What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.
– Ellen Burstyn
In the Mojave Desert, south towards Hiker Town, March, 2015.
What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.
– Ellen Burstyn
In the Mojave Desert, south towards Hiker Town, March, 2015.
A sincere thank you to Joe Tash and the Encinitas Advocate for featuring our story in the local newspaper. You can read the article by clicking the link below:
When we first attempted a portion of this segment two years ago, we encountered incredibly strong winds. We would also learn later that part of what caused our trouble in getting through that hike was Patti’s anemia. That caused us to turn around and to give up the hike after just four miles. Returning last week, however, we found a much different set of conditions and we had an amazing time. We had mostly mild winds and favorable weather conditions, making getting through this, our longest segment yet, much easier. But more importantly, Patti’s health is now better.
That’s not to say that this was an easy hike. The severe California drought continues to play havoc with hikers this year. Recent reports suggest California now has enough water to sustain its needs for only the coming year. That is a frightening thought to residents, water authorities and hikers alike. The water situation played a huge role in how we planned our hike. An excellent recent article published on the PCTA.org website and written by Jack Haskel, entitled “The Problem with Water Caches on the PCT,” discusses the need for hikers to rely on their own measures to have water on the trail and to not rely on the goodness of trail angels and water caches to get by. As Haskel points out, caches left for hikers often end up being eye sores and sources of litter when the caches are not properly maintained. There is also the problem of hikers taking the supplied water for granted. Patti and I determined we wanted to heed these concerns and would carry or cache our own water for this long trip. We knew that water was virtually non-existent on this segment and we didn’t want to be part of the problem.
So, we planned to store water at two locations along our trail route. This was necessary because we couldn’t carry enough water for the entire trip. After leaving one of our cars at Hiker Town, our ending spot, we took our 2nd car and travelled to Highway 58 at Cameron Road. We found the PCT intercepting with the exit there and we buried two gallons of fresh water near a Joshua tree. Then, we continued driving north to Bird Spring Canyon Road approaching from the west. We took Patti’s poor Prius up a steep and rocky Pruite Mountain Road, (oh, and snowy – we got stuck for two hours until we could dig ourselves out) before we turned onto Bird Spring Canyon. We made it about one mile in toward the trail before the road became rocky and not passable. We decided we couldn’t ask the Toyota to do anything more for us and cached water right there, about 1.5-miles off the trail. But more on that later.
By the time we got our one car dropped off at Hiker Town, had our two caches in place and finally arrived at Walker Pass, it was already 10pm and some 11 hours after leaving our home. Our hope to get a few miles hiked that day dashed, we settled in and fell asleep in the car hoping for a smoother start early the next day.
We left Walker Pass the following morning by 8:00. We initially climbed briefly before settling into a relative flat walk. Much of the day was walking an OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) route, just one of many we would come across. We had lunch off the side of one OHV road and were hidden away enough that many of the off-roaders didn’t even see us. But once we got back onto the route, the off-roaders and we exchanged hellos and waves. But I could tell they didn’t like seeing hikers on their route anymore than we like seeing them on the trail.
The following day was my birthday. We got up a little earlier than the day before and were out on the trail by 7:40. Our plans included picking up our first cached water off of Bird Spring Pass. When we dropped the water off two nights earlier, we found a small tree with lots of rocks around it. We found a small crevice made by the rocks and placed our Platypus water bladders into it. Then I put small rocks on top of that, then a few dead bushes I found laying around, and then finally, larger rocks to hold it all in place. We worried that I wouldn’t find it coming down from the other side so Patti placed a double stack of rocks on a larger rock across the road from our stash. We checked Half-Mile and saw that the trail was only 1.2-miles from the stash so, we pretty much knew what we had to do. Or, so we thought. Half-Mile correctly listed the mileage but I didn’t consider that the distance was “as the crow flies” not as the road goes. Given the steep terrain, the road was a series of switchbacks making the distance about double what we thought. Additionally, it was very hot and dry making the climb back up with the water on my back, all the harder. Luckily for me, Patti convinced a nice OHV’r to come check on me. And, while he did give me a ride back, it was only after finding me just about 300 yards from the top. I was grateful nonetheless.
The remainder of that day and much of the next was particularly hard for us as we were so weighed down by water. We hiked through contrasting landscapes of forest greens and desert browns until coming upon a burn zone. The scene was eery and stark. We came across an open ended “cave” of rocks. We pitched the tent under the cover and as we faded off to sleep, the wind was strong and the air cool.
