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!