Independence

The day of badassery having been acknowledged and celebrated, a human’s got to know her limits. Forester was mine. Not all trails work for all people — and hey, 800 miles is nothing to sneeze at.

At least the desert had hummingbirds! 🙂

Yesterday morning my shoes were frozen solid, and my socks and pants were still wet and icy cold. This morning my tent was frozen. And in addition, someone seems to have flicked the mosquito button to the ‘on’ position. They’re suddenly swarming, and they’re relentless. Also large.

The altitude is affecting me much more than I thought it would. Can’t hike fast, can’t sleep, can’t breathe well. I’m really tired–and it’s making things very hard.

My PCT adventure is likely at its close. I could skip the Sierra, but that’s not ideal. And there’s still too much snow in Washington to go that far north. Best to do the Sierra in August, and the other sections at their ideal times.

I’m taking the requisite two (or three) zeroes for additional mulling. Decisions forthcoming. But I’m content either way.

I’m currently holed up in a motel in Independence. It’s about 100 degrees outside–and it feels magnificent! 🙂

Advertisements

Southern Sierra–Cliff Notes version

Sun 6/12/16
Started 702.2 (plus bonus 0.77 to trailhead). Wanted to get out of disgusting KM before I had to use the overflowing porta-potties! Entered Sierra carrying heavy. Bear can, microspikes, ice axe, 7 days of food. Black clouds and wind rolled in, early afternoon. Camped at about 2 PM. Mile 709.5, 7047 feet. Very short day, as usual when leaving town with a heavy load. Currently thundering and windy. It’s going to be cold and stormy tonight.

Monday, 6/13/16
Started 709.5. Ended 722.2, 9922 feet. Rain and thunder all night. Saw my breath this morning. Had to pack up wet, and still messing with how to configure all the new gear. Took 1.75 hours! Climbed until 8 AM; was walking through frosty meadows by 7:15. Caught a glimpse of the snowy peaks. Man. That’s a lot of snow.

Today was the big climb, which I didn’t realize. Up thousands of feet for miles, into the high elevations. The high point today would have been 10,600 feet, but my lungs weren’t up to it. It ended with a choice: keep going and camp at the peak, or stop early. My fingers were already frozen. I stopped at 9000 feet at 4 PM. Now that I see how this will go, I went through the next couple of days and charted mileage based on elevation gain. I’m a day behind schedule, but hey–technically speaking, it’s a brand new hike. I’ll have to watch the food. I won’t have to deal with major snow until Wednesday, probably. We’ll see. I don’t like the way the timing for that (Cottonwood Pass) is turning out. That might be a short day, too, to avoid 5 miles of postholing plus sleeping on snow.

I won’t be below 8000 feet for many miles (excepting my resupply, which will eat 3 days).

The good news: I’m toasty at night. 🙂

Tuesday, June 14
Mile 737.7. 10533 feet. Good day. Big climb! Saw my first Sierra mosquitoes–huge but not relentless (yet). No snow yet. This is the highest I’ve camped! The altitude is challenging–it’s hard to breathe and walk uphill! But that’s what it is for the next 350 miles. The scenery’s pretty–rocks and scrub pine, sand and negative space–but for my money, Maine, NH, and Vermont are prettier. Sacrilege, I know. 🙂 But I haven’t come to the watery bits yet. And my sense of beauty is strongly pinged by water.

There’s a guy camped 40 feet away and I can hear him snoring. Dear gods! I hope he rolls over or something. lol

Wednesday, June 15
Mile 752.9. 11,320 feet. Trail Pass and Cottonwood Pass: complete!
The Sierra celebrated Ray Day by blasting us with windbane! And you know what windbane at 11,500 feet feels like? Not summer. 🙂 But not really winter, either.

The climbs were manageable but steady. I started to see pockets of snow on the ascent to Cottonwood, but nothing on the trail. I was worried about a snow field on the north face, but there was nothing. Go, Ray Day!

I’m nervous as hell about Forrester, the day after tomorrow. Highest point on the PCT–and there will most definitely be snow there. 13,000 feet.

It’s still brutally windy, but it got cold as the day faded. I found a shelterish spot among some rocks. It’s not great, but the wind shows no sign of abating. I look up at the cliff wall at the snow. Snow! I didn’t want to be fumbling in a boulder field at dusk. So here I am. Wearing my puffy AND my fleece for the first time. I’m cozy. I hope the wind dies! In the meantime, I’m listening to loud music to drown it out.

Also, saw my first lake today. Chicken Lake, I think. It was prettier than it sounds. 🙂

Forester Pass: Day of Badassness

Thursday, June 16
Mile 768.3. 10786 feet.
This morning it was 25 degrees. Some southbound section hikers had a thermometer. I can’t even begin to guess what the temp was last night, 1000 feet higher where I was, and with that crazy wind. The hikers with the foam mats really suffered. I was toasty with my Xtherm, but I spend most of my weight on warmth. And it slows me down. (And makes it hard fo get up in the early morning!)

It was a fairly unproductive day. I never could get in gear. I think I slept badly. The trail was pretty, though. At the Whitney portal there were at least 30 hikers getting ready to summit tomorrow.

Me, I hope to do Forester Pass. It’s 12 miles away, though, with three stream crossings in there (and the big downhill snow field to get through afterward–several miles of it). Word on the street is that the afternoons are all postholing, which is bad. (That’s when your foot goes deep into snow because it’s too soft to support your weight. It’s dangerous, because there are probably boulders down there, and very exhausting and time-consuming.)

I wish I could go faster on the uphills, but the elevation is really challenging me. I can only go about 1 mph, what with all the breathing. 🙂 And Forester is 13,118 feet.

I’ll probably end up with a poor choice: get there late and spend the afternoon postholing (and probably hike into evening), or do a very short day tomorrow and hit the pass first thing Saturday. I really really really hate to lose that time, given that I’m already very far behind and staring down the barrel of losing 3 days to resupply in Independence. On the other hand, I’m so far behind now that does an extra day really matter? Probably not, in terms of not finishing. It just changes my terminus, wherever that ends up being. Assuming I don’t sprout wings on my feet after the Sierra.

I’ll see how the stream fords go. I did the first one today–Rock Creek. The water was just over my knees. I bet last year that one was a puddle jump. 🙂 This year it was loud and rapid-y. Tomorrow it’s Wright, Wallace, and Tyndall Creeks. Then wet feet for Forrester.

Oh! I almost forgot the snowblind guy! I met a SOBO who looked familiar. Turned out, he was NOBO. Remember that bad rain storm? At elevation it was snow. This guy summitted Whitney the next day and forgot his sunglasses. The next morning, he was snowblind. He stayed in Crabtree Meadow for a couple of days until his vision mostly returned, but he was headed SOBO to get out of the Sierra and get into Lone Pine to see a doc.

Crazy trail.

Friday, June 17
Mile 783.2. 10857 feet.
Today I did the second scariest physical thing of my life–possibly the top scariest, but it was brief. Forester Chute. You can google/YouTube it.

Forester. The only way I got through today was by obsessing on three little words: “You did Katahdin.” I used the axe, the spikes, all of it. I lost the trail. I fell a lot (I’ll be sore tomorrow, but nothing major. That’s what happens on miles and miles of slippery snow.) I glissaded, but only by accident (see ‘fell a lot,’ above).

