Days 42 & 43: Tehachapi

Date: May 21 & 22, 2017
Miles: 556 – 573.3

I loved opening my eyes this morning to a sunrise between windmills at the foot of my bed.  I loved less the realization that I had woken up with a sore throat and plugged sinuses. ARG.

I had some medicine left over from the cold that I had during my first couple weeks of hiking, so I took it and reluctantly dragged myself out of my quilt so I could get ready for the day. It was a quick two miles to highway 158, where we could hitch a ride in to Tehachapi and get cleaned up and resupplied.

It didn’t take long to flag down a car, but when we grabbed our packs and turned to run down the road after it, I saw another hiker slide in and the car drove off. I got hitch blocked! You’re welcome, man, jeesh.

I’ve been working on my hitchhiking technique. This car didn’t stop.

It took another ten minutes, but we did get a ride in to town and got a room at the Best Western Mountain Inn, which was full of other hikers.

One way to tell that hikers are staying at your hotel…

The first order of business was to eat as much of the hotel breakfast as we could, and then to find the barbecue restaurant that our driver told us about.  They had fried okra!

The rest of the day was taken up with laundry, the hot tub, and a gathering in my room for late night pizza and Talladega Nights.

The next morning, Katie, Connor, John, Allen, a new friend Ginny and I met for breakfast to hash out our Sierra resupply strategy, and then we spent the rest of the day hitching to and from the grocery store, the UPS store, and the post office. Everything in Tehachapi is spread out, at least from a walker’s perspective, but people there are so friendly that they would often offer us rides before we even threw our thumbs out.  A lot of people also stopped when they saw us just to chat about the trail.  Some would ask questions, or tell us about a relative’s hike, or ask if we knew that the massive amounts of snow in the sierras meant certain death to all of us if we continued on. One gentleman offered us a ride from the post office to the hotel, but then stood outside the door and talked to me about Abraham Lincoln and log cabins for twenty minutes while everyone else was mailing their packages.  People can be such characters.

Katie, Connor and I decided to head out of town for the trail after sundown since the area was experiencing a heat wave. Two railroad workers from out of town took pity on us trying to hitchhike in the dark and agreed to drive us to the trailhead.  We climbed up a hill for about seven miles, and I coughed, wheezed and blew my nose all over that hill until I was exhausted and couldn’t breathe.  I was a pathetic, sick mess by the time we made camp. At one point, I had stopped to go to the bathroom and ended up accidentally blowing my nose on my left shoe, and, due to a sudden change in wind direction, peeing all over my right shoe.  I’m glad that I had the company of Katie and Connor, who were patient enough to wait for me and make sure I was doing ok, otherwise I might have wheezed my way back down the hill and found the first flight home.

Desert night life.
A newt in the desert?


Day 41: Desert Heat and Mountain Magic

Date: May 20, 2017
Miles: 534.9 – 556

This morning we woke up early and left the Cottonwood Creek bridge for the wind turbine occupied miles ahead. The trail goes through the Manzana Wind Project, which is owned by a company that is known for being very hiker friendly.  This was obvious from the signage posted throughout the property.

I had plenty of water and wanted to get some miles in before the temperature climbed even higher, so I skipped the wind farm office experience and kept going until I reached the creek in Tylerhorse Canyon. I spent the afternoon there with the others until the hottest part of the day had passed.

Nap time!

The hike out of the canyon was an hours-long climb, with a slight detour down a hillside to avoid a stubborn rattlesnake. Toward the top of the mountain, an unexpected bit of magic called the Mile 549 Bar & Grill was settled in to the bushes right off of the trail. A local couple had just dropped off a pot of stew and a bag of cherries, which made me completely forget about the ramen I had planned to make for the 10th dinner in a row.

After dinner, most everyone decided to stay and camp since the rumor was that the same couple was going to bring coffee in the morning. I really wanted to get closer to the road in to Tehachapi so that I could get an early hitch in the morning, so I did some night hiking with Allen and we ended up doing another seven miles, bringing us to a spot about two miles before the road. I wanted to stop earlier, but once I had made the decision to find a campsite we hit a long ridge with no space to camp for miles. I was so tired by the time we finally found a spot that I didn’t even care that we were next to a giant garden of wheeling wind turbines or that I had set my ground sheet on a bunch of dried horse poop.  Nothing was going to keep me from falling asleep.

Orange and his backcountry chopsticks.

Trail angel Larry and Sunshine. They bring water to the trail.

My first attempt at night photography. Joshua trees make interesting subjects.

Day 40: I Walked On Your Water, Los Angeles

Date: May 19, 2017
Miles: 517.6 – 534.9

“The hobble will be strong tomorrow.” ~ Gringo (Paul)

Matthew, Orange, John, Paul, Roi, Katie and Connor all arrived at Hikertown at various times today and we all spent the day there and at the store, waiting out the heat.  

