Shady Grove - a very windy tentsite somewhere before Saddle Junction (mile 175?)
I am not the last to leave camp! Again! This is incredible! A feat worth celebrating. We hike for less than a mile before we discover the Bobcat perched on a rock outcropping in her sleeping bag. We chat and enjoy breakfast together. I did not discuss mileage with anyone but would like to get fairly close to the town of Idyllwild by the end of my day, which means a long day of hiking. I'm pretty sure this sentiment is shared by all.
We reach a junction with two springs: one is a mile down, the other much less... but when I head down the shorter trail (via a steep, rock littered scree slope) I encounter the Bobcat on her way back up she says that she couldn't find it. I probably should have checked myself but instead took her at her word. We both went down the one mile to Live Oak spring, which was the most beautiful water source I have seen the whole trail - an underground spring piped up to a small pool, flowing strong, clear water with healthy plants springing up around it. One of the few sources I trusted to drink without treating, and so pretty with sunlight dappling it. I end up not minding at all that I just wasted an hour seeking water.
We are entering the San Jacinto wilderness and I realize two things: 1. there are signs throughout this area that are utterly useless, such as the sign directly next to the very obvious trail that says only: "Trail" (there are two of these) as well as many blank older signs. 2. We are finally being made to work. My calves and achilles scream as the inclines finally reach Appalachian Trail standards. My whole body feels tired. The Bobcat and I both crawl through the day, which stretches on interminably.
Rather than loading up with more than a liter of water, which I feel would be too heavy for my liking on these steeper slopes with tired legs, instead I decide to drop down to yet another water source off trail, Apache Spring. WORST DECISION EVER. That was the longest, steepest half mile of my life to a lousy boxed spring that god only knows how many hikers have dunked dirty hands into.
I decide at this point if I ever work in the White Mountains again no thru-hiker on the AT will ever be allowed to bitch about poor signage or steep off-trail miles. They would not last a day on the PCT. I encounter my first patches of snow, which make for a strange contrast with the desert heat and sand I've been enduring lately. It is a windy day that makes me homesick for the mountains of New Hampshire. I am thankful for the cooler temperature and breeze.
At the end of a horribly long switchback I discover the Bobcat and the cousins with a new hiker (P-track) and rejoice! Something to distract me from my toils. I attempt to speed ahead because I am dying to eat dinner but end up sprawled on the trail on top of my pack, exhausted, watching as one of the cousins nimbly boulders on a trailside rock for fun, looking fresh as a daisy. I only curse him a little. We wind up on this windswept saddle of mountain jutting out with beautiful views and freezing cold winds. I huddle between the cousins and make the best bargain of my life: a night in one of the cousin's 15 degree bag in exchange for giving him the rest of my spray cheese. We seem to be shaping up as a group that likes to hike together, which is nice. I'm wondering exactly when my legs will stop feeling tired and sluggish, though.