I never say this, but today, just for today, June 17, 2016… I am a freaking badass. 🙂

I’ll be losing Sherpa and Dolittle tomorrow. I’m sad! They’ve been great leapfrog trail companions. But I’m leaving the Sierra to resupply, and they’re going straight through to Vermillion Valley Ranch. I hope I catch up to them at some point.

image2.JPG

image8.JPG

image11.JPG

image12.JPG

Kennedy Meadows

Boom!

703 miles of desert (with mountains). Beyond my wildest dreams. Certainly, I thought there was a good chance it was beyond my physical abilities. But here we are! 700 miles in 7 weeks. 700 miles of desert.

The last few desert days were hard. Really hard. The whole desert was really hard! (I got sick again; turns out it really is the ibuprofen, after all. I stopped it immediately this time, and immediately got better.) I’ve never walked in 110-degree heat while carrying 20 pounds of water along with everything else. (And I’m not anxious to repeat it!) But it was worth every scorpion.

It’s like the Promised Land when you walk around that bend here at KM. Everybody cheers and claps. Everybody beams. It feels like the finish line. 🙂

I got here the morning of June 11th. I’ll be taking the day, then entering the actual Sierra in the early morning of the 12th. There’s big snow coming to the Whitney area, but that’s 60 miles from here. I think rain tonight and/or tomorrow, hereabouts. A lot of hikers are talking about waiting out the rain, but I’ll hike in it. I don’t mind.

Thank you so much to Jim Sisu Fetig, who sent me celebratory cookies to Kennedy Meadows! Just what the doctor ordered for the finish line party! They were fabulous! And thanks to my brother John for managing the onerous job of sending me my boxes–bear can, ice axe, microspikes, long pants, and 7 days of food. Plus Shoes Number Three.

Phase 1 of the PCT: FINISHED! 🙂

Who woulda thunk?

Day 48: Scorpions and Devilfish

Day 48 (Monday, June 6): Scorpions and Devilfish
Mile 636.6
Kennedy Meadows ETA: Still 6/10, by some miracle

Hey, I canna do what the grownups do, either! I set the alarm for 1:00 AM, then failed to hear it!

It was another freakishly windy night last night. I was in a protected little dell surrounded by Joshua trees, so the blowing itself wasn’t bad, but the noise was awful! A true roar. I put in my earplugs just enough to cut the howl to something less fierce and scary, but I forgot to turn the alarm volume up to compensate. Heh. So I’m cozy and drowsy and wondering what time it is…3:22 AM! Holy crap! So much for my bold night-hiking plan.

But I’ve gotten good at getting things ready the night before, so I was hiking by 4:15. But get this: When I went to put my shoes on, there was a scorpion under one of them.

Scorpion! I mean, jeez. Freaking scorpions. I did a lot of research,
but nothing prepared me for the reality of actual scorpions on this trek. Scorpions!

Luckily I’m a fairly Renaissance human, and I know some things about scorpions–like, I already check my shoes in the morning. Still, you know what hiking means to me? Beautiful forests, secret glades, mushrooms, unexpected waterfalls. Owl sounds, and wood thrushes.

Not sand and scorpions and these little biting gnats that are chewing me to pieces. (Well, OK. I’ll grant you the gnats. They’re everywhere.)

So! I kept my eye on that little dun-colored scorpion until I lost it,
and I got packed up and moving. Miles to go! And a potential water cache at 630! I even wasted a Dixie cup of water and brushed my teeth–but that was mostly a morale issue after oversleeping and finding the scorpion under my shoe. (And it was still windy as hell and pitch dark. In the creepy Mojave desert.)

This is why I will never cowboy camp. Cowboy camping to me means not putting on the rain fly–which I can do at the moment, because no rain, no condensation (campsite choice), and I don’t need the warmth.

I walked. In the dark. I didn’t even give a rat’s behind about
creatures–but the only creature I saw was another little rabbit. How in hell are they alive?

Oh! I have a snake theory. I saw multiple snakes the last few days,
and so did other people. But for a while before that–no snakes. The two times I’ve seen multiple snakes, there’s been a big wind event, a change in the weather–once to break a cold front, and this time to break the heat wave. I could be wrong, but I’m suspecting that the snakes can sense a change in the barometric pressure, and are either more actively seeking cover or are slithering off the mountain.

I had about 3.5 liters of water this morning. There was no way it was going to be enough to get to mile 352 (the next likely water) if that cache wasn’t there. I was looking at about… oh… 29 miles. In the Mojave–which is clearly kicking my ancient ass more than I expected. And this was after doing everything in my power to avoid relying on the caches, including a 9-liter water carry. I needed that cache to be there–and a lot of hikers actually got to mile 630 this morning with a half liter or less. With no possible water until 652.

The cache was there! Thank you, Devilfish! (I hope I got his name right.)

There were a ton of bees there. A massive number. All honeybees. They would land on you softly and drink the water from your arm.

Devilfish came while I was there. We helped him move the empties to his car. I think it’s fair to say that for me, at least, this stretch would have been literally impossible without those two water caches.

My advice to any potential other old fart hikers who might be seeing this in preparation for a hike: Starting in Mojave/Tehachapi, night-hike this whole section. Hike from 9 PM to 9 AM every day from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows. The trail is ridiculously easy to follow, particularly if you have the Halfmile app; and the markers are reflective in the headlamp.

Oh, heh. Hiker Baloo saw a bobcat last night. That’s my one fear,
night-hiking, but I have to deal with problems in the order in which they’re going to kill me. The blistering heat and lack of water are immediate issues, as opposed to imaginary potential mountain lions.

(Can I charge my battery at Kennedy Meadows? Does anybody know?)

After the cache came one of those ginormous sustained climbs–up, up, up to 7500 feet of rocks and scrub pine. I stopped at lunch and looked at my maps. Now that I’ve had my epiphany that the white means ‘no trees,’ I wanted to see if that part was over. (I’m currently in scrub pine forest, still hot but with some shade.) Alas, the white part isn’t over. So I’ll try the night-hiking thing tonight again, after 8 hours of sleep. Roughly 60 miles to Kennedy Meadows, and the end of this 700-mile chunk of desert.

Things may get wacky when I hit the neighborhood of that fire closure tomorrow or the next day. (The trail isn’t closed, but maybe some water sources and camping areas are.) And if I don’t start the Sierra until 6/15–“Ray Day”–I realize that I’m no Ray Jardine, and my only chance of seeing Canada will be hitching a ride on a flying pig. But you know… it’s all good, any way it goes! And the desert will be DONE. Forever! 🙂 Which is Olympic Gold, as far as I’m concerned!

(Let me know if the pics don’t come through. I ran into size issues.)

image17.JPG

image18.JPG

image19.JPG

image20.JPG

image21.JPG

image22.JPG

image23.JPG

image24.JPG

image25.JPG

Days 46, 47

Day 46 (Saturday, June 4): H-2-Oh
Mile 610.9

The hikers who are passing me now started on May 1 to May 8. I really need to let go of that question, lol.

Good news! The trail near the Chimney Campground fire wasn’t damaged, the fire is controlled, and the trail is scheduled to reopen tonight (Saturday). So the march to Kennedy Meadows continues! It’s 100 miles–6 days (I’ll try for 5 and fail!). In 7 days, I’ll be entering the High Sierra, armed with bear canister, ice axe, and microspikes. ‘Donner, party of one!’

I was on the trail promptly at 5. Long, hot, heavy day today–the first day of the longest water carry on the trail: 42 miles. The streams are dry, the caches are no longer maintained. I heard a lot of people planning all sorts of permutations to avoid carrying 8 or 9 liters of water–paying people tons of cash to cache gallons of water for them, night-hiking, just assuming or hoping that there will be caches along the way. I just sucked it up and hauled it. I carried 9 liters out of the last spring, and it still won’t be enough with the 100-degree days. What really surprises me is that most hikers don’t seem to even have 8 liters’ capacity.

