Back to Trail, Sort Of – Day 31: Wrightwood to Grassy Hollow Visitor Center

I woke up this morning thinking I was sleeping in my tent on a cliff – only to realize I was just off the floor, on a bed. I laid in bed a while before getting my things together. As I did that, I realized I’d lost my credit card at some point the day before. Crap. I figured I would try to retrace my steps and hope I would find it. I said goodbye to Lynn and figured I’d see her for breakfast a little later.

Good news – my first stop was Jensen’s, the grocery store, and they had my card. So incredibly lucky. People can be really amazing. 
I bought an extra dinner and picked up some new Tyvek from the hardware store (I’d somehow gotten some really thin, cloth-like Tyvek that kept getting tons of cheatgrass and other bits and pieces stuck to it and was tired of carrying half the desert around with me.) As I was doing errands, Karma invited me to breakfast at the Airbnb that Twerk had rented so I headed over there. They made a massive feast and it was a house full of people and it was chaotic and pretty lovely. 

After we’d finished cleaning after breakfast Rawhide and I got our packs together and started heading to town. I saw Caddy, Hobo, Mike and Cate sitting outside the bakery and joined them and caught up. It was getting clearer that Rawhide and I weren’t quite ready to leave town. I’d been craving a burrito for days so I suggested we go get some Mexican food for lunch and we did. Afterward I was really full and really sleepy so I took my pack across the street and took a nap in a little park that was swarming with lady bugs.
After my nap Rawhide was ready to hitch out. We hadn’t really decided how far we wanted to go – there was a place to camp one mile in, two miles in, or seven miles in and halfway up the climb to Baden-Powell.  
We got a ride from a local who gives a lot of people rides. We hadn’t even stuck our thumbs out yet and he was telling us to throw our bags in the back. It’s interesting to be a woman out here because I feel like my spidey senses are always on trying to assess whether the person I’m accepting help from is safe. I’ve gotten lucky that a lot of the help I’ve received has been from other women, or a sheriff, or in large groups. I didn’t feel unsafe with this driver but there were a few comments made that were a little questionable but probably harmless. It was interesting to see the ways that Rawhide and I tried to take them in stride.
We got to the trail and walked for about 15 minutes and were at the first potential campsite, where we found Mountain and Tallboy sitting. They’d decided to camp for the night and after some hemming and hawing we decided to join them. 

Soon more of our friends – Tarantino, Mousetrap, Rachel, etc – joined us. Twerk and Karma and Nirvana continued on. 
We sat around and chatted and tried not to eat our entire food bags and watched the sunset. Tomorrow it’s back to the trail for real – I’m hopeful I won’t have the leaving-town blues since we’re already out here. I’m excited to get up bright and early and summit Baden-Powell and enjoy the last of the cool high altitude air while I can – the real desert awaits us below. 
Today is my one month trail anniversary. It’s both hard to believe and not at all. I am getting used to walking for hours and hours. I am getting used to sleeping on the ground. Carrying the things that will keep me alive. Forgetting about things like jobs and bills and what it was that I used to spend all my time doing, spend all my time thinking about. 
It is still difficult. I can only imagine the hardest parts are still to come, when the mental challenge of the trail starts to overtake the physical challenges. But there’s nothing I can really do about that now. All I can do is walk. 

Town Got Weird – Day 30: Guffy Campground to Wrightwood

Miles: 5

Woke up to a really gorgeous sunrise and watched it from inside my tent. Started packing up but wasn’t in too big of a hurry because I knew it was a short walk to town. I decided to make myself hot oatmeal for breakfast (normally I would never break out my stove in the morning, too much of a hassle) and ended up boiling too much water and putting 3 packets of oatmeal in and let me say, my hiker hunger is just not that intense yet. I threw half of it away, luckily there was a trash can at the campground so I didn’t need to carry it out.

It was a pretty nonchalant 5 miles. I set off on my own and Lynn caught up to me, but I didn’t hear her because hikers are actually pretty quiet when they don’t have trekking poles, so she whispered my name – “colleeeeeeen” – and I whipped my head around and about died of fright. 

