Willow Springs Road
Over the past two days, I’ve been traveling by train and bus to Tehachapi. Much of the memory of this journey escapes my memory, as I slept well on the train, transferred to a bus for an hour in Sacramento to Stockton, then boarded the train again to Bakersfield, and again boarded a bus to Tehahchapi. My anxiety was stoked, in that three weeks off the trail were great for letting the snow melt, but awful for maintaining my rhythm of the trail.
There is an 8 mile segment of trail from Willow Springs Road to Hwy 58 that many thru-hikers skip, since it is mostly hot desert with nothing but windmills. Hundreds of windmills. Maybe even thousands of windmills as far as the eye could see. It is understandable and tempting to skip this section, but I decided to do it as a warmup by slack-packing it. Slack-packing is a term we use when you don’t have your full back pack but just food and water and a few necessities. I had a Lyft driver drop me off exactly where I stopped three weeks ago, and headed north. It was nothing but windmills and fairly high wind. It was sunny, but the heat didn’t kill me like earlier parts of the desert. I anticipated needing 3-4 hours to do this segment, but finished it in under 3, just in time to catch a Kern Transit bus back to Tehachapi. So, I’m psyched to hit the trail again tomorrow.
During the end of the hike, I heard an enormous thundering roar behind me. I did not even have time to turn around when an F-15 jet flew directly over me, hugging the ground and zipping out of site as quickly as it came. Soon after, I got to chat with a young farmer tending his cows, and he mentioned that these jets used to be a very frequent occurrence.
08JUN- mile 566-mile 583
I confess that I was very apprehensive about returning to the trail. It was hot. I would be in exposed territory to the full beat of the sun. There were lengthy waterless stretches of the trail so additional water needed to be carried. It is not a particularly scenic piece did the trail, and windmill farms stretched as far as the eye could see. The Mojave desert loomed far below on my right, to the east. The start was a lengthy climb out of Tehachapi Pass. Fortunately, most of the remainder of the trail did not appear to be too demanding in terms of elevation gain and loss. So, it seemed reasonable to do this stretch, mostly for completeness sake.
I woke up this morning hoping to catch the 6:15 bus, only to realize that it was Saturday, and the bus runs on a different schedule. The bus came at 9:30, dropping me off at the trailhead at 10:00, just when it was starting to get hot. My saving grace was that the wind kept the temperature down, so that at one rest stop, a few people were actually putting on their puffies. I went through about 3 liters of water, carrying 5.5 liters, but know that less than a half mile from Where I decided to camp is a spring where I can refill all my water containers. I got to set up my new tent and loved it. It will take a little practice to have the setup down perfectly. All in all, the day felt quite good, and I was able to get in 16 miles in spite of missing 4 starting hours from the hike. Tomorrow I’ll be leaving camp at about 5-6 am and hope to get in 25-28 miles. We’ll see!
09JUN- mile 583-602
Today was essentially traveling from one water source to the next, from Golden Oaks Spring to Robin Bird Spring. I had hoped to go further today but the heat left me rather wasted. The absence of water sources made it especially challenging, since I needed to carry all of my water for the whole 19 miles, and I went through the majority of the 5.5 liters that I was carrying. I felt wasted at the end of the day, and the next good campsite was four miles further, so I decided to call it quits early. Today’s hike had only a small amount of dirt road walking, about two miles, compared to about 8 miles yesterday. Tomorrow, my plan is to start early, before sunrise, and try to get at least 20 miles in. We’ll see, as water will remain a critical issue.
10JUN Mile 602-mile 624
I was awake at 4:15 and started hiking at 5 am. It was still dark and so I needed a headlamp. It was cool, so I was able to make fast miles. The first ten miles were thorough dense ponderosa forest. I was getting near to the high Sierra, so figured that this would be the trail situation. Boy was I wrong. The trail then dipped down to 4000 feet elevation, and it was real desert just like I’ve already gone through for much of Southern California. Except, it was more sweltering. The water cache at mile 616 proved true, and so my canteens were filled, knowing that the water cache at mile 631 was also maintained. Though I had enough water, the water cache was sitting out in the direct sun, and warm water does a very poor job of quenching the thirst. By 5pm the sky has clouded over providing some relief from the heat. A cold soda pop was needed but not available. Hopefully it cools down quickly. I now have only 27-28 miles of the desert to do!
