Opening Statement

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

P18.7 Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows, 136 PCT miles

For those of you who saw the movie or read Wild, Cheryl Strayed's book that features her PCT hike, this is the section where she began.  After a couple of miles paralleling the freeway, the trail switchbacks sharply up, with 3,900 feet of climbing before reaching Golden Oak Spring after 17 miles, the first water in this section.  When I reached the spring about a dozen hikers were lounging there, including Scuba Steve, a trail friend who achieved a rare thru-hike in 2017.  They were mostly fired up to do a 27 mile day, targeting a large campsite further on.  In contrast, I was feeling like a 22 mile day would be perfect, so I encouraged them to blaze a trail and waved goodbye as they took off.

Hiking on, at about 6:30 I came to a camping spot that was so perfect it seemed almost like a desert vision.  Flat areas for tents, and tree cover to cut the wind.  I abandoned any thoughts of going further and pitched next to a newlywed couple that was hiking the PCT for their honeymoon.  We talked for about an hour about their lives, and it struck me how privileged I was to have this intimate glimpse into their hopes and dreams, even though we just met and might never see each other again.

The following day we had a repeat of the perfect hiking weather of the day before, with a cool breeze and warming sun.  This was also Mother's Day, so when I found a spot with cell coverage, I called my wife Christine to remind her of what a great mother she is.  I reminded a few other hikers to call their mothers and reflected that most of the people on trail were at least a generation younger.

Hiking on, the trail reaches Landers Camp, the last natural water source until a spring 35 miles distant at McIvers cabin.  That spring is sometimes dry, which then makes the next water source at Walker Pass, seven miles further on, potentially resulting in a 42 mile water-less stretch, the longest water-less section of the PCT.  I carried 5.5 liters from Landers Camp, which would be adequate to get to McIvers Spring given the cool weather we were having, but hoped for a water cache at Bird Springs Pass to supplement what I was carrying.

Along the trail I caught up with Shorts who I had night hiked with out of Hikertown, and Crush, his current hiking partner, who had taken a three month NOLS course in Alaska and was therefore prepared for Sierra snow travel.  The three of us hiked into Bird Springs Pass together and were rewarded with a fantastic water cache of about 150 gallons.  We all cooked a meal at the cache and I drank about a liter of water.  Christina and Luke had arrived ahead of us and were lounging in the very small patch of shade made by a Joshua tree at the cache.  Suddenly the two of them jumped up so fast it was like a Jack-In-The-Box had sprung.  A Mojave-green rattlesnake had come out of the bushes and headed straight for them, giving them an adrenaline-fueled bounce to their escape.  The rest of us at the cache were more amused by the spectacle of their retreat than worried about the snake, although a strike would be serious and probably require a rescue operation.  Just another minor trail drama.

Hiking out of the cache I surprised another rattlesnake who was just one foot off trail in a bush and dazzled his rattle at me before slithering off.  Although rattlesnakes are obviously dangerous, since hikers don't fit their prey template, strikes are rare even though encounters are frequent in the desert section.

This section is one of the more beautiful in the lower 702 miles of trail, and it also has many transitions between ecosystems with elevation changes as well as ridges that separate weather systems.  It also marked 2,700 miles of hiking on the PCT between last year and this one for me (the trail is 2,650 miles in total), and it gave me some reason to reflect on what I like about long-distance hiking.
  1. Traversing vast landscapes - long-distance hikes go through and past wilderness areas, cross major ecosystems, and give a literal as well as metaphorical meaning to being on a journey.  Walking 25 miles in a single day gives a rich experience of the natural world.
  2. Living simply - living out of a backpack for weeks and months as a time simplifies life down to few possessions and activities. Possessions are not the key to happiness, and I experience this everyday on a long hike.  Spotify and Audible, on the other hand, do make life great!
  3. Tolerance and acceptance - on trail I meet and share living space and water sources with people of many ages and backgrounds and from many countries.  Customs and habits differ, and within limits it's possible to accept these differences without a lot of stress.
After the water-less section the trail drops down to Walker Pass where Kirk, a friend of Shorts, had brought a cooler of sodas, beer and sandwich fixings.  Hikers around cold beer and fresh food could fairly be compared to sharks in a feeding frenzy, although with the obvious difference that sharks don't drink beer.  After every slice of bread and lunch meat had disappeared Kirk gave me a ride into Lake Isabella where I enjoyed a hotel room for one night, and a Cobb Salad at the Dam Korner Cafe.  I took a Kern County Bus back to the trail the next day.

The last 52 miles into Kennedy Meadows are beautiful, and relatively easy hiking.  For some reason, I carried 4 liters of water out of Lake Isabella even though there was a spring at 13 miles in and just one-quarter mile off trail.  If everything happens for a reason, it made sense to have so much water as I met Jonathan and his dog Bonnie who had completely run out of water, and I was able to give them a liter even though I had skipped past the spring to wait for the next water source.  The rest of this hike was uneventful. Hiking this section for the second time I was able to appreciate it more as the weather was perfect this time, and by contrast it was storming, wet, foggy, and cold last year.

