day 23: uphill to pizza

05.02

339.8 – 369.3

“i don’t wanna wake up early tomorrow,” pepa murmured as he fell asleep last night, & we don’t. when i wake up to pee at 6 the sun is coming up & patchwork & sticks are passing above us. “i didn’t wake up at 4:30 after all,” laughs patchwork. “neither did we,” i say & gesture to our still completely intact camp. 

we stand around our little patch of cliff & i eat my banana & pepa eats his leftover sandwich. today we ascend blue ridge 7000 feet over just under 15 endless miles. at the top there’s the promise of a spring, our first water since the mcdonald’s soda fountain seven miles back. we’re not looking forward to the climb but there’s nothing to do but to do it so we stuff our hipbelt pockets full of snacks & take stock of our water. i have just over three liters left, pepa has almost four. we should be fine, especially since the air should cool as we climb. 


the morning miles are monotonous & pepa’s nursing a few small injuries & everything feels like it’s taking a thousand years. we pass patchwork after a while, her knee’s not feeling too good so we decide to hike with her & be sure she makes it okay. patchwork is awesome & also it’s a great excuse to be extra chill today. sticks comes across us during one of our million breaks, his stomach’s been bothering him so he’s taking it slow, too. pepa listens to music on my phone & i try to keep morale high. in general, i hate uphills, but today i feel pretty good & the slow pace is irritating because at the other end of today is town! and pizza! and showers!


we gather around a precarious picnic table (!!) at the last high point of the day for our lunch break & swap snacks. sticks pulls out ziplocs of crushed cookies & goldfish, i distribute sweaty babybels & fruit snax, pepa has cheezits, patchwork has a bag of trail mix that she’s been adding to & augmenting since she started. only four miles till town so might as well lighten up our food bags! i inventory my water, i’m down to about six ounces in my last bottle. WOW. 


sticks & i scramble down what my app describes as “a short steep sidetrail” & in reality is HELL. our water source, the spring at the bottom, turns out to be a halfhearted trickle into a dirty basin. lungs exploding, i lug seven liters up the cliff for patchwork & pepa & i to share.


we fly down the hill, “pizza,” i murmur to myself, “pizza pizza pizza.” a hitch from the road doesn’t materialize easily but soon we are huddled around a table at the mile high pizza joint in wrightwood & the proprietor is bringing us hot towels to wash our faces & hands & there’s pizza & mozzarella sticks & cold soda & it’s one of the local’s birthdays & we’re given big warm sloppy slices of carrot cake dripping in cream cheese frosting. the swiss couple sitting next to us is fascinated by it all, “it’s interesting to not just be on a tour of the wilderness of the west but also the small towns.” i agree, my stomach & heart both bursting.



we’re sharing a room with rob & bailey but before i get comfortable i bundle into my down jacket in an attempt to look slightly less filthy & stroll to the grocery store a couple of blocks away. i feel lighter than air without my pack & i luxuriate in selecting tiny packets of face mask, coconut water for pepa, fruit & yogurt for the morning, ice cream for rob & bailey. “oh yeah,” i murmur to everyone before falling asleep, sprawled on a mountain of pillows, “i snore.”

day 22: mcdonalds & ✨ manifesting ✨

05.01

335 – 349.8

i wake up early easily, today is mcdonalds day & we’ve decided to stay in cajon pass for the night since there’s a best western with a pretty good hiker rate & laundry included. i’m so looking forward to rest & clean sheets & hot food. what will i even order? while i pack up i think about milkshakes & mcmuffins & orange juice. who am i? the seven miles down hill swag & over & around cliffsides fly & so do we. a hillside is covered in pink- we later learn this is residue from the foam used to put out wildfires. 

we pass five gallon jugs of water stashed in a black bin & i silently thank whoever put it there. the day is hot already & i’m grateful that we started so early. even though it’s barely ten the sounds of the freeway & the accompanying trash are welcome because they mean air conditioning! and real bathrooms! and humans!


