Helicopters continued to buzz over camp until the wee hours last night. I half expected to be woken up by border patrol shining lights in my face demanding that I show them the treads on my shoes. This has actually happened to hikers. I keep wondering if the rustling bushes are people on the run. I leave my water out in plain site in case others need it more than I do. This makes me feel like a good person, until I worry that my titanium pot and stove will be taken with it.
I try to sleep in to make up for the past week and the aerial traffic and noises in the bushes, but wake in the darkness. The helicopters are gone. It is 4:44 am. I doze for a bit, but the others are packing up, crinkling synthetic gear, stuffing nylon into nylon. I’m on the trail just after 7, ascending the zigzag line that cuts across the hillsid, up, up, up to the lake. My pack is lighter now with most of the water gone.
I walk part of the morning with Morticai, who I camped beside last night, in to Lake Morena campground. Hikers congregate around the bathrooms, drawn in by electrical outlets and running water. Six miles later we congrats again at a shady picnic table near the next water source – a campground faucet. A hiker ask whether there are rattlesnakes here and seems surprised and my wide-eyed YES! Padawan tells of one biting his shoe only a few miles into day one.
The trail passes under the I8 and up toward Kitchen Creek falls, the first tiny stretch I have day hiked before. I hardly recognize it on this cloudy day, with tired feet and a heavy load. It’s like a dream version that you know is a certain place though it is not the same. There are flowers blooming everywhere, but I hardly notice. I am too busy looking out for snakes and watching clouds thicken.
Afternoon brings more frequent breaks and lots of leapfrogging. I set out on the last few miles into camp with Jeremy, who I briefly met this morning. We chat up a storm powerful enough to push us right past the planned campsite. Luckily I notice before going back becomes unreasonable. Even an extra .4 miles seems too much already, with most of us choosing to carry extra weight to avoid tiny detours for water.
Other hikers trickle into the campsite, filling dirt patches under oak trees next to yet another dry creek bed, until there are eight tiny tents and tarps pitched close together, though there is room to spread out. We talk about other trails we have done (or not) and I share info about the next nearest post office for mailing off surplus gear. I have seen ice axes and bear canisters here, hundreds of miles from where they might be needed. And rumor is that one pair began with 16 days food.
I am still carrying an unopened liter bottle of smartwater I have had since the border. It must be the cooler than expected weather, sky clouded over with possible rain moving in, I justify to myself. Though it is most likely a container of my fears. Experienced or not, we are all still learning out here. Sharing what we know, gently trying to lighten the loads of others, and slowly becoming friends.