There were three water sources today, and my plan was to hit them all. I’d suck down a liter at each and one between, so that when I picked up my 8 liters at the last source, I’d be well hydrated. That worked well until the second source, which was a slimy stagnant pool. No thanks; I’ve been sick once already. That was the first time I’ve regretted not having a filter.

At second breakfast, I was divebombed by a hummingbird. Shortly after that, I almost stepped on a huge ancient rattlesnake. It didn’t get the memo that snakes are supposed to lie across the trail, and instead was lying lengthwise, hidden right in the border where the trail meets the leaves and pine needles and other detritis. It snapped into a coil so fast that I was afraid it got whiplash, and it was coiled so tightly I was afraid it would pull a muscle. And it rattled hard while I gave it a wide berth.

This last section is like the greatest hits of SoCal.

I didn’t make it very far after the last water source, but I’ll start early tomorrow with less weight.

Switching

FYI, owing to signal and battery issues, blogging is on hiatus. I’ll post location updates on Facebook, but only from town/wifi. See you from Indepndence in about 10 days! (Feel free to email, text,’or call, but I probably on’t see them until I get to town.)

Days 43, 44, 45

I’m entering the time of limited internet access. I’m not sure what that means, practically speaking, but worst case scenario is that I don’t have signal until Independence, in about 3 weeks, after I’ve entered the High Sierra and finished the first couple of passes. And I definitely need to conserve battery for GPS/navigation. So I’ll probably be making the switch to light journaling (and letting the pics tell the trail story). Some people may be happy about this. 🙂 Also, rather than slamming people with 21 emails, I’ll gang up the days a bit.

FYI

FYI, I’m technically entering the southern Sierra, and Internet access will probably drop. I’ll probably have a signal here and there for a few days, but there’s no signal (I hear) at Kennedy Meadows, so I might be radio silent for a few weeks. Don’t worry! It’s expected. 🙂

Day 42: Zero in Tehachapi

So. Everybody is exhausted! I just saw Rose from the UK. She said she feels like the 560 miles just suddenly sat up and slapped her in the face. She’s thinking about taking a double zero. Me, too! But probably not. Because…

I feel a thousand times better this morning. There’s nothing as rejuvenating as laundry, a shower, a ridiculous amount of healthy refrigerated food, ice cold drinks, and the knowledge that you can sleep in the morning. Just sleep! I didn’t actually sleep a ton–I woke up at 5:30 out of habit. But it was a full, soft night. No wind, no parties, no ants, no bathroom visits, no cold, no hot–and that, my friends, is my definition of heaven. Sweet sleep! My response to every bad, quirky mood should be ‘Go to bed early and look at it again in the morning. Really, it should be a rule. 🙂

There are hikers up having breakfast in the hotel. Some are headed out today. Some are panicking over the difficulty of the next leg and considering skipping it entirely. But why? The next stop is (gulp) Kennedy Meadows (unless you decide to hit Lake Isabella; most hikers aren’t planning that). Snow levels are too high for the average hiker. That week will make a huge difference. “Ray Day”–the earliest day it’s advocated to enter the Sierra–is June 15. Before that, you’re just ensuring a harder time for yourself up there. (Now, after that, you have to be able to do 25s. That’s just what it is. That will be my personal challenge, as we’ve discussed. But that’s then, this is now, and one day at a time.)

In a week, two weeks, I’ll be in the Sierra. The desert will be DONE. That’s the equivalent of finally finishing Virginia on the AT.

Anyhoo. The temps on the TV this morning weren’t as dire as the hiker gossip and Facebook temps. Hot, for sure, but 90s rather than 100s. That moves things from impossible to merely very challenging. (Why do we like to fan up this sort of hysteria? That’s one of the lessons I’m learning on this pilgrimage; I’m trying to step away from engaging in the false conjecture and rumor and disaster-mongering. ‘Right speech,’ as the Buddhists say! It’s a difficult habit to work on.)

The plan for the next leg: Night hike. Or, rather, start at 3 AM if I can. (That’s closer to my habitual biorhythm, and it’s currently warm enough that I’m not fighting the cold as well as the dark.) As I learned the last couple of days, it’s way more doable here than on the AT, where you’re surrounded by gaps between trees and it’s hard to find the one gap that means ‘trail.’ This trail isn’t even blazed. And even though I’m off trail every single day (yesterday by a quarter mile), so far my nav apps have straightened me out. (Invariably it’s at a juncture with another trail or road, and I miss a turn.) One of my weight choices was a heavy headlamp with very high lumens, just in case I had to do any night-hiking. And yes, I’m nervous about the mountain lions (somebody saw one not far from here a couple of days ago), but it’s like bears–you’re cautious and aware, but you can’t let fear of bears keep you from walking. Lions still sound pretty unlikely to me.

Wow. There’s a 42-mile water carry this leg! I’ll have to carry 8 liters (17.6 pounds) (gulp) and ration it.

I’m planning to take a cab to the trailhead tomorrow. I like to use taxis when I can. You’re on your own schedule, you’re supporting local businesses, and you get a chance to show that hikers can be good tippers. 🙂 But we’ll see how the day develops.

So. I schlepped up to Albertson’s market. 1.5 miles away, to resupply. People here are so friendly! I had a great conversation with a guy taking a walk. He gives rides to hikers sometimes. He was a transplant from San Diego, but he’s lived here for 29 years.

I managed to get my food–hopefully not too much, not too little. I’m mostly concerned with bulk. It won’t all fit. That’ll be good practice for the Sierra, when the bear canister will be taking up most of the space in my pack. Also, the grocery store was out of SmartWater, which amused me. (Most thru-hikers carry SmartWater bottles these last few years; they pack well, and the threads line up with the Sawyer filters that most people use.)

I replaced my little scissors so I can do surgery on my shoes and hair. I got plenty of OTC stuff for my gut, and some probiotics and other things. Protein powder for my breakfast shake.

As I was checking out, a beautiful woman named Rachel asked me if I wanted a ride back. I was so grateful! Honestly, the kindness of people boggles. One of the reasons I like it out here is that the opportunities to be randomly kind are multiplied–not just the trail angels, but the hikers. I have so many chances to be generous every day–whether it’s putting something in a hiker box, or letting faster hikers pass, or giving somebody some extra water or the last apple, or sharing my water treatment with somebody who’s out, or leaving a big tip for a waiter. Saying please and thank-you and asking hikers on a break if they’re doing OK. The suffering breeds a general sort of compassion; the suffering feels very bad, but the compassion feels so very good! Thanks, Rachel!

So now I’m back in my room eating leftovers from dinner, under the covers, and thinking about a shower. And there’s nothing else on my agenda from noon until tomorrow morning.

Best zero ever!

Oh! And I really don’t have pictures. I tried taking some, but there really isn’t anything to Tehachapi except a couple of highways. And some stores.

Day 41: Tehachapi!

Before the trail, when I was doing my research, there were all these colorful names that I had no clue how to actually pronounce. Like this one! Teh-HATCH-a-pee!

So here I am! And I don’t think I’ve ever needed a zero more in my hiking life. I might even extend it to two. We’ll see.

This trail! Things are so big out here that I feel like I never have time to recover from one humongous wave before the next wave crashes on my head. I haven’t slept more than two or three hours in a night since Cajon Pass.

