Mile 200 - Whitewater Preserve
I pack quickly and begin to walk around 6:30, hoping to beat the heat to no avail. The switchbacks here are tortuous and ludicrous, and I briefly fantasize over punishments I would like to visit on the designer. I also wish I had a copy of Desert Solitaire from the used bookstore in Idyllwild. I then resolve to have no regrets and mindlessly press onwards, my one goal to reach water and shade as quickly as possible. I spot my first sacred datura (jimson weed) and admire its blooms.
After catching the cousins and Focus at a water faucet in the middle of the desert foothills, I linger until 9 am, the last to leave the shade. I make good time over a very flat stretch of road walk and then stretches of loose sand with strong winds gusting to 30-40 mph. No wonder there are wind farms dotting the hills. The 3 mph pace would be much faster without wind and sand, but I'm happy with that as it is. My knee is not fond of the terrain, most likely due to yesterday's abuse.
I arrive at an underpass to discover unexpected trail magic: bananas, oranges, cookies, and cold soda. It's heavenly. I lounge under the bridge feeling very happy. The banana almost makes me forget my cravings for smoothies. I move over a few sections of bridge to pee only to stand up and realize a truck is barrelling over the sand straight towards me. Whoops. It's security for the construction or windfarm or desert water supply, I'm not really sure what. All I know is that they may have gotten the hobo special: pants-less dirty girl peeing under a bridge.
It's hot but my early morning coffee combined with soda and a good shuffle of music on the ipod have me moving fast. I don't stop in at the trail angel's house a bit off trail - I already had some great trail magic and I am unsure as to whether or not they are a hostel. Sometimes the map and guidebook information is a little vague. I do stop for lunch at the windfarm's office building, as they have a sign that promises shade and cold water. The workers are extremely friendly and welcoming, one even brings out a bottled water for me. I hang around until about 1 and then head off into steep desert hills. These are the most winding switchbacks yet, but I am enjoying the changes in the landscape around me and walk on unbothered by the tedium of the trail. Other hikers have clearly been more annoyed, with lots of bootleg trail jumping switchbacks and creating erosion.
I reach the trail junction and head a half mile off trail to the Whitewater Preserve, where free camping and a wading pool beckons. I have been staring at a gray gravelled strand from on high for hours now, praying it really is water. It is. And it's incredible. Before we even both to check in at the ranger station Focus and I rush straight towards the creek. A cliff veers up ahead jutting straight up from the rushing water and sandstone hills are our backdrop. We plop down fully clothed in the perfect temperature water and sigh contentedly. The cousins are nowhere to be seen and we wonder why. When we leave the water around 4 we discover they were lounging for hours besides a man-made pool that was just as lovely as the water we had been in - a tiny waterfall pounded a massage into us and smooth rocks provided areas to nap. We sign in at the ranger station and pore over a plant guidebook that they have compiled as the employees offer us their tea and coffee and fresh mint and pommelos. Everyone is kind and friendly, camping is free for thru-hikers, and this is truly the best day ever, in spite of the earlier heat. Of course, we have been calling each day the best day ever for days now. Except maybe Fuller Ridge!
We have been told there are boyscouts camping here tonight and so we wander around plotting how to ask for their leftover food. Instead we hear a call "Hey, thru-hikers!" It turns out to be Lake2lake and Warner Springs Monty, former thru-hikerswho had provided some of the trail magic at the underpass we had enjoyed earlier. They have a weekend of trail magic planned, feeding hikers each night, and we are their very first recipients. We feast on roast beef and turkey sandwiches, fried chicken, coleslaw, potato salad, chips and salsa, carrots and celery, and amazing brownies made by Lake2lake. The only downside to the evening is when I realize in the excitement of identifying flowers (yes, excitement) I forgot my maps in the now locked ranger building. I luck out when an employee returns at dusk and lets me in to find them. We watch the sun set, swallows and bats swooping, and do yoga in the parking lot with a full moon rising above cliffs that wild goats wander on. We fall asleep listening to a stream burble, and the distant boyscouts are surprisingly quiet, which makes for another perfect end to the day.