“I’m not sure what would have been scarier,” I said, catching my breath, “if there was someone standing there or if there wasn’t.”

We hiked near each other the rest of the way. There were some ski lifts that we passed and wished would take us down the mountain. There were some pretty steep (though short) ups and downs which we complained about (hikers are whiners) but eventually we got to the highway where we were supposed to hitch. 

Lynn was a bit ahead of me and went across the street to the bathroom and a woman was standing near an RV yelled out to me, “watermelon?” It was a trail angel with fresh slices of watermelon! I happily ate a piece and she told me her husband was hiking the trail and expected to arrive tonight. She’s been meeting him every few days on his way to Canada – how lovely is that?

She told us where to stand and we stuck our thumbs out but really the thing that got us a ride was Lynn seeing a car with other hikers being dropped off and waving it down to see if they could give us a ride. It was a woman who had been on her way to go hiking with her dogs so I felt a little bad, but she was super nice and gave us a ride into town.

We got to town and got an overview from the local hardware store. They have Tyvek so I’m going to buy some tomorrow because the stuff I have is too thin and cloth like – I’m carrying half the desert around with me because it’s stuck to it. We took pictures of the info for places to stay and eat and headed over to the Evergreen Cafe for breakfast (which apparently has bigger portions than the other breakfast places, which was good because I ate all of my food.) 

From there I called a few trail angel “host families” but they didn’t seem to be answering, so we decided to try something more official instead.

Here’s where I’m not sure how to keep telling you the honest truth about my experience because I don’t want to start anything, especially since part of the problem with where we tried to spend the night was that my expectations (based on their website) were entirely different from the reality.

So, pardon the vagueness, even though I would love to give you all the truly epic details I made note of, I’m going to keep it top-level so that other hikers are free to have whatever experience they want to have, and maybe they’ll have a perfectly pleasant time (my issue with the place wasn’t about safety – I don’t think anything bad would have happened to us – it was just weird, not as advertised, and not what I wanted out of a Nero.)

We call one of the lodging options in the area and it sounds really lovely and relaxing. They charge a small fee and I expect that we sleep on the floor, which is fine because they have laundry and showers (the two essentials of any town stay) – but when I call, the man who answers (who I never meet) says they actually have private room options for a slightly bigger per-person fee and Lynn and I agree we’d rather do that. He tells us his “manager” will pick us up. 

We’re picked up 20 minutes later than expected (but whatever, mountain time). The woman who picks us up is very nice but also extremely chatty and a little loud and I don’t know what to say but to say that her vibe was a little “off” – she wasn’t scary or intimidating or anything like that, she just seemed like… someone whose version of reality was very different from mine. Oh well, I think, maybe this is just a person who takes care of the place and mostly minds her own business once we get there. 

We get there and from the outside the place looks as charming as the website, which made it seem like a pretty peaceful getaway. Once we walk inside it’s clear there was some fancy footwork done and it isn’t the business it supposes itself to be. The first two “private rooms” we are shown are not at all private, nor are they really rooms meant for guests – one is a room filled with non-bedroom equipment, an unfinished non-usable shower, unfinished flooring (plywood) and a refrigerator for other guests, who we could expect to be coming in and out of the room until we wanted to go to bed, then we could tell them to leave. Another “private room” was essentially a living room with no doors and a sectional couch (no bed.) All of these rooms were filled to the brim with stuff. There were two legitimate rooms upstairs but both were occupied by other hikers – one becoming available later in the day. 

But really the most perplexing thing was the manager, who clearly lived there. She told us all kinds of stories and things about herself that seemed like they were missing some key information. She was perplexed people often wanted to sleep outside, which was not perplexing to me at all. It also seemed that she would likely be popping in to tell us more stories throughout the stay, and I found myself getting stressed out by the possibility of staying there. As we’re getting ready to pay and choose our “room” I ask if she has an option to just do laundry and shower because a friend has just texted to say they have a place for us to stay (untrue). She says yes and that’s what we do. To her credit, after that she mostly leaves us to ourselves to sort out our laundry and shower. 