But let me tell you the full story. Last night was the worst night on the trail for me. Period. (And yesterday may have been the worst day.)

I thought I was better, but it came back, and I’m 99% certain I have giardiasis. And I’m about 85% certain I picked it up when I accidentally drank that liter of untreated water from Trail Angel Mike’s–from the tank that was clearly labeled “Treat this water.” If that’s the case, it should be getting pretty close to having run its course (no pun intended).

But in the meantime, hiking’s been really difficult since the day before the soul-crushing windstorm–maybe a couple of days. It certainly explains my fussiness! I mean, there’s the Code 2 multiple times a day and night, which is exhausting. But then there’s the dehydration, and the not wanting to eat. But worse, actually, is the damn pressure of the waist belt on my gassy gut. It’s like having bad gas pains while wearing really really tight pants that weigh 35 pounds. That’s really been the worst problem, and I’ve done a bunch of short days because I got worn out and hot and my belly hurt too much to tolerate the pack.

That’s the backstory.

Then there’s the massive heat (and this next week, temps are supposed to be 101 to 109.) When you hike 8 hours in massive heat and can’t drink cool water (the water’s hotter than the air) or get into air conditioning, it’s hard to describe the toll it takes. It’s exhausting. And nobody wants to eat.

This next leg is serious business. It’s the longest resupply so far–140 miles or so, unless you want to spend a day doing a massive hitch. It’s supposedly the driest stretch of trail, so the water carry will be huge. And yesterday I was hiking along and thought, for the first time, ‘I don’t think I can physically do this next leg.’

At around 1 PM, it was super hot. The trail had climbed and climbed, and all of a sudden there was this little bluff down to the right with a clear spot far down near the edge. Just enough room for a tent. The view was beautiful–the mountains, the wind farm far below–and my belly hurt a lot, and I was so freaking tired. I decided to schlep down that hill and just set up my tent and take a long break. Make my own shade. With the umbrella.

So I did. And I dozed off a bit. The sky was overcast, which gave nice cool shade (I even had my fleece on at one point). When I woke up at about 5, it was windy with very strong gusts, but not terrible. I had a bit of signal, so I checked the forecast; every hour, the wind was supposed to decrease. So I decided to stay there.

Huge freaking error.

The forecast was wrong, or from a different town. After dark the wind got worse and worse and worse. I was on this jutting bluff, so I had wind coming up from the valley on three sides. The tent held for a while (I didn’t have the fly on), but eventually the wind ripped out the stakes. At midnight I thought about hiking out, but I was afraid I might walk off the edge of the cliff in the dark. I’d bushwhacked down to the site. The tent was literally sideways with the wind.

And eventually the only thing holding that tent down was me and my gear. And the roar was so loud, so terrible.

How in hell, I thought, am I even going to pack up? I can’t move. I can’t move my stuff! The tent is nearly flat in these gusts. It would blow away.

Needless to say… I didn’t sleep. At about 3, the moon was bright enough that I deemed it safe enough to take a chance on getting back up to the trail.

I managed to get my gear packed in a half-assed way, then I took the tent down from the inside. It was actually quite a production. I was proud of myself for managing it without losing anything to the windbane!

Of course, by the time I got to the trail, it was Code 2 time yet again… and here came two headlamps bobbing. ‘Are you freaking serious?’ I thought. ‘It’s 4 AM.’

“How you doing?” asked the lead hiker. A Brit.

“Today sucks already!” I laughed. (Might as well laugh.)

“We completely agree!” said Brit number 2.

(By the way… yesterday I was thinking that there were no Russians on the trail. Today I met Russians.)

Today was all climb–something like 7 miles of it. A lot. But if I could squeeze out 14 miles, there’d be town at the end of it. Mojave or Tehachapi. I was leaning toward Mojave.

One of my water bottles popped out while I was stumbling in the soft sand. And I was pretty sure it was one of the full ones. I couldn’t get to it! However I tried, the trail just crumbled under my feet. Sand. Hot desert sand. I felt terrible. (Plus I needed that water!)

I had an Alka-Seltzer and chugged along. By 6 AM it was already HOT. Shit, I thought. The water.

At about 10 AM, BOOM! Trail magic! Two guys have a little oasis set up right off the trail. Chairs, water, apples. Nobody was home, but that water saved my ass.

There was another hiker there, a guy named Real Irish. And he was! (Except he lives in Mexico now.)

Aside: This is how stupid I was today–hot and sick and exhausted. I almost told the guy his English was excellent.

Real Irish turned me around completely from Mojave to Tehachapi. He said Sherpa and Dolittle were doing the Best Western, and I know SloMo and Extreme Photo are, too. So as soon as I got a signal, I called ahead and reserved a room.

Aside: While I was there, another group rolled in, and one of them had rescued my water bottle! Twenty-somethings can scramble!

All that was left was that intimidating hitch. I’ve still only done it once.

I panted my way to the trailhead and saw a sign: “Coppertone is here.” What?

Turns out, Coppertone is an older guy who hiked a few years ago and now travels up the trail in a little RV making root beer floats for hikers.

Root. Beer. Float.

Ohmygod, was that amazing in that heat. Memorial Day, of course. And while I was slurping my root beer float, another guy drove up–Daniel, who maintains that cache up above, with the water and the apples. (He looked like Willie Nelson. A lot of people out here look like Willie Nelson.)

Daniel drove me all the way into town. No hitch!

So here we are. Laundry done. Shower enjoyed. And I walked myself to the local steakhouse, which is open, and I’m about to do serious harm to a filet and a baked potato. Because I’ve earned it this leg. And I’ll have a whole day to recover.

Tomorrow: Resupply. Eight days! But no schlepping heavy crap over mountains. I’m so glad to have a day where I don’t have to get up and walk! (Well, except to the grocery store.)

I’m gonna sleep late!

And tonight? I’m not thinking about that stinking trail, or the heat, or any of it.

Oh, and I saw a rattlesnake today. Yay!

Day 40: Back up

Mile 543.7

The Burners’ hot dog and ice cream, although delicious at the time, have not agreed with my belly. Also, when wind turbines actually move, they sound like airplanes!

Short, hot day. Have some pics! 🙂

Day 39: Marching on the spine of a dragon

Mile 534.9
Elevation: Hot

So, WOW. The day started with a dragon (Ouroboros!) and ended with Burning Man. And I sold my first 20 for a hot dog.

I couldn’t sleep much at Hikertown. The trailer reeked of old cigarette smoke–enough that it was keeping me awake, and at about midnight I got up and opened the door (which I found when the wind blew it shut). Also, the shower in the trailer became the public shower after dark, and my little room was next to it, separated by a sheet of particle board. So all the banging and splashing–plus some arguing when a belligerent guy left his soap in the shower and insisted that the hiker who was showering stop immediately and deliver his soap to him. Hikertown had a way of bringing out the ugly in people. I have theories.

My alarm went off at 3:45, and I was on the trail at 4:45. Because Mojave! Or at least, the beginning of the super hot part that also contains the Mojave. Nobody’s really sure about the exact geography–but pragmatically speaking, it’s a detail. (I did find out that we’ve been hiking very close to LA for a while now. And, of course, we’re hiking on the San Andreas fault.)

The trail was a little hard to find in the dark. But by the time I got to the beautiful Los Angeles aqueduct, that open ribbon of silver, the sky was flushing red. Morning, glory!

