Day 16: My toughest day so far!

Day 16
May 4
mile 194.5-210.8
16.3 miles

I woke up to an amazing sunrise and thought about how lucky I was to find this spot to sleep!
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As I sat in my sleeping bag, preparing for the morning, the group of three from Redding passed by. I guess they got tired, too! I got up to pee and pack my things and then heard voices below me! What?! I looked down to see three guys standing around with their tents still up! I wondered if they had seen me peeing…! Since I got in so late last night, I couldn’t see anything and they, of course, were already asleep!
I resumed the 23 mile descent (I had never heard of such a thing!), expecting to pass by their campsite, but never did. (I guess they had camped off trail). Prickly bushes had overgrown large portions of the trail, scratching and scraping me. Today would be a game of which would be the lesser of two evils- get scratched up or overheat from a more protective layer? The three guys passed me one by one, as I tried to step aside and make room for them on the very narrow trail. My mood was already sinking.
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I noticed that the guys were bypassing the switchbacks and cutting down the hill. So that’s how people were doing bigger miles! I remained on the path and took my usual breaks as a couple more hikers caught up. This was going to be a slow day!
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At some point, I came to a thin marker with a ‘200’ on it.
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Reaching the 200 mile point took so much longer than the first 100 miles due to all the time I had spent off trail. It felt a bit disconcerting. Yard Sale, an 18 year old hiker, who I had seen in Idyllwild on the morning I had left, came down the mountain and let out a “whoop” as he brushed by this milestone. I thought we might be able to take pictures of each other, but I was left to my own. I guess it wasn’t that important. As I continued on, I kept looking for the “water fountain” down below that I heard Spoonman talking about. He said it taunted hikers as we descended the endless switchbacks in the sun. I struggled with my wish to take a nap under a rock that provided some bit of shade and wanting to get to my destination as soon as possible. I needed some rest, so I opted for a short nap. Since the rock was slanted and uncomfortable to lie on, it wasn’t hard to get up and continue on.
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I finally found myself on the floor of the desert in front of the water fountain! There was a car parked nearby and my only concern was where I could pee without being seen! I collected and filtered water and headed across the road to find the trail. Once again, I got confused. I thought the trail crossed the road, but I couldn’t find where it reconnected. The car slowly pulled up and the man inside asked if I was confused. He told me that the trail followed the road for awhile and then cut across several more miles of dusty desert. He said the group of three was probably in the middle of that section now. He gave me a mini-geology lesson and told me to kick dirt into a sidewinder’s eyes if I saw one. “Sidewinder? What’s that?” I asked. He couldn’t believe I didn’t know! He was also very dismayed that I had filtered the water I had collected from the fountain, as he said it was some of the most pure water that could be found in the country!
I walked down the road and eventually reached the flat section. However, the wind had kicked up and the sand was now several inches deep, making it extremely hard to move forward! A helicopter flew overhead and I saw a sign that said to stop and wait to proceed until helicopter activity was over. How long was I going to have wait in this burning sun and high wind?! I decided it was okay to proceed. I said hello to a man taking a break under his umbrella and continued on. My mood was growing worse. This deep sand was awful! Why hadn’t I heard about this? I thought about some people back home and wished they could see the conditions I was in. I hoped they knew that I wasn’t having fun! Once I reached a big tree that provided some shade, I went over to it and took a break. Soon, ants were swarming all over me! What other challenges were going to confront me?
I reached the I-10 underpass and found two hikers who were going by the name “Wild Boys” and their dog hanging out underneath it.
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Some trail angels had left bottled water for PCT hikers, so I sat down and had one of those (much better than the boiling hot water in my bottles!). I then moved on at what felt like a snail’s pace. I had to stop to drink some of my hot water. Eventually, I started seeing signs to the trail angel’s house.
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I made my way around to the back gate and opened the door. When I rounded the corner, I saw about 20 hikers lounging in a carpeted area under some raised tarps. I was so tired and grumpy! Caroline came up behind me and knocked off my hat. I was not yet in the mood to socialize! A guy that was working for the trail angels offered me a seat and said he would bring me a foot bath. I asked him if I could have a cold one and he knew I had read the website that he had written! Ziggy likes everyone to have warm foot baths so she was not happy about him putting ice in mine! After my feet soaked, I was shown the shower and when I got my turn to clean up, I felt so much better! When I had my picture taken by Ziggy, a hiker that I did not know flashed me a nice smile. I felt a bit self-conscious and turned away. Several of the hikers were headed back out to the trail, but I was too tired to go anywhere and decided to spend the night there. I found a spot to lay out my sleeping bag and sorted through my resupply box. Archie was teaching Leftover how to do a downward dog and she called it “Cowboy pose.” I asked her why she was calling it that and she said it was because the hiker Cowboy was always doing it. It was that moment that I put several things together and realized that the guy who I saw doing a little yoga at Mike H’s place and the person that Anastasia and Archie had asked me if I had seen several times was Cowboy!
We were offered salad and then had time to make our trail dinners before they served us ice cream! I chatted with Caroline and caught up on her many trail stories. As darkness settled, we prepared for sleep. I brushed my teeth at the outdoor sink and took out my contacts. The wind was so strong that the first one blew right off my hand! Great! I looked around and saw nothing. Hikers were walking by on their way to the outhouse. I gave up hope when Caroline walked by and saw it on the ground! Awesome! As I lied in my sleeping bag, hikers continued to stream in get their foot baths. The wind whipped through the tarps all night, not allowing us light sleepers much of a chance to sleep yet again.

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