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You never know what's going to happen when you walk out into the desert alone. I've been on my own for the last week or so, as Mud already did these miles in the spring. He went off to check out the town of Loma Linda and explore grad school opportunities
Meanwhile, I've found that some of the most interesting things happen as soon as I'm on the trail by myself.
I first found that I wasn't alone at all-running into trail friends unexpectedly and walking with new people for a few days. But when our schedules no longer matched, we parted ways.
I then met some of the less friendly creatures of the terrain. First, a hunter. I noticed this man as I walked through heavy brush, traversing a steep slope. He was about ten feet away. We made brief eye contact before he crouched down on the trail. I walked a few more steps and then was startled by the thunderous bang of a gun shot. And then three more. I froze. This man barely acknowledged me. We stood in silence for a few seconds. When I saw that his gun was no longer primed for shooting I asked if I could pass. He stared intently into the distance for what seemed like an eternity, until finally he responded: "go ahead". His focus and intensity was unwavering. Who am I to get in the way of a good kill?
Hunting season is finally over. Personally, I'm happy to have these men off the trail. They go out into the wilderness with the sole intention of killing. Who knows what else they're capable of. I don't trust them.
The next unfriendly creature I met was at night. The sun had just set, the moon had not yet risen, and the temperature had just dropped by 10 degrees. I was walking quickly to get to camp and heard a ruckus below the trail. Immediately off the trail to my right was a snake - rattling and hissing. My headlamp reflected its small beady eyes and flicking tongue. This guy was not happy to see me. I bolted ahead, feeling jumpy at the slightest sound and looking behind me every few minutes. Not that the snake would chase me down the trail... But I just wanted to be sure. Luckily, the rest of the night was peaceful and uneventful.
At last, a friendly, though odd, surprise came my way. I crossed a paved road where a man was standing near his car. After I crossed, he called out to me: "How far are you going?" Impressed with my response, he then asked if he could walk with me. He seemed harmless and kind of nerdy, so I agreed. He was headed out for his usual evening hike. This man had seen Mud and me in town before we parted ways and said we looked "so official". Official? I've never heard that one before. He was fascinated by the trail and thru-hikers and treated me like a celebrity he had been waiting his life to meet. He was full of questions and chatty as a chipmunk. He kept repeating that I was "like one of his heroes".
I'm not so sure about the hero part. I'm just a person who's been doing a lot of one thing for a really long time - walking. But it was nice to have a few miles of conversation and a slight ego boost to propel me down the trail.
We now sit in Idyllwild, soaking in the fall mountain beauty and relaxing for a day. Mud is on board for the next 150 miles - our last week of this journey. It's hard to believe that all this walking will come to an end in just a few days...
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