day 17: today i eat the perfect salad


156.5 – 166.5

i wake often in the night. it’s so SO cold & i burrow deep into my sleeping quilt with my sleeves pulled over my hands for warmth. at three i hear sticks begin to break down his tent & an hour later i follow his lead. i wear my headlamp & down jacket for the first few miles of the day & the cold air enervates me. i have to hike ten miles before i can hitch into big bear & i make it my goal to get there before ten. a fallen tree forms a little tunnel & i’m so enchanted that it takes me fifteen minutes before i realize that i’ve veered onto the wrong trail. oh, i think, deflated, & i backtrack reluctantly. 

it helps that the morning is beyond beautiful, all pale pinks & gently rolling hills dotted with sage. i’m able to get lost in my imagination & the rhythm of my footfalls & the morning passes easily. when i spot day hikers in the distance i know i’m close. “how far did you come?” they ask, “ten miles,” i say. they look confused. “oh! i came from the mexican border. i came ten miles this morning.” it’s 9:15 & i’ve hiked ten miles & i feel AWESOME. 

breathless, i call pepa (formerly known as josef) & it just so happens that he & rt are shuttling a couple of hikers from big bear to highway 18 where i am & a few minutes later they roll up in a battered blue prius. 

sarge, the patron of the big bear hostel, remembers pepa from three years ago when he was thru-hiking &, beaming, gives us a discount & his favorite room. town chores loom & we catch up while i scatter my pack full of belongings all over the little room & gather up my laundry. i’m starving, i’ve only had a pro bar today, but i’m determined to have a shower before breakfast. my skin feels like peeling layers of desert silt & sunscreen & sweat & my hair has been in braids for long enough that they feel stiffly gritty. 

the two mile walk to the grocery store along the dust choked boulevard is heinously insulting. “these miles don’t even count,” i pout, but i have to buy food for the next section & i am desperate for the salad of my dreams. the fluorescent lights in the store are overwhelming & i feel hot & flushed staring at aisles & aisles of options. 

young gun & butcher & rob & bailey & more have arrived at the hostel by the time we return. young gun tries unsuccessfully again to find anyone to play cribbage on his hand-drawn board. we lounge in the couch-lined living room & i assemble my salad, pulling apart the roasted chicken with my fingers & tearing the romaine lettuce roughly. by 8:30 i am exhausted & we snuggle into our clean sheet bed. “that salad was so good,” i murmur as i’m falling asleep, “avocado…”


5 thoughts on “day 17: today i eat the perfect salad”

  1. I’m hoping you didn’t pass me up. I’m in Hesperia and Mojave River Forks is so close. Fingers crossed you’re still heard my way!


  2. IO, Congratulations on reaching Big Bear!! You are an amazing writer and hiker! Thanks for sharing your adventures with all of its dramatic ups and downs. It will be wonderful to hike with Pepa for a while as you make your way across California. We look forward to seeing you later this summer! Godspeed, Dan


  3. Be careful coming into the Sierra. You mentioned that you have an ice axe….that will be your best friend. I hope you know how to self arrest. I hope that you have navigational skills…..this winter saw our state with THE most snow ever. I have hiked all over the Sierra and many of the passes you will be taking. Just a word of caution. Have fun and enjoy this. You are doing something that I am yearning to do.


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