently working on a number of really awesome-sounding podcasts.  I asked him to let me know when they’re done.  I also gave him some nightmare fodder from some of my nights on the trail for him to take note of for one of his projects.

Before I knew it it was already 9:00PM, way passed when I usually go to sleep.  I laid down on my sleeping pad feeling weirdly exposed without my tent, but I had a great view of the stars and the lake ahead of me.  I could get used to this.

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