4-14-17 pct mile 59.5 to 77.0, 17.5 miles
Before showering at the RV park yesterday evening we decided today would do a nero (near zero mile day) we settled on a trip of 8 miles. My left foot was developing a blister on the pad and this would be a welcome reprieve. Upon returning from what Norm had antiquitedly called the “Bath house” I was informed that there would be a slight alteration. We would tack on a nominal distance of nine miles. I’ve picked up a few other minor maladies, but common decency prevents me taking a picture of those. My muscles feel fine but my skin has some work to due it appears. My upper thighs have been chaffing and I suppose it will just be something I have to treat and endure until my fat flaps disappear due to lack of fuel. The treatment is a bit embarrassing though. Twice a day I have to reapply Vaseline. While ducking behind a post office in town or stopping on a curve in the trail, I often wonder how I would explain to a passerby why I have unbuttoned my pants and am now vigorously rubbing my groin area with a pained expression on my face. What does someone say in such a circumstance? “Oh hi, I’m Matt. Sorry, can’t shake hands right now” I really don’t know. Sarah once thought she might be getting a blister on her little toe but wasn’t, not even a little bit. She’s doing just fine.
Steve woke up at around 10. When he was back with den mother they would wake at dawn and venture out about now. He missed those lazy mornings. Just he and den mom and his 10 siblings cracking jokes and cuddling. Those were good days. 7 of them to be specific. Then Ma split. He didn’t hold a grudge, life was hard for groundmovers, he knew that. She did what she had to do, what everyone had to do if they wanted to make it to the fourth shed: look out for yourself. That was just the way it was. He was like mom: a survivor. His fourth Brumation had just wrapped, and it was official: He was a man now. Being grown up was all the other fourth shedder fellas could talk about. That and girls of course. He didn’t talk much about it, Steve was more introspective than most, but he knew he had to distinguish himself somehow. Something really impressive could get him a mate, though he had no idea what. For right now he was cold and he needed to recharge. A good heatbath would be just the thing . Steve always did his best thinking while basking. He caught a scent on his way, it was Heidi. She’d been here less than an hour ago and her scent trail was moving to the sunning ridge also. He would follow her for awhile, it was what grownups were supposed to do.
The trail meandered around some ridges, none as steep as the day before. With the exception of one steeep descent and a shorter steep ascent, the trail was fairly level with a gradual loss of elevation. The vegetation changed to desert flora we were familiar with from our time in Havasu. There was prickly pear, beaver tail and my old enemy, cholla, all flowering. In addition, we saw some small palms and a great deal of yucca and agave. The yucca stalks, which are around eight feet tall were flowering everywhere and agave were also sending up stalks though they have not yet started to bloom. I was tempted to take a lot of photos. Sarah objected to this in her unique way. “I’ll just stand over there in this shade spot while you play Ansel Adams.” she remarked dryly.
He reached the sun ridge at around noon. He sensed her movement. 50 ft away. Slowing to bathe. Not wanting to spook her, he kept his distance. It was hot here. A fifty minute soak would warm him until evening. The heat rushed over him. Feeling drowsy, he put himself on half brain. As he half dozed his thoughts drifted to Danger beings. Those he had seen and those he had heard of in the sleepy whispers of Brumanation. The King Groundmovers, Skyclaws, and the worst: Striders. He also half dreamt of the Breeders, those who had distinguished themselves with acts of valor, and had earned their Titles of Awe.
