My alarm goes off at 5:30, but I am awake when it does because I AM EXCITED. Possibility! Enthusiasm! Positivity! Forward momentum! HIKING!!!! Fuck Yeah!!!
I eat oatmeal and peanut butter and I drink instant coffee. Instant coffee is a dirt I have come to love? It’s incredible. There’s condensation everywhere, and as I sip huge drops of it splash into my titanium pot. Condensation is the way of my shelter, and I’ve accepted it now. Inside my cozy zone is a spectacularly wet microclimate. I create a rainforest, all with my mouth. How beautiful.
The man in the RV locked the privy before bed and so, alas, we shallst not shit today. Where we are is wide and exposed, practically a neighborhood, with fancy houses all around. As soon as we leave, we trespass. Right after that, we bushwhack up a mountain. It’s all downhill from there, but downhill is packed jeep road, hard impenetrable clay that my trowel just isn’t fit to handle.
What a weird world, this one where you just can’t poop so you decide you wont.
My lips are medium swollen, not OHMYFUCKINGGOD, THOSE ARE SO SWOLLEN swollen and I am grateful. I apply sunscreen liberally, regardless and we set off to trespass.
I hate trespassing. I am a natural rule follower, I have no real interest in being on someone’s private land, and this land in particular freaks my shit. Loose dogs weave in and out of lazy cow pastures and yellow flags wave furiously, DON’T TREAD ON ME flapping in the wind. There are cameras rimming ranches, Jelly Bean and I are dirty and I feel…sketchy. These people for SURE have guns and here we are prancing right out in the open with mud caked on our legs and hiking poles clacking up the pavement.
Jelly Bean tells me we probably look like somebody’s wives. We decide each of us is married to a DON’T TREAD ON ME man and that we strap ankle weights to ourselves and fill up our packs each day to get the blood flowing. We imagine we meet regularly to talk shit about our husbands and someday we will leave them. I will be gay, and Jelly Bean will still be straight because that is her curse both in real life and in this fantasy.
“It’s fine to be on this land”, we say. “We’re just somebody’s wives.”
By eleven AM we are done trespassing and I am relieved. We sit down before the big bushwhack and lay out all of our gear to dry, trying to guess what this trail-less stretch up a mountain will hold. It’s steep, I can see that in the topo lines of our GPS for sure. All reports say that it’s miserable, there’s no way around that. It’s only 1.5 miles long, but it’s also 1.5 miles straight up. Maybe we’ll go at a 1 mile per hour pace? 90 minutes up a mountain doesn’t sound bad. We can do 90 minutes.
Jelly Bean and I change into pants to protect from scratches, reapply sunscreen and follow our GPS track to the backside of El Cajon Mountain. El Cajon is said to be the hardest day hike in San Diego, and that’s when you come up the other side, the one with the trail. Jelly Bean and I approach and stare face high manzanita down, looking for a game track to enter into our ascent. There’s none really, and with nothing much that can be done about that, we start.
Two and a half hours pass like this: At first we are having fun, and then we are very serious. There’s no way up, really, but there’s going to have to be so we’re making our way, gingerly. There are cairns sometimes, little piles of rocks I feel certain were left by a previous SDTCT hiker just to say “Yes! Yes! You’re going the right away!”. I am angry sometimes, fighting with spiky brambles looking for my eyes, my nose, my mouth, all of my most tender parts. The seaming on my pants frays completely, picked and pulled by sticks and branches. I slam my shins against rocks and they bleed. I tangle with trees, fighting with them like they are people holding me from going up. I trip, over and over again. I am knifed with agave swords. I am hot and I am frustrated and suddenly….I am free. After four false summits we make it up El Cajon and I am speechless.
Jelly Bean and I stop to eat. It’s kind of funny when something is so hard. We are laughing, like, what the fuck? What the fuck are we doing? Jelly Bean shares her jelly beans and I share my caffeinated shot blocks. Rumor has it that this descent has a ton of climbing, but that climbing is free of thick face scratchers and so I am prepared. If we can get up the back side of El Cajon mountain, we can do anything.
I put on my headphones and head down. The descent is steep, so steep it looks like sheer drop off after sheer drop off. It plunges down and rips me back up again and again and again, the trail folding in on itself with erosion. I am out of water but the sun is setting and I am HAPPY. This land, My fucking body. My best friend. We’re doing it and it feels good.
I reach Oak Oasis campground and go to the bathroom in the privy (shitting, FUCK YEAH!). I throw away my trash and sit to wait for Jelly Bean, wondering how she’s doing with the descent that never stops climbing. I imagine what I might make for dinner and in the distance I see a friendly face wander up, a glint of mischief in his eye.
It’s GIRL SCOUT! Girl scout has been indispensable with planning this hike, and now he is offering us so many things at once that it’s hard to grasp. He says his partner has a housesit nearby, that Jelly Bean and I can have our own rooms and bathrooms for the night. He says he’ll drop us at the trailhead as soon as dawn hits tomorrow, right where we are now so no skipping will be necessary. He says his 87 year old mom is in the car, and that the two of them would like to take us to a barbecue joint nearby. He’s already checked the menu and he starts naming the vegan items.
Jelly Bean shows up and by the time she reaches me my eyes are so wide they could pop out of my head.
“PLEASE CAN WE GO” I ask Jelly Bean. I am not above begging, if necessary.
Jelly Bean nods, and with that it’s decided. Tonight, we’re soft and we don’t even care. Give me a bed, give me hot water, give me soap and warm food and and comfort!
Tomorrow, we’ll get back at it again.