April 9, 2018
Waking up in the resort hotel, it was day 19 on the trail for me and I was craving a late morning. Unfortunately, our bodies were well-accustomed to early risings and we all naturally woke around 5:30am.
We packed up, I lanced a particularly large and painful blister and doctored it up good, we checked out (goodbye, awesome casino pool!), and headed over to the Taco Bell for breakfast. After that we walked about a mile to the P.O. and met up with Jay, who seemed to always be just a few steps behind us lately. He’d stayed at the Morongo hotel as well but because none of us knew he was there, he’d gotten a room alone.
We stood chatting while Ghosthiker picked up her resupply box and I mailed some unnecessary stuff home, including a book called The Worst Hard Time. I really wanted to read it but it was just too much weight to carry across the desert, especially considering all the extra water I knew I’d be carrying. I’d managed to get my initial UTI under control but I felt like I was always at risk, so I’d be carrying more water than everyone else. The extra weight may cause me to NEED more water, but I figured putting more water through my body could only benefit me at that point.
We eventually scored a hitch to the trailhead and hiked about 5 miles to Mesa Wind Farm, which had become well-known for having a decent resting area for hikers. It was amazing! Their break room was equipped with lots of microwaveable burritos and breakfast sandwiches, candy bars of all sorts, water bottles and Gatorade, all for relatively cheap purchase. A sign explained that the charges weren’t to help them make money but to offset the cost of the goodies themselves. We were more than happy to throw cash in their jar for a cold Gatorade and an hour in their air-conditioned break room. It was a longer break than necessary, but the heat was intense that day.
We hiked on, intending to reach the Whitewater Reserve before nightfall. It was not hard to do. It meant we only had to hike 9.5 miles that day but given our very late start and the intense dry heat of the desert, we eased into the day and enjoyed an early evening at the Preserve, where we were able to soak our blistered feet in the lovely wading pond. It was truly an amazing place; a literal oasis in the middle of the desert. I couldn’t see any roads coming into the Preserve. How did people get in and out to maintain this beautiful area? There was a paved walking path, pools and ponds everywhere, tall trees, buildings and pavilions, and even a house or two. It was incredible!
Jay camped with us and there was a small group of hikers already camped at the far end of the preserve. I don’t recall most of their names because we didn’t see most of them again after that evening, but we did run into a hiker named Longstride several times during our trek through Southern California. He’d earned his name while hiking the AT due to his speed, though I couldn’t help but find it a little amusing. He was maybe an inch or two shorter than me and most of his height appeared to be in his torso and broad shoulders. He also had an interestingly effective method of hiking in short, rapid strides. And he looked like a pirate. I’m not sure why that’s important but or some reason, his piraty appearance seemed to go well with his trail name, even if very little else about him did. As soon as he started chatting with us, I could tell he was also very intelligent, which also seemed to clash with his piraty-ness. I liked him immediately.
I suppose trail names don’t need to make a whole lot of sense. Even now after I’ve left the trail, I can’t recall a time when I really felt like the name Trooper really belonged to me. Everyone said it fit me perfectly because I kept going even when every piece of shit was hitting the fan for me, repeatedly. I didn’t quit when a lot of people would have. That’s what people said. I didn’t bother disagreeing with them because how was I to know what most hikers chose to do? I hadn’t read about the hikers who gave up or had to leave the trail, only the ones who reached Canada. By that point, the name Trooper had stuck and there seemed no point in trying to change it. But I still don’t feel like I’ve earned it. Oh well.
The other hikers we met at the Preserve were very cool. Unlike the crowd at Warner Springs, these hikers seemed to be taking the trail more seriously. They sat around chatting and laughing with us, but when hiker midnight struck, the whole place was silent. Everyone was in their tents, and half of those tents were packed up and gone by the time I crawled out of mine the next morning.
That evening, wading in the pool, eating at picnic tables like civilized people, meeting lots of other hikers, camping with tall trees and even taller cliffs rising up on all sides…it was wonderful.