Jelly Bean and I walk a mile off trail to get to our motel room. I am perfectly willing to walk ten, twenty, or thirty miles in a day if my body is able, but if I have to walk a mile in the wrong direction, I’ll get cranky. It’s just a fact!
At the motel we repack our bags, strategically placing the right snacks in our hip pockets. Jelly Bean and I shower, and it feels great, but not transcendent. To get the full thru hiker shower experience, I really think one has to go four or five days without. This water warms me up just fine, but I don’t even destroy a washcloth trying to clean myself!
I am excited about our plan to, like, carpe diem in the snow, man. I am not a snow person— not at all— but I do like physical challenges and splendor and it feels fun to not take the alternate just because it’s the easier route. I haven’t met Pineapple before, but I just feel like she’ll be cool and fun and I am excited to hear about her time on the PCT (before) and the AT (more recently.) She is one of the few long distance hikers I’ve seen actually talking about politics and that feels important to me. The wilderness is not apolitical (of course it’s not) and when I find other women who want to say something about that, I feel good.
Jelly Bean and I settle into our queen bed with the TV of the room next door blaring at max volume. It’s only like 8:30 PM (all too close to hiker midnight!) and I am sure the TV will go off at some point, so I practice not hearing the sound at all. I will the sound away. If I ignore it, it’s not there, right? I’ve lived in cities all my life, what’s a little noise?
The TV does not go off. I have been listening to it for hours, and I am sure it’s positioned just on the other side of the wall, right by my head. I slide out of my side of the bed just before 2AM, pull out my quilt and unpack my neoair, and rage blow it up in the bathroom. I settle into the small strip of carpet just outside the bathroom and with my head away from the TV, I sleep.
Pineapple joins us at 8AM and we are VERY excited. She drops her car off behind the taco shop and we look at the mountain up to Ranchita. We’re going up there! Fuck yeah!
We walk, but we walk lazily. It’s road for awhile and we have to take off our puffys, then our long sleeves, then we have to pee in the bushes, and then we have to get coffee. We have to find trashcans for our coffee cups, we have to climb a little through a parking lot. We laugh and tell stories and generally get to know one another as hikers. “Do you like to set an alarm?” I ask Pineapple. “Do you hike fast up hills? Will it bug you if sometimes we don’t talk and just sometimes hike alone?” Pineapple’s tendencies are exactly in line with ours and if that’s not a gift I don’t know what is. Sometimes things really do work out.
We climb up and up and up out of Borrego Springs and it is relentless, but pretty much snow free for the first ten miles. Teddy bear cholla frames the landscape, looking puffy and inviting as well as razor sharp, taunting us in the glow of mid afternoon sun. We joke that it whispers our name as the sun gets hotter : Come touch me Jelly Bean the Teddy Bear Cholla says. This won’t hurt at all.
For many miles, we follow Cascadia footprints in thin mud, and then shallow snow. As we climb it gets colder, and around 1PM the snow becomes unavoidable. The footprints we’ve been following disappear, and with them go the trail. Everything is covered in a pristine carpet of bright white snow. We only have about 1000 more feet to climb before we hit our crest and start descending, and I’m anxious to get to it.
We are ravenous, and we are racing the sun. As we walk we eat bars and sometimes the snow is funny and sometimes it is horrifying. I stop talking. It is 3:00 PM, we’ve been up at 4,000 feet for an hour, and we really need to get down so we can camp before the sun sets.
It’s getting cold, and I am getting scared.
Jackrabbits lunge and leap in the fresh blankets of snow and eventually, we start to descend. The snow gives way to slush and thick mud and motorcycle tracks. We are all sunburned in secret places that we discover one by one as we hike down. Our shoes are full of ice water. We just have to get down 1000 feet.
The slurp of deep mud gives way to soft tread and damp sand. Pineapple points out a flat space that we could camp. It’s cold here, not ideal in a lot of ways, but we are spent and the depression is snow free with space big enough for all three of us. We nod in agreement and shiver through setting up our shelters.
I make ramen with a giant scoop of peanut butter in it. I put on every single dry layer I have, including my rain coat and two pairs of socks. Undoubtedly, tomorrow will bring more of the slush and more of the mud, but least for tonight— we’re dry.