pebbles & nick roll into the mcdonalds soon after us & we post up in a booth near the outlets & soon boots & young gun & wet dog & butcher & sticks & bailey & rob are there too & the whole mcdonalds is teaming with hikers & there are packs everywhere. boots shows off the prickly pear tattoo that young gun gave him & it actually looks really good! we have bad news from rob & bailey about the best western where we’d planned on staying. they stayed there last night & apparently they didn’t have hot water?? we deliberate for a while. we’re both disappointed- we’d been so looking forward to showers & laundry & clean white sheets but it seems like everyone’s pushing forward to wrightwood & i feel kind of lost. after sink laundry & a bacon egg & cheese biscuit & orange juice i feel a little better & we agree to share a room in wrightwood tomorrow night with rob & bailey. that’s just over 26 miles away & there’s no water for the first 22 of them & right in the middle is a 14 mile climb up blue ridge. cool!


we trudge the .6 miles along the freeway to the subway for sandwiches to pack out for dinner & it’s miserably hot & dusty. there’s trash everywhere, why is there trash everywhere? on the walk we agree to be out by 4 & also that we’re doing the right thing. it’s been intoxicating being surrounded by all of the people we’ve been hiking around but i’m glad to have a minute alone with pepa. i have to laugh though as we hold hands in the dust of the freeway. 

as it starts to cool down we hike out with patchwork (she clutches an icy paper cup of coke), loaded down with five liters of water each (that’s 11 pounds, y’all). we gape at the tatouin landscape. it feels good to have been first in & first out of the mcdonalds even though it was hard to leave. patchwork’s guidebook says to expect very limited camping up on the ridge & as the sun dips below the ridge we realize how accurate that is. patchwork drops off after about five miles, she’ll cowboy camp in a rocky dry creekbed. pepa turns on his headlamp & we push on. “let’s manifest a campsite,” he says, & we round a bend & below the trail about ten feet is an extended rocky spit looking out over where we’d come from. it’s perfect. i set up our shelter by the red light of my headlamp & then crouch in the dirt & eat my over the top delicious sandwich staring out at the ribbons of light that are freeways & the distant city grid. “this is my favorite dinner spot i’ve had on trail,” i say & it turns out that it’s also my favorite place to sleep. 

day 21: beef jerky feet

04.30

318 – 335

we sleep in a little but we’re still the first ones moving. i fill up on water from the shallow creek which we slept beside while pepa chats up the section hikers who we met last night. we’re beginning to settle into a division of labor where i set up the shelter in the evening & pepa breaks it down in the morning but today i don’t mind taking it down. after all it’s just a matter of pulling out the six stakes, readjusting the trekking pole that serves as support beam & rolling up the fabric. 

we hike through more burn area today. i remember thinking how eerily beautiful they were at first but i’m over it & it’s hot & exposed SO early in the day. i crave shade & while pepa is taking a break to dig a cat hole i sink gratefully under a waist-high patch of chaparral. “in my year i got trail magic just after that road,” says pepa, pointing to the highway below us & i think about all of the things that i would like to find on the side of the road right now. grapes, orange juice, caprisun… when there actually is a cooler it feels to good to be true & i hesitate before opening it… what if it’s empty? but there is a bunch of bananas & water & a trail log. we share a bottle of the good cold water & jettison our trash (pepa has been carrying a piece of metal grating that he found on trail since yesterday 😳). 

we’re less than a mile from silverwood lake but the trail follows the perimeter for about four miles before our planned lunch spot at a picnic area. the day is heating up quickly & i’m hungry & irritated by the sounds of jetskis & happy humans below. “how far are we?” asks pepa, & i glance at my phone. my heart sinks. we’ve overshot the side trail to the shaded picnic area (bathrooms! running water! picnic tables!) by .3 miles which right now is far enough to push me to the verge of frustrated tears. we backtrack to a jeep road & cut down to where the picnickers won’t stop talking about ice cream, what flavors they’re going to have & across the pavilion a vietnamese family assembles a stack of gorgeous banh mi. i fill my bottles from the cold spigot & devour my banana, dreaming of the sandwich i’m going to order when we get to the subway in cajon pass. pepa cooks spaghetti & i sift through my food bag grumpily eating bites of things. 


