I wake up late and the canyon is lit up like perpetual afternoon. I poke my head out of the tent and watch a group of rafts float down the rapids. Someone sees me and waves. I climb out and sit among the rocks while Carter heats some water and a second group of rafts float by.
I want to find a quick way back to the trail from here, so I pop on my boots and head up hill in my jammies. I snap a few photos of camp below, fail to locate the missing seven mile marker (we never do find it, but see all the others), and smile good morning at an old man passing by.
Not wanting to miss out on hot coffee, I hurry back down and Carter immediately hands me a Three Peckered Billy Goat. It’s the coffee, and it’s excellent! We have muesli for breakfast because I can’t stomach biscuits and gravy after last night’s rich chocolate cheesecake. Chocolate cocaine, Carter calls it, because it’s impossible to keep the powder from getting all over. It was less birthday cake and more birthday joke, but we’ll take it! I do stomach a second cup of coffee. Mmm.
We remove the lids of our backpacks to carry what we need for the day and don’t hit the trail until ten. My keys, ID, and water filter are the things I don’t need but can’t bear to leave behind. We set out without a goal, no mileage to reach, just a day in the sun on the trail with each other. I left all my goals behind this weekend.
It’s not hot, but starts feeling it. The sun is high, direct, and bright. I drink a lot more water than yesterday and start eyeing the riverbank for shade trees without much luck. We wade through the long grasses towards the water and eventually find a mostly dry spot in a little bit of mostly shade under a bush. We have a small lunch and I make a sandwich with MRE cheese and some random wheat bread snack I found in a cabinet at home. It’s surprisingly sweet and tasty, so I share and we enjoy the watercolor-like hillside view until we feel refreshed enough to face the sun once more.
We feel good, and Carter wants to keep going. We make it out to the old Harris Ranch at mile eleven, which he knows I am curious to explore. Lucky for me, so is he! We have fun inspecting the buildings and mysterious rusted equipment. We walk through the old garden rows full of blooming lilacs and something that might be honeysuckle. And bees, lots of happy bees.
I’m out of water, so I’m suddenly very glad I kept my filter with me. We fill up at the first opportunity on our way back, and return to camp unhurriedly, but more than ready to dunk our feet in the cold river by the time we complete our eight mile excursion. The water is freezing and feels amazing, but is too cold to stand in for long, so I wade in and out several times, and filter more water for us both in between.
We rest for a little while and think about whether to stay here tonight. We decide to make one dinner to share, coconut rice and black beans with banana and cilantro, then pack up and hike into the evening, see where we end up. We feel equal parts excited and crazy. Dinner is okay but light on flavor, and sharing one is just right.
Packing goes quickly and I feel a little regret that this won’t be my front porch in the morning. I can’t find my drinking hose clip and tell myself that the other garbage I’ve picked up along the trail makes up for it, including a big sunscreen bottle found here in camp, but I still feel guilty. I laugh when I put my pack on and find the hose clip attached to a harness strap. Nothing left behind, then. Leave no trace.
The sun disappears behind the ridge as we set out at 6:30. Without it heating our skin and the earth, we feel a second wind rise within us and the scents of all the plants come out around us. It’s amazing and energizing and intoxicating. We make good time to the four mile mark and pause to consider whether we should stop for the night. Our feet are starting to get sore, but we are having a great time and want to continue on as it starts to get dark. So we do.
I put on my puffy, but leave it open, and decide against pulling out my headlamp. Perfect. We see our shadows in the moonlight and watch them shift as the trail gradually changes direction. We can barely make out the park boundary sign in the dark. There’s no stopping now. We’re going to finish this hike! With a mile left to go, I’m done and so is my mood. I’m tired, but not grumpy, not yet. We both have a blister, but don’t know it.
At 9:15, we step up to the campground kiosk in complete darkness and near disbelief. We try to read the reservations list by a weak overhead bulb. A flashlight comes to life behind us and floods the kiosk. We laugh and the spying ranger leads us to one of four open sites. We gladly take the first one and finally dig out our headlamps to set up the tent, happy to be so close to snuggling down. The zipper sticks as we’re closing it up for the night and one of the pulls pops off. I use the other one to close the door the rest of the way and it falls off, too! Well, at least the door is closed one last time? We fall right asleep after our first fifteen mile day. Did we really just do that?
At first light, I gently push the door open to get up for a few minutes and tie Carter’s old Army poncho to the tent poles for privacy. I struggle to get back to sleep, but finally drift off until the voices of fresh hikers arriving wakes me. No hiking for us today. We’re already back.