Day Forty Five

Miles today: 19
Total miles: 673

We tried to wake up at 4:00 am to hike before dawn, but since we had gone to bed only three hours earlier, it was extremely difficult to get out of bed. So we slept until 5:30, when Wocka Wocka and Giddyup passed by us, and finally managed to struggle into our hiking gear.

We still had quite a climb ahead of us this morning, so we were moving very slowly. We leapfrogged with Wocka Wocka and Giddyup as we took snack breaks and climbed into higher elevations, marveling at the new terrain. The trail was full of shale; we scaled rocky ridges and granite mountainsides, looking down onto the desert below. I would have enjoyed it more if I weren't fighting to keep my eyes open.

We soon descended again into the desert mountainsides we were used to seeing. Shade was hard to come by, and it was once again over 100 degrees with no breeze. The only water source on today's hike was a spring contaminated by uranium, so we hoped to pack in enough water to not have to stop there.

By 11:30 we couldn't bear the heat anymore. We had gone ten miles and we desperately needed to stop before the heat knocked us flat. The only bit of patchy shade we could find was under a scraggly tree, but it was the best we could do. It was so hot that we were pouring sweat even while lying completely still in the shade, and the still air was so miserable that we couldn't sleep. We desperately needed naps, but no one could get comfortable, and no one wanted to keep walking in this heat.

The afternoon siesta is a coveted thing in the desert, and an interesting phenomenon. It is very common to be leapfrogging with five to ten other hikers throughout the morning, passing each other as someone takes a snack break. But once noon or 1:00 rolls around, suddenly everyone stops. You could find a siesta spot under a tree and suddenly not see a single soul pass you for five hours. Every person on trail has learned how imperative it is not to hike in the heat of the afternoon, and finding the perfect siesta spot is an important part of the day.

We tossed and turned beneath our skeletal tree, shifting our sleeping pads as the sun moved, but it hardly seemed to make a difference. It was hot as hell and we weren't having any fun. We were also desperately thirsty and our stock of water was slowly dwindling as we drank our way through our siesta. We told jokes and shared Skittles to pass the time, but the heat was inescapable.

It was 6:00 pm by the time we finally mustered enough energy to keep hiking. It was still excruciatingly hot, but by this time we were running out of water and needed to get to the next water source a few miles away. We plodded onward, and upward, Sansei in the lead with Katie behind and me behind her. Katie, for once, was having a difficult time. She was dehydrated and overheated and kept stopping to catch her breath and scream at the dirt below her feet. I stayed silent behind her, but I, too, felt like screaming. Today was a painful march that seemed to never end.

Eventually Katie began to feel ill, so Sansei and I sat her down and gave her some of the last of our water and electrolytes to make her feel better. She rested until she caught her breath and then we moved on again, slowly. As we continued our climb, we were caught up by old friends: Milkman, Pickles and Irish! It was a happy little reunion, and we hiked as a group until we got to the next water source. It was dark when we arrived, and another hiker had left a small note beside the stream that read:
"2:00pm. There is a small, aggressive bear at this water source. Be on the lookout.
4:00pm. Bear is still here. Make lots of noise as you approach."

We began whooping and yelling and clanking our trekking poles together, but we didn't see sign of a bear. Still, it was dark and every rustling noise made us jump, so we tried to gather water as quickly as we could. The stream was very low flow, so it took an agonizingly long time to filter water. We kept watch in the darkness, our headlamps scanning for bears.

Suddenly, Sansei let out a shriek and we yelled, "what! What! Bear??"
"No - bird!!" Sansei yelled, flashing his headlamp in the direction of his attacker. The light made two beedy green eyes flash back at us, and a second later, the large, unknown bird dive bombed again for our heads. We waved our arms and yelled at the bird as it circled overhead, swooping down in the darkness to repeatedly scare us as we tried to gather water.
Grumpy, Sansei stomped back to the hiker's note and added another line to the bottom: 
"8:00pm. Also look out for killer bird."

We were desperately hungry for dinner, but we didn't want to stop for fear of being attacked by a bear (and the bird), so we pushed on a little further before stopping. It was an eerie dinner, all of us eating as quickly as we could, scanning the dark woods for any movement. Then we packed up and moved on, the trail steeply ascending before us. Pickles, Irish and Milkman were ahead of us now, and we hurried to catch up, but the heat was still dragging us down. It was after 9:00pm and the silent air seemed to press down on us, the warmth of the evening soaking us in sweat. We stripped off shirts, rolled up pants, dabbed bandanas at our brows, but still we were gasping and sweating up the mountain.
"Fuck, fuck!" we screamed, taking yet another switchback. "How can it be this hot at 9:30?!"
We were so tired, so hot, so miserable. I was practically crying as I forced my feet forward. I needed sleep so badly.
When at last we reached the top of the climb, we could hear the distant yells of Pickles, Irish and Milkman in the distance. We couldn't make out what they were saying.
"WHAT?" Sansei yelled into the darkness.
"BEAR! BEAR!" they yelled back.
"Quick, make noise!" Sansei commanded us, and the three of us began whooping and hollering again into the black: "hey! Hey! Bear! Woo! Bear bear bear!"
We caught up with Milkman, who said they had seen a baby bear climbing a tree not far from the trail, but they had yet to see the mother.

We banded together and marched down the trail, yelling and calling as we walked. We burst into a tentsite loud enough to wake the dead, disturbing several other hikers who had already gone to bed for the evening. We apologized and joined them. Pickles, Irish and Milkman set up tents but Katie, Sansei and I cowboy camped in the dirt, despite the threat of a bear visit in the night.

"Ok, here's the rule," Milkman said. "If anyone wakes up and sees a bear, start yelling BEAR BEAR as loud as you can, and anyone else who wakes up should start yelling, too. Under no circumstances should you yell bear if you don't actually see one. No joking around."
"Of course not," we promised.
"What if I yell 'raccoon'?" Irish asked.

Sansei peed around the outside of our tentsite, as if it would make much difference, and we had a rather fitful night of sleep.