At breakfast I had run into Chris, the doctor who had told me what to do about my blisters in day 2, and he had told me his sister was in town and we could probably stay there, but I’d told him we’d already organized plans. I had gotten his number anyway. So I texted him the most fascinating parts about the place we were staying and said if his sister was down to let us stay, we’d be grateful. He got back to me shortly after and said yes and gave us his sister’s contact info. She’d be around after 7pm. So Lynn and I caught a ride back to town and had lunch and it took me about an hour to un-stress myself. Rawhide came by and I told her the story and her reaction wasn’t nearly what I wanted it to be. 

From there we went to the store for resupply and I almost accidentally spent $10 on grapes – no wonder my resupplies have been so expensive – and outside I saw David. I told him the story and he was laughing and laughing. “I kind of want to go there just for the story!” He said. But he ended up going elsewhere.

Also, another hiker, Marvel, came by as we were sitting outside the grocery store and said there was chanting happening at the yoga studio and that we could just walk in and join, and that sounded like exactly the relaxing experience I’d been hoping for, so I ran over and joined. I wasn’t there for very long before it was over but it was still nice to do something different. 

I called my best friend Sarah and told her about the experience and she laughed with me. We didn’t get to talk as long as I wanted because we had to meet up with Chris’s sister. So Lynn and I started to walk over there when one of the women from the yoga studio saw us and gave us a ride the .4 miles to her house. It was actually one of Chris’s other sisters who also lives in the area who met us, because the other sister was picking up some hikers from the airport. She was extremely nice and we chatted with her for a while before I stepped away to call Mark. As I was on the phone with Mark, Chris’s sister got back with the hikers and who was it but Karma and Nirvana!! I was so thrilled to see them. It’s Karma’s birthday but I was feeling too tired to go to the party Tommy was throwing for her (it was already 830!) so I was sad that I might miss them, but then there they were. 

So anyway, that was the very long winded town stay so far. That was my first experience learning just how interesting the characters around the PCT can be. 

It sounds like everyone is headed back to the trail today, me included, although I’m not sure yet how many miles I want to do. I’m excited that one of the most exciting trail angels, the Saufley’s at Hiker Heaven, is coming up in the next section. I am not so excited that I’m pretty sure the desert is about to get really real. 

Back to the Mountains – Day 29: Swarthout Canyon to Guffy Campground

PCT miles: 347.2 to 364.4
Miles: 17.2

I didn’t sleep great because it was a pretty warm night. Got started around 6 because we were anticipating a hot day and an all-day climb. The first part of the day was pretty warm and the climb was tough – steeper than I expected and also carrying 4 liters of water doesn’t make it any easier. People were passing me and passing me which also soured my mood. I kept stopping wherever there was shade because even the morning sun was hot and there was no breeze and just blah overall.

Soon I passed Mermaid, Mountain Goat and Francoise just as Rawhide got up from resting with them. Rawhide put leukotape on her thigh chafe and absolutely flew up the mountain. We were walking through a burn area which meant very little shade and we could also see the trail for miles, and also we were ridgewalking. All of which is to say – I needed to poop and had very few options. I eventually found a semi flat spot where the fire hadn’t burned some bushes and it was clear from the flattened cheatgrass and foot prints that many a hiker had dug a cathole there. It’s funny how certain thoughts will distract you for miles – “I need to poop” “I’m going to stop in the next shade” “I’m going to take a nap today.” They’re their own kind of incantations, not necessarily being present to the moment but pulling you forward all the same. They give you a mission.

I was trying to make myself hike 8 miles before stopping because I thought it would be hot and I wanted to try to get at least 10 miles done by noon, but my body had other plans. I felt weirdly emotional and all I could think was “I want to lay down in the shade and really rest.” At first I tried to ignore it but after a while I thought, fuck it, I have all day to hike this mountain, why not be a little nice to myself? I found some shade under a burnt tree and laid down on my Tyvek and didn’t give myself a time limit for how long I could stay there, and it was like my body just went – “ah, thank you.”

