It’s a beautiful morning as we step outside our tent, where we perched along a ridgeline. We say good morning to Chef and Horse who are both slowly getting their stuff together. Lupine gives Horse some Trader Joes instant coffee that we’ve come to rely on on the trail. It comes already with the cream and sugar. Typically, I’m happy drinking my coffee black. But on the trail it’s nice to have the special treat.
Chef takes off down the trail. A short while later, so do we. We say to Horse, “see you up trail” and fully expect to see him soon when we pause to ditch our coats. It’s a cool morning, and Lupine and I both begin hiking in our warm coats fully expecting to overheat quickly.
We plop along the trail noticing the brushy, dry terrain, the restored remains of a previous burn. We walk amongst the occasional charred tree, it’s bark darkened to charcoal.
As we stop to remove our coats, Horse catches up and joins us. We remark on the tiny pines we see growing back. Lupine cheers them on, “good job little tree”.
As we crest a bald hill, dead trees blackened along the trail, we gain a view of the hills before us. It’s a view, but not quite impressive as what we’ve seen before. The land is barron and scarred. And we find it harder and harder to feel compelled.
It’s not that the land is not beautiful. It certainly is. However, it feels weird to walk through burn after burn. The ground is dusty and white. Tiny ashen clouds form as the soil is flung by your heels. Lupine gives me room, so as to avoid getting it in her eyes.
As I hike I point out Poodle Dog Bush as it appears on the trail. It’s common in areas after a burn. And even though the area burned 10 years ago, the toxic plant is plentiful. We dodge and walk around it to avoid it scraping against our skin
As we hike we reflect on how much burn we’ve seen, prior to today. So much of the trail in southern California, has burned in recent years. In the San Jacinto mountains, it felt as if everything had burned except the town of Idylwild. Again, we encountered miles of burn prior to entering Big Bear. And now here we are again in it. You can’t help but feel as if there are two parts of Southern California. Those that have burned, and those that will burn.
This thought coincides with the lack of water. We are always on the hunt for water. We sometimes carry a gallon each, on the days when we have nearly 20 dry miles ahead. When water is found it’s sometimes from a spring or stream. But, more often it’s provided by the kindness of strangers. It’s often a cache of bottled water that someone has left at a trail crossing. Thus that person we call a Trail Angel, because without them we could not do this trail. We could not survive in the desert.
Today we stop for water and lunch at a fire station. There are picnic tables and Horse and Chef are already there. We join them, and fill our water bottles from the spigot. We chew on mango and Clif bars. We joke and laugh out loud. We sit enjoying the shade, hiding from the sun.
Chef takes off. Then Horse a while later. Eventually Lupine and I leave as well. We push up a hill in the heat. As the trail winds around the mountains, it becomes more and more dense with brush.
We push it apart with our hands, charging through then brushing off our arms, keeping an eye for ticks. We do this for miles. It’s mentally and physically exhausting.
This is the most gruelling day on the trail. The scenery is drab, the trail is thick and overgrown.
We pass a section a hiker and think, “this is not the section I’d choose… by all means skip this and spend your hiking in better scenery.”
We push through another section of brush. Horse is on the other side, sitting. He’s tired and planning to setup camp. It’s a slanted, imperfect spot, but he’s beat for today. We consider doing the same. But decide to carry on.
It’s about 5:30 pm, and there’s a camping area in about 3 more miles. We’re exhausted and sweaty, but we decide that we can make it. The more brushy trail we can make it through tonight, the less we have to do tomorrow.
“We will see you tomorrow, down trail or in Acton” we say to Horse, then push into the brush.
It’s just before sundown when we arrive at Camp. Several other hikers are there. We recognize Rum Runner talking to some other hikers. We setup camp next to Chef, and begin cooking at a picnic table. We chat with him, then eat.
I setup tent in the dark. We fall asleep looking forward to exiting in Acton tomorrow.