We caught up with some hikers we had seen earlier on the trail and met some new people as well. On the third day, Sarah had given one of our start date siblings the name Hamlet. He was the only hiker we started with that we have seen since the first day. He seemed to like the name. Hamlet is a English teacher who carries a small sheakspeare plush on the back of his pack. He has a similar hiking speed to us and has been walking the same mileage. We usually start out a little behind him and catch him by the late afternoon. Most of the time, interactions are brief. We exchange some pleasantries with people as we pass. Others we follow at a distance if they are hiking faster. We give nicknames to the hikers ahead of us and those that we see catching us from behind. These nicknames are all very superficial and based solely upon what they are wearing. Someone with orange shorts will be “creamsicle” etc. We passed one hiker we had been following on the windy ridges of the previous day. He had stopped for a “safety talk” with another twenty something I will call Yukon due to his trucker hat with “Canada” stitched on it and his prematurely full hiker beard. Sarah, feeling confident after having, maybe, successfully trail named Hamlet, attempted to name him Disco Stu. He wore polyester pants. He said that he couldn’t afford “100 dollar” pants like ours so he had to find cheaper options, and also informed us that they were not polyester. In addition, it was clear he was too young to know who Disco Stu was. I think it was safe to say he will not be adopting that name. He wasn’t too upset about it though. Not long after Stu and Yukon stopped for another break. We stopped after about a half mile to let our feet air out and have a snack. Here we were passed by a thirty something Veteran. Because I am a lazy nicknamer, I will call him Sarge. He was being supported for the first few weeks, just like us. His support was an organization called Warrior Expeditions. They supply all the necessary gear, a monthly stipend of $300, and community support along the way such as advice and logistical support from veterans who had thru hiked before. They also support hikes along the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide trail, Arizona Trail and other long distance treks. In addition, they have programs for a trans continental bike ride and a paddle trip down the entirety of the Mississippi River. To apply you must be honorably discharged and have served in a Combat Zone. After our snack I stopped to take a picture of a yucca bloom. Sarah snuck by me while putting her iPod earphones in for the first time. “Peace Out Broskie” she said for no reason.
Steve woke up too late. He could feel Heidi’s vibrations in his jaw. She had abandoned the sun bath and was hiding in the shrubs 100 ft below. The smell was overpowering, and it was unmistakable: Striders. The elders said they used to be rare in the Anza Borrego Desert. But every year of Steves life there were more and more of them. He kept his face to the ground, turned his face to them and switched to thermal. There were two of them, one closing fast and the other lagging behind. There were vibrations emoting from the lead Strider’s vibration hole. It was as if she was carrying tiny Striders in there and they were howling. This was the most frightening thing about them. Their magic was powerful. He began to prepare his alarm, but stopped short. The idea hit him like a Skyclaw attack: out of nowhere and indefensible. He lowered his alarm pouch and lay still. This was his opportunity, history could be his. He knew just what to do.
When I finished taking my picture and rounded a curve in the trail I saw Sarah and Sarge stopped, talking. As I got nearer, I heard they were talking about a large Western Diamondback rattlesnake 15 ft in front of them. It had slithered a little ways uphill from where they saw it but was now still, halfway on the trail, going nowhere. Sarge stomped at the ground and, when that had no effect threw small rocks near the snake. Nothing, it refused to budge, it didn’t even rattle. Above the trail was impassible so we had to hike downhill off the trail to avoid it. We had walked back on the trail and resumed heading North, when I spotted Yukon and Stu, they were about 50 yard behind us. We yelled “Stop!” And “Snake!!” Several times. I waved my trekking poles over my head and made them into an “X”. Stu finally took notice and stopped. Yukon, however, kept going. Stu joined us in shouting and motioning at him. Yukon had his headphones on and was, as most hikers do, looking about four feet in front of himself. Stu tried to get to him but was too far back. Unaware, Yukon walked right over the spot on the trail where the stubborn snake had been lying. I’m not sure if the snake moved on, or if he stepped right over it (It was the same color as the dirt so it was somewhat camouflaged). Either way, he didn’t get bit. A little while later, Stu crossed the same spot without issue. I still have no idea what was going on with that rattlesnake.
He had done it! Two at first and then three more for good measure. A PentaGhandi, on Striders no less. They howled and used there side tails to hurl rocks and gesticulated wildly but he remained steadfast. Such a trick had never been pulled off, even in lore. And he had a witness. Everyone would know. He would be immortalized! After they were out of site, Heidi began moving back to her burrow. He followed, confidently approaching her and occasionally rubbing his head against her side. “Maybe” she hissed lowly, “Maybe”. “Jesus” Steve thought to himself. “What do women want?”