After my zero at Hiker Heaven, I started on my way into the fifth section of the trail, which is notable for containing about twenty miles of actual desert. Before this, everything that had seemed like a desert was actually chaparral. The map, usually shaded with green and brown, was completely white. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Agua Dulce to the edge of the Mojave
It is customary for PCT hikers to leave Hiker Heaven and then hike directly to the Anderson's, which is about 23 miles away. Having just spent a very nice zero day at Hiker Heaven, I didn't feel any need to do that. I was walking by myself and feeling good. I had let Garby leave a little earlier than me, and knowing his speed, I was fairly confident that he would be ahead of me all day. Some days you just want to walk alone. I reached the road to the Anderson's in the early afternoon and decided to keep going. Just past the road, I found a dead horny toad and took a picture of it:
I walked five or six more miles that evening before finding a nice grove of trees with a small clearing inside for my hammock. There was even a nice little stream nearby. I did not catch up to Garby and was not sure if I would catch him again on the hike.
I was up early the next morning and walked about 100 yards when I came upon Garby packing up his campsite. To me, it was a pretty good indication that we were really good hiking partners. After nearly thirty miles of hiking, we had independently decided to call it a day within a distance that could be sprinted in 10 seconds.
We passed the 500-mile marker that afternoon (though it was quite a distance past where the maps indicated that it should be).
The trail also became more wooded and shaded, which was nice because the weather was pretty hot.
And some of the trees had absolutely huge pine cones. They were heavy too. I kicked one, thinking that it would have the same papery weight that I am used to pine cones having, and nearly hurt my foot.
Eventually, though, we descended from the forested ridge toward the desert. A few miles before the desert actually starts, there is some private property with no camping allowed. Garby and I decided to camp as close to that property line as possible and to get an early start the next morning.
As we agreed, Garby and I got up at 3:30 in the morning and started walking toward the desert. The moon was just past full, but it was not quite bright enough that we did not need our headlamps. I had night-hiked before, and did not really like it. This time was a little better, but I still stumbled more than I would have liked. However, I knew that this was the best way to beat the heat of the desert.
We got to the LA aqueduct just after daybreak. We filled our water containers to their capacity there and then started walking in a straight line. The trail follows the aqueduct (which is mostly buried after your first encounter with it) across most of the desert.
It has a round top, which is slightly annoying to walk on, but it is better than sand.
It's fairly hard to describe walking in the desert and make it seem exciting. Nothing happens suddenly, like it can in the mountains. It is all very gradual. Eventually you notice that it's gotten really oppressively hot. Your water gets hot. You want to sit down, but there's no point, because there's no shade anywhere. It'd just be a waste of time. So you keep walking. Eventually we came to a bridge that was about 2 feet off the ground, and I sat for about ten minutes in the meager amount of shade that it offered.
Past the bridge, we walked on a road for a while. We probably saw ten white trucks driving on the road, and no other vehicles. Clearly, this was a place where the only practical conveyance was a white truck.
It was only noon by the time we reached our destination. This was a small stream with a bridge over it, a spigot with cool water, and a small piece of corrugated tin on the other side of the bridge acting as a generator of shade. We put down our mats and tried to get some sleep. By this time, I was not feeling very well and did not eat much for supper that afternoon.
Tehachapi Wind Farm and Sickness
The next morning, we were up at 2:30 and repeated our night-hiking stunt from the morning before. As we walked up the hill out of the desert, we hit an enormous head wind. So we were walking up hill and into the wind – not a pleasant experience. On top of this, I was still not feeling well, so this part of the hike does not stick out as one of my favorite.
We got lost a couple of times in the dark. The trail follows an ill-defined network of roads that aren't really roads, and it was quite easy to get on the wrong one. Eventually we found a campsite (with people still sleeping in it), so we knew we were on the right path. It was also hard not to feel a little smug, knowing that we had already walked about 10 miles and were passing people who were not yet awake.
As we walked on, the wind was a near-constant annoyance. However, we would see that it had a real use. We walked straight into one of the largest wind farms in the world.
By early afternoon, we had made it to a road, and I was beat. It was not our destination, but the combination of not feeling well and the early rising of the previous days killed my energy. Garby caught up with me, and together we decided to hitch into town. We needed to go to the post office, and as soon as that business was taken care of, we got a hotel room and turned the air conditioner on.
It turned out that Garby had caught whatever it was that I had. It seemed like he still ate as much as usual, but he threw it up shortly thereafter. I managed to moderate my eating so that I wouldn't throw up, but it was easy to decide that we needed to recuperate a little, so we took another zero.
The nice lady who had given us a ride from the post office to the hotel had also given us her phone number and told us to call if we needed anything. Neither of us felt like hitching out of town, so we took her up on it. I think she was a bit surprised to hear from us again, but she was game. On our way out of town, she took us past a friend's farm where a bison had just given birth.
After plenty of ooh-ing and aah-ing, we got back to the trail and started hiking again.
We walked through the remainder of the wind farm and across a highway, and we left the section. Of all the hiking that I did, that might have been my least favorite section. It was constantly hot (though I actually got somewhat lucky with the weather – others had it much hotter than I did), and both I and my hiking partner got sick. The first two days weren't bad, but the last two certainly made up for that.
I may combine the next section with half of the following one so that I get to the start of the Sierras. I'm as excited to write about my experience in the Sierras as I was to get to them.