Day Twenty One

Today's miles: 20
Total miles: 308

We hiked through some exposed desert sections of trail this morning. I had another run in with a rattlesnake, but only a minor one that startled me more than anything. It slithered off the trail pretty quickly.

Our goal today was to reach the hot springs by early afternoon so we could spend the night there. We were making good time and reached a bridge over Deep Creek at 11 am. It was the first time we had seen a large river in weeks, and I was enamored. Such a wonderful gift in the midst of a dry desert! We considered moving on, since we weren't ready for lunch yet, but we only got a few yards past the river before we decided that soaking our feet in the water was too good of an opportunity to pass up. We kicked off our shoes and sat on rocks in the river eating trail mix and watching the water slip below our toes.

We had exciting places to be, though, so we only stayed a little before moving on. The final 10 mile stretch to the hot springs was on an exposed ridge line rising high above the Mojave River below. We skirted from one desert mountain to another, tantalizingly out of reach of the water. I could hear it below me, rushing and moving over rocks and creating deep pools where children were swimming. My mouth felt dry and sandy and I wanted to dive into those waters more than anything. The views into the canyon were beautiful; we were probably 1,000 feet up from where the river cut through the rocks, and each bend of the trail brought a prettier view.

But as the day wore on, all I could think about was the water. We were hiking in the hottest part of the day, on a shade-less mountain side, forced to hear the musical sound of water over rocks, but not allowed to touch it. As I grew hotter and more tired, the sound was torturous. It was a siren's call that was driving me to desperation.

On and on we trekked, until I became frustrated and tired, thinking we should have stayed and napped at the bridge where it was cool, instead of rushing for some hot springs that might end up being a bitter disappointment. It was so, so hot. So, so dry.

But at last, around 4pm, the trail began descending, and ahead of us we could see a sandy beach and a watery lagoon flanked by high, rocky walls. An oasis. We began running. I was stumbling down to the beach, every pore of me desperate for water.

G-Dub and Sansei were there already, having arrived earlier that afternoon. They laughed to see Katie and I running for the water.
"You looked like you were going to fall over, coming down that hillside," G-Dub said to me.
"I was, I was, I was," I said.
We couldn't get our shoes off fast enough.
We couldn't get our packs off fast enough.
We left everything on the beach, ran into the water fully clothed. The water was cool and warm at the same time, and it soaked into my dust-stained body.

It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

We were shrieking and laughing and came out of the water dripping wet, just to strip to our underwear, leave our clothes on the rocks, and dive back in. Sansei showed us where the water curved around and formed little stone pools, where natural hot springs bubbled up from the ground and filled them with hot water. We sank into the pools, feeling our muscles relax in the heat. When it grew too hot we jumped back into the lagoon, reveling in our new found paradise. I couldn't believe it had been three weeks since I had seen a body of water this big, or gone swimming, or felt the cool touch of water against my skin. All I had known for weeks was the scant few liters of dirty water that I hauled on my back for miles. This was heaven. I lay in the pools so that every inch of me was saturated with water, and my salt tears mixed with fresh water, creating brackish rivers on my cheeks.

It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

The boys eventually left, so soon it was only Katie and I, enjoying the peaceful quiet of our own slice of heaven. We paddled around in the lowering sunlight until Focus and his crew showed up to join us: Dog, Dance Party, Buffalo, Boulder, Scooter, Sweet Tooth, and Sunshine. Papa Bear, Lunchbox and Coincidence arrived shortly thereafter and we all sat in the hot springs until it grew dark.

There was no camping allowed on the beach, but we couldn't bear to leave this paradise, so we set up tents near the water and watched the sunset. When I got into bed, my skin felt warm with sunlight, my toes scrubbed clean by the sand and waves, and my head heavy with sleep. I dreamed of rivers and deep pools of water and dappled sunlight. It was the deepest night of sleep I had on the trail yet.

And it was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.