I love evenings where I decide to camp alone, but am then joined by friends. Knowing I am brave, but not having to be brave all the time. Unicorn and Charlie catch me tonight, and others stop to chat before pressing on. Though my close friend group is a week or more ahead, I am still in good company. Finally meeting people who I have been following in trail registers since the desert, like Hannah Solo, and catching up with others, like Ratwater, who I have not seen for a thousand miles. I do not recognize him under the bushy beard, but the name is enough to recall specific conversations while making our way, effectively out of water, down the last few miles of San Jacinto.
Despite morning and evening encounters, I walked alone all afternoon. People end up in little clumps and if you find yourself between them, it can seem like you are the only human in the universe. Walking over hills that unfold endlessly into the distance. Except these hills, or the Sierras do end soon and I squint northward imagining snowy volcanic peaks ahead.
I feel like a new hiker today, and not in a good way. Feet, knees, ankles aching after only ten miles, a not so fond reminder of early days in the desert. I press on to the ‘A’ Tree spring, where I allow myself a long nap. After filtering water, I curl up in my tyvek on a flat dusty patch beside the spring, below the road as thunder does its afternoon thing in the distance. I do not think I was passed by a soul in the hour and a half I was there, though perhaps I really was that sound asleep.
Rested, I reach the next spring without too much pain. Listening to my complaining muscles, I allow myself to stop short, time and miles wise, for the evening. With promises of waking early, and hopes of get back to doing normal miles tomorrow. Either that or ration my food, because I have what I have and Belden town is not heading south to meet me. Nor is Ashland, 503 miles from here and I have just three weeks to go.
There are lots of noises on the woods tonight. Snaps, cracks and thumps in the dark. We are surrounded by deer, I think hopefully. SNAP! CRACK! THUMP! Or two energetic deer keep making laps. Charlie woofs in their general direction. And I sleep.