23.8 miles (566.4 to 590.2)
I say goodbye to Dad and Pete and hike away from Highway 58 by the light of my headlamp. A crescent moon hangs in the eastern sky, no help at all for lighting the way. I stop to sign the trail register. I’m the first hiker to sign today. Only four signed yesterday. Everyone else must be waiting out the heat wave in town. For over a mile, the trail parallels the highway. Then the climb begins. The trail rises over 2,300 feet through Joshua trees into juniper and pine – and wind. The wind keeps me cool on what would otherwise (even at 6am) be a scorching climb.
I start out awkwardly, but toward the top I find my uphill stride. Then, I’m unstoppable. I break all kinds of personal records, doing an unheard of 13 by 10. My goal is Golden Oak Spring (16.9 miles) by noon. I’ll wait out the heat there, then collect a few more miles this evening, topping out around 20-25 miles for the day. That’s my goal, anyway, and so far I’m doing well. There’s a particular angle of slope that’s perfect for running, and on those downhill slopes I run, every time, without even meaning to. That’s what my body wants to do, so I do.
The landscape here is different than anything I’ve seen so far. Mountains are pointier, and rockier, and there are rocks and boulders and rock formations all over the place. This is really cool. I pause again and again to take pictures.
Ahead on the trail, I catch sight of three hikers. They’re moving about my speed (fast), so I’m not gaining on them; they must have camped somewhere along the way last night. I’ve already walked by two cowboy campers, both still asleep, at 3 miles and 10 miles in. Looks like some people attacked the climb last night.
I cruise along and pull into the spring, completing those 16.9 miles by 11:30. The three hikers I saw earlier, all male, are already crashed out in the shade. I spread my tent’s footprint in shade by the trough and eat lunch. The spring is flowing well. A little waterfall burbles from pipe to trough while I take a nap. Polywogs swim in the trough. I doctor my blisters. I sit around not doing much of anything. Even in shade next to water, it’s hot. I don’t think I could hike far in this heat. I’m glad I have somewhere to spend the afternoon.
I leave the spring at 4:45 carrying seven liters of water. It’s just under 19 miles to the next water source. This time, I’m probably carrying too much, but I don’t mind the weight when it allows me to drink as much as I want without worrying about rationing. I hope to do at least 22 miles today, so I feel slightly frustrated when I pass a plethora of good campsites along the way, much too soon to stop. Thus begins the “how far should I push it” mental debate. I could pass all of these sites and find myself in a campsite void just when I need to stop. Part of me really wants to hike as long as the light lasts – at least another hour of cool temperatures! Another part of me says, “Hey, this is Day 1 in your new shoes and your arch is starting to ache. Don’t do anything stupid.”
At nearly 24 miles in, I stop at a cool little spot overlooking a wind farm and set up my tent and eat dinner. It’s windy, of course, but it’s going to be windy anywhere up here – I’ve walked through wind farm after wind farm all day. The sun sets. I get into my tent to clean up and do my daily writing and get some sleep. Tomorrow morning I’ll be up at 3:45, hiking again before dawn.
*More pictures on Instagram.