I was only there for 10 or 15 minutes but afterward my mood really improved. I walked by some trail workers and thanked them for making the trail nice. I looked out over the mountains. It was still uphill but it was just like my body and me were working together again.

At mile 10 for the day I took a siesta in some shade. I blew up my air mattress and put my backpack under my feet and went in and out of sleep. Mermaid, Mountain Goat and Francoise were all there and eating and chatting and they laid down for naps too. Eventually Murphy joined and also laid down.

I told myself I wanted to get moving around 2 to get to the camp by no later than 7 (camp was 7 miles away.) As I was starting to rouse myself to get packed up, Mountain Goat shrieked – a fly had crawled in her ear and was wriggling around or biting her. Francoise tried to flush it out with water but that didn’t work, so Murphy ended up putting some drops of coconut oil in Mountain Goat’s ear after google told us that oil would kill the bug. Crazy… you think you’re taking a siesta and then a bug crawls in your ear. 

I got walking again and it was slow going. The container of Pringles I’d eaten at siesta was making my tummy a little upset and it was a bit warm – not nearly as hot as I expected, thanks to the elevation gain – but I just kept trudging along. About 3 miles from camp my body was like, stop for dinner. Now. So I did. I sat on the side of the trail and made ramen and ate it, and then put in a podcast. The miles went by quickly after that. The last little push to camp was steep which everyone complained about, but then we had to go down an even steeper trail down to water so I guess that shows us. 

Rawhide decided to keep hiking all the way to Wrightwood, making for a 22 mile day. Lynn showed up not long after I got to camp, then Murphy and Hungry G. I had hot chocolate for dinner and we sat around a picnic table chatting, particularly about the campers who were cooking burgers and hot dogs. I kept trying to think of ways to approach them that might make them share their food, but ultimately it felt too manipulative so I didn’t. I did, however, go to another group of campers and pet their dog a little. 

Also, Murphy was about 30 minutes to an hour behind me and said she saw a big cat – slightly smaller than a golden retriever – walking ahead of her down the trail. She slowly walked back and panicked until another hiker came up behind her some 20 minutes later. 

I finally feel like I’m getting my hiker legs. My body fatigues less quickly and when I rest it seems recover faster. Does this means I fly up mountains? Nope. It took me 12 hours to hike 17 miles. But it’s nice to feel like my body is rising to the challenge. 

Lynn called it a night and we followed her lead. Murphy asked if we should hang our food because of bears – the trash cans were locked down – but most of us don’t have the tools to do that, not to mention that the trees didn’t give us any real opportunity to do a real bear hang. Instead we slept with our food, hoping the campers smelled better anyway. 

Will Hike For McDonald’s – Day 28: Silver Wood Lake Campground to Swarthout Canyon

PCT miles: 328 to 347
Miles: 19

Well, I didn’t get eaten by a mountain lion. I did have a dream that I heard something outside my tent which led to a mountain lion pawing at my tent near my back. I couldn’t scream and as I tried to get myself to make noise in the dream, ended up making a small murmur that woke me from the dream. 

Still, I was actually fine and woke up having slept well and, since I didn’t have a bunch of other campers around to judge whether I should start packing or not – and with the looming idea of being behind Rawhide and wanting McDonalds – I managed to start walking a half an hour earlier than usual, at 6:30. I quickly ran into some other hikers who passed me so it was good to know there were other people on the trail.

I managed to get into a good rhythm and was feeling strong and did 4 miles, so wondered if I could do 8 without stopping. I was still feeling good so I thought, I wonder if I can hike until 10 without stopping. At 9:40 my body let me know it was hitting a sugar low and by 9:50 I was stopped in the shade drinking Gatorade. 

I stopped long enough to finish the drink and then got myself hiking again. I was only 5 miles outside of the McDonald’s and I wanted to try to get there without stopping. The trail definitely made it a challenge for me with some pretty steep downhills.

It was gorgeous, though, and I let myself take it slow that I wouldn’t beat up my feet and need to stop. I popped in a podcast and just focused on getting to McDonald’s. 

