Saddle Junction - mile 200
After watching the sunrise I am once again the dawdler and am last to depart. I like to eat before walking, while everyone else quickly stuffs everything into packs and heads out. And of course, after eating comes a very urgent bathroom break, like clockwork.
The snow here is a bit confusing and since I am zoning out just following footprints I end up having to backtrack, but only for a minute or two. Today will be another long day, with Fuller Ridge ahead of me to traverse. I feel pretty good about the day and my pace and I eat a delicious almond scone from the Idyllwild bakery and hike on, only to end up walking in a circle back to a trail junction, losing at least a half hour, and I don't even have the excuse of snow in this section. I think I accidentally missed a switchback, but am not sure. Annoyed, I hike on. There is a confusing area by a downed tree where another hiker and I both hesitate. We then have to puzzle out footprints in the snow for a few miles, but while the trail blazes are non-existent, it isn't too terrible to puzzle out. Fuller Ridge does indeed still have snow, but is far less treacherous than I had imagined. I post-hole a few times and slip and slide around, knowing that this is hard on my knees, but pushing onwards.
Focus and I meet up at a road crossing and I apologize for the delays in my arrival. I know she has no water treatment right now and my getting misdirected means she had to hang around waiting. We press on and encounter the cousins enjoying a leisurely siesta. I enjoy about an hour myself and then am ready to move on, knowing how much faster than I they are. We all agree to meet at mile 200, and camp in that vicinity. We have 10 miles of continuous downhill ahead of us.
Focus and I are hiking fast and fly past a really nice campsite that is much too early on. However as we press on we realize that the trail is growing worse and worse - seriously overgrown thorny bushes engulf us, and the trail slopes off into steep rocky valleys with no tent space at all. We push on until just before dark when Focus declares that she will just sleep on the trail. I am being stubborn and decide to push on, nighthiking to mile 200. I am tired and my knee is nagging at me, so of course I scuff through sand and trip on a rock, scraping my knee bloody. At least now I'll have scabs on both sides for a more balanced aesthetic of abuse. The ground is hard and punishing and I am second-guessing myself. I step over a misinformed celebratory 200 formed of rocks on the trail, made by a previous hiker who mis-judged mileage and snort aloud a tired laugh. I give up right before mile 200, which is a seasonal water source that I hoped would prove flat. It isn't.
I find a nice ledge of rock right beside the trail, eat dinner and watch the sunset feeling guilty at leaving Focus. The cousins never caught up. I wonder if everyone is ok. I realize this ledge has clearly sheltered a creature besides me as once again I am sitting in a nest of turds. I watch a helicopter fly over the foothills of San Jacinto shining a spotlight and feel unnerved. I decide to drop my pack and walk back to check on Focus (secretly hoping she and the cousins are already night-hiking towards me as I backtrack). This means a total of almost two more miles of walking round trip, as she is 25 minutes back and uphill, and with my pack left behind I have to return. I discover her and the cousins cozily ensconced on the trail itself and with my conscience absolved I nighthike back to my pack with only the light of the moon to guide me, watching the helicopter, visions of manhunts dancing through my mind. I wonder what to do if the spotlight shines on me. Will there be a loudspeaker commanding "DROP YOUR HIKING POLES!"? I bed down next to my rocky ledge and sleep soundly. I wake to the cousins strolling by at 6 am and scramble up to start another day. At least I made coffee the night before. Starbucks instant is definitely all that is getting me through the desert.