This probably wasn’t one of the prettiest hikes we’ve enjoyed. There were several miles of shared roadways with OHV’rs and many, many intersections with even more OHV roads. We saw a lot of evidence of OHV tread wear on the PCT (motorized and mountain bikes are supposedly forbidden on the PCT) and because of this the trail was frequently in bad shape. At junctions, not knowing to turn right or left, we looked for footprints as clues, but most were obliterated by bike treads. The ugly didn’t stop there. After we picked up our 2nd cache on Cameron Road on Highway 58, we were dismayed to find ourselves camped out about 300 yards from the highway and about 50 feet from the railroad tracks. Every two hours or so, we had the pleasure of hearing the trains squeal by at a feverish pitch, horn blaring, bells dinging. We also hiked through miles and miles of wind farms, seemingly thousands of acres blanketed with huge swirling wind mills with names on them like NEG Micon, Enercon and Vestas. They each made a hum or gave out a dull vibration and when they turned they created their own air flow. The air swirled around us as we passed underneath the huge blades. It was hard to pigeon-hole our feelings about a technology that helps preserve our natural resources but while making a mockery of our natural landscape. Patti watched a bird that seemed to be caught between the wind current of two windmills. To her it seems like the bird was having its own “Groundhog Day.”
Once we cleared the Highway 58 landmark, we approached the Tehachapi Mountains. This is the area we kind of considered to be our greater challenge, our nemesis, in a way, that defeated us last time. Patti and I both felt determined to overcome this section. It was hot and dry and very clear out, so the sun was beating down. But the wind was mild, so unlike it was last time. We plodded on and found our stride. We looked for (and found) the bush we coward near two years ago, hiding from the winds. We defiantly and smugly powered by. Right about then, however, Patti was bit by something (we think it may have been fire ants), and experienced a lot of pain to her ankle and upper foot area. We stopped to care for that before moving on. Neither one of us wanted to revisit the kind of problems we had last time.
Patti and I discussed along the way how somehow, this hike was different. Ordinarily, there is always a certain trepidation when we approach our hikes. We know there is always a “breaking in” period because we don’t hike all the time. We often struggle with how slowly we hike. We often dread climbs. We even have come to call the enjoyment we get from hiking as “secondary fun” because it’s usually easier to see the fun in hiking only after we have come home. But we each separately came to see a certain peace with hiking this trip. I didn’t find myself dreading the hills. Didn’t feel like complaining about my pack weight. It was easy to just be part of it and to accept it for what it was. It felt like a kind of giving into it, a release. It’s significant that Patti and I both had such similar epiphanies on virtually the same day.
Our last day of hiking was a 27-mile crossing of the Mojave Desert. This was largely a walk on gravel above the underground California Aqueduct. At one point, a Sheriff pulled up to check on us. He asked if we had seen anyone else. We hadn’t. Patti thought that he was just checking on us. I was pretty sure he just wanted to get a good laugh. Why would anyone want to hike on a hot day through the Mojave Desert?
A bit more about water, water caches and trail angels: I mentioned above how Patti and I intended to carry and cache our own water on this trip. This is arguably the driest section of the PCT and as you all know, we are in one of the worse droughts this area has seen in decades. The fact is, despite having the best intentions, we thankfully found and in many cases took advantage of, the water caches so generously provided by trail angels. At Bird Spring Pass, we found a small cache of roughly ten gallons of water. However, we did not need to use this cache because we had cached our own water nearby. But we did take some water at the Tehachapi/Willow Spring cache as well as at Daniel and Larry’s cache near mile 549. These “water sources” were used in addition to the natural sources we found at Landers Camp at roughly mile 609 and the Robin Bird Spring at mile 602. Without these extra sources of water, we would not have had enough. As it was, Patti ended the hike with less than five ounces of water and I had just under ten. We are both very grateful for the generosity of the trail angels who left this water.
Thanks for following along.
The fatigue from radiation therapy was more emotional than physical. I was losing motivation. I felt fine but slept half the day. It was time to hit the trail. This section was the last one to connect the dots from Campo to Indian Flats, a few miles north of Warner Springs. We were looking forward to seeing one solid line on our map. This section is formally known as Section A. A is complete! We’ve done 184.6 miles of the trail. That’s only 2465.4 miles to go.