“my feet look like beef jerky,” i mention, wiggling my peeling, variegated toes at him. & they really do. the bottom of my left foot is host to a dried out blister the size of a ketchup packet & has since been packed with silt & dirt. my two pinky toes have been stripped of most of their original skin leaving them pink & raw in some places & yellowed & peeling in others. there is a cracked canyon between my right big & second toes where the top layer of skin is receding steadily away from the gulf. it’s cool though because they really don’t hurt at all! they actually feel pretty invincible! in contrast to the first couple hundred miles of footsore wincing they feel incredible. 

we’re dreading the uphill out of this oasis & we delay it as long as possible. i wash my second pair of socks in the bathroom sink & give myself a bandana bath. we joke with another couple, allison & gia, about shacking up in their two person tent & we ALMOST succumb to peer pressure to camp here at the lake. but the mcdonald’s at cajon pass is only 14 miles away & we don’t wanna have to hike that far in the morning, so… we’d agreed on an hour long lunch break & nearly two hours after arriving we finally peel ourselves away. the climb does suck our energy but it’s fine, we entertain ourselves by complaining about all of our small maladies & by searching for pepa’s campsite from 2014. all he can really remember is that it was in a little indentation in the trail & that it was great. 

pepa perches on a rock & cooks his spaghetti dinner using the trail as his table. i sit crosslegged opposite & try to enjoy a protein bar dipped in peanut butter. “where is everyone?” we ask eachother, & just then rob & bailey come hurtling around the corner, almost don’t see us. “we’re doing 27 miles & getting milkshakes,” they laugh & keep flying down trail. 

we put ourselves to bed quickly so that we can follow their lead in the morning. “what was that sound?” asks pepa. i don’t know, i didn’t hear anything. nonetheless, he falls asleep quickly & i lay paralyzed by the creaking forest & it’s breaking sticks & swishing leaves. 

day 20: oh humans

04.29

298.5 – 318

i wake up expecting to be covered in condensation but i’m pleasantly surprised. i guess the breeze must’ve counteracted the dewy creek. the first thing on today’s schedule is a visit to the picnic area with its toilet luxury & trash cans (ANY chance to jettison trash). pepa’s relieved to be hitting this stretch in the morning, he did it in the afternoon when he thru-hiked in 2014 & he is adamant that the ten miles of long hill swag trail looking down at deep creek with no access were downright heartbreaking. along the way is deep creek hot springs where we’d talked about maybe taking w half day off but it’s saturday & the sheer humanity is overwhelming. crowds of reddened city people with speakers & swim trunks cluster around the shore & we step over a human turd & actual piles of toilet paper trying to circumnavigate the place. i’m saddened to miss a chance to soak in hot water but glad to skip the noise & chaos. 


there’s trash everywhere for the surrounding couple of miles, it’s awful & disappointing. we pack out water bottles & little scraps of packages & cigarette butts. we cross a rainbow bridge & follow the mojave river for another five miles of hill swag but this time it’s exposed & shimmering with sagging rock walls & graffiti littering the surrounding boulders. there’s a stretch of loose soil where kids have scrambled down the couple hundred feet to the water & a strange cave that curves inwards so we can’t see where it ends. the trail spits us out at a dam & everything is postapocalyptically desolate. 


“up ahead i remember it looking like africa,” says pepa, & it does, it reminds me of the part of the lion king when scar is king & everything is burnt & barren.


it’s frustratingly difficult to find a place to camp & we’re tired & burned out from all of the weekending humans today. we round a bend at our last creek of the day just across a jeep road & there’s a smooth area dotted with unfamiliar tents & with plenty of room for more. two older section hikers are sprawled on a tyvek rectangle playing cribbage. “oh!” i say, “there’s a guy with purple shorts & a ponytail named young gun maybe a day behind us. he is going to be SO happy to meet you!” 

i give pepa a blister pedicure “remember this in case you ever get mad at me,” i tell him darkly. he smiles & feeds me bites of cous cous before crawling into his sleeping quilt & blinking at me sleepily. it’s impossible to be annoyed so i swish water in his pot to clean it, eat a handful of mini snickers & climb in after him. we fall asleep to the sounds of the little creek. 

