New friends and snow in the desert
“If you want to make God laugh, make a plan. Or read Him a Dave Barry book.” — 30 Rock
Greetings from our unintended zero in Julian, CA! It was a balmy 38 degrees and snowing when Honeybuns and I woke up in our pink and ruffled hotel room outside of town, along with buddies Annie and Fran. Hikers have rushed this little tourist town, known for apples and pies, in order to escape a very confused winter storm. We huddled among bags and dripping raincoats in the wonderful Trail Angel Carmen’s restaurant yesterday, making plans and scarfing down her veggie burgers and Tecate.
Also mandatory was a visit to Mom’s Cafe for a free slice of pie, very dear to our hearts. And though the the stinging rain was frigid, several of us scuttled the half mile to the Nickel Brewery for a beer.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our first week began with a wonderful stay at Scout and Frodo’s, who are professional-grade Trail Angels in San Diego. Scout, former PCTA board member and author of a new book about the trail’s history, and Frodo are seasoned thruhikers who give hikers a place to camp in their backyards, a final great meal, and a shuttle to Campo and the monument in the morning.
We were so fortunate as to arrive on Hawaiian night and pitched in to help decorate and cook a tropical-inspired meal with a thruhiker chef, Nom Noms. (Hawaiian shirts and leis were mandatory.) We enjoyed meeting the other hikers starting, including a couple from Knoxville, Yote and Nicole, that we are still hanging out with. Honeybuns and I cowboyed under a fig tree and awoke at 5, little realizing what a luxurious lie-in that would prove to be!
We took photos with the Southern Monument, touched the border wall, and signed the log book before shuffling off on our way.
The bonkers amount of precipitation in California this winter has made for some blessings and curses, though more of the former. We have been able to find many water sources that are usually dry, making for easier carries. However, the resultant mosquitoes have been our companions as well.
The desert mountains have been strange and beautiful — spotted with alien-looking yucca stalks periscoping out of the ground, waxy-barked manzanitas, thorny flower-capped cacti, the beautiful and noxious Datura. Birds of a wide variety are in abundance; I love the ravens in particular. Most common, though, are the vultures. “Not dead yet!” I shout up at them as they circle.
We have spent the last several days wandering along windswept ridge lines, looking down on sandy valleys stubbled with vegetation. The rocks around us are alternately red or tan or grey but the sky remains, until yesterday, an almost eerie blue unblemished by clouds. Yesterday, winding our way down onto the desert floor, we watched a heavy mantle of cloud ooze over the mountains and quickened our pace.
I am finding the schedule of the days difficult to adapt to. We awake at 4:30, usually putting us among the last hikers at a campsite to be off in the morning, around a quarter past 5. We pound out miles until a little before noon before we look for shade for a siesta. Though I know how miserable I will be if I try to power through the midday heat, I find myself anxious about wasting daylight.
Fortunately, these long breaks have helped us get to know some fabulous other hikers. We have been spending time in particular with Banana Pants, a lawyer from San Diego, and Acid Jesus, a woodworker from Baton Rouge. However, our little circle has grown and there are now about ten of us, including Perfect Pitch, Hikeclopedia and our motel mates last night, Fran and Annie (a recent Michigan grad school grad!), who are keeping each other in orbit. Several of them are staying at Trail Angel Deb’s in town, but our massive group texting has kept us all informed.
Perfect Pitch was riffing on an inside joke a day or two ago when she realized that the joke was less than a day old. We were all astounded.
Time on trail seems unbound by normal conventions. Though we’ve been out here less than a week, Honeybuns and I are already very fond of our new friends. My maternal anxiety has already kicked in as well, and I was very flustered to make sure everyone had a place to wait out the storm last night.
But we had a particular surprise while we waited for a ride down to our motel. Carmen’s door opened with a spray of cold rain, and Honeybuns and I gave a typical welcome to the khaki-clad giant hiker who entered. Then he opened his arms wide to us and we shrieked and jumped into his embrace.
DG, our AT buddy turned bike tourer turned Grand Enchantment Trail hiker, had found us. Warm hugs and reminiscing were exchanged. It was wonderful to catch up after two years. Though he is clipping along at a faster pace than us due to his rad outdoor activities of late, I hope we can spend more time with him.
For now, we are going to start sorting out the rest of the day and try to hitch into town for food. Updates soon!