Mason Valley firetank to Julian to hwy 78.
We watch the sunrise from a wonderful vantage point high on a mountain slope as I huddle in my sleeping bag. Everything below the road dropped away from us and we could gaze on distant mountains. This was an incredibly long day that began with a scraped and bloodied knee. We got off to a relatively early start and both bemoaned the fact that what would be an incredibly early start on the Appalachian Trail here just feels like a failure, since we were not walking by dawn. Anything after 7 am feels horribly late, since the heat begins to slowly make it's presence felt even at that early hour. By 9 it is officially very warm, and by 10 am it is hot. We idle at the watersource enjoying conversation and once again trudge off into the heat. I move slowly, burdened by lots of water and admiring wildflowers. The landscape is mesmerizing - the trail is carved into the side of mountains and winds around the topography with everything dropping away from you and just a narrow track to follow. The desert scrub is dizzying patches of shifting hues of silver and green and golden vegetation.
Noon hits and I suddenly feel terrible. I collapse against the side of a rock, clinging to a small scrap of shade. I can't even fully sit down but instead lean, clutching the rock, watching the sun creep towards my feet. I feel like a lizard. A very, very tired one, with no energy to look at maps or journal. Finally I manage to eat more food and feel better. I knew I was hydrated but was crawling along. I may have depleted my salts and overhydrated, as I felt slightly nauseaus for a while. I collapse into several more patches of shade. Really lousy patches. Finally I recover and realize I can make it into town much sooner than anticipated. I also realize that there is essentially no real shade for the final miles, so I almost have no choice but to head into town. Brian beats me by several hours and leaves a message with southbounders that he has gone in to resupply.
As I walk I brush into a cactus and end up having to pluck spines from my already scabby knee. The somewhat callous response from two other hikers spurs me to hike faster and I fly down the mountain, fueled by a desire to shed their company and end a long day. I accidentally screw over these same hikers as they unintentionally almost bogart my hitch into town. A friendly girl my age drives past my out-stretched thumb with the same look I wear when I see hitch-hikers: indecision mixed with apology. She pulls over at the last second and one of the other hikers rushed over and began babbling about the PCT. I knew the driver had no idea what this woman in crazy desert/safari hiking garb was talking about and was freaked out - and I could tell we were losing the ride as she apologized and said she only had room for one with her dog taking up space, and that she hadn't realized that I wasn't alone. So I spoke up and said that actually I was alone, and I could see relief on her face. I felt bad but I had to do it. The other hikers eventually got a ride too so my guilt was alleviated when I saw them in town.
I am rushing to resupply and hitch out of town before dark with only two hours to eat and get more food for the trail and my overwhelmed brain accidentally decides I need 5 days of food instead of 2.5 - my food bag is way too heavy and I don't realize my mistake until after I pay the cashier at the market. Incidentally, this cashier is very friendly and offers me a shower and a place to crash, but I decline because I am alone and his eyes are blinking very rapidly as he makes this offer and assures me he is married (but his wife is gone until the morning). As much as I'd love to trust him, I decide it is smarter to leave. As I walk away two rednecks in a pickup truck holler "Hey! Wanna come party?" I politely decline and start to think that maybe with an hour of daylight left in a tiny tourist town, my hitchiking prospects will be bleak. Instead I luck out and have the easiest hitch ever, with an older couple offering me a ride before I even stick my thumb out. They even give me ten dollars as I get out of the car, with worried looks on their faces as I head towards an overpass in a desolate stretch of desert, assuring them I was meeting a friend.
Unfortunately, my friend is not there. I learn he went to a campground 3 miles down the road and since I just had been informed there might be heavy rain in the near forecast, with a heavy wind and dusk falling on a rather unnerving stretch of trail besides the highway, I begin to feel very stressed. I call Ryan and beg for advice, since he hiked this 2 years ago. He can't offer me much but tells me to stay out of the mountains if it is windy and rainy. I get offered a ride to the campground just as the sun sets by a woman in a truck who tells me she just needs to cover up a few things first. She drives off, leaving me by the road in the dark, undecided. I don't want to pay for camping, but I don't want to stay here alone. Luckily at that moment three other hikers get dropped off and assure me they will be camping near by. After standing and pacing for a half hour in the dark, a car parks down the road from me and completely unnerved, I race down the trail only to meet one of the hikers, Lucky Man, as he backtracks to check up on me, his fatherly instincts kicking in since he has a daughter my age. I feel very relieved and a bit pathetic. I eat the cheeseburger that I packed out in the dark and listen to the wind whip at my tarp all night.