Mile 1383 to mile 1402
I wake in the night to see the full moon risen above us, the landscape draped in watery silver. It is the sun’s light, reflected off this ball that pulls at us; this ball of regolith and solid iron. The sun’s light turned inside out. It’s cold now, and I draw my sleeping quilt up to my chin. The irony of the desert- so hot in the day, so cold at night. I fall asleep again and when I wake it’s six, pale yellow light bleeding across the ground. Time to get up.
“Forty-eight degrees,” says Spark, looking at the thermometer on his pack. I don’t want to leave my warm sleeping bag. Finally I eat a little breakfast and extricate myself. I’m only wearing running shorts and a tank top; the cold is temporary.
We climb up to the bright, treeless rim and then we’re looking down on everything, down on the hazy valley and it’s already hot, hot, hot. We’re in a heat wave so it’s even hotter than normal but today I don’t even care. I’ve got really good cell service up here, not a thing in any direction to interrupt it, and there’s plenty of sun to rock my solar charger. Which means that I can listen to music- something I haven’t yet been able to do.
I haven’t listened to music in almost three months.
And it’s incredible.
So I’m pumped, and I don’t give a fuck about the heat. I feel like I’m flying. And besides, I like the desert. I like the flat sandy path. I like the challenge of racing from water source to water source. I like the sun.
I’m so happy.
The cache is called “Cache 22” (a play on words I won’t get until much later) and it consists of a shelter made of woven tree branches, like an overturned nest, and in the dappled shade of this shelter a couple of plastic chairs, a trail register, and dozens of gallon water jugs. There are already a handful of hikers there, sweating in the plastic chairs, and all of the water jugs are empty except for two. Instigate, Spark and I walk down the hill to where an oak tree throws some solid shade on the yellow grass and spread out our sleeping pads to wait out the heat. There’s more air movement here than in the shelter.
“A hundred degrees in the shade,” says Spark, checking his thermometer again. We all take off as much clothing as we can and pull our food bags out to eat snacks. I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn aloud from my phone and we watch as the other hikers set out, one by one, into the afternoon heat. A pickup truck appears, rumbling up the dirt road. A man and a woman step out. They’re holding a galvanized metal tub of apricots.
“We’re here to stock the cache,” says the woman. They offer us the apricots. The apricots are soft and overripe, right off the tree. We eat as many as we can stomach and then we pile the water jugs into a little red wagon and haul them up to the bird’s nest. The couple also has watermelon, beer, and a cooler full of ice. I put some ice in my hat. The ice melts, and I put more ice in my hat. At last the cache is stocked, our bottles are full, and our stomachs are aching from fruit. It’s time to set out.
We hike a few more miles along the rim as the sun melts into the horizon. The path is sandy and smooth but there are lava rocks jutting from it, here and there where you wouldn’t expect them. I keep tripping over these rocks and almost falling on my face. It seems that my legs have a setting for “forest floor with tree roots” and “flat sandy path”, but that they cannot acclimate to a flat sandy path with root-like rocks sticking out of it. I manage to stay upright (thanks, trekking poles!) and we find a small clearing next to the trail where all of us can sleep. Egg is with us- she’s been hiking on and off with us for a while. Egg is short, wears a big white hat in the sun, and hikes in a cornflower-blue yoga dress. Her pace is “slow and steady” while ours oscillates between balls-out and lackadaisical. At the end of each section, however, our averages are the same, and so we see each other often.
Instigate takes out her violin and plays wayfaring stranger to the last of the setting sun. And then it’s time for sleep.