I ended up arriving right around 1230, which meant I’d hiked 14 miles in 6 hours, which is pretty damn fast for me. Today was the first day I really felt like I could tell that I’ve been getting stronger and that my body is capable of a little pushing.

At McDonald’s there were SO many hikers. Nonhikers would walk in and say “woah.” People would make “what stinks in here?” faces. Our packs were everywhere. Our phones and chargers were piled by the two outlets on the wall. One hiker, Squarepants, who was also celebrating his birthday, managed to plug his phone into a ceiling outlet and duct taped his phone to the wall. 

The employees didn’t seem particularly phased – we’re not their first round of hiker trash I guess. And a few people asked is what we were doing. One man thought we were skiing (because of our trekking poles.) Many thought we were a hiking group. One group of women, sisters and two high school friends, stopped and chatted with us a while and told us how impressed they were. 

I ate a chicken sandwich and fries – McDonald’s has really upped their game because my sandwich was delicious. I debated for a minute and then also ordered a strawberry shake, which was not as fresh but still tasty. I sat with Caddy and Hobo and Francoise, and eventually table hopped and talked to various people. Twerk and Rawhide were there, as were Mousetrap, Tallboy, Rachel, Mermaid, David, Julia, and a whole host of people. Even Tarantino showed up, telling us he’d done a 26.5 mile day to catch us.

I’d planned to get back on trail at 3 but when I went to leave at 330 I realized my phone, which I’d plugged in, hadn’t actually been charging. My phone charger is near dead, too, and I’m two days out of town, so I decided to wait to get my phone to charge. I ordered some chicken nuggets and a side salad and chatted with more hikers. Rawhide’s thighs are really hurting her again so Mousetrap gave her some Desitin cream to try to help and we laughed about her smelling like diaper rash cream. 

All of us were bummed that there’s no water for 22 miles, which meant carrying 5 liters of water out of McDonald’s, which means a very heavy pack.

Rawhide and I didn’t head out (with Julia – now Hungry G – along for the ride) until 545, with plans to do 5 miles. Rawhide quickly got ahead of us (she later apologized and said she’d booked it because her thighs were killing her, but she’s just a fast lady) and Julia and I chatted for a good remainder of the hike, which made the last 5 miles pass quickly, although my feet started yelling at me as we approached camp. 

Also, I wanted to say that the trail isn’t always sweeping views of nature. Lately we’ve been passing a lot of roads, rail road tracks, etc. Tonight as we’re falling asleep we can hear a woman yelling – at first I thought it was at a dog but it sounds like a person? 

But it’s still pretty darn nice out here.

Long and Flat-ish -Day 27: Deep Creek DamOffshoot to Silver Wood Lake Campground

PCT miles: 313 to 328

Miles: 15

As I was eating breakfast (bagel and cream cheese) in my tent this morning, Hobo and Caddy (I’ve been spelling her name wrong) walked by and saw me. Apparently they got a good laugh out of that – they seem to catch me when my mind is exclusively on food.

About a mile in I bumped into a hiker named Rhino. She’s a doctor in the Yukon, originally from South Africa, and she’s traveled a ton of places. She got her trail name because she’s raising money to save rhinos while hiking the PCT. She’s a fascinating lady and her pace worked really well for me so I hiked with her for about an hour and a half before we found Rawhide in the shade and I sat down. Sadly I didn’t catch her again all day.

I managed to cruise pretty well for several miles after that, often taking a break when I would catch up with Rawhide. We spent a good part of the day walking on some hills near a road and then eventually beside the road. Rawhide wasn’t a fan – “what is this, filler?” she told some other hikers. I didn’t love it but I didn’t mind. We even took a brief break under a not-very-tall road bridge. 

From there we hiked to Silver Wood Lake. I’d been pushing it on water, only carrying a liter for the last 7 miles or so (low for me) but I ended up being okay, in part because the trail was relatively flat and also because it only got up to about 70 degrees today – still hot, but doable. The trail made us walk all the way around the lake without any real access points (unless you felt like scrambling steeply down to some of the beaches, which Agnes [now Mermaid] and Francois did). Rawhide texted me that it was torture and it kind of was.

