Water: Hose water never tasted so good; plus 3 from an actual creek
There’s very little in Warner Springs, a post office where most of us have sent boxes: a school, a fire hall, and the community center which offers an oasis to hikers each spring, now 15 years running.
Camp stirs early as usual though the hiker center doesn’t open until 8. When no one has showed up by nine, I decide to steal a shower, they are just around back with soap and shampoo and all. The water is not quite warm enough, outside in the morning shade. But more than worth it to feel the salt slime rinsing out of my hair.
I wash my clothes in a blue bucket by the hose, using some camp suds borrowed from the shower. Some after, a volunteer arrives to open the center, and there is a huge rush to pilfer the best offerings from the hiker boxes inside overflowing with extra food and other items people no longer need or want to carry. Trail mix and oatmeal. Many unlabeled bags of mysterious powders in shades of white. But also a fake raccoon skin hat, and a clean t-shirt, which I grab to wear while my clothes dry. It is coral colored and huge, but the cotton is a welcome relief from dirty nylon, and much more comfortable than the rain jacket I was wearing as a top while my clothes dry.
Audrey, Shenanigans and I venture to the post office. I am still in the found t-shirt and my wind pants. Audrey is wearing her base layer and jokes that she is wearing only her underwear. And I am not am not wearing underwear at all, I add. Every single other item of clothing I carry is currently wet and woven in the chain link fence, drying in the gentle breeze.
We walk toward the post office, thumbs out with Appalachian trail veteran Shenanigans taking the lead. A few cars pass, moving fast on this rural stretch of highway, but soon enough we have a ride. Not so surprising for three girls. Where are you going the man asks? The post office we say. It’s just up the road. We are walking to Canada but don’t want to do an extra mile for our resupply. Our ride laughs, then asks where we are from.
At the post office we pick up boxes, packed weeks before, contents now a mystery. The lady working there remembers my wolf box and Audrey’s marked with a yellow dot. I learn her last name is actually Shakespeare! Soon, we will be learning first names from box addresses, as trail names are increasingly the norm.
There’s a small hiker box here too. I find a bag of candied walnuts and start eating them while Audrey mails home a kindle and Shenanigans sorts through her box. Are you hikers? And older man asks. Who else eats food at the post office I reply. More laughter. The man offers us a ride back to the community center. He has an art class there, watercolors he explains.
Not everyone in town is so eager to assist hikers. Back at the community center I learn that there is a board meeting this evening, and that some in attendance will try to shut down the hiker center activities, though selling showers food and laundry raises money for the community. They think hikers are vagrants explains a volunteer. They just don’t understand the trail, adds a woman from art class, looking up from her landscape painting. And people are scared of what they don’t know. When I point out Amy, who has just walked in, is a nurse and that I have a PhD they ask if I will come speak at the meeting. I would happily, but it is time to move on.
In the later afternoon, many of us hike out. first across more dry grassy fields. The locals here say it is much drier than usual for the time of year. I remember descriptions of the trail here weaving back and forth across a creek. But there is nothing but dry sand under the bridge. After another dry crossing I check the water report to allay my fears. It is still running, but further up.
Despite the rest, my pack weighs heavy on my hips. Who put all this food in my pack? I joke. Maybe my pack was running around in the night gobbling up everything it found in town. Omnomnom.
Up again we go, this time into hills green with scrub that gives the illusion of lush forest from afar though it is barely more than head high up close. Bird calls echo across the landscape, all otherworldly as the sun sets.
We look up and there is a road, cracked asphalt surface weaving through the hills just below, carless but still disrupting our sunset moment. I wonder why roads feel so imposing when the trail is equally made by humans, and possibly better travelled and maintained. I hike, in part, to visit places that cannot otherwise be reached, something roads negate. But roads can also bring danger, and though it is near time to camp, we press on as it grows darker.
A bat swoops down the trail, narrowly missing my face. It is prime time for animals. I think about a small pile of animal poop I saw a few miles back that looked like it belonged to a bear, a little tiny, bear, but a bear nonetheless. For the first time, wish I was carrying my ursack.
But there are lights ahead, and 5 or 6 friends camped on a ridge. I sleep another night under the stars, possibly last for a while. The forecast is promising rain and, somewhat unbelievably, the chance of another snow event up in Idyllwild, our next town stop.