The temperatures rose as we climbed. We felt parched, as though the sun had finally dried every last drop of liquid in our bodies. I began imagining icy cold drinks: frosted glasses of lemonade, ice filled glasses of tea or soda, frozen beverages such as milkshakes or Jamba Juice, or even wet frozen treats such as Popsicles or ice cream bars. But most of all I thought of water.
I thought about how long it had been since we had seen a natural source of water. It had been three days. Three days ago we had crossed a small creek in Long Canyon on our way to Mt. Laguna. Since then, the only water available on the trail had been brought there by humans: the faucets at Mt. Laguna, the water cache at Pioneer Mail, the Rodriguez water tank, the cache at Scissors Crossing.
Just as my thirst reached its peak, I heard a shriek from up the trail. "Water!" Sierra cried. There, next to the trail was a brown wooden sign with the word "water" carved and painted on it in bold white letters. Following the arrow down a side trail, we reached a true oasis in the desert: the Third Gate Water Cache. There, under the shade of a scrubby tree were over one hundred gallons of fresh, pure water, each one hand-carried over 13 miles to that location by generous volunteers. Reluctant to waste even one drop of that precious water brought to us by such selfless effort, we took only one pint, just enough to get us the remaining ten miles to Barrel Springs.
All too quickly, the hot afternoon sun dropped lower in the sky, and we watched the sun set behind the mountains. We continued hiking by twilight, and then by headlamp. The evening sounds seemed magnified by the darkness: the hoot of an owl, the rustling of the grass, the howls and yips of the coyotes. From time to time an eye reflected back at me from up the trail. Each time I approached, a small burrowing owl flew off into the night, with heavy flapping of its tiny wings.
It was late when we finally reached Barrel Springs, the end of a 24 mile day, now 101 miles from the border, where our journey began.