Mile 654 to 681
Late last night I begin to see hiker headlamps. Not again. I thought we pushed past their reach. Then I realize the night hikers are moving where there is a 1,000 foot drop. These phantom headlamps are gracefully defying physics, moving high above the canyon. My stunned facial expression must have resembled Buckwheat from the Little Rascals. Slowly my brain began to recalibrate my reality. Those were not night hikers, but car headlights way off on Highway 178. My brain had forgotten how to process car speed and assumed people moving that fast had to be close, even if there was no ground to support them. My parents are already convinced I am losing it, and this is not helping my side of the argument.
I get an early start, heading to water in about 10 miles at Joshua Tree Spring. According to the water report it is flowing well. Also according to the water report, it contains unhealthy levels of Uranium. The report goes on to offer words of encouragement. It turns out this is the only spring formally tested, so it is likely not significantly worse than the others we have been drinking from. Furthermore, the unsafe levels are only a concern when consumed over a lifetime. Given I am drinking uranium I am not sure how long my lifetime will be. On the bright side, the spring should be easy to find, as I suspect the nearby bushes to be glowing.
I hear a weather report from a hiker that storms are coming, which means we may get backed up at Kennedy Meadows. It is getting cold and the wind is crazy on the ridge. I push on further than normal and am rewarded with lower elevation, warmer weather, a spring and a campsite with a picnic table and pit toilet. Two other thru-hikers join me, both named Rick. We are three Ricks camping together, never forgetting each others names.