It didn't take many miles for the blisters to return. About 5 miles into my morning, wandering along fairly flat trail, attempting to make good time, I felt a nagging sensation under my right foot. Again. Before I could even find something to sit on, the thing ripped open on a misstep, and I slumped on a stump to look at it. Engrossed, I was startled to hear a whistle coming from the trail ahead of me. There stood a tall man leaning on trekking poles, who appeared to be having no foot issues at all. He had a once-off-white day pack and worn boots. With a huge smile, he said, "I didn't want to startle you." We talked briefly while I assembled my dangling skin. He was a physical therapist who was hiking the trail in sections, parking and doubling back each day. Somehow, we managed to get some thorough personal biographies in our brief interaction, and, discovering that we had much science background in common, we resolved to try to meet up after he'd doubled back a couple of miles closer to where I'd camped the night before.
With water an issue, however, I didn't want to wait long, and I left a note at a road crossing giving him my contact information just in case we didn't meet after all. Less than a mile from the note, I heard "Hustler!" He was behind me, approaching quickly, and I smiled and yelled, "Whistling Jim!" His stride was certainly mine plus half, but he insisted on my walking ahead and talking so he could hear me. We talked all the way to his truck, where he kindly offered me an energy drink and fruit; he also offered me water, but I declined, hoping that the recent rains had filled Russell Tank, which I'd planned for my stop that night. He had planned to make Russell his next jumping-off point, and was about to drive there and begin the next section. I left to hike the distance, hoping I might run into him again that night.
The terrain in the interim was rocky and heavily sloped. An alternate bike trail had been built to keep mountain bikers from barrelling down the switchbacks to their doom. As I picked carefully down them, I wondered how many people had tried the trail before the signs to use the bike alternate or walk bikes had been put up. On the way back up (for one only goes down so that one may go up again), I noticed my knee making a sound not unlike Grapenuts settling in a bowl of milk. It also hurt a bit, but that pain was fairly indistinguishable from the chorus of other IT band songs emitting from my right leg. I blew it off. Eventually, I reached Russell Tank, surprising a Northern Goshawk that had been feasting on a squirrel. The squirrel's accomplice was chattering loudly from a nearby tree, and I wondered if it had just lost a relation, friend, enemy or lover to the raptor.
The tank was dry. I continued to the parking area, and was relieved to see Jim's Tacoma parked there, without any sign of the driver. By the time I'd set up my tent and the light was markedly fading, I began to wonder about the guy. Of course, just as I was considering popping down the trail to look for him, he came whistling around the corner, Tom Bombadil-style. He'd done over 25 miles that day. Though tired, he seemed to be in good spirits. I bummed water off of him with profuse thanks. We spoke briefly, but he wanted to get driving on the spiderweb of dirt roads before losing the light. Maybe we will meet again tomorrow.
When I settled in my tent, the cereal sound in my knee was quite evident. It has swollen considerably. Excellent.