11JUN Mile 624-mile 651
Today was another early start, waking up before the crack of dawn, and getting on the trail before sunrise, using my headlamp to see. Most of the thru-hikers has gone on to the mile 630 water cache. I decided against that, and arrived at the water cache at about 7:30 in the morning. The last few hikers were taking off while I replenished my water supply knowing that it would be a long day without water. The trail became a very long climb with complete exposure to the sun, leaving me completely wasted and dehydrated. Fortunately, once you get high enough, you start seeing vegetation which could provide shade. The trail continued on all day over a series of ridges. Except at the water cache, I never saw a single other person, and hiked alone all day. And mile 643, the trail became a dirt road which is very hard to walk on, and which persisted for two miles. I intended to stay here for the night, but it was sweltering hot with low scenic value. It was only 3 o’clock so I decided to push on the last eight miles to Walker Pass. You might notice that I stopped d 0.7 miles short of Walker Pass. That’s because there is a campground here that has trail angels. The first order of business was to consume 5 sodas before I began to feel hydrated again. I came in late for the meal the trail angels had prepared, but devoured the watermelon and cantaloupe. No grapefruit! Unlike the group I had previously been hiking with, this group of hiker trash were all kids in their 20s and thus hard for me to connect with. Besides, I was completely wasted from a long day. So, tomorrow I finish the last mile of section f California, and will proceed to pick up my resupply box in Lake Isabella and use the day to wash self and clothes before meeting Russ in several days.
12JUN- mile 651- mile 652
This was a very short hiking day, but with a well-needed rest. It took only about 20 minutes to get to Walker Pass road. The bus was a half hour late and standing in the blinding sun without doing anything was itself hard to tolerate. Surely David in Ps. 32 considered this when he stated “my strength was drained as with the heat of summer. The bus finally came, I was able to get into a hotel room early, I got my resupply package, packed up a whole box of unnecessary items and too much food, and remailed them home. I would have liked to walk around town but it was just too hot with the temperature in the high 90s. Oddly, Portland, Tacoma, Old Station and much of the west coast was having a heat wave, being coolest in San Diego. I was able to take a long needed shower, get my clothes washed, wash up all my equipment, pack up for 3-4 days of food, and prepare for resuming my journey in several days, this time with the blessing of having Russ Andersen along. My clothes, by the way, were so laden with salt from sweat that they had the stiffness of being starched. Whenever I would rub my skin, white salt powder would come off. I could not smell myself except when I’m in the tent, and the odor was putrefying. No wonder Betsy is not eager to hike with me. Bless her sweet heart. I was able to phone both Betsy and Russ several times. Betsy in getting the stairs and upstairs landing re-floored, and Russ is eager to do some hiking.
The segment from Tehachapi Pass to Walker Pass is known as Halfmile CA section F, 85.5 miles with 14,900 feet total in elevation gain, ie., a lot of climbing. It also has the least availability for water, and if not for some kind soul leaving water caches at miles 616 and 630, could be a waterless stretch all the way from Lander’s Meadow at mile 609 until Waker Pass, 43 miles being just too long in the heat of summer hiking 15-25 miles a day for a normal person to endure. It makes me angry that the PCTA is quite vocal against water caches feeling that hikers should not depend on them. Na und? Comment? Stupidity often has its profundity. Section CA-F? This indubitably was my hardest, both physically and psychologically. The first half was thousands of feet of climbing through drab windmill farms. The central part with Landers Meadow was beautiful pine and mesquite forests. The last half from mile 616 was hot, shapeless, and with steep climbs and descents; this all interfered with the possible beauty to be seen in this inferno of a land. It is the one section that I would not repeat again even if I developed a delusion to rehike parts of the trail. I have better ways to torture myself.
So, the adventure will flip-flop north. About half the hikers are doing a flip-flop, but most are uncertain as to where to restart the trail. The hot weather is both good and bad, hard to hike in and definitely reduces your daily mileage, but also is eliminating some of the vexing snow problems that we could be encountering. So, until next time, may God be gracious to all you dar readers and please don’t be shy about using this venue to support the Huguenot Heritage Ministry.