Once at Kennedy Meadows, I was underwhelmed by the KM General Store, and moved onto Grumpy Bear's Retreat, which has a cafe, showers, and laundry options for hikers as well as places to pitch a tent.  I reunited with several other hikers, including Mike Sauget, Shorts, Crush, Dirty, Waltzing Mathilda, Sweet Tooth, and True Grit, who is hiking with her two kids.  A friend had offered to give me a ride home from Kennedy Meadows, but got a knee injury just before leaving ... so after asking around at the bar, sending a few texts, the magic of the internet and a lot of kindness an alternative plan came into being composed of a ride to Inyokern from Bob, a local old-timer, a ride from Inyokern to Barstow from Lori Getzlaff, my hiking partner with the injured foot, a bus from Barstow to Bakersfield, and a train to Richmond, CA where I live.

Right now I'm home for a few days and will get back on trail on Friday May 25th.  My plan is to take the Amtrak up to Dunsmuir, get a ride to Castle Crags State Park, and hike south from there.

The photos for this section are in an album here:  Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows Photos

Friday, May 11, 2018

PCT 18.6 - Agua Dulce to Tehachapi, 112 PCT miles

From Agua Dulce, the prosperous home of Hiker Heaven, hosted by Jeff and Donna Saufley, I joined a handful of other hikers making an early morning dash up the mountain range going north.  Higher elevations promised cooler temperatures in the middle of the day, but barely delivered relief.  We sweated out 24 miles to the next major road where trail angel Nancy Pants waited with drinks and a ride to Casa de Luna, where Terri Anderson and her husband host hikers for a Taco Salad dinner, pancakes in the morning, and "hippie daycare" during the day.  I took a rest day and reconnected with other hikers.

The next 40 miles also started with a morning scramble to beat the heat, but with an early start I made 25 miles the first day and then hiked down to Hikertown, another rest stop, on the second day.  Not wanting to linger at Hikertown, after a shower and doing my laundry in a bucket, I hiked on at 4:30 PM with another hiker named Shorts that I had camped with the night before.  We hiked along and over an aquaduct for hours, then were treated to a spectacular sunset.  Finally we flipped on our headlamps to hiked on until about 10 PM, making for a 28 mile day, my longest so far.

The next morning we were hiking by 5:30 AM to avoid some of the desert heat.  The wind picked up dramatically as we neared one of the many wind farms in this area.  Shorts out distanced me by midday when I made it into Tylerhorse Canyon, one of the few water sources in the area.  Mike Sauget was at the water and he hiked out with me through one of the driest landscapes we have traversed so far.  Mike and I had not hiked together since Deep Creek Hot Springs, so it was nice to reconnect.

We camped 17 miles out from highway 58, which is the main road into Tehachapi.  On the hike in we met Randy Masner of the BLM who was checking on a recently completed bridge and had the pleasure of thanking him for some beautiful trail improvements that he worked on in the past year involving what seemed like enormous rocks being moved by hand into position to prevent washouts.

Tehachapi has an extremely well organized community of trail angels, so Mike and I only needed to send a text to get a ride into town.  Christine had reserved a room at the Ranch Hotel for us, so we got settled easily.  The highlight of Tehachapi so far has been Kohnen's Country Bakery, which creates outstanding pies and pastries. 

In contrast to this last section, I don't know of any major hiker gathering spots until Kennedy Meadows.  I plan to hike out tomorrow.

Here is a link to the photos for this section: Photos for Agua Dulce to Tehachapi

Thursday, May 3, 2018

PCT 18.5 Cajon Pass to Agua Dulce, 112 PCT miles

At one point in "The Teachings of Don Juan" by Carlos Castenada, Don Juan explains

"All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you."

I thought about this while hiking this section.  On the PCT hikers are often asked where are you going.  Usually we answer "To Canada," but really that is only the briefest of stops.  Maybe it would be better to say towards calm, gratitude, and equanimity.  Or different hiker might be headed towards mischief, fun, and romance.

This section began with a 27 mile sub-section with access to Wrightwood.  I tackled the first 20 miles on the first day with 7,000+ ft of climbing, leaving me knackered as I set up my tent at 8,000 ft.  The reward was a fabulous sunrise the next day, with clouds stretched out below the campsite.  The next day I did the last 7 miles to highway 2, hitched into Wrightwood and picked up my resupply box.  A few other hikers were having breakfast at a local cafe, so I enjoyed a hamburger while marvelling at the enormous breakfasts being downed by Doc, 15-foot, and David Overturf.  It only took a few minutes to catch an afternoon hitch back to the trail, and I just went on a few miles before pitching in a pine forest.  

The next day I got an early start and summited Mt. Baden Powell before continuing on.  By the afternoon a heavy fog enveloped the mountain, and the temperature dropped.  Rain was forecast for the next day, so most hikers made an effort to get as far down the trail as possible, with only limited success, forcing us all to pitch in heavy fog.  The next morning I packed a wet tent and dug deep to get as far as the Mill Creek Fire Station in a 26 mile day.  My reward, included getting blasted by grapple on the trail and a rainy night camped below the fire station.  

The following day promised relief 21 miles down the trail, but the first 17 miles were in intermittent fog, and a howling wind at the unfortunately-placed North Fork Ranger Station.  Finally the trail wound to the lee side of the mountain range and dropped 1,000 ft into a canyon.  I pitched in late afternoon sun and slept soundly that night.

The last day was a relatively short 14 mile hike into Agua Dulce, where the Saufley's host "Hiker Heaven," which lives up to it's name with showers, laundry, and lounging areas.  I will take a zero day there tomorrow.

Here are the photos for this section:
Photos for Cajon Pass to Agua Dulce