Dreams and reality are opposites. Action synthesizes them. – Assata Shakur
I wake up with the sun even though we were up late talking and laughing in the hotel’s beautiful lobby. It’s so nice to have Richard right there next to me, though he begs for more rest. I mess around with my pack on my last walk out of a town, at least my body’s clean, but dusty hiking clothes will have to suffice.
We love our stay in Julian. The guys shared a couple of pints last night at the brewery while I caught up. This morning, we’re served a two-course breakfast of granola, eggs and polenta along with wonderful homemade bread. We’re back at our table in the parlor, eating on a linen tablecloth and dabbing our chins with linen napkins, there are even doilies that fit into the historic period of Julian’s mining past. It’s very old school, but we like old school and everyone we met at tea yesterday chooses the same tables and seem quite happy to be served such awesome food. We share more stories and talk about where we want to hike next before piling into our rent car to return me to the trail.
It’s warm down here at 2200 feet, but the wind is blowing and I’m full of food and heaps of love and support. We take pictures, hug and say, “Until the next hike!” before I begin walking, paralleling the road for some time before taking a sharp right and heading through scrubby brush and cactus towards a massive mountain. I’ll climb to 5,000 feet today, though it will be a gradual ascent over fifteen miles. But right now, with that wall of earth in front of me, it does not appear possible at all.
For now, the trail is the flat I’d imagined all the desert to be and I move fluidly with long strides. A slanted slash of trail along the mountain gets closer and I slowly ascend towards it on hard-to-walk-on stones and sand. Just below is a large plastic object. A water cache? I gasp in wonder just when I realize that it’s not water, but a person in a tent. It turns out to be the polite young hiker we saw at the grill in Warner Springs. He impressed us thanking the staff before leaving when he didn’t really need to. I say hello and he tells me it’s too hot for him, so he’ll do the climb at night. I imagine the tent’s a sauna and I’m happy to be out in the fresh air and have the mountain to myself.
I wish him well and for a split second, wonder if I’ll manage in this dry desert with sixteen miles to water. My trepidation only lasts that split second before I spring up the ramp-like trail, passing a dusty green plant with a gorgeous orange blossom. The valley where Richard and Ted left me begins to recede as I sidle the mountain heading for a pass. As I work up and over, I see clouds, some a smear of white, but others blackish-gray calligraphy. It adds a kind of loneliness to this austere landscape that I am quickly rising above, but also deeper into, as mountains appear around each bend.
Today, I am again alone and I sense the smallness of my being here on this thin strip of trail. Alone, but not lonely. Richard follows my every move via the gps tracking, and many of you are here with me as I take each step up, moving a little faster than I have these past weeks and breathing more heavily. This is exactly where I want to be – on my own and supported. I walked nearly all summer and fall and yet I still feel awestruck by the spectacular balcony views on this trail as well as the feeling of both my insignificance and my connectedness. I’m moving steadily now after a later start, mostly to make it to water before dark. I’m grateful my body can manage what I ask it to do. And yet, I feel buoyed by my friends and all who care for me. My feet seem to walk themselves, my spirit is light and joyful.
I stop on a rock in shade to drink a liter of water. This spot faces a mountain I just finished walking up, the trail clear in front of me. I smile seeing in my mind’s eye what I must look like plodding up that ramp, only my essence left behind. It’s not a long stop since I’m still full from breakfast, so I continue heading up, swinging into another pass and saying goodbye to leopard skin mountains and hello to green lizard mountains. The clouds cover the sky, the sun straining to shine through. I gave my rain gear and the alicoop to Richard and wonder now if that was a bad idea. I make some quick plans in case it does rain, including using my ground sheet as an umbrella and looking for some sort of shelter, but I seriously doubt these clouds will drop anything as I shoot up and over yet another pass. I meet a dirt road here which takes me steeply in between mountains, only to send me steeply back up on trail again towards a ridge.
I pass Andrew Wyeth tawny brown meadows under soft hills, then dead gray branches like antlers pushing into the sky. This area is close to a place my brother Eric took me and our middle brother, Andrew. Eric lives in San Diego and loves it here high above the desert floor. We took a short trail from his car to a lookout, crossing the PCT. I asked them to take my photo ‘walking’ the trail – all ten feet of it – and then proclaimed one day I would walk it all. Indeed, that day has come!
I am within a half mile of the junction to a trailhead with a water faucet, checking out any possible camping on the way, though it all appears tucked in out of the wind and without views. When I arrive at the junction, a surprise awaits – a gallon of water from a trail angel. Fantastic! This keeps me from having to hike out of my way. Thank you, thank you, my dear trail angel. I take two liters for dinner and breakfast, knowing another water source is just under six miles ahead, then I move on to find a spot to ‘cowgirl camp.’
The trail comes closer to the road, but opens up to views of big mountains and valleys. A spur trail leads out to a kind of peninsula in the sky. I take it and settle for a wide opening in the shrubs. It requires some flattening of the dusty dirt, removing of rocks, and filling in of a few critter holes while crossing my fingers they find another exit far away from me, but I’m set in no time. I clean my feet with wipies and boil water for a camp dinner meant to serve three – when you see how much weight I’ve lost, you might suggest I eat enough to serve a family – and, then await the nearly full moon to rise. She arrives after dark, a velvety magenta set on a splash of cloud. The wind whistles through manzanita as my lair is slowly bathed in silver light. It’s my final night alone – a magical mix of memories and gratitude.