The exceptions were Roi and Allen, who both decided to hike out in the middle of the day and were rewarded at Cottonwood Creek bridge with root beer floats and burgers that some trail angels brought out for the afternoon. I, on the other hand, just managed to finish the jar of peanut butter that I’ve been carrying since Campo.  I thought I would have been eating it like crazy since I like peanut butter so much at home, but it was often the last thing I felt like eating in the hot, dry desert and I’d end up trying to swallow it forever, looking like a dog does when you put a big glob of it on its nose. I kept chipping away at it only because I wanted to use the empty jar to cold cook noodles and mix my morning Instant Breakfast / coffee powder drink, but when I was finally done and I filled the jar with water, I realized that the lid leaked. These are the tragedies I deal with today. So bummed. 

Once it got a little cooler, the rest of us took off for the trail and soon hit the LA aqueduct. 

We walked on top of and alongside the giant pipe for several miles and then road-walked the rest of the way to Cottonwood Creek bridge, which was the next water source. And when I say ‘walked’, I really mean ‘death-marched’ – I had gone ahead of Katie and Connor and hiked with the rest of the guys who like to hike fast because I wanted to make it to the bridge before midnight and it felt like a race to see who could finish first. My ego wouldn’t let me slow down to my usual pace, so I kept up until the end and got a good blister on my heel along with the likely beginning of plantar fasciitis in my right foot to show for it.  I also ended up taking very few pictures. Lesson in ‘Hike Your Own Hike’ philosophy learned. 

It was nearly 11 pm when we reached the bridge and I was an exhausted mess with wrung-out legs, so I quickly set up camp by the dry creek bed under the bridge, had a snack and a giant ibuprofen and passed out. 

Day 39: Hikertown

Date: May 18, 2017
Miles: 504.5 – 517.6

I wandered down from the woods and into the strangest place I’ve yet to encounter on the trail – Hikertown. The story that I got from the local store owner on this place was that a retired movie producer bought the property without knowing that it had long been a PCT pit stop, and figured it out when a bunch of hikers showed up during a family barbecue. From then on, he kept the place open for hikers to stay and get laundry and showers done. The place has a bunch of buildings made up to look like a store, post office, school, etc. The vibe is post-apocalypse wild West.  And there is a desperate need for hand sanitizer. 

I decided to stay the night to wait for my buddies to get in the next morning, so I spent the rest of the day getting clean and eating food from the market down the street and not doing much else. 

As the sun started to go down and the temperature dropped into the bearable range, people set out to night-hike the upcoming aqueduct portion of the desert and Hikertown started to look more like a ghost town. I grabbed a cot in the garage and laid awake for awhile, watching the bobbing of headlamps come up the driveway I was facing as a few hikers wandered in after dark.

Days 37 & 38: Lost Shoes and a Biker Bar

Date: May 16 & 17, 2017
Miles: 478.2 – 504.5

The lovely people at Casa de Luna made pancakes and coffee this morning and I loaded up on both before heading to the field behind the house to lay all of my stuff out in the sun to dry. Pretty much everyone was doing the same, so the field soon looked like a yard sale of soggy hiker gear. 

Katie, Connor and John arrived around that time, and after everything dried out, I packed up my things and we all headed to a local diner for lunch and milkshakes. When we were done, I said a temporary goodbye to them again and headed toward the highway to hitch a ride to Lake Hughes where new shoes were waiting for me at the post office. A couple picked me up and as luck would have it, the post office was their destination as well so I got a ride the whole way. 

There was no sign of my shoes at the post office, so I headed down the street to the Rock Inn to get something to eat while I waited to see if they would be delivered later. John had told me that the place was a biker bar – I told him that, if the bikers were anything like Sons of Anarchy, I couldn’t promise that I wouldn’t come out of Lake Hughes covered in tats and as someone’s old lady. The two bikers I saw however, looked nothing like Jax Teller, so I remained a plain old hiker. 

 After a while, the bartender asked if any other hikers would be coming in since a package had been delivered there. I asked if, by chance, my name was on that package and it turned out that it was my shoes. Weird. I’m glad I asked!

I went ahead and got a room there since I had planned to meet up with Katie and Connor there in the morning. It was…interesting. 

But there was a live band to listen to, a place to shower and do laundry, and the comforting presence of an NA meeting right outside my door, so I figured it could have been a lot worse.  Still, I slept in my quilt on top of the covers. 

The next morning, Katie and Connor messaged that they were going to take the trail from Casa de Luna instead of meeting me in Lake Hughes, so I set out and walked the highway for about five miles until I reached a side trail that led up to the PCT. I saw the most wildlife I’ve seen so far on the trail on that highway between some giant dogs that looked like wolves, alpacas, goats that sounded like they were yelling ‘hey’ at me repeatedly, and a lively ostrich. 