Except… First ARGH moment: I had to step off the trail for a Code 2, and I pooped green poop. OHMYGOD, I thought, I’M DYING. (I never have just a cold, or just an ache, or just a bump. I immediately jump to the most lethal possibility.) But then I remembered that Bob at Hikertown had plied me with a half-gallon of grape soda. And I had a handy Internet signal, so I googled. Who knew? It’s the blue food coloring interacting with the bile. Heh.

Then the fun started. Desert! It was hot by 8 AM. By 9 AM, the Snickers in my pouch had liquefied in its wrapper. Completely liquid. And the trail snaked atop the aqueduct for miles and miles and miles.

I used my umbrella all day.

The trail’s been very gentle to me. Like today–it was desert hot, but not killer hot. The breeze was constant, but so soft and unidirectional that it didn’t interfere with the umbrella. At every turn, the trail has presented hard or even deadly situations, but under the best conditions. Like that cold snap for areas that are usually baking hot. I’m very grateful.

After a lot of miles, it did start to get unpleasantly hot. My brain started to feel fried. The trail turned onto another road through private land–as far as I could tell, just plots of land where people drive their vacation RVs. And that’s when I remembered it was Memorial Day weekend. Saturday, in fact.

Two families had coolers out for hikers! I’ve never been so happy to see coolers full of ice! At the first one I grabbed an ice cold bottle of water and a hard-boiled egg. Three miles later, an ice cold iced tea. Thank you, generous people! You saved my brain from boiling!

And eventually I hit the wind farm. Dear gods, those things are HUGE. It’s like seeing a nuclear reactor for the first time. The mind just boggles at the sheer size.

The clouds today, by the way, were stunning. Just perfect.

I got to the first water source, at 17 miles–a faucet from the aqueduct. And there’s a group of Burning Man people here making food for hikers! I couldn’t believe it again! They only use their setup a couple of times a year, and they were looking for another use for it when they decided on this.

The Burners are Camp OKNOTOK. Which has a story. They only brought a piece of their setup, but it’s amazing. Red and black tenting, custom joints holding the frame, all hand-made furniture. So a couple dozen hikers ate hot dogs, and drank beers and sodas, and had ice cream sundaes and popcorn, and talked about hiking and Burning Man. It makes me want to go to Burning Man! Even though I’m past the age for it, probably, and not interested in the party.

After a couple of hours, I thanked the Burners and headed out, and left the rest of the hikers to enjoy the party.

Second ARGH moment: A hiker I’ve been leapfeogging with this leg was out of Aqua Mira. I told him I have Aqua Mira for my main water treatment, and my backup is more Aqua Mira, and that he’s welcome to take my almost finished first set, and I’ll use the second set, and I have more coming in Kennedy Meadows. So that all worked out. But when he left, I got back to my tent and couldn’t find my second set. Holy shit. I panicked. I’d just basically given away my water treatment! Except eventually I found the second set. You probably felt my relief in Philly.

(I also lost my little scissors today. That was a blow. I’ll have to replace them or get my head shaved in Tahoe.)

And that’s that! First day of the last two weeks of desert–brilliant. 🙂

Tomorrow I think I’ll do a little walking. It’s all uphill, I hear. Town in 2 or 3 days. Mojave.

Day 38: Hikertown Oh-Em-Gee

Mile 517.6–Hikertown!

They say it’s the weirdest place on the trail.

They… are right!

More on that later.

My site was windy last night, but none of the stakes pulled out, so all was well. It was chilly this morning, though, and I had a hard time motivating, as usual. I think it was 6:37 when I hit the trail, going uphill. Up, up, up.

The trail stayed foresty for a while, but by mid-morning had become… meadow. Rolling ochre grasses, flowering shrubs. And eventually I started catching glimpses of that bowl of hot that I’ve been staring at for days. Hot.

And after the meadow, came the moment: the trail started going downhill. Slowly, slowly, I was leaving the mountains. And with every few feet of elevation loss, the heat increased. Hot!

Miles 1 to 517 were school. Tomorrow begins the final exam: the Aqueduct, the Mojave, the longest dry stretch on the trail. If you pass, you get to Kennedy Meadows at mile 703–and enter phase 2. Winter hiking. 🙂

Aside: At home I find yuccas to be kind of ugly. Leggy and sterile. Out here, where they’re wild, they’re huge and beautiful. Like bells!

I managed about 17 miles today, and honestly, that was about all my feet could handle. By the time I got to Hikertown, I was parched, hot, and exhausted. How, how, how will I push it to 25? I have some ideas.

So. HIKERTOWN!

LOL.

Words kind of fail me (but don’t worry; I’ll come up with some). Hikertown has a reputation for being creepy, bedbuggy, unfriendly, you name it. Creepy in the sense that at some point a few years ago, somebody allegedly found a peephole into a shower. (That could be trail gossip, or a maintenance issue, given that everything here is falling apart.) Bedbuggy in the sense of filth and disease. Also, there are reports of strange gruff people that sound somehow Norman Bates-ish.

I’m happy to report no bedbugs!

Actually, Bob, the owner, is very friendly. Very, very friendly. He showed me his private house, kind of friendly, and I’m not seeing him take anybody else in there. But, you know, he just seemed a little lonely. But I’m his age. I’m not sure how a younger hiker would interpret that.

The place itself is half junkyard, half Hollywood movie set (Western). The junkyard part is row after row of old trailers, all filthy and falling apart. No doors, or doors that don’t close. No electricity, no plumbing. (But my trailer has those things; Bob said it was a good one, just for me, lol. It also has no door, but, you know, it’s still better than cowboy camping. And I have roommates out in the living room, in case you were nervous.)

Bob grew up in Hollywood and moved here 14 years ago. Which explains the movie facade, the trailers perhaps, and the closet full of old band jackets in my room–like he rescued them from a production of The Music Man.

There are chickens crowing somewhere. Roosters, I mean. I wonder if they’re Hollywood roosters?

Up the street next to the Doc’s Office is a little building with a patio where all kinds of hikers are hanging out. I know a bunch of them, including Indra. And Sugar! I only saw three hikers all day; turns out that Terrie Anderson shuttled a bunch of them directly here. (When I don’t see people, I’m starting to always suspect a mass hitch.) Indra and her friends are night-hiking out of here tonight. I couldn’t do that even if I wasn’t afraid to night-hike (because of my vision, or lack of it). Not after a 17-mile day. But I’m going to try to be on trail (or leaving here, anyway) at 5 AM. Very big, very hot day tomorrow. I have to get a handle on how this is going to go.

Most people are carrying 3 liters of water tomorrow. I’m super nervous about that. The water report says there’s a faucet in 18 miles, but there are all sorts of disclaimers. Bob thinks the faucet is on. I’ll be thrilled when this water craziness is over. At Kennedy Meadows.

So. Hikertown! Hikertown with the hot tub full of beer cans and weeds. Hikertown with the hiker shower with the power strip tossed over the top. Hikertown with the infinite trash cans–and infinite trash!

I can’t even. But I’m glad I’m here. It was a good decision not to be afraid simply because of the reputation. Thanks for having water and a space for hiker trash, Bob. And I hope you like that David Attenborough documentary.

Aside: I just went up to the hiker trash area to throw out my trash. Half the hikers are playing with a snake they caught (It’s terrified! I wish they’d let it go!), and half are tossing chips to a rooster (who probably shouldn’t be eating them). This trail is epically crazy! Or maybe it’s just Hikertown.

Day 37: Cue the Proclaimers!

