April 1, 2018 (Easter Sunday)
Shannon had been up all night with a bad nose bleed and was feeling very unwell, so she’d contacted her parents to come get her. The water cache was accessed by a dirt road, so they were going to pick her up there and take her to San Diego to get checked by a doctor.
I was saddened by this. We’d had such a good time hiking together. But I knew she needed to look after her health first and foremost, so I told her I hoped to see her again along the trail. She wished me luck, we exchanged phone numbers to keep in touch, and I hiked ok.
Despite my disappointment, I discovered a passion for pre-sunrise hiking and was actually looking forward to hiking it on my own. The moon was full and I only used my headlamp for the first mile or so just in case the moon wasn’t bright enough to illuminate snakes. After a little while, I had to stop to watch a fantastic sunrise, but once the sun was up, it wasn’t long before the heat started getting intense. Before long, I could feel it radiating through the soles of my shoes, causing my feet to sweat and burn. I’d changed insoles, but the blisters were still there and the swelling caused by the heat wasn’t helping them. I’d purchased my trail runners 1.5 sizes up in preparation for swelling, but as I passed the 100-mile mark I thought maybe my feet were already starting to flatten out because there was almost no room left in my shoes.
There was nothing for it. I hiked on.
I have to admit that even though it was a long, hot 18-mile slog into Warner Springs, I did enjoy most of it, particularly the few miles leading up to and away from Eagle Rock. Open pasture land meant pleasant breezes, and a few friendly cows greeted me as I hiked past. It was Easter Sunday and I found a random spot along the trail just prior to Eagle Rock that gave me full cell service, so I decided to FaceTime with my family who were all together for the holiday.
I tried to let the beauty of the trail and the time spent talking to my family take my mind off the pain in my feet, but the closer I got to Warner Springs the more unbearable the pain became. By the time I reached Eagle Rock I could barely walk. Another hiker kindly offered to take my picture by the rock, but I don’t think it turned out very well. I wasn’t feeling very enthused. All I really wanted was to sit in the shade for a bit.
I met another hiker in his 40’s or 50’s, who’s name I can’t remember, who was very kind and helpful toward me. I think he was a section hiker. While I was taking my break he asked why I was wearing a base layer under my pants (I had my shoes off and you could see the base layer poking out of my pants at the ankles). I explained the poison oak issue and that I was using the soft base layer to keep the rash from getting rubbed and irritated by my pants, which of course was raising my overall body temperature quite a lot but there was nothing much I could do about that. He reached into his bag and pulled out a little single-use wipe specifically designed for poison oak, in case I should see it or, God forbid, touch it again. I confessed that I’m not even sure where I brushed against it the first time because I’d never had poison oak before and I didn’t even know what it looked like. Some midwest girl I am.
After I’d hiked on, he easily caught up with me and we walked together for a short distance. The trail ran under some large trees next to a very trickling creek, and as soon as the kind section-hiker spotted some poison oak, he pointed it out to me, even going so far as to get really close and point out all the features that made it discernible from other plants. It reminded me very much of my dad and the way he would teach small lessons like that while out for a walk or working on a car or building project. I had to hold back tears.
After that, he wished me good luck on my thru-hike and set off down the trail. I was basically shuffling along as a snails’ pace, so I thanked him profusely for his help and bid him farewell. It was wonderful to hike in the shade of the trees, but my feet were still on fire. I only had a few miles left until Warner Springs, so I took off my shoes and socks, attached them to my pack, and walked the rest of the way in my Teva flip flops.
By the time I reached Warner Springs, I was so disoriented with exhaustion and pain that the woman showing me around the community center had to speak very slowly and gently so I could follow her directions. She was very patient with me. She explained how the hiker showers and laundry worked, where I could find loaner clothes, buy snacks, dig through hiker boxes, where I could set up my tent and hang my clean laundry, and how to get to the post office. Then she handed me a clean towel and washcloth and let me choose a few items from a basket of free hotel-sized soaps and shampoos.
Exhausted though I was, the first thing I did was find a spot to pitch my tent. Every step hurt, but I’d just completed my biggest mile day so far and had gone two full days without seeing the Cling-On. I was happy. I grabbed my towel, soaps, and clean loaner clothes and made my way toward the showers. As I did, I saw the camper van creeper across the parking lot. He was coming straight toward me and greeted me like we were old friends.