The first day was FUN! We parked in a small lot off Montezuma Road and headed south. It took us 8.5-hours to hike 13.3 miles. We could have done more but a lot our day was spent stopping and chatting with the class of 2013 thru hikers. The excitement they carried was catchy. Since I am not back to work yet, I had grand visions of being on the trail and flying home every three weeks for my chemo. Just not practical. And Lynn can’t take that much time off work. And we still have three college educations to fund. And I can only play the cancer card so many times. But each hiker we met was still enthusiastic about the trail less than 100 miles into it. I hope they maintain it till the end.
On most of our hikes so far we rarely run into people. Off the top of my head I can think of less than a handful. But, this trip we met Koko and Bald Guy, from Oregon, (http://jeff-n-sue2013.blogspot.com), Legend, from our town actually, (http://www.trailjournals.com/location.cfm?trailname=14083) Kiwi Legs, from New Zealand, G-Bird from Germany. We scared Birdhouse. (Sorry Bird!) She was from London. She was hiking with Tapper and a friend. We met a couple from Michigan and David from Scotland. There were others we didn’t catch a name or talk to much. There were about 15 thru-hikers who started their hikes this week coming from Campo that we ran into. We were impressed with the camaraderie between this group already.
Overall, this hike was better than I expected. I thought it would be all desert and dry. But this first day had plenty of nice shade. The trail itself was soft, dirt, very few rocks. It was a gorgeous day and I just felt like it was the connection I needed to move on with more treatments. Lynn teased me that with all the radiation I’ve had that I must glow in the dark by now and that has stuck now as my hiking name. We found a nice sandy flat spot to camp overnight with a fantastic view of the San Felipe Hills. Camp site mile 88.8. I called it our living room window. We couldn’t see the sunset but it still cast shades of pink in the sky and moon shadows after that. We knew the road was down there but it was barely noticeable in the moonlight.
The next day we hit the desert. The very, very hot desert. We hit it almost immediately after breaking camp. Anticipating the heat, and hoping to lessen the weight in our packs, we did not bring the cookware, this time. We tried cold foods. Our biggest concern with this was our morning coffee which we both love. I picked up chocolate covered espresso beans figuring that would give us the coffee and caffeine. But I have no idea if it really does have caffeine. And it broke a rule I already know – chocolate makes a big mess on the trail. At least in the desert part. Not cooking saved us 30-minutes at least on our pack up time. We had these homemade peanut butter and honey bars. That and a piece of some dense toaster-bread and we really had a lot of energy to go for hours.
We met a few more of these great adventuresome people the next day. Chris was the first one we were able to use our trail name on. I think he has since picked up the name UB as in UB Serious (http://ubserious.com). He “blessed” our names so to speak. He had a great story. All of these hikers had their own story, just as we have ours. So I am now Glow in the Dark. Lynn is “3-Guy.” I don’t think I need to explain mine. As for Lynn, he’s got a thing about 3’s. The last couple we met was Double Sprainbow and Oli. (http://www.rikaandolislongasswalk.com/blog/) They did half the trail last year and restarting it again but with a plan to do the whole trail this time. They actually like the desert!
Then the sun hit us…and hit us and hit us. There was so little shade anywhere. The scenery was full of burned out trees alternating with cactus flowers. On this second day, we hiked 7.5- hours and went 11.2*/11.4-miles. It was probably 90-degrees. At one point I was so hot that I finally took my hat off for Lynn to see. It was an emotional moment but liberating as well. (I’m shocked at how long it takes hair to grow back).
There’s an asterisks, just like many sport stats, because I went 11.2, Lynn did 11.4. After the 4th hour we found ourselves needing to stop every hour. Truthfully it was because the shade was about an hour apart. After the 2nd or 3rd stop it was getting harder to restart. At times one or the other felt dizzy. With 3.9 miles to go, I had a meltdown. My pulse was fast. I was dizzy. I honestly thought, ” Why am I so stubborn? Why did I think this was a good idea to do during treatment?” I told Lynn I didn’t think I could go on. He took some of the heavier items from my pack and put them in his. For the last mile he took my pack altogether. I love that man! When we finally got to the trail head where we should find our car, we realized the car was 0.2 miles down the road. Lynn parked me under the only tree in sight at the trail head. There’s very few times when Lynn puts his foot down and he strongly suggested I stay by that tree. I didn’t have much energy to argue while he hiked on to get the car.
This was a great hike, except for those last 4 miles. What are you gonna do but keep on going? And here I am the next day already planning the next hike. I think I’m a PCT junkie.
April 22, 2013
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Travel - Vegan - Zero Waste
Solo hiking is an amazing challenge. Let's go... and keep going!