2:47 am. I'm in my sleeping bag, cozy as ever, looking at the clock. We sleep in the brisk open air for 13 more minutes until my phone begins to chime. Sitting up, my mind fades into consciousness. Coffee. We make coffee and breakfast in our sleeping bags, something we've never done before. We do it now without speaking. As if it had always been the plan. Mud eats his oatmeal. I eat granola right out of the ziplock and drink my mocha - powered soy milk, chocolate powder from Switzerland and Starbucks Via.
As the orange moon sets, the stars gain brightness and take over the sky. I think about 4 o'clock yesterday and that gets me going, we pack up all our stuff and start walking. At 4 o'clock yesterday we were walking through pine trees that weren't dense enough to make shade. It was at least 100 degrees. The sun pounded relentlessly on our skin and sucked the water from our pores. No way could we keep walking in this kind of oven.
At last we reach a water cache. An oasis of sorts, complete with lawn chairs, a picnic table, an outdoor shower, a cupboard of non perishable food items, and a cooler - its contents still cold. We each have an apple sauce. It tastes amazing and refreshing and I can feel my cells sucking up the water and nutrients. There is bottled water off to the side. It's not cold. But the grape soda in the cooler is. I can't resist. Purely for the enjoyment of putting something cold into my body, I indulge. It tastes bubbly and sweet. Intensely sweet. Cold, but not what my body wanted. I struggle to finish it, then drown the icky high-fructose-corn-syrup-feeling with a half liter of water. We eat dinner to the sound of NPR from a wind-up radio we found on the picnic table.
As the sun descends, the heat becomes bearable. We walk through a fish hatchery, then up into the high desert. I stumble and trip in the dim light of my headlamp until we stop around 11 pm.
So we're up again at three because it's either walking in the dark or walking in an oven, both of which we ended up doing.
In the cool morning air, we pass a series of water caches, much less elaborate than the previous days', but still water. We don't take much, since it's dark and cold and we're not thirsty. But it's still nice to see them. People are so nice to leave water for thirsty hikers on this long dry stretch of trail. We reach the last of the water caches mid-morning. At this point, we have 17 miles to go before we see water again. The infamous Hat Creek Rim. It's dry, it's exposed, and packs are heavy with water.
Eight more miles go by quickly but not effortlessly. We sit for lunch in the dirt and pine needles under shade of a single tree and determine that we only have nine miles to go. Nine miles, easy!
But those nine miles were one of the most challenging stretches we've walked since the snow-packed slopes of the North Cascades. Though the terrain was not particularly steep, we were walking on 4 hours of sleep with the sun high in the sky. The air was so hot and dry, we could sense the water leaving our bodies with each breath we took. We could see the path stretched before us for miles with no trees and no shade, only shrubs, logs and rocks.
With five miles to go, we were both rationing what little water we had left. Mud ran ahead. I tried to distract myself with podcasts and thoughts of my dog, Sprout, to no avail. My mind relentlessly strayed to water, juice, smoothies, iced tea, anything cold and liquid. Spout drinking water. Sprout playing fetch in water. I felt as though I was drowning, my body gasping for water rather than air.
At last we made it. A water spigot at the trailhead of Subway Cave Trail. I inhaled water. We made green tea. Neither of us suffered serious dehydration symptoms other than thirst and exhaustion. It was an intense 24 hours, but now we are through one of the driest sections of the trail and soon to be walking through Lassen National Park and eventually up to Lake Tahoe. The trail ahead promises more views and more water. Both of which we are more than ready to experience.
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