We did not leave early from South Fork. It was so tempting to enjoy our own giant campground that we waited until 10 or so to leave. In that time, the local Little Rock resident who mantains the trails in that area came up to visit with us. Rex is a nudist, a former truck driver, and a prostate cancer survivor. He told some stories about prostate surgery and its ramifications, some dirty jokes, and a few tales about trail restoration. At its end, our visit with him led us to an easy means to the South Fork creek, where we filled our water containers and took off for Burkhart Saddle.
This was the same Devil's Punchbowl at which I'd done my conditioning hikes, at which I'd discovered my evil neuroma and nearly lost my chance to do this trail. I had a little grudge against Burkhart Saddle. Up and over those switchbacks I swore, repeatedly checked the trail app on my phone to see how much further to the top, and willed my feet to continue. When I stood at the top at sunset, feet burning and aching, I yelled incomprehensibly. Done.
All day, Coyote and Grasshopper had been ahead of me, and now, late in the evening, just as they'd put up their tent, I came stumbling up. I didn't want to disturb them again, so I tried to continue, but they called out, excited to hear that I'd survived. I slept next to their tent, pleased that we were still .1 miles from all those other passing bastards and to have beaten a little piece of the Punchbowl.