I eventually got back up to the trail and hiked until late afternoon (passing the 500 mile mark along the way!). I camped at a windy, deserted campground, ate some bland rice since I have no backcountry culinary creativity, and fell asleep to a show that I had downloaded from Netflix. It sort of almost slightly felt like home. 

Day 36: On The Trail Again

Date: May 15, 2017
Miles: 454.50 – 478.2

The Canadians and I set out bright and early so we could make the 24 miles from Hiker Heaven to Casa de Luna, but we were quickly distracted by breakfast burritos at the corner diner and bright and early became cloudy and mid-morning.  We did eventually get back on trail after road-walking a few miles. 

The weather forecast called for some rain and wind in the afternoon, but it quickly became clear from the number of clouds in the sky that it was going to rain for most of the day. Sure enough, after about eight miles, drops started falling mid-morning and wind and rain continued off and on all day. California is starting to feel like Washington and I still don’t have rain pants!  

I ran/walked the remaining 16 miles up and down hills, around ridges and under hissing power lines in soggy shorts and shoes until I reached the San Francisquito Highway, where I planned to hitch a ride in to a trail angel’s house called Casa de Luna. I had been feeling anxious about hitching by myself, but by the time I reached the road I had been joined by another hiker, Bananas, and we found a couple named Luke and Nancy waiting at the trailhead to give us a ride in to town. They had Cokes, oranges, first aid supplies, pop tarts and other snacks, and most importantly, the heater running in the car. Amazing. 

They explained during the drive that they are local ultrarunners who are so impressed by thru-hikers that they wanted to help in some way. I wasn’t sure why people who walk the trail would impress people who run it, but I was so grateful for their time that day that I didn’t spend much time analyzing their motivation.  (If you read this someday guys, thank you again! You are awesome!)

We arrived at Casa de Luna and my first thought was that it looked like any number of house parties I had been to in college and that I could either end up passed out face-down in the front yard with cigarette butts stuck in my hair and someone else’s clothes on, or I could get in to warm, dry clothes and go to bed. My second thought was, ooh, there’s nachos!

I set up my tent in a cozy spot in the forest behind the house, got into my dry wool sleep clothes and loaded up a plate of nachos. With a full belly, I retreated back to my tent and slept soundly all night.  No cigarette butts. 

Days 33-35: Sucked In To The Saufley’s (aka The Band’s Back Together)

Date: May 12-14, 2017
Miles: 444.31 – 454.50 on May 12, then for two days, only the miles necessary to go back and forth from Hiker Heaven to the local Mexican restaurant

Some Background:  Back in Swarthout Canyon, I had temporarily said ‘adios, eh’ to the Canadians and headed in to Wrightwood to resupply. They had picked up resupply boxes at the Best Western in Cajon Pass and didn’t need to come with me.  I also left Paul, Roi and Matthew, who had decided to stay behind in a hotel room in order to wait out the weather (they were nice enough to send pictures from the hot tub while I was out hiking in the snow), so I was on my own until we all met up again here at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce. I was really happy to see them all again…this hike just isn’t as fun without them.  

Back to the present: I’m going to summarize the last few days so that this post doesn’t drag on forever, but it will probably still be long.  From Acton, we hiked through the Vasquez Rocks. Allen has been talking about this for days because he’s a Star Trek fan and has been dying to recreate the Captain Kirk/Gorn fight scene on location. I’ve now seen the YouTube clip 14 times. It’s the worst fight scene ever. Watch it. 

The rocks were a mesmerizing change of scenery.  All of the hikers slowed down to a regular walk through the rocks to take it all in. 

Right after the rocks, we entered Agua Dulce and immediately stopped at the Sweetwater Bar & Grill to eat and then resupplied at the local grocery store before a trail angel named Sugar Mama gave us a ride to Hiker Heaven. 

Of all the places I’ve stayed so far, Hiker Heaven is my favorite. The Saufleys have trail angeling down to a science…volunteers are there from about 6 in the morning until after dark, they have a tent with computers and a charging station, bath towels and loaner clothes, rides to REI, sign-ups for the shower, and they do your laundry for you. I’ve never looked more ridiculous in borrowed clothing, but my gross hiking clothes looked practically brand new when they were done with them so I have zero complaints. 

We did our best to boost the Agua Dulce economy while we were there by eating at the Mexican restaurant three times, including at their all-you-can-eat Mother’s Day brunch. We all wondered if we could get away with filling our water bladders with horchata. 

A retired Sheriff picked us up in his Gator once to give us a ride there. I asked him if it was legal to cram seven people in a gator and drive them around the city streets, to which he replied, ‘well no, but who’s going to stop me?’  We waved at the current Sheriff as we drove past his house. Lovely people live in Agua Dulce. 

