March 25, 2018
As the sky turned grey and I could hear people moving about in their tents nearby, I reluctantly crawled out of mine and hurried through the frosty air to the restrooms. Good Lord, it was cold! The Trail Angels were already up and busy, calling me over for fresh coffee and some continental-style breakfast goodies. I snagged a few individually wrapped hard-boiled eggs and a muffin, thanking them profusely for the strong, hot coffee. I almost cried, but I was afraid the tears might freeze on my face. Seriously, these people were awesome. I think they must have had a good idea where a lot of hikers would be at physically and mentally after their first few days on trail, and that some hot food and encouraging would be just the push they’d need. I could not thank them enough for such awesome hospitality.
The coffee was so gloriously hot I was able to pack up between sips and was soon charging up the trail with several other familiar faces. I kept up a good pace all day long despite my recently wounded leg and the myriad of painful blisters on my feet. Because I’d read that everyone deals with blisters in the beginning, I chose to power through and hope my feet would eventually adjust. “This is the new normal,” I told them repeatedly, “get used to it!”
What I didn’t know then was that I was experiencing far greater blister pain than most hikers due to some poor shoe and insole decisions I’d made before starting my hike, which I’ll explain later.
My destination that day was Mt. Laguna, a mere 10 miles away. I had a resupply box waiting for me there and was determined to take it easy. I’d done 15.5 miles on day one, 5 miles on day two, and 12.6 miles on day three. 10 miles seemed like a nice compromise. Even though I knew I should be taking it a little slower, I had a lot of energy and powered on ahead of Shante and Guy. When I suddenly found myself catching up to the faster hikers in our unofficial group, namely David, Satyr, and a few others, David called out “Hey there, Trooper!” with an enormous grin on his face. They all seemed thoroughly impressed that I’d not only caught up to them but continued to keep pace and passed them later on.
And there it was. My trail name. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very fond of it at first. It seemed like a pretty common enough name and I’d been hoping for something a little more unique. When I started hearing the stories behind some other “unique” names, however, Trooper seemed like a nice, safe name after all, so I kept it. Shante had been calling me Cheery for a few hours, but I knew better than to let that one stick.
I made it to the turnoff to Mt. Laguna and hiked along the campground road alone to the Pine House Cafe and Tavern. I dropped my pack outside on the porch and entered the cafe to be greeted by several familiar faces I’d seen at Lake Morena. They beckoned me over to a long table full of hikers, where I had the most delicious burger and fries ever before heading over to the general store to pick up my resupply box. Another hiker walked over to the store with me to raid the hiker box for food or gear, and I told him I had a very large box coming with more food than I could possibly need or want to carry, and he was welcome to take whatever I decided I didn’t need. This, like the attention I paid to the Cocker Spaniel at Cibbits Flat, would prove to be a mistake. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be generous with your extra food if other hikers are in need. It just proved to be a mistake for me in this instance. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The report was that the temperature would drop to the mid- to low-20’s that night, and as a big group of us sat around deciding whether or not to brave the cold or get a room at the nearby lodge, the owner of Pine House came over and announced to the 30 or so of us that we were welcome to spread our mats and bags/quilts on the floor of the cafe and sleep there once they closed for the evening. She even let us get a fire going in the large stone fireplace. It was a very welcome cozy night indoors after the last couple of cold, wet nights in my tent. After we spread out our things to sleep, Satyr and another hiker decided to serenade us with a few choice songs and a guitar, and a kind hiker named Google gave me some of his Leukotape to use on my rapidly growing blisters. It was a good night.