Hwy 78 - Barrel Springs
I wake before dawn but am off to a slow start. The three men I camped with all pass by me. I accidentally leave behind a tent stake, but at least it is in a barren ugly field by a highway, instead of on PCT trail or national forest or wilderness land. My fears about rain prove unfounded. I feel very exposed on these mountains, and constantly am in an above treeline mentality. I don't know what to expect, and it is a much harsher environment than I am used to. Thankfully it is a cloudy overcast day and the temperature is well below what it has previously been. This stretch of trail is especially harsh, and would be difficult on a hot day. The San Felipe hills are barren tracts of cactus and rock, all harsh edges and dry grit and dust and thorns and spines and prickers. Every time I set down my pack another particle of barbed plant matter embeds itself in my gear. There is no shade for miles. I feel sluggish and take excessive breaks. I eat three snickers in a row. That seems to help.
I resign myself to a slow plod of a day, toiling through 13 miles. I have lunch on a wonderful outcrop with a great view, only to realize that my lunch and i are both seated on top of piles of droppings. I feel incredibly, overwhelmingly fecal. I hope that squirrel shit doesn't harbor anything too nasty and onsessively use hand sanitizer once again, realizing that between encounters with other hikers toilet paper, my own bathroom adventures, and animal scat I am down to my last dregs of hand sanitizer. I futilely clean my hands, my knife, and even my food packaging, My nails are blackened with dirt, my whole body, in fact, has dirt embedded in it. My toes are black. My scrape is crusted with gravel. My nose and lips are chapped and raw and I feel overwhelmingly unattractive. My clothing is coated in grime and snot and is stiff with dust and sweat. I think fleetingly of the two quintessential golden blonde California girls I encountered at the grocery store in Julian, on a road trip, clean, wearing cute dresses. The moment of feeling awful about myself passes quickly. We are living in two separate worlds, those girls and I.
I meet a former PCT thru-hiker southbounding to Kick Off and we bond over a shared love of New Hampshire and the Randolph Mountain Club. This cheers me up considerably. I walk a very slow 13 miles and then reach a water cache by 3 pm. I decide that this is way too early to stop and so I chug some coffee and start flying up and down the mountain. I won't be sleeping tonight, but I will be reaching the 100 mile marker and I decide that it's a fair trade-off. Endless ridgelines and distant mountains cloaked in a gentle golden haze. For a while I convince myself that this is prime mountain lion territory and that I am setting myself up for a stalking. That passes. The rain that was forecast ends up only being a few meager drops and I reach 100 miles just as the sun drops below the horizon, giving Hans a high five, as I had just caught up with him. The rain starts at 10 pm and I sleep fitfully, worried about tent stakes blowing loose in the sandy soil. Not enough rocks to weigh everything down. I fall asleep tormented by cracked lips, longing for chapstick.