day 19: shacking up

04.28

276.5 – 298.5

somehow in the night pepa’s shelter stays sturdy & neither of us feels overly claustrophobic. “are you gonna mail yours home?” he asks & i say i guess so. “i like staying at your place,” i laugh. my pack baseweight will be probably around nine pounds & i marvel at how light that will feel & how much more room i will have for snacks. 


the miles this morning are easy, shaded & cool & we both feel good & strong. the trail is playing an odd deja vu with pepa wherein he can’t always recall what’s coming next but sometimes he sees something – a cluster of boulders or a patch of shade & an entire intact memory will come racing back. through the burned trees we can see a shining patch of blue in the foothills of the next mountains. “silverwood lake,” pepa says. we won’t be there for another sixty miles but it’s beautiful, reflecting the sun. we come across an open air privy as we descend to our first water source & break spot of the day & it’s such a strange thing to encounter that i spend a moment snooping around & taking full advantage. 


we don’t really have a plan for today, except for that we know that there’s camping after 15 miles, after 16, & after 17. we agree to cook dinner before we camp which is a smart strategy to avoid attracting animals but one that i haven’t had the willpower to try yet. one of the first things that we decided when we were figuring out how this would work was that we wouldn’t share food but we still can’t help but swap bites of my too spicy ramen & his cous cous when we finally take our shoes & socks off in the golden hour gloaming. there are no more listed campsites for the next 25 miles but we figure we’ll find something…. probably. in the few miles after dinner we shop for campsites but none are listed in either of our data & the area is windy & exposed. “i don’t like those,” says pepa, toeing a series of paw prints pacing the clearing. “okay…” i say, doing some mental math, “we could just do another .7 miles & call it a twenty?” we grin at each other & hike on.


just as the sun begins to dip in earnest below the horizon we’re rewarded with the sight of patchwork’s little green tent pitched right on the bank of deep creek in the shadow of the bridge. “the easiest way across,” she calls, “is to take off your shoes & wade.” pepa sits with her while she cooks & i gather rocks & set up our shelter. we’re both spent but satisfied after our accidental 22 mile day & we tumble to sleep nestled in closely. i didn’t write at all tonight, i fret, but i’m too sleepy to care much. 

day 18: trail treats & tiny tents

04.27

266.5 – 276.5

we wake up late (wellll 7:30) & spend a lazy morning lounging around the hostel drinking coffee & coconut water. i sort out my resupply, mashing snacks together into ziploc bags & then squishing everything down to fit inside of my 13 liter food bag. i have a feeling that i have too much food this time around but i decide that the security is worth the extra couple of pounds. coming into big bear i had about 500 calories left mostly in the form of coconut oil packets & fruit snax which was cutting it a little too close for comfort. plus we still don’t really know how many miles we’ll be able to reasonably hike each day since it’s pepa’s first week on trail since 2015. 

i have a few errands to run, mostly involving the post office but even so we’re ready to be back on trail by 10:30 when a local trail angel swings through to shuttle us back to the highway. it feels like most of the people that i’ve been hiking around the last few days are staying another night in town but we agree that we’d rather get on trail & take a chill day, maybe do ten miles, camp early, catch up on sleep. 


pepa has been alluding to some special snacks that he’s packed out for me &, over lunch in a shaded patch, he presents me with a whole pound of dried mango & shiitake mushrooms & honey stix & bacon jerky (?!?!) “the best part,” he says, “is that i’ll carry them all until you’re ready for them.” romance! 


my stomach is in rough shape all afternoon, probably because of the exotic town foods that i’d eaten the day before (vegetables! meat! fried things!) & i’m happy to call it a night when we find a crumbled picnic table & a nice flat area at the top of a small crest. patchwork comes up behind after a while, & then a friendly alaskan couple & we’re easily able to tempt all three of them into joining us for the evening. tonight is our first time setting up & sharing pepa’s little one man shelter. it’s bigger than mine, though not by much, but we’re determined to try it out for a while & see if we can avoid buying a whole new tent. after a little bit of shimmying we’re able to fit both of our packs & ourselves reasonably comfortably & we sleep, grateful to be together. 

day 17: today i eat the perfect salad

04.26

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…”