Let me tell you about magic and miracles and blessings and strange coincidences that aren’t coincidences at all but rather fate or the universe or God. I can explain it by telling you about my day. Today, we woke up in the desert beside a water source that we suffered to get to the night before. We had been pretty seriously dehydrated, extremely nervous, and in pain but in a hurry to get to water before nighttime or else we’d have to dry camp and try to ration our water and deny ourselves a drink when we so badly want one all night and morning, just so we’d have enough to hike to water with the next day. It was a hot, dry stretch in the desert, and we woke up at 4am and set out early in order to get through it while it was still somewhat cool.
I’d been hiking with my new hiking partner, Tumbleweed, and my friend from home, Cap-Cap, who’d come out here to join me for a week or two, and we got split up during the day. I told them I’d stop at the first shady spot and wait for them, but my pace has quickened lately, I feel strong and powerful, and I ran eight miles with a 38lb pack on my shoulders in the 100 degree weather without a break, without a drink, and with hardly even being too out of breath. I loved this feeling. I was finally there. I was at the place that all hikers eventually get to, when they realize that their bodies of flesh and blood and tissue and arteries and fragile bones can feel like an invincible machine made of steel and powered by an incomprehensible, unyielding fire. I realized if I didn’t stop now, I wouldn’t stop for hours. But I wanted my friends to catch up, and so I found a shady spot beneath a tree, pulled out my Trip Tarp, lay down on it, and thought I’d wait out the heat. It was 10am. I’d been hiking since about 6am. I’d take a break and continue hiking at 4pm, when it would start cooling off.
A hiker I recognized walked by and I invited him into my little sanctuary. Another hiker walked by, limping, and we offered her reprieve as well. She had a swollen ankle, and my fellow hiker and friend, K-bar, massaged her foot, I put icy-hot patches on it, he wrapped it tightly with gauze to compress it, and then we had her elevate it (all things I’m familiar with because I’d been through a very similar experience with my foot injury.)
We’d soon figured out that we could set up the tarp as a canopy by sticking hiking poles into the grommets and tying it to a tree. We crawled underneath and listened to music and read books aloud and tried to ignore our sticky, sweaty bodies and tried to pretend we weren’t thirsty at all.
By 4pm, my friends hadn’t caught up, but we couldn’t wait any longer. The canopy was amazing, but the sun was relentless, and the burned-down forest had no living trees, and our skinny tree with branches but no leaves didn’t offer much shade as the sun got hotter and hotter.
We had been lying to ourselves, telling ourselves we weren’t thirsty, but when there was very little water left and we began to realize that the situation could soon become very dire, we hurried out towards the water source, which was still about nine miles away.
The girl who was hurting, Love Giver, was my hiking partner for the day, and she turned out to be a beautiful, gentle soul I hadn’t really had the chance to get to know earlier. We talked about life and love and how magical the world out here was and how the trail sends you what you need and how we all have things to work on, and connected wonderfully as I kept her talking to distract her from the pain.
I had a wonderful hiking partner, Vanilla, to hike with me and help me feel safe out here when I was hurting. It was my turn to do the same for someone else. I gave her all of pain killers and some of my vitamins and anything that could help her heal and feel less pain and remembered how the same was same was done for me.
As we hiked, I came across a hiker who’d drank his water and still had several miles to go. The day before, during another long, dry stretch, I’d been getting somewhat worriedly low on water, and a hiker gave me an extra 8oz of water. Now, again, was my turn to give back. I offered the thirsty hiker a glass of water, and he guiltily but happily took it, then hurried on to make it to the water source as soon as possible.
Love Giver and I hiked into the night at her pace and got to the campsite everyone had gotten to at 3pm, at 9pm. Everyone was sleeping. We filled up on the water we’d been so desperately hoping for tonight, laid out our sleeping mats and sleeping bags, and cowboy camped beside it. Cap-Cap and Tumbleweed camped without water and join us the next morning.
That morning, while lounging about in the sun, decisions were made. Love Giver could barely walk without causing herself excruciating pain. She had medicated herself and pushed on all day the day before, but another day of that required more energy than she could muster. And, after another seven miles to water, there was a 40 mile waterless stretch. I could hike from nighttime until morning two times in a row, running almost the entire time, thirsty, concerned, but alive and still in decent shape, but at a slower, injured pace, it could be very detrimental to one’s health.
We scrambled for ideas and then figured out that, less than a mile away, there was a dirt road that our GPS told us was an 8 mile walk to a paved intersection. K-bar, Vanilla, Tumbleweed, Cap-Cap, and I went with her. Less than two miles in, the road got very difficult to walk; the sand was very soft, and our feet fell in to our ankles with each step. It was hot and almost entirely treeless. And then, a strange sound! Machinery? Nearby? A saw? A dirt bike? A car? A miracle?
It was a tractor! K-bar went up to Jack, the man in the tractor, and explained our situation. By chance, he was going to be off of work in 20 mins (we could’ve just missed him if we were a little too late!) and would take us off this terrible dirt road in his truck.
We waited, then piled in, and found out that this dirt road had been modified, and the eight miles the map showed were actually 20, and they were all up and down on a dusty road with nothing but desolate desert all around, the tallest shrub being half my height, with zero shade or water anywhere. We would’ve had a lot of difficulty getting down that road without help!
As he drove our happy rescued selves toward town, we asked him how close he could get us to Lake Isabella (we were only 47 miles away on foot and about half of that by car), and he said he lived there. Strange coincidence yet again! He took Love Giver and K-bar (he was exhausted from having to do 7 miles with no water the day before) to a nearby hotel to rest and recover, and the rest of us were dropped off at a restaurant, where, unfortunately, the cook was just closing up and heading out. When he realized we wanted to eat, he offered us a ride to any restaurant in town. We didn’t even need to ask! How wonderful! When we jumped out of the truck, we all ran towards a Mexican food restaurant, where we all gorged ourselves until I got sick. My dehydrated body couldn’t process so much food so quickly. After the worst stomachache of my life and a half hour of thinking I was going to puke, my hiking partners and I went to the store where they hydrated me with lemon ginger drinks and Gatorade, and I was back to normal.
While still at the store, I am told to hurry outside because a ride is waiting for us. Vanilla had randomly asked a man in line, “Do you happen to know anything about camping near Lake Isabella?” The man answered, “Don’t camp at the lake. Camp at the river instead.” Vanilla asked, “Can you take me there?” And then we were walking through tunnels beneath roads and discovering a beautiful private campground right alongside a clean, swiftly but gently moving river.
This would be our home tonight. We bathed in the river, cooled honey apple cider in the cold water, and while the guys went to buy snacks at a nearby store, the girls set up a lovely campsite.
We lay there for hours talking about the trees and stars around us and how much there is left to see and feel and know and fell asleep happy, knowing that, tomorrow, we would hitch a ride to town to eat at the restaurant where the awesome cook worked, who told us to come by and hang out and wait for him to get off work, after which he told us we’re welcome at his house for showers and beds (and maybe more food?!).
Everything has fallen into perfect place today. So many blessings and gifts, all rolled into one big, eventful day. But the very best part was finally being out of the desert, if only for a little while.