Today is the day we get to eat a full breakfast of fresh food. We pack up our tent in the cold air, as soon as we awake. We are eager for the meal ahead.
We march down the trail before 7 am toward the Paradise Cafe. It sits at the base of the San Jacinto mountains, right along the highway. We hiked last night to get as close as possible, to make it an easy approach today. We camped close to the highway about a mile away from the cafe.
We arrive to the cafe before it opens at 8 am. We have an hour to wait. A hodgepodge of hikers have already arrived, or likely camped behind it the night before. Backpacks have exploded on picnic tables as hikers organize their gear. We recognize a hiker who we last saw at Warner Springs a couple days ago. We had given him lentils. He says they were delicious.
Rachel and I begin looking through our own food supply. We have already blown through much of our snacks and are concerned we won’t have enough food to get through the San Jacintos. Another hiker says he can give us some food. He’s getting a resupply today and has extra food. He and his friends even had so much food a few days ago they say they had to bury it. I can’t quite wrap my head around that.
The hiker starts tossing food on the picnic table that he can part with. There’s 4 PBJ snack bars, a giant block of pecorino cheese, angel hair pasta, bacon bits, two chocolate bars, dried apricots and olive oil. Oh, and pepper. It’s perfect. Not only is the food good quality, and enough to last us, but it also provides several things we were out of: pepper, olive oil, cheese. “Wow, now that’s some trail magic!” I say.
We sit waiting in the sun until 8 am. A restaurant employee sits playing country and blues songs with a guitar and a PA. Eventually the cafe opens and the awaiting hikers flock in doors. It feels like we don’t belong. We’re too dirty. We smell. We belong in the outdoors now. We are the intentionally, temporarily houseless.
We are seated and review our menus. We each order coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. There’s nothing more that I crave on the trail than fresh fruit and citrus. The orange juice is amazing. We order omelettes. Rachel’s comes with tortillas, mine with toast.
Before we begin eating I say “okay, remember to take your time eating to enjoy the food”, partially as a reminder to myself. When you’re this hungry it’s easy to forget to enjoy it. I sure as hell will enjoy this.
As we scarf down our food, I notice our fellow hiker, Horse, arrive and sit down at a table. Behind him comes a hiker I have personally nicknamed Motormouth because he has a tendency to talk incessantly and interject himself into conversations that don’t involve him. He’s a nice guy but a little annoying. I hear him talking to some other hikers then sit down with Horse. Poor Horse.
Rachel and I struggle to finish our food. Although our appetites have grown I think that our stomachs have shrunk to fit the smaller portion sizes we eat on the trail often snacking rather than eating entire meals. Rachel steps off to talk to Horse.
We’ve been trying to decide what to do for San Jacinto, and she’s going to tell Horse what we were thinking. There’s a trail closure at mile 191 to 206. And before that there’s a tricky section of trail that’s hazardous in the snow, although the snow is currently melting. We’re still not sure what we will do. One option we had considered was to climb to the top of San Jacinto and then take a tram down to Palm Springs, but it turns out the tram is booked up full.
The new plan is to hike to the hazardous trail section. If it looks okay we will continue, then hike to Fuller Ridge, and down Black Mountain Road near the trail closure. If the tricky spot is bad we will turn around, hike down Spitler Ridge to Idylwild and get picked up by Rachel’s Uncle who lives in Palm Springs.
We finish eating and talk on our phones outside, checking in with friends and family. Eventually we grow tired of the civilization and crave the trail again. Horse hikes down the road to the casino for a room and to cleanup for the night.
Rachel and I head out. As we reunite with the trail we see the tiny trail angels from two days ago after Mike’s Place. They are excited to see us and give us popsicles. The youngest ones name is Monkey. Their mother is hiking the trail and they’re driving up and meeting her in spots, providing trail support.
A trail angel named Grumpy is bopping around the cafe looking for people who need rides. He is nuts. I’m not sure what he’s talking about. Maybe he did too much acid in his youth. I’m not sure. Trail angels come in different forms. That much now is clear. Grumpy incessantly speaks without stopping. I can’t follow a word he says. He’s the kind of person you eventually learn to ignore, or you’ll be spoken at for hours.
We hike onward, and upward, the grade increasing as we hike toward San Jacinto. We pass several friendly hikers on the trail, talkative and excited for our journey. A sweet old man with two sweet dogs tells us he wishes he would have hiked the trail when he was our age. It took him 30 years to do the John Muir Trail in sections. His dog digs up dirt in the shade and lays down underneath my legs. We chat then continue on.
A couple gives us Peanut M&Ms that they brought just for giving thru hikers. People along this trail are so friendly. They ask our trail names, and we give them the names we have assigned each other.
Rachel is Lupine, named after the mountain flower we see everywhere when we hike. We’ve seen it in the alpine of the Sierras, and Cascades whenever we’ve hiked in the past. Now we’ve been surprised to see it in the high dry dessert hills. Lupine is delicate and beautiful. It’s resourceful and can thrive in any setting. These characteristics it shares with Rachel.
Me, I’m Cactus. I can be a tad bit prickly, I think, although Rachel disagrees. She says I’m resilient and happy when the conditions are rough. I also love cactuses and the desert. Oh, and I accidently stepped on one yesterday, got it stuck in my foot and pulled it back to stab my leg. I then spent 10 minutes pulling spines out of my foot and leg. The kiss of the cactus. So, now I guess I’m a cactus.
The friendly hikers laugh and say they just met a hiker ahead named Dimebag. We laugh. That’s an interesting name. They laugh and say, “yeah, he didn’t look like a Dimebag. He was an older guy”. We laugh together, then part ways, eating M&Ms.
The trail winds it’s way through giant boulders, and pine trees begin to tower over our heads. At 8 miles in we come to a crossroads. Forward is the trail, with water at 5 miles. To the right is a stream one mile away. To the left us the possibility of a stream at .25 miles, but it’s not guaranteed. We take a gamble and find it’s a steep descent losing much of the altitude we just fought upward for. At the bottom is a dry creek bed. We’re momentarily defeated.
I hike up a ways to find a hose trickling with runoff into a troff full of water. A thick layer of bright green algae lays on the top. Dead bugs float along the sides. We fill our filter from the trickling hose, pushing two liters into our bottles. Before climbing back up we enjoy some snacks, spoils from a generous hiker, under the shade of the pine trees. Giant pine cones lay on the ground around us. When we’re done, we climb.
We keep climbing for about 2 miles. We begin to gain a view into the desert. Snow patches appear next to the trail. Trees become more abundant.
We pick a spot for camp under the trees and eat cheese with bacon and pasta, more spoils from the friendly hiker we encountered early in our day.