“You made it!” He said enthusiastically, a little too enthusiastically since I don’t actually recall ever talking to him.
Several times when the Cling-On had caught up to me along the trail or when I came upon him taking a break, he’d asked me if I’d seen any sign of the creeper, that I’d better be watching my back in case he snuck up on me, or that the creeper had asked about me at some road crossing or other. The Cling-On always seemed amused by this, or perhaps by how unnerved it made me feel, despite my best efforts. Looking back now, he could very well have been making the whole thing up. I’ll never know. But when I saw the camper van creeper coming towards me it made me incredibly uneasy. I’d just escaped one uncomfortable situation and I was not about to get stuck in another one. I nodded very curtly and scurried around toward the back of the community center where the showers were. I could see out of the corner of my eye that he turned to follow me, but then stopped and went back. This was the women’s shower stalls. He was literally not allowed back there. I was safe.
Upon a raised platform were three separate shower stalls, and next to these was an industrial-sized, three-sink unit with hot running water from which hikers could fill a 5-gallon bucket for their shower. I filled two. The shower curtains hanging on the stalls kept getting blown open by the wind and one clever hiker had tied the corner of hers to a bucket full of water to keep it closed, so I did the same and this afforded me a little more privacy. Still, I left my bra and panties on while I showered. There was no telling who might decide to come walking around the corner. I stood in one bucket and scrubbed my body as well as I could, then used a new disposable razor I’d found in the hiker box and shaved my legs and under my arms. It had been almost two weeks and I was a hairy mess. I’d thought to just let it grow and not bother with it, but during the last few nights, my longish leg hair was getting caught in the fabric of my sleep pants and pulling painfully, waking me suddenly from sleep. So I’d be shaving my legs as often as possible.
I never imagined a bucket shower would feel so glorious. My water was warm and seemed to soothe my very soul with its cleanliness. Other hikers who’d been there when I started had finished and gone and I was alone, safe in my little shower stall. I stayed there for a long time soaking my feet while the breeze sneaked in to chill my exposed arms and legs.
Then I was startled by a loud, unfamiliar, decidedly male voice very close by.
“Yeah?” A female voice then, somewhere over by the sinks. I hadn’t known anybody was there, but knowing it was just some other hikers and not the creeper come to find me put my mind instantly at ease, and I ignored them. I could tell the man talking to the female hiker, Ghosthiker, was doing so from quite a ways away and possibly with his back or face turned. They were apparently hiking together and he was letting her know something about their tentspots or something.
At any rate, I was still safe. I decided maybe I’d better finish my shower while there was still someone around so I wouldn’t get caught alone.
I’d brought all my dirty laundry with me to the shower area so once I was in my clean loaner clothes I hand-washed all my dirty things in a bucket in the sink. There I met Ghosthiker who’d been there silently hand-washing her laundry the whole time. She was an older woman with bright eyes, and when I came to use the other sink she smiled and said “I hope we didn’t disturb your shower.”
“Not at all,” I said. She introduced herself, but I’d ask for her trail name again a few times before I finally got it. I’m terrible with names, which is why there are some hikers I met along the trail who I knew only briefly and who may not make it into this account because I just can’t remember their names. Sorry, guys!
Later, I hung my clean laundry on the line out by the camping area and went back to my tent to fix myself some dinner. When I’d first arrived there were several tents already pitched under the one large tree in the camping area, so I’d decided to pitch my tent a little further away from these in the hopes that I might get a little more peace and quiet. When I returned to my tent there were already more people setting theirs up close to mine, and there was now zero space beneath that tree. I didn’t mind. The two camped next to me introduced themselves as Gently Used and Breaker.
“Gently Used? Do I even want to know?” I laughed.
Apparently he’d been in desperate need of a chapstick and had found one in a hiker box. “It’s only been gently used,” he assured other hikers. The name stuck.
Shante and Guy arrived later in the day and I we exchanged enthusiastic greetings. Shante told me her new trail name, Nightingale, and when I asked how she got it, Guy laughed and said, “You’re not the only hiker she’s bandaged up on the trail!” I was so happy to see friendly faces.
I retired to my tent with a full stomach and decided I’d take a zero in Warner Springs with Nightingale and Guy.