Water: from dude with giant gravity filter at deep creek; 1L from dirt spring (dumped); 2L from pipe spring
Last night before bed a lonely, slightly strange, moderately drunk man ambled over to offer us (and several underage teens) shots of Malibu from the bottle cap. We politely declined, but he also wanted to chat. At some point he warned us that people would night hike and be in the springs at midnight. He was off by a few hours, but otherwise right.
Cries of “wooooeeee” reverberated through the canyon starting sometime after midnight. Weekend hikers trying to echolocate their friends, sleeping masses be damned. Then “WE’RE ALMOST THERE” yelled across camp at what must have been 2am. And five headlamps on high beam confirming that humans are indeed cowboy camping between the rocks. Now this is what I was expecting at hot springs on a holiday weekend.
In the morning we plot our revenge. Shenanigans wants to steal their whisky. I want to sing the camp ‘morning song’, which involves yelling “SHHHH THEY’RE SLEEPING as loudly as possible. At 6am Bad Camper actually greets us with a resounding GOOOOOD MORNING. But instead of singing, I take advantage of the completely empty hot springs pool for one last soak.
The trail today should be uneventful, all gently downhill and with excellent incentive: the more miles we do, the closer to the almost on trail Subway/McDonalds at mile 342. This occupies most of the conversation. Particularly McGriddles, which I learn are some kind of pancake sandwich. The dream is to make it before the menu changeover, in order to hit up both breakfast and lunch.
But today the trail is out to get me, or I simply can’t get myself together. After my soak, and a cute rainbow bridge that makes me smile, things go downhill. And not in the easy walking sense. I stop to pee, leaning my trekking poles against a rock. But when I go to retrieve them, I see I have placed the handles, straps and all, directly into a large patch of poison oak, the first I have seen in a week. No. I think. I did not. I look again, leaves of three, bright green with oily sheen.
I grab the poles by what I hope is the uncontaminated middle, carefully holding handles away from my body. My skin itches with the thought. Nose, forehead, neck all begging to be scratched, hat to be adjusted. I try so hard not to touch anything, until I can wash hands and poles with soap. But though the river is visible, it is inaccessible, far below the trail. Miles later, we finally cross water. I borrow Grey’s giant bar of soap, and madly scrub hand, gloves, poles, and hands again, far too close to the river. Sorry creek, I say, as suds drip onto the sandy bank. Not my best effort at Leave No Trace. That there is no photo evidence of any of this is proof enough that I was not impressed.
About a mile later, my first rattle snake of the hike, startled by Grey. It curls up and shakes its warning just beside the trail. We detour around, hoping not to startle other snakes in other bushes. Then I read my trail notes. “Be careful, live rounds fired toward the trail at mile 318”. And I can hear shots in the not too far distance. I spend the afternoon worrying at every itch, listening for gunshots, convinced there are baby rattle snakes everywhere when the wind rushes through dry leaves or cicadas chirp. Then I catch up with Grey and learn there are ticks today too. Even now, writing in my tent, I can feel something crawling on my side – but it’s just an ant to be put outside.
Trail wise this was not the prettiest stretch. It was a day of crude graffiti and a tour de infrastructure. We are passing near roads, under power lines and by damns. At least the second holds back the huge reservoir that is Silverwood Lake, surprisingly full for drought times. We are at a campground on its far shore now, some kind of Memorial Day party with music and yelling across the way. And my tent, staked in semi-loose soil, without any big rocks nearby to buttress against gusting wind, has just collapsed on my head. Happy weekend, ya’ll.