It feels like an eternity, I think to myself as I work. The boysenberry scones I pull from one frozen sheet tray, prepped earlier that day, and place in sets of twelve on to a fresh sheet offer little for my mind to really focus on. It feels like an eternity since I looked out at the empty canvas of southern California.
Twelve. I slide the first sheet onto a speed rack.
It was mile eleven when I finally realized why the nagging feeling in my stomach still lingered at the base of my gut. Food nor water had yet to hold any real effect, so what could it be? The trail swung down toward a tree line after a mile or so uphill and my heart fluttered. Trees meant shade. No room in my mind for what shade meant in the middle of the Mojave Desert – rattlesnakes. I couldn’t help but hope for a nice flat patch of grass in the shade to rest, maybe change my socks and let my feet, and shoes, breathe a little before hiking on. I stopped halfway to check my maps, sure enough, it was the ravine a few hikers from the East Coast had been talking to Berlin about when I was still walking with him.
Berlin was from Berlin, obvious enough, but what was more obvious was how absolutely stereotypical he was, as if someone had reached in and pulled one of the villains from an Indiana Jones movie out of the screen and gave them life in the real world.
When I reached the ravine, Berlin was sitting there, smiling at me like a lunatic, silent as he had been the entirety of our brief time spent together before I stopped to “take a break” and let him go far, far ahead of me. With him, sitting in the exact patch of nice, flat, green grass I had imagined, were three women who looked just as anxious to be rid of him as I had been maybe two hours before. I slowly walked forward, smiling through the onslaught of logistical calculations I had been making that, to be honest, were not looking very keen. Too much weight in the wrong places. Too much food. Not enough water to pump through the desert, fuck, the entire trail. Not enough emergency money; where the hell did I put my lip balm? I sling my pack off my shoulders and let it fall with a dead sounding thud to the ground, collapsing next to it in a broken heap.
Forty eight. I spin around and pull open the oven doors, rotate the trays of peach hand pies, close the doors, spin back around, step forward, and continue. One, two, three, four…
“The ravine is all dried up.” One of the women says as I start assembling my water pump. I crane my head back over my shoulder and look at a ditch, my heart sinks at the site of what I can only assume is usually a flowing liquid hiker heaven. “Well that’s unfortunate.” the words fumble from my mouth as I quickly repack and pull out bag of jerky and offer the group some. They all take some happily, pouring the contents of the bag into their hands instead of diving in like animals.
“How far are you planning on going today with that beast?” The oldest of the women, Badass, asks.
“I have to make it to the lake…” I hesitate for a moment longer than I should have and she raises an eyebrow toward me. “I have to hit Lake Morena by sunset, I’m getting picked up, my logistics aren’t right for the drought…” I didn’t know how to explain it other than that. The numbers in my head – the miles, the liters, the pounds, it all weighed down like a rock at the bottom of my gut and it made my mind scream, “Get the fuck out of here, come back later, this isn’t your time.” As if pressing on, trying to force it to work this time around was somehow a decision I would pay for with more than I was willing to give. Not fear, because I wasn’t really afraid at all, just a horrible kind of clarity when you know you’ve made a mistake, a miscalculation.
“It’s alright, if I could I’d get off trail there too.” Badass says suddenly after a long silence. They all look at her as she stands, swinging her pack over here shoulders. “My son has all our food supplies and he’s probably already at the lake waiting for me.”
I stand, pulling the heaping weight I’d punished myself with up on one shoulder, the other arm extending out the bag of jerky to her. “Take it, I’m not going to need it.”
Ninety six. I slide the last sheet tray onto the speed rack