When I limped out of Warner Springs on the afternoon of the 20th, I knew I'd be slow. I immediately settled back into night hiking, stopping to camp at the turn off for first major water source 9 miles away. Before setting up, I walked down to the Lost Spring cistern, dipped the available milk jug into standing water with tiny swimming creatures, and filled my bottle a couple of times, hoping the UV could actually kill all those little guys. There was loud rustling in the oak and cottonwoods below me, and I was happy to walk back up the old road, probably just avoiding deer in the dark.
Temperatures are still cool, and camping in the bivy provided an excellent windbreak. I slept until 8am, looked around at the manzanitas and the little water sign, stood up slowly and said "ouch" a few dozen times. From there, I slowly hobbled 17 miles, frequently stopping to elevate my swollen outer ankle, using the breeze on my sweat-damp sock as an improvised ice pack.
My hope was to catch First Class, Coach and Far Out, since I was fairly sure they were worried about me, and I missed watching the dynamic among the three of them. Though I am trying to make this a solo journey, there is such value to good friends. I was certain that they would be camping at Tule Spring. About a mile from it, I stepped sideways on a rock, nearly toppled over with intense pain, and decided to camp immediately. It was a stupid, slopey little bare patch of sand, but it was available.
Next day, the pain had subsided to allow me to take a couple of steps without the brace. Knowing better, I slapped that sucker back on right away, though. It was hot already, and there was only a light breeze to take the edge off. Filled up at the Tule Spring faucet and started counting granite spiny lizards, which appeared to be springing forth from every rock crevice.
I'd seen that the next water source was a trail angel's water tank several miles away. In the interim miles, I tried to avoid drinking the last-resort-stagnant-springwater. When I got to the tank, yes, I dumped the remaining liter of spring water and took tank water. Something about the critters in there.
For some reason, I decided to go down the stairs to Trail Angel Mike's. Immediate regret. Not feeling social and was immediately given a barrage of statistical questions by Paint Your Wagon and Kushey. Pink Panther was there to commiserate over injuries. Conversation in the porch area was centered on the finer points of hydroponics. I elevated my feet for 15 minutes, then just couldn't take the interactions. In the noon heat, dripping sweat, I was pleased to stumble back out of there. Two miles up the trail, I dropped my pack and took a real break.
Later that day, still hot on the trail of my friends, I passed a sign for a water cache in a mile. Just beyond it was a figure coming in my direction. Kilt flapping, he approached at twice my speed. I yelled that he was going the wrong direction, then hugged Far Out a minute later. He'd come to lead me to their camp, a couple of miles up. Too kind. They'd been receiving reports of my progress from passing hikers and knew I was near.
On the way, we caught a horned lizard and he entertained me with anecdotes to distract me from foot pain. We all chatted at the exposed boulder camp for a few hours. Far Out discovered a snake mid - afternoon and called me over. I picked it up, a large gopher snake, and pointed out some simple ways to know that it was harmless. We played with it for awhile, handed it around, and kept it far from First Class.