Eventually we got to a picnic area and relaxed. A group of other hikers had ordered pizza and we stared jealously until we decided to order our own round. It arrived about an hour later and was delicious. 

Rawhide and I had planned to try camping at a picnic area that was still a mile further but were feeling unsure that we would be able to camp there undetected. Another hiker mentioned a paid campground nearby ($5) and immediately my mind was made up that I was going there. Rawhide wanted to keep going even if it meant not finding a campsite for several miles, so she did. 

I called Mark as I was walking to camp and it was good to talk to him, although I should probably be better about using my phone battery wisely.

The campsite is fine, but there aren’t any other thruhikers here, only some people who seemed to have been boating all day, and I’m lonely and a little scared. As I was walking to camp I saw a sign talking about mountain lions that explicitly said “don’t hike alone”, which is not something I’ll have much choice about tomorrow. 

Not to mention, tomorrow will likely prove to be a long day. It’s 14+ miles to Cajon Pass for me and there’s not much in the way of camping. I could either get a $75 hotel for the night and get back on trail the next day, or resign myself to hiking between 16 and 20 miles. I suppose it will depend on how I’m feeling and how quickly I get miles done in the morning. It’ll be interesting to see how I operate when I’m not expecting to see my closest hiker family all day. I’m not really looking forward to it, but I also don’t have much choice. 

The Hot Springs Were Everything I Wanted Them To Be – Day 26: Splinters Cabin to Deep Creek Dam Offshoot

Miles: 15.3

Woke up this morning around 530 but stayed cuddled in my tent. It was a little cold out, and also on easy terrain days without the hot heat Rawhide and I haven’t found it necessary to get up super early. Eventually I started getting my pack together and went to the bathroom – ah, the simple pleasures of being able to poop in total privacy and throw the TP away. I was on the road briefly before Rawhide at 7am but I quickly stopped in the middle of the trail because I had cell service and proceeded to click around the internet.

In under an hour we hit mile 300. I tried to take a selfie of both of us with my SticPic but the sun wasn’t cooperating so I have a few goofy photos of both of us and then a decent one of just me. We didn’t pause to reflect on our accomplishment because we had one goal in mind: Hot Springs. 

We reached the Hot Springs at around 11am and saw a bunch of people there, thruhikers and dayhikers, and many of them were naked. We ate lunch and then I kept bugging Rawhide until she came with me to get in the Springs. I went in in my underwear and my bra and shirt, not so much for modesty as sun protection (although I am not quite up to nudity around a bunch of hikers I will likely see down the trail yet). The Hot Springs were amazing. Shipwreck and Iguana joined us and a girl named Helen I’ve seen a few times was there too. I got hot quickly and climbed out and laid in the sand and took a nap while other hikers filtered – we saw Mousetrap, Rachel, Twerk, Hobo and Catty and many others. Hobo and Catty says Scissors wasn’t far behind but we waited and didn’t see her.

But the Hot Springs were magical and a wonderful treat. It’s one of the first days I lounged for the sake of lounging and took my time and got to hang out somewhere really beautiful. I think I need to try to incorporate a “Hot Springs moment” into as many days as possible so I have something to look forward to and enjoy other than collapsing in my tent at night. 

Eventually Rawhide and I got our things together and set off for the next 4.5 mile stretch to water. We continued to walk the ridge line on basically flat ground the whole way. 

Rawhide was feeling pretty tired and we decided to try to camp near the water source. But once we got there she said, what do you want to do? And I said I don’t care, we can try to find a place to camp (our maps suggested there was no camping) or we can go to the campground in another 5 miles. I think she thought I wanted to push so she said let’s keep going, but she was clearly tired and kept saying she was feeling grumpy, especially because her phone was dead and not charging, and as soon as we started moving I could feel how unmotivated I was and how sad my body was to be moving again. She pulled off the trail to grab some water and the area was flat and sandy so I said – let’s just camp here. And she said okay. So we did. It’s 730 and I’m already laying on my back in my tent and the sun isn’t even down yet. Some hikers kept going because they heard you could order pizza at the road a half mile up. I made a gross dinner (Parmesan couscous and tuna) that was super disappointing and I packed half of it away. But luckily it’s only a day and a half to Cajon Pass where there’s a McDonald’s and therefore a trash can. 

