Note: this was written on May 27 when we were back at mile 577 (we’re currently at 789), but we haven’t had cell service/technology access since then to post it. Sorry for the belated post! I will try to get caught up soon.
Greetings from mile 577, where I sit on a mountaintop somewhere north of Tehachapi, CA. I’m currently laying in my sleeping bag attempting to write this on my phone while the wind howls around us. There were no computers to be found in Tehachapi, so hopefully this will work via phone!
We left Tehachapi this morning to continue our trek north, our bags feeling heavier than ever with 6 days worth of food and tons of water. Our next stop is Kennedy Meadows, which is 150 miles away and marks the end of the DESERT and the beginning of the SIERRAS!! I can’t believe we’re at this point. For so long, Kennedy Meadows has been this far-off, makebelieve land of flowing streams, lush green valleys, and the famous Sierra Nevada mountains, standing in stark contrast to the desert. It seemed like we’d never get there.
Today we hiked 19 miles through the bare hills outside Tehachapi, climbing 2,000ish feet to the ridge I now sit on. The wind has been a constant companion the past few days. Somewhere outside Agua Dulce, we entered this crazy valley where the wind blows with gale-force strength ALL THE TIME. At first it was kind of nice because it cooled us off, but it starts to get annoying when you constantly feel like you’re about to get blown off a cliff. Wind farms are big business around here, as evidenced by the thousands of windmills dotting the landscape.
Prior to Tehachapi, we left Wrightwood and spent a few days hiking through the Angeles National Forest, a beautiful section of trail with lots of up and down and huge mountains everywhere you look. Rampant in this area was this evil little plant called Poodle Dog Bush, which smells like marijuana but apparently causes poison oak-like symptoms if touched. There were huge sections where the trail was literally overgrown with it, and we were constantly doing a little dance to avoid it. We entertained ourselves by making up little raps about PDB, as we fondly called it. We did our first 30+ mile day around here with our friend Mongoose, who we’d started hiking with a few days back. After 23 miles that day, we got to a ranger station where many of our friends were camped. A fellow hiker mentioned that 8 miles below us was a KOA camp that a local pizza place would deliver to. Another friend chimed in that they also delivered beer. We needed no further encouragement. With the promise of pizza and beer ahead, Phil, Mongoose and I flew down the mountain, running much of the time. It was sunset, and we saw some of the prettiest views of the hike, with rows and rows of mountains in front of us. When we got down to the KOA, our order awaited us. We sat in the dark in the grassy oasis of the campground, sweating and devouring pizza. This is one of my favorite memories of the hike so far.
Next stop was The Saufley’s in Agua Dulce, a trail angel house that is now a major stop on the PCT and hosts up to 50 hikers a night. Donna and Jeff Saufley have set up their home to accommodate anything a hiker could ever want- they have showers, a makeshift post office, cots, internet, bikes you can ride into town, and they even do your laundry for you. It was wonderful. We spent some time relaxing there before continuing north.
The 100 miles from Agua Dulce to Tehachapi is the start of the “real” desert, or what you might think of when you think of a desert. Flat, barren, sandy terrain, scorching hot, windy and dry, and no shade, except for maybe under a Joshua tree. A large section of the trail was closed in this area, and the detour was a 25-mile walk along the highway. The day after that, we walked along the California aqueduct and then a dirt road for 20 miles. These were some of the most mentally challenging days. It was boring and flat, the view rarely changed, and it was so hot. The saving grace was that we had cell service, so we listened to the radio on my phone.
We got to Tehachapi on Memorial Day, and were so happy to finally get there. Phil went to elementary and middle school there, so it was a bit of a homecoming for him, and it was fun for me to see where he spent so many boyhood years. We gorged ourselves on sandwiches and pastries at the local bakery, did the usual town errands of laundry and seemingly endless trips to the grocery store and hardware store, and then went out to dinner with Erik, one of Phil’s childhood friends who still lives there, and his wife. Resistant to leave the comforts of a hotel room, warm bed, food all the time, and friends, we decided to stay in Tehachapi the next day, too. One thing I’ve realized during this trek is that 1) it is SO hard to leave town, and 2) the longer you stay, the more it sucks you in and the harder it is to readjust to being on the trail. It’s like ripping a Band-Aid off each time you leave. As a lover of life’s basic comforts (electricity, bed, accessible food, cleanliness), maybe it is harder for me than others, I don’t know. But I have noticed that I feel a particular sadness each time we leave a town and head back into the wilderness.
It was wonderful to have an extra day in Tehachapi. Erik took us shooting out in the Mojave Desert that morning (the first time I’d ever shot a gun), which was quite the interesting experience. We relaxed and did more town errands, then had an amazing taco dinner with Erik and his family that evening. We headed back to the trail early the next morning, rejuvenated and ready to take on the next 150-mile stretch.