We would usually rather wake up earlier or hike a shorter distance. Yet as I increasingly find myself racing the sun, hiking as night falls has become my favorite and most anxious time. The golden light blinks through the trees and paints granite walls. The wildflowers glow, and the fear of lions creeps in. My tired feet begin to move faster, energized by the sun and hasty to beat the dark.
I did break habit and hike under the stars on my way down from Mt San Jacinto. This was my first day alone since the beginning of the trail, the first time I decided to split from the tramily. I had to pick my own lunch spot, find the water source, and answer “how long until we get there?” Confident I could handle the logistics but anxious I’d twist an ankle or slip on snow, I took it really slow. I enjoyed myself, albeit a little lonely just sharing the view with a tortilla and spinach.
With four liters of water and four more days of food weighing me down, I set off towards camp with a spring in my step. I’d occasionally stop to say “wow” and take a photo, but never for long. Even when the sun slid behind the mountain, I was sure I’d get to camp before it was actually dark. I didn’t put on my headlamp until the snow and trail became indistinguishable. I was sure I was almost there, and I didn’t want to think about how I was alone, hiking in the dark on a hard to follow trail.
When I hefted my bag back on and turned on the headlamp, I saw lights bouncing behind me. Some hikers I’d seen on the mountain came bounding down the trail. Thank god, I thought. And,where the hell did you come from? Even when I thought I’d been jogging to camp, …….