Trite, I know, but it still makes me laugh! Because 500 miles!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=84CPo4bVkMk

Five-hundred miles. Five-hundred miles of the PCT. Who would’ve thought?

I’m in my tent (at mile 501), and I happens to grab a signal. I was just looking at new packs online. Today was slow, and it was slow because I was carrying 6 liters of water, and if I have any hope of doing the 25s after the Sierra, I need a lighter pack. Period. Bit maaaan… I do NOT want to go ultralight. Too much discomfort. I could drop $400 and save 2 pounds in about 2 months’ time, when the pack would be ready.

But then the saner part of me chimed in with the voice of reason. Will I still be on trail in 2 months? Who knows? Can I afford $400? No. Did thru-hikers have 27-ounce packs in the 1970s? No. Does your gear get you to Canada (or wherever)? No.

No, I think I have to content myself with lower water carries. I don’t think a big gear restructure at this point is going to increase my stamina. I just can’t hike from sunrise to sunset, and I can’t make my legs any longer.

How did I get off on that tangent?

500 miles, yo! I’m eating Skittles to celebrate! (Thanks Beth and Bernie!)

I couldn’t leave the hotel until after 8 AM (that’s when you can turn your key in, or they charge you 20 bucks). I’ve lost a lot of weight, so I need to be better with the town food, so I got breakfast, too. It was after 9 before I hit the road–literally. I had another 6 miles of roadwalk to get to a side trail for 2 miles to get to the PCT–the end of the fire closure. (I think that’s the last one–pending new fires later in the season, of which I hope there will be none.)

I made it a mile before I had to find some bushes. It’s one thing to poop in the woods. It’s something else entirely to do it stealthily in a neighborhood or near a highway intersection. I found a spot, though.
And it was the last viable spot I saw, which had me concerned, given that I’m at the tail end of the ‘thing.’

I made it another mile or two on the shoulder. The speed limit was 50, and the cars and trucks (not many of them) were going faster–like, 12 parsecs. I was starting to appreciate the magnitude of the stinking endless roadwalk, when a car pulled over. “Want a ride to the trailhead?”

“I love you!” I said. And got in the jeep.

It was the same guy who gave me a lift yesterday! ‘Not all who wander are lost,’ said the Jeep, on both sides.

He’s a retired LA fireman. His wife died four years ago, and he said he’s pretty much just killing time now. He’s 87. So sad! That’s the third widower I’ve met on this hike. The loneliness is palpable, even though they’ve been cheerful men.

I love hearing the one-on-one stories from people. I don’t like the vortexes or the parties… but it wrings me out to hear this poor guy, a fireman for 45 years, just marking time until he can join his wife. Killing time by driving end to end across town and giving lifts to hikers.

He dropped me off at the trailhead. The connecting trail was forested–very green and pretty, with the scent of a stream but no water. Today was pretty much woodsy! Probably the last forest-type environment we’ll see for a long time. There was a lot of poison oak around in the morning (it’s a prettier plant than poison ivy), but the trail climbed steadily (damn you, 6 liters of water, which nobody else is carrying!) and the poison oak thinned, then vanished.

I didn’t see many hikers today. Only two, in fact. An insanely cheerful guy named Gray Squirrel who started on May 8. He’s super tall and all leg, so it was easy to see that he was chewing up the trail. It’s all in the stride length! Stubby legs are a big disadvantage.

The other guy was somebody I met at the Inn. Spidah. With a ‘dah.’ I don’t know the story behind the trail name. He started the 12th but took a week off.

The Sierra resets everybody.

I was trying to get to 508 so I could avoid the reportedly creepy Hikertown, but the hills and the water killed me. After the 500 mile spot, the trail started to climb hard. I finally found this little spot in the dense growth, but it’s my worst pitch of the trail. Not enough room. And possibly windy, but we’ll see. There was a Guthook spot in 2 miles, but I’m trying to avoid those, after the powerline incident the other night. I left them for the people who don’t know how to find a spot on their own yet.

So here we are! I’m going to end up at Hikertown tomorrow night, even though I wanted to avoid it. What can you do? If things were supposed to be different, they’d be different.

Also, I declare myself 90% cured of the ‘thing’! But there was a guy at the hotel who’d just come down with it. Good luck, guy! May the Force be with you!

Day 36: Chilly with a chance of chili

Mile: I have no freaking clue. Somewhere in the middle of a detour around a fire closure.

This trail has a lot of detours!

I started this 13-mile detour at around noon. It’s an 11-mile roadwalk plus a couple of miles of other trail, to bypass about 15 miles of trail closed in a 2011 fire, I believe. Or 2015 or 2008 or some other year. But at mile 6, it passes through Lake Hughes, which has a biker hotel of sorts, and a little grocery store. I figured the hotel (which supposedly had three rooms) would be full, but I thought I’d see if they had a vacancy. Sleep in a bed, help the intestines. Plus, my two half-days left me a little short on food (you eat even when you don’t walk), and I was so goofy in Agua Dulce that I forgot to buy snacks. Snacks are critical!

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with ABC, when you… oh, shut up.

In the middle of the night, I heard more and more people arriving at my little campsite under the powerlines. Turns out, it was listed on the Guthook app. There are people out here who pretty much think they have to camp where Guthook tells them to. It’s weird; they seem to have no clue about dispersed camping, which is kind of the point. On the other hand, that stretch of trail was very dense and horizontally challenged, so we all probably just did the best we could. When I woke up, seven other tents had squeezed into the little area that Guthook designated as space for two or three. One of them was the biggest tent I’ve seen all trail. Huge! But worse, it was set up on an unfriendly piece of ground, jammed in among bushes, on top of my carefully dug, out-of-the-way cathole. Uh-oh.

I was out of there by 5:37 or so.

It was another foggy, cold morning–a real pea-souper today. I don’t know if we were in the clouds, but we weren’t in them when I set up, so I’m thinking it was actual fog–or a fog/cloud thing. All I know is that it was cold hiking again. I used my rain mittens for the first time; they made it a little more bearable. (It’s apparently been 30 degrees lower than normal, I found out a little while ago.)

And today–the last three days, really–was lather-rinse-repeat hiking. Honest to god, I was ready to scream. Wyle E. Coyote–same tree, same mountain, same bushes, same 25 feet of trail repeated over and over and over and over and over. So freaking repetitive! That’s one thing I loathe about this trail and its switchbacks. On the other hand, that probably changes entirely once we’re out of Southern California. This is really five separate hikes. A video game with five stages.

Eventually I got to the road. Turn left to go to Casa de Luna, home of the Andersons–another familous vortex–or right to start the 13-mile roadwalk detour around the Powerhouse Fire Closure. It was noon. And it was decision time.

I turned right. Yay! My gut was behaving itself (conditions trending toward improvement!), and I was thinking I could just churn out that roadwalk and hit my first 20+ day!

Haha.

You know how long it takes to walk a mile? It takes me about a half-hour, even on the road. A long half-hour. A really, really, unending half-hour. Under the sun. Sometimes with no shoulder. With a 50-mph speed limit. With diarrhea.

Then 12 more of them!

I eventually took off my pants (I had shorts on!) and tarted myself up. I wouldn’t hitch, but if anybody offered me a ride, I’d take it. I left my purist card at the Paradise Cafe about 300 miles back.

Guess what? Sombody offered me a ride! A retired gentleman with a jeep. THANK YOU! I was his ninth passenger of the day. I ended up walking about half the roadwalk into Lake Hughes.

The fire damage up the hillside is incredible. So is Lake Elizabeth, dry as a bone–a dead sea, thanks to the drought.

