I woke up this morning saying, “Wow!” The sun was rising, and for the first time in a long time, I watched it begin the day. I was tucked in my tent eating oatmeal and sipping the last nescafe, remembering how special these moments can be. It made me remember the desert, surprisingly with a touch of tenderness. Almost every day was a beautiful sunrise, something I’ve mostly slept through since breaking off the desert schedule. I could see the guys standing by their tents, also savoring the scene. It was bound to be a good day.
We had 16 miles to get into Belden, which we planned to make for lunch. The hike started by following the ridge we had climbed the night before, an exposed granite mountain covered mostly in bear berry and blueberry bushes. The shrubs offer up splashes of green and red with a fluffy visual texture across the foreground. I Love the contrast they provide in the granite outcroppings. We walked through this scene into a lush forest where I filled my water bottles for the last stretch while eating second breakfast.
The day grew hot, and the trail continued going down for miles. Switchback after switchback brought us farther and farther down the steep mountain, down and down for what seemed like forever. It was hard on my feet, and it was hot and dry taboot. Poison oak lined the trail on either side, taunting me by taking up all of the useful peeing locations. I shuffled along, dodging a plant that has never given me a rash, but it might. The heat made me perspire, and my feet asked for impossible breaks. The terrain just didn’t accommodate stopping, only walking downhill as nothing below seemed to get any closer. It was a rather purgatorial hike this morning, but there would be a hot lunch and coffee waiting at the bottom of this giant hill.
I made it to the restaurant just after noon, walking through an area that looked to be setting up for a big outdoor festival (turned out to be a weekend long rave). It reminded me of summers in my 20s, always finding an excuse to party in nature. Now my idea of a party in the woods has changed, and I’m living it. The whole scene was overwhelming, and a bit tempting in a weird way. Some past version of myself saw a fun weekend just getting started, but a slightly more enlightened version saw this as a major distraction. I kept my head down and found my way to the restaurant.
I had done a solid 16 mile hike by noon, and felt deserving of a town meal. Danger Spoon, CrackerJack and Cheeseburger were already siting at a table eating fries when I walked in. I joined them, overwhelmed by all that was happening, and really just wanting a lemonade. I ordered a chicken sandwich, drank lemonade and coffee, and talked game plan with the guys. Cheeseburger and I seemed the only one’s eager to get out of there. Everyone else wanted to stay, so he and I may our evac plan for 4 pm, giving us time to buy some trail snacks, hang out with friends and charge our phones. We ran into LaZboy who we hadn’t seen for a while, and it was nice to catch up with him. Several others rolled through, and the whole time I was thinking about the 5800 ft climb we had coming. In the plan I concocted with Cheeseburger, we would go 7 miles tonight, cutting the climb in half. I liked this strategy far better than doing it all at once, so when 4:00 rolled around, I knew there was no more stalling. I knew Pockets was close to arriving, and I wanted to say hi before moving out, but I couldn’t delay any longer. It was now or never, and Cheeseburger was ready to go.
The climb was hot and exposed, climbing for 7 straight miles. It’s a dry heat, the kind that makes your mouth dry out between every sip of water. Fortunately, there was water along the way. I stopped and cooled off a couple of times, closer to heat stroke than I have been since the desert. My skin felt waxy and dry at the same time, but I was just happy to be getting it halfway done before tomorrow.
We made it to camp around 7:00 and had a quick dinner by the fire ring (sans fire). The mosquitoes seemed as if they hadn’t seen humans in a while, so we quickly retired to our tents. We really have to step on the gas tomorrow if we want to make it to Chester in time to pick up our boxes at the post office Saturday. A good night of sleep is in order!