Miles: 23
Camping: PCT mile 458
Hikers seen on trail: 11

I woke up after sunrise for once, windmills towering above me, my friends all lined up next to me in a neat little row. Everyone was still asleep, and I lay there enjoying everything about the scene for a moment. Apparently we were going to hike in the heat of the day, but that’s okay by me as long as we take lots of breaks.

Ninja and I were the only ones awake, so we departed from our companions, launching forward like Don Quixote towards the rows of windmills. My feet were really giving me heck, but I had to keep moving. Limping has become tedious, but there is no other way to move. One foot in front of the other, it’s not a race, just keep moving…Ninja was so far ahead, I wanted to stop and never walk again. “Blisters aren’t injuries,” I thought, “I’ve been through this before.”

We stopped in a tiny canyon for water, a welcome break for my blisters. I switched to sandals while we filtered, and I popped 600mg of Vitamin I. I wanted to stay in the canyon in the shade and sleep forever. I wanted to tell Ninja to go on without me. I wanted to eat everything in my bag so I didn’t have to carry it anymore. More than anything, I wanted to stop limping and fall back in love with the trail.

We agreed on 3.6 miles to our next break, where we would eat as much as we could handle and take a long leisurely nap in the shade. “I can handle a 3.6 mile hike,” I thought, the miles after would be a different hike entirely, of no consequence currently. My feet can do this. They had to.

A mile later, the pain had disappeared. Magical Vitamin I, how could I have neglected to take it sooner? I was cruising unencumbered for the first time in days. The heat didn’t phase me and I soared down the trail, happy again. So, so happy! I became a different hiker and soon passed a sleep deprived and somewhat grumpy Ninja with only a mile before break.

I could see along the trail that we had exactly one option for shade coming up. One patch of trees leaning over the trail that I could only pray extended to our reaches. I needed this break, Ninja needed this break. It would be a day changer. It had to be.

Upon arrival, Leonidas and Johnny were already occupying the area, but they made room for us. We blasted through our food bags, consuming calories like they were oxygen. The shade started waning and we shared a worried glance. We needed a siesta or the afternoon hike was shot. We had to find shade worthy of a nap. We had to.

Still feeling strong, I launched up the switchbacks unconcerned that it was no shade-o-clock. There was shade up there somewhere, and we were going to find it. A mile in, an old dead tree leaned in just the right direction to block the sun. We plopped down on our sleeping pads, and without a word we found our nap. I felt heavy and content in that shade overlooking the desert, the windmills, the trail. “I love it here,” I thought.

We woke up after a couple of hours and snacked some more. I made coffee and we were joined by Cheeseburger, Stampede and Landfill. We commiserated about the heat, the climb, blisters and calories. We made jokes, and then decided to move on. I had drank most of my water and was relying on the cache in 3 more miles against my best judgment. It had to be there.

The vitamin I was still in full effect and I nearly flew forward. I felt so good again. I felt so happy, back in love with everything. It was amazing to remember how much I love what I’m doing, that when it doesn’t hurt, it feels incredible. And then, a cache appeared. It was stocked with so much water, shade and chairs. It was perfect. This day was becoming perfect.

We made dinner here and lots of our favorite friends stopped in for water, shade and laughs. Everyone was in good spirits this afternoon, and we would all be in town the next morning. We are soon done with the desert, and that is a major milestone. We can all feel it approaching. The Sierra in less than 200 miles. The Sierra! Sleeping in, swimming holes, no carrying liters and liters of water, beauty! So much beauty.

The rest of the hike was perfect. Sunset became dusk, dusk became dark, and we all floated towards promises of better days to come. Ninja’s parents were to meet us in the morning, and they got us a hotel. Breakfast in a restaurant. So many happy thoughts, that when my blisters woke up from their vitamin I slumber, I paid no heed. They can rest tomorrow.

We all cowboy camped in rows, 8.5 miles from the highway under more windmills. They whirred as they spun, and as I lay in my sleeping bag, my blisters shot pain up my leg. I twitched for almost an hour, I ached, I prayed for less pain in the morning, for just 8.5 more miles out of my feet. “Please let me get to town tomorrow without too much pain,” I asked of the windmills against the stars. Please make tomorrow okay.

creepy picture Ninja took of us all cowboy camping