The Rock Inn is a little like the Doyle in Duncannon–peeling paint, holes and scrapes, rings on the patched furniture. But without the exposed wiring or open gas flames or condemned upper porch floor. Or the bloodstains. (But also without the haunted feeling, like the ghosts of a Big Band at the Overlook.) And blissfully, the restaurant/bar downstairs has karaoke–but not tonight! There is a god!

SloMo and Extreme Photo are here, and another couple I met back at the ranger station the night after the wind, when I first got sick, and Rose from Hiker Heaven. There were a ton of other hikers downstairs eating when I got in, but all strangers. Sad. I fear my bellweathers have passed me by. They’re a hitching kind of people. In fact, even Sugar/Sato was here when I arrived. He and his two buddies were trying to get a hitch all the way to Hikertown (mile 515) today. That’s a substantial hitch! So I probably won’t see him again. (International hikers are usually here on a 6-month visa. Given that they usually have other stuff to see or do, they don’t mess around. The fact that I was keeping up with T. W. Horsewater for so long was comforting. But no more.)

So here we are. I got snacks. I had a Philly cheesesteak downstairs (because I like to test them), and now I’m in bed. I can’t leave here until 8 AM, and I might have breakfast at 8 and leave at 9. I’ve lost a lot of weight; maybe that’s figuring into my digestive issues. When I skip towns, I also skip town food–and town food is pretty critical on a long-distance hike. And the less body fat I have, the colder I get.

So, say I leave by 9, do the last 6 miles of the detour, then do a bunch of… oh, who the hell knows. Just gotta walk. One step at a time!

Oh, and the cold snap is supposed to turn into a heat wave next week–just in time for… the Mojave.

Day 33/34: Hiker Heaven and miscellanea

Mile 458.0

First things first: Thank you so much to AT Trail Angels Beth and Bernie and to my friends in Lansdale for the care packages! Oh, mygod! Fabulous cookies, and jerky and bars and freeze-dried fruit, and cards and notes! You guys made my day! And I shared with hikers at Hiker Heaven, so you made their day, too! THANK YOU! (And thank you to my brother John for sending me my first fresh pair of shoes! Yay!)

The other news, less chipper, is that I’ve been ill. (Hence no journal yesterday.) I have some kind of intestinal issue going on, and yesterday I was completely wiped out. I fell asleep at around 3, then was up all night because of the raucus party at Hiker Heaven (which was super loud even with my earplugs in). Then this morning I sluggishly got my stuff together and made it to the trail, did a couple of miles that were painful on my belly with the heavy food carry and 5 liters of water, and called it a half-day. I’m currently stealth camped, not visible from the trail (I don’t think)–mostly because I don’t want to hear the commentary when hikers see a tent at only … whatever it is. Two o’clock. I didn’t really have time to check my maps or get my ducks in a row, and I need a lot of solid hours of sleep.

This is just a bug, I’m pretty sure–or a reaction to the ibuprofen. There’s the off chance that it could be something worse, like Giardia, but there are plenty of horses to look at before I start looking for zebras. I got real food in my resupply, I stopped the vitamin I, and I didn’t have any coffee this morning. And I got out of the hiker vortex ASAP. It’s hard enough to go 6 months in the regular world without catching some sort of cold or bug. It’s geometrically harder out here, where things are indescribably filthy with dirt, poop of all kinds, and so on, and the body is worn to a frazzle from the constant work, and nutrition is limited.

I wouldn’t be able to sit in a tent in the desert at 2 if the temperature weren’t reasonably low (for the desert). Also, my umbrella is inside the tent, partially set up to give me some shade. Two-person tent!

So… yesterday. I don’t remember a thing about it. Oh! Except the trail going into Agua Dulce was easy, easy, easy. Even under fhe weather, i managed 3 mph. Indra said Oregon is just like that, so that should help with my 600-mile deficit.

The last part of the trail was on a nature path through something called Vasquez Rocks. It was gorgeous–sandstone canyons. Apparently there was a settlement up in fhere, and there are petroglyphs. (Is that the right word?) I would have loved to see that!

On the way down I met a hiker named Geo, a rock guy, and we hiked the last couple of miles then had lunch before grabbing the shuttle to Hiker Heaven. He knew rocks and plants and we had a great conversation. His great-grandmother was a voodoo witch in New Orleans, but a devout Catholic. He said it’s like that down there.

Hikers had said that there was a shuttle to Hiker Heaven in front of the pizza place–and there was! A pickup truck. A bunch of us rode in the back.

Hiker Heaven. Jeez. Th Sauffleys own a couple of acres a mile from town (town being the grocery, pizza place, and combination cafe/hardware store). For no recompense except donations, they open the whole shebang to hikers. It was like a music festival.

Tents everywhere! Portapotties that were full to the brim! (They were sucked this morning!)

There were showers (I didn’t bother), laundry (did mine at the KOA), wifi, mailing in and out (I shipped a box to Kennedy Meadows and got my care packages), computers, sodas, haircuts if yiu wanted one, a guest house with a full kitchen and movies, and a dozen other amenities. And hikers! There weren’t 91, but almost everybody I knew was there, including Neema, Indra, the couple from Philly I hadn’t seen since the thunderhail, Medicine Man, and Rolf–now, due to “a long story,” T.W. Horsewater (Trojan Warhorse Horsewater). Plus there were a ton of people who said, “Hi, Karma!” whose names I didn’t remember because I’m old and blind. 🙂

I got the tent set up and grabbed my pack and walked down to the grocery store to resupply. Or rather, I got partway there when a pickup with a load of hikers pulled over and asked if I wanted a ride. As far as I can tell, on weekends the locals drive around and give rides to hikers. It’s kind of amazing!

By the time I was halfway through shopping, I was starting to feel really ill. Hot, thirsty, stomachy, gassy, and I really couldn’t concentrate. I put together what I could (about 14 days’ food for the two legs). The pack was heavy. I didn’t know how I was going to carry it a mile and a half.

But a local guy saw me and asked if I wanted a ride! YES! I replied! Then he pointed to his car–a piece of a John Deere tractor that was like a golf cart and must have been 50 years old. “It’s not legal,” he said, “but it works for me.” He drove it on the shoulder. No mirrors. Every time he hit a bump, I was sure I was going to go sailing out or the thing would tip over. We picked up two other hikers, who sat in the little flatbed, then we were back at Hiker Heaven.

Where I went immediately to bed. I couldn’t even eat the Greek yogurt I bought–it just sat in my tent and I dumped it this morning. I had to get up to use the overflowing portapotties at least ten times. “What’s going to happn there if they don’t empty them?” I wondered. Then, later,’when the big party started up on the porch and the whiskey started flying, I wondered what would happen with the portapotties when people started to throw up.

The party was loud, even for Hiker Heaven, apparently. A guy near me just packed up and hiked out in the middle of the night. This wasn’t a hiker midnight kind of party. They went at it hard–althoughbmost of the hikers seemed to have refired early.

This morning there were some pained, pale faces among the hikers.

And here I am. I accidentally yellow-blazed three miles when I asked for a ride to the trailhead. I forgot that part of the trail was a 3-mile roadwalk. I’m just not used to thinking that way! Anyway, as crappy as I felt, and carrying 6 days of food and 5 liters of water, it was fortuitous. That roadwalk would have been hard.

There’s another detour coming up–or two, maybe.

