Covering those four miles an hour seemed like a distant dream. I moved at a pace dictated by the desert. The quicker you moved, the more you slipped about. It could be agonizing. This was a discomfort unique to the desert, one that I knew well from previous sandy sojourns in the Mojave and White Sands. My twisted mind invited the discomfort in. Let’s tango, desert.
My pack was stocked to survive three days in the backcountry. Though there were a good amount of clouds in the sky, the sun somehow found a way to shine through. And my skin found a way to chafe in the only place the sun don’t shine. My feet felt the burning heat from the sand through my lightweight trail runners. My calves punished me for subjecting them to such a rigorous sandy workout.
A .5 mile hike from the main trail and close to a few campgrounds. This lake can dry up, please check! This portion of the South Fork Trail is relentless with hot sun and loose rock. Be sure to have enough water, and sure footing. We were happy to have our hiking poles! With 2 miles left toSouth Fork Springs, remember this from earlier?! we continued onward with ‘half mile water checks’ until we reached the refreshing cold water at the springs.
5:30 AM the alarm goes off and we hop out of the tent. Sun seems to come up a bit faster in the desert. We head out to the back entry of the sand dunes and watch as the sun shades the west side of the dunes, lighting up the sky in luscious shades of yellow and orange. As the sun peaks over the mountains, it’s bright with no clouds reigning all its power. As we climb, we stop to watch (and to photograph). It’s quiet and brings serenity to the climb. Easily my favorite moment of the trip. As we reach the peak of the dune, the sun is in full force, rising and waking life. We should have stayed all week.
The trail threw everything it had at me from the start. Freezing rain fell viciously from the sky for the first few days. At night, my tent did little to insulate me when the temperature dropped below freezing. When the weather wasn’t something to contend with itself, the climbs made my back and knees scream with agony. I passed through the Green Tunnel in Virginia, 500 miles of the same deep wilderness whose monotony made me feel like I was living in groundhog day. Pennsylvania was covered in rock, and the pounding my feet took made it hard to remove my sneakers at the end of the day due to the swelling. The summer season brought simmering heat, blood sucking mosquitos, and wildlife that looked cute in children’s books but that you wanted to avoid in the wilderness--especially black bears.