The rest of the time at Hiker Heaven was spent socializing, being clean, wandering around with the chickens and getting some puppy love. Sugar Mama made a red velvet cake so we could celebrate Roi’s birthday and it was so delicious.  All in all it was a great break.

Day 32: A Short Day For Tired Legs

Date: May 11, 2017
Miles: 436.1 – 444.31

My ankles refused to cooperate this morning and the bottoms of my feet felt like they went a few rounds with Mike Tyson.  I sort of half rolled out of my tent until I could get into a standing position, and then did the ‘hiker hobble’ around the campsite while I was getting packed up. Once I hit the trail, though, my feet warmed up and I could walk normally again.  Phew!

Today was a short hike in to Acton, where I planned to relax for the afternoon and then stay the night at the KOA campground. 

 The first order of business was laundry, since the last time my clothes had seen soap was the Wrightwood whirlpool incident and my socks were starting to smell like wet dogs. Next up was a gloriously long and hot shower, and then I hung out by the pool, drinking pop and eating ice cream sandwiches and family size bags of potato chips while I chatted with other hikers and caught up on some blog posts. It was wonderful. 

Later that evening, a bunch of us ordered pizza and watched Armageddon (I never get tired of Bruce Willis) until it got close to hiker midnight (9 pm), by which time everyone had conked out. It’s actually amazing how quiet a camp of hikers will get by that time each night. Some of the ‘regular’ campers were overheard worrying about us wild and crazy hikers staying up and partying until all hours. We laughed at the notion of any of us being able to keep our eyes open after sunset.  I don’t think any of us did.  

Day 31: Walking My Legs Off

Date: May 10, 2017
Miles: 406.7 – 436.1

“Oh look, more nature.” ~ Allen

I have to be honest, not much happened today except a lot of walking. A LOT. Almost thirty miles of walking. Which is not that hard to do if you don’t really take any breaks and you eat snacks and drink water while you are walking and you don’t take many pictures and you don’t stop until it’s getting dark and you’re a little masochistic.

The other thing that happened today was that I learned that brownie powder and a little water mixed together in a ziplock bag tastes awesome.

So, all day we hiked from the Sulphur Springs campground to the North Fork Ranger Station, trying to avoid the noxious poison oak and poodle dog bush along the way.  There was quite a bit of both in this stretch and they hid sometimes in the middle of innocuous plants on the edges of the trail so I kept a wary eye downward all day.

At times, the trail was so overgrown that I just had to plow ahead and hope that there was nothing in there that could bite, sting or burn me. I survived.

We arrived at the ranger station with a little bit of daylight left – enough to see the giant transmission line towers extending over the campsites, looking like alien sentinels in the fog that was rolling in. Even if we wouldn’t have been able to see them, the loud hissing and crackling of the electricity running through them would have given them away.  I set up my tent, cleaned myself up a bit and fell asleep pretty fast despite the noise. Up to today, i hadn’t been sleeping very well at night…I guess the thirty miles did me in.

Day 30: 400 And The Big 4-0

Date: May 9, 2017
Miles: 379.5 – 406.7

“I’m pretty sure that after this mile, there’s going to be more miles.” ~ Strongback

I guess it had to happen sometime…I turned 40 today.  Or as I’m preferring to look at it, it was the first of many anniversaries of my 39th birthday.  I hadn’t planned for it, but it happened that I reached the 400 mile mark today shortly after 4 pm, which felt special.  I’m not really into signs, but that could have been one. Of what, I don’t know.  At the very least, the auspiciousness seemed to  soften the blow of entering another decade of life.  That, and the cosmic brownie that Allen gave me. 

Going back to the beginning of the day, we continued on from our campsite through the Angeles National Forest. We had to take a detour around a portion of the trail that is closed in order to protect an endangered frog and it meant about four miles of road walking which was hard on my feet and hips after being on softer surfaces. Hurry up and get it on, frogs!

The signs in the campgrounds that we passed warned that we were now in bear country, which I was super excited about. If I could have spotted a bear on my birthday it would have been complete, but alas…no bears. I think it’s too cold yet. At least it would be for me if I was a bear. 

We entered the Pleasant View Wilderness section of the forest and eventually reached the Sulphur Springs campground where we set up for the night. It was a busy place, with about 20 other campers already having arrived. A couple guys from the LA area were just out camping for a few days, and they chatted with us for a while and offered us the rest of their strawberries. My brain has not yet fallen for my attempts to trick it into thinking that Gummy fruit snacks are actually fruit, so the fresh strawberries were a very satisfying treat. 

It was another great night for cowboy camping, with a really bright moon and lots of stars. I fell asleep content and hopeful that my food was safe from any bears hoping for a midnight snack.