We wake up at 7 and I stroll out of camp at 7:45, right around the time Elroy passes our camp spot. Elroy and I leapfrog all morning, exchanging greetings.
This section of trail is the least wilderness-y section we’ve had yet — it’s National Forest land, I think, not Wilderness like much of the areas we’ve been hiking through — but I kind of like it. Sections of older forest mixed with younger forest (in these sections the trail is lined with huckleberry bushes), laced with dirt roads that offer views of the blue sky. A few times we pass under high-voltage powerlines — Guthook’s app always marks them as landmarks — which buzz oppressively.
I pass seven nobo thru-hikers in the morning before losing count. Mostly, though, I’m hiking alone, in a happy groove. After a while I put one earbud in and listen to some podcasts. I’m listening to an episode of You Are Not So Smart about the fear of rejection when there’s a tremendous noise on the trail in front of me. Something big disappears into the bushes before I get a look at it. Bear? Maybe just a deer, but I back up, take deep breaths for a moment, and then walk through banging my trekking poles together, saying, “Hello! Hello! Thank you very much, just passing through, thank you!” Whatever it was lets me go, but not very much farther along, up a couple switchbacks, I hear another noise and look up in time to see what looks to my easily-convinced eyes like a smallish bear disappearing over a big log a little ways from the trail. Again I pause and then walk past loudly. Who knows! I could be freaking out about squirrels or deer.
I take a midday break at a seeping spring. The water situation is getting a little trickier the further south we get, but by that I just mean we can’t count on a water source every five miles anymore. The spring is in the middle of a little clear spot in the sun. It’s cooler today — it might rain — and the sun feels nice.
Backup finally catches me 16 miles into the day when I’m chatting with some nobos at another little sort-of stream and campsite. “I maybe had a bear encounter!” I tell him, and he tells me, “I definitely had a bear encounter!” Just a quarter mile or so back from where we’re standing, a small bear ran across the trail in front of him and then through the woods next to him.
We walk more or less together to the last water source of the day, a beautiful little stream a tenth of a mile or so off the trail, marked by a crude wooden sign at the end of a switchback. It’s our last water for 12 miles, so we fill up, which makes the last few miles to the spot we plan to camp — all uphill! — especially slow and tough. Backup, eager to get to camp before the rain, pulls ahead, and I get there a bit after him. Two nobos are set up already; we join them and are soon joined by Elroy. The three of us cook dinner and chat and then turn in.
I have just enough signal in my tent to check the weather. Rain is due at midnight and hopefully will be gone in the morning.