I’m really liking my new shoes, though I do have to cut open the pinky toe area yesterday. My ankles are still stiff in the morning but they don’t seem to hurt as bad warming up with the new shoes, and I’m going to try to stretch even more to hopefully get them to calm down. 

I had an interesting moment of clarity on the trail today where I felt really strongly that I didn’t want to go back to a “career” type job when I go home. In fact, part of what motivates me not to quit is how little I want to go back to “real” life. But who knows how I’ll feel at the end of the trail, or even a week from now. 

I also spent about 45 minutes arguing with Mark in my head about something that hadn’t happened, so my brain isn’t super reliable is what I’m saying. 

Downhill Means Big Miles – Day 25: Big Bear Overlook to Splinters Cabin

PCT miles: 279.2 to 298.5
Miles: 19.3

It’s cold in the morning and I’m reluctant to get going. Around 6 I will myself to start getting my pack together. I decide to pack it differently because it had been pulling on my shoulders yesterday. So now food is going near the bottom, instead of at the top. There’s frost on my rainfly that I try to shake off, but I have to pack it away wet anyway. 

When I get out of my tent I see that all the other hikers are gone except for Scissors, Mousetrap and Rawhide. Rawhide packs quickly and I leave only a few minutes before her. We make plans to camp under 15 miles.

My mood is better today. I’m not kicking my heels in the air but my brain isn’t as much of a downer. I’m enjoying going my own pace and not worrying about who is ahead or behind me. 

Still, a few miles in and I’m fantasizing about different things that could get me off the trail. I find a small bug that might be a tick on my shirt and think, Lyme Disease would be a worthy reason to quit…

I see a group of people sitting around and I assume it’s a bunch of thruhikers so go to sit with them only to realize they all look like they’re in high school. I sit anyway and find out it’s a school on a 5 day backpacking trip. They’re cooking pancakes and I eat a muffin and then move on. Later, I hear them come up behind me and I see that they’re hiking in a tight line and it makes me laugh a little, because even thruhikers who are hiking together don’t hike that close. 

I catch up to Rawhide sitting in the sun drying out her sleeping bag so I pull out my tent to let it dry. We realize there’s a campsite at 19 miles and it’s mostly downhill, so we change our plans to go for it. I tell her about my quitting fantasies and she says she does the same thing, today hers was about a bear tearing apart all her gear searching for food and not having enough money to replace it.

Another train of thought that lasts a while is: If I were doing the Camino, I’d almost be done by now. I’d have delicious dinners every night. I probably could have convinced Mark to come with me. I wouldn’t have to carry 10lbs of food…

I catch Rawhide again at the water source, where she is sitting with Agnes and Francois. The school group is there and they’ve met up with a second school group headed the opposite direction. Maybe its a key swap? A man who is part of the school holds my hand as I cross a log on the river. I sit with Rawhide and we chat a little and then Agnes and Francois go to find a place to take a nap and I lay out my Tyvek and take a nap where they’d been sitting while Rawhide reads her book. I hear Rawhide start to put on her shoes so I get up and leave a few minutes after her.

I’m debating how to cross the river further down the trail when Mousetrap arrives. He figures out a way to cross on some rocks and then we hike together for a little ways until he decides to stop at a camp site. 

A mile before camp, I see Rawhide sitting on a rock with her feet up. She’s having trouble motivating herself for the last stretch. I sit for a minute but then get up and keep hiking. She catches me just as we get to our proposed campsite, under the Deep Creek bridge. We look around and some other hikers tell us there are more people at Splinters Cabin just up the trail, not to mention there are bathrooms. We decide to hike there and find a large group playing charades. But we’re all business and we set up our tents and eat dinner. The school group approaches a little while later and they’re going to camp in their parking lot. We can still smell their hot dogs cooking when we climb in our tents.