Eek! A hiker just found me! He made a weird little noise and left. He was probably looking for a place to use the facilities. Speaking of which…

Geo:

Rolf/T. W. Horsewater:

T-Bird:

Donna Saufley:

Day 35: Another half-day, another half-dollar

Mile 468.2

As usual, the whiny and internal stuff is up here, and the beautiful trail is all in the pictures. Feel free to just skip to that, anytime! (Not that you wouldn’t anyway. Because you’re smart like that!) 🙂

This is the new skill I’ve learned this hike: After rushing out of the tent to do your urgent business, when you’re finished just dig the next cathole. It saves time later–because later always comes.

I keep thinking things are trending toward improvement, but then I have a nasty setback. (Today almost an embarrassing one, too. I had to stop just off the trail, and it was a disaster, and I almost… almost… got caught with my pants down by two hikers who knew me. That would have been twice in two hikes! And they would have been blinded for life.)

I made it (hiking) until about 2 today–about 10 miles. Not great, and I tried to go farther (in fact, I did go farther, because I almost crapped out–no pun intended–at noon.) It was cold again today–50s with a steady breeze and cloudy skies–and that was too many unbearables.

Funny. We’ve (meaning my immediate cohort) had an odd sort of hike. This section–the climb out of Agua Dulce–is supposed to be super hot per Yogi. Most hikers today, the few that I saw, had on pants and long sleeves and jackets and fleece hats. I hope the cool trend continues–but with the Mojave coming, I’m thinking not.

I felt pretty good when I woke up this morning. I had a breakfast shake and managed to keep it down–or up–and I hit the trail at about 6:15. There was a lot of climbing today.

The first long climb was up, up, up into the clouds. I wish I understood this cloud situation better. I guess they get heavy and drop lower in the sky–but they don’t get heavy enough to rain?

It seemed very…Scottishy today. I’ve never been to Scotland, so that means pretty much nothing. But there were low grasses and shrubs, thistles, and hills. Maybe I’m thinking of the Shire. Or Skyrim.

Anyhoo, gorgeous! I saw my second rabbit. I saw the first one the day before yesterday, and I was astonished. How are rabbits alive? How are they not eaten by snakes? How are they not cooked in that fur? (I also met a hiker named Rabbit yesterday, but she had no fur and showed no evidence of having been eaten.)

I also saw two deer today! It was in the little forest around Bear Spring–a piped spring where I grabbed a liter of water. The deer bounded away when I got close. Deer! Bounding!

And you know what else I saw? A hummingbird, drinking water from the spring. It would go in, get close, and hover for a drink, sounding as loud as a helicopter, like they do. They blow me away, the hummingbirds. I see them with the same frequency that I see bluejays back home. They’re just regular birds out here! I’ve only ever seen one in my life, and now I’m seeing them on many days. Indra said the West Coast is their migration path, and there are something like seven varieties that are common. They’re curious and unafraid and sometimes come to check me out.

A sadder thing is the honeybees. There are so many honeybees here! They gather at the water sources, they’re hanging out at the flowers. I remember as a kid seeing lots of honeybees, but it’s a rare year now where I see even one. It makes me happy that they’re still all over out here, but sad to be reminded of the evidence of decline.

I didn’t see many hikers during my half-day, but I’m between vortices on a cloudy day–the Sauffleys, then the Andersons 24 miles later. (And the last place I want to be at the moment is a vortex!) A lot of hikers can do that stretch in a day now, so I imagine a bunch will cruise past here in an hour or two. I did see one hiker I knew–Sato/Sugar! He thinks I’m going fast. LOL. No, my friend. I’m afraid I’m really really not. (Although I’m currently anticipating a Kennedy Meadows date of 6/10, which is about what I was aiming for.)

There was a long climb this afternoon. I got about halfway up and just couldn’t do it anymore. I spotted this site near powerlines, with what I assume is Lake Hughes in the distance, and I gave up. Just sleep. More sleep.

It’s hard to judge when you’re taking care of a physical issue and when you’re caving mentally. I think this is physical, mostly, though.

Hopefully my cohort will take a day at the Andersons. Otherwise, I’ve probably lost them. But you never know.

I’ve set myself up for an awkward day tomorrow. There’s a 12-mile detour, and I’m not sure there’s any camping in there. Which means either another 10, or a 22. Hah. There’s also possibly a motel somewhere in the closure, so maybe that’s an option. We’ll see how things feel tomorrow.

This, too, shall pass!

Sugar:

Day 42: Hard left turn

Acton KOA
Mile 440.3

It was cold this morning, but blessedly, blessedly unwindy. Calm! The cold front blew in with gusto and left chill spring in its wake. I slept later than usual and hit the trail at a little after 7.

The plan was this: Get to mile 444 or so, which is where Halfmile’s
note about Hiker Heaven was. Now, this contradicted other research, which put Hiker Heaven at 454 in Agua Dulce. Their website didn’t have directions. But maybe they were a little bit outside of town or something; I had an open mind.

The day was warm and downhill, and the scenery was Wile E. Coyote repetitive, but with occasional glimpses of stunning majesty. Things are so big out here! Mountains laid out like Christmas platform dioramas.

My digestive system was (and is) giving me quite a bit of trouble. It occurred to me that I might have the stomach bug that’s going around. Thru-hikers are so relentlessly filthy and unhygienic that I’m surprised we aren’t dropping dead from gangrene.

I got to mile 444, and I was weirdly exhausted and indecisive. It was about noon. I could get as close fo Agua Dulce as possible then go in early tomorrow, do laundry and shower the first day, see what’s in my care packages and make my resupply lists, then do the shopping on day 2 and mail my food to Kennedy Meadows. Two days spent, but no real zero.

Indra and Little Bird and Mr. Bird were planning a short day. They were going to stay at the Acton KOA.

The KOA supposedly had a little camp store. It occurred to me that they might have something in the way of a fake meal–peanut butter crackers or something. So I headed in to check it out.

On the way in I bumped into one of “the girls”–that’s the group of three who went to Disneyland and called for pizza from the trail. She said there were 91 hikers at Hiker Heaven last night. It boggled–especially since the Saufleys have a 50-hiker limit. But I’ve heard there are weird backups happening in various places because the Sierra is pretty much still buried in snow down to 8000 feet.

That kind of changed everything. If there were 91 hikers, no way would I be able to do laundry or charge my battery. This is a private home; can you imagine 91 hikers lining up to ise a single washing machine? On the spur of the moment, I decided to stay here.

So I got a shower, got my laundry done, and made my resupply lists. Now I’m trying to rest my bubble-and-squeak digestive system. I’ll try to leave here at 5 AM and be at Agua Dulce at 10. Then I can sign into Hiker Heaven, get a good town lunch with maybe a vegetable in it, do my grocery shopping, and get my boxes sent out. Then be back on the trail the day after tomorrow. Maybe after town breakfast.

I’m tentatively planning a full zero in Tehachapi, in 120 miles or so. Last town stop before the Sierra.

I just ran back to the store for some fruit loops for breakfast and
noticed that Neema and Dolittle and Sherpa are here! (I saw Horsewater today, too, but he was on the way out. Unless something slows him down, I probably won’t seem him again. Safe travels, Rolf!) There are many, many hikers here, but I don’t know most of them.

By the way… it turns out that the ’91 at Hiker Heaven’ thing was totally trail gossip. No factual basis at all. Ha!

The KOA is kind of a loud, crazy scene. It’s nice to be among people who are camping for fun, family style: cooking hot dogs and listening to music and chilling. I kind of miss that–slow camping without an agenda.

Poodle-dog in flower: