Miles 193-213 brutalized us.
The next morning we got up at 4:30 am, ready for a 4500′ descent into the desert basin. By 8am, the temperature was already approaching 90 degrees, and there was no shade or water until a small spigot at the base of the descent, 13 miles from our starting point: the only guaranteed water source for another 16 miles.
After slogging through the heat for hours, we huddled under a boulder in a patch of shade for an early lunch and short rest, before hiking on towards the spigot. We made it there a bit after noon, topped off our water, then pressed on another couple of miles to a house where a trail angel let hikers nap in the shade of his lawn and get water from an outdoor spigot- we figured we’d wait out the heat of the day there. By this point the temperature was over 100 degrees; we managed to lie in the shade and quietly sweat for awhile, but the water situation had us anxious to move, so we continued across the basin in incredible heat, now loaded up with ten liters of water between us.
We’d slowly been realizing that while we had the right number of meals to get us to the next town, they weren’t big enough, and we didn’t have enough snacks to make up for all the calories we were burning each day. I started suffering anxiety attacks and neuroses that had me sobbing and exhausted. I wouldn’t even realize these feelings were related to our lack of nutrition until two days later, when we finally got a giant meal (thanks to some generosity from our hiking friends) and my terror totally subsided.
So here we were, crawling across the desert, and my hip started hurting from a badly-adjusted pack (now fixed), the water is heavy, and I’m terrified that I’m just not physically capable of this. Our only goal was to get far enough that night before setting up camp that we don’t have to do too many miles in the morning before getting water. Sweat and sunscreen and tears were blurring my vision. Cal took all the extra water into his own pack to spare me the weight, but my hip was still killing me with every step.
As we approached a highway overpass, we were hoping only for a momentary respite from the sun, and were instead greeted by soda, water, hikers (including a couple of friends we’d shared a cabin with in the previous town), and trail angels giving people rides into town. It was a reversal of fortune so fast it felt Dickensian.
We quickly arranged to hitch a ride with our friends via the trail angel to get to this magical In N Out, the only one this close to the trail, for dinner, and then we’d hitch or take an Uber (I know, sorry) back to the trail, and the four of us would night hike to the next water source together.
Friends, you can’t imagine how dazzled we were by the clean tile and bright menus and flush toilets of this place, us hiker trash with dirty faces and incredibly bad smelling selves. It was HEAVEN. Half of us forgot how to even order food and the other half were trying to bathe in the bathroom sinks. Maybe the real animal style… was us all along.
Seriously though, this was such a treat- a bit of luxury when we were feeling absolutely empty. We were off trail for forty-five blissful minutes, then got back to that highway overpass, strapped on our packs, and hiked another five miles with our friends in the blessed cool air of post-dusk to a guaranteed water cache and decent camping spot.
That burger, a simple burg for simple hikin folk, marked a moment that was a transition between hopelessness and optimism, and joy in the help strangers can offer, and in the companionship of new friends.