May 9 – we ended up taking an unexpected zero day yesterday when a guy named Ben who had gone to college with Wonder Woman invited us to stay at his place. Me turtle and javi had packages to wait on so we figured we may as well. Ben treated us to lunch at sonic and then made us burgers and corn for dinner. At 5:30 this morning he had real business to attend to, he builds rockets for a living. We hung out at the bakery until 8 when trail angel Gabe picked us up and brought us to the highway eight miles north of where we got off the trail. We cached water there and stashed our packs in the bushes so we could slack pack the trail in between. Once back at Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, I set off through more wind farms with Rebo, Shepard, Javi, and Red Riding Hood. Walking without weight was nice but the screeching of the windmills along with the gusts were still a pain. Without packs though the eight miles went by quickly and soon we were back at our cache eating lunch in the scorching desert heat. Putting our packs on was definitely a buzzkill. It’s 150 miles to Kennedy Meadows, the next resupply. That’s about 6 and a half days worth of food. To top it off the next water source was 17 miles away forcing us to carry more than a couple liters. From the highway the trail ascended steeply, gaining nearly 4000 feet in 13 miles. The terrain was vastly different, the Mojave section has definitely begun now. Spiky Joshua Trees grew in clusters along the trail with the backdrop of the flat desert floor stretching on for miles. The wind farm and highway grew further and further away as we ascended but the wind didn’t die down at all. I felt great going up even with such a heavy pack for some reason, I think it’s due to the new scenery. We ended up stopping short today because we found such an awesome campspot, the plan is to wake up mad early tomorrow and put in some good miles.
May 10 – My day started at 4:30 AM as I finished my the ascent from the day before while I ate a raspberry filled donut I packed out from the store. The Stars were still shining bright and the wind was whipping on the exposed ridge I was climbing. Below me the lights of the highway and the blinking of the windmills created a light show in the desert. I had hoped for a good sunrise from the top but as I made it up there a thick fog set in creating a different kind of beauty. Trees began to pop up quickly creating a thick forest, it was a magical scene reminding me of my adventures in the Appalachian Mountains. As the sun rose the fog took on an orange tint. After four miles the trail began to follow an atv track through the woods for five relatively smooth miles, it was a really pleasant way to start the morning. Once I had gotten through the road the sun was starting to get intense, much hotter than other parts of the trail even though it was still only 8:30. I took off all my warm clothes before heading three more miles to Golden Oak Spring where I took a little break. It was 9:20 and I had already made 12 miles, a great start to my day. The golden oak spring was a beautiful little spot, I watched a hummingbird fly around while I ate a snack and cameled up. Red Riding Hood caught up just as I was heading out and we made plans to camp at a spot 12 miles further.
From the spring the trail transitioned back to a more high desert landscape before turning into a burn area where the heat really became apparent. There was no shade anywhere to be found, I cursed myself for leaving the last stand of trees without taking my midday break seeing as it was now noon, the hottest part of the day. Before I could get too down by it I came up on a girl who was in front of me. As I got closer and was about to pass her I took out my headphones and found her crying as she was hiking down the trail. She said she didn’t feel good, that her stomach was hurting her. I’m sure mixed with the heat it was just too much to handle. I hiked with her until we found some shade and gave her some antibiotics before leaving her to take a nap and recover. I stopped three miles later when the forest again began to thrive in a beautiful campground where I’m now with Rebo and Red Riding Hood waiting on Shepard, Javi, and Red Riding Hood. I made it here by three, 22 miles. Great day of hiking and great afternoon relaxing at the campsite, we plan to get back at it early tomorrow morning again.
May 11 – Another 4 AM start, another raspberry pastry to get going. The tall grass leading up to Hamp William Pass was soaked in dew that quickly covered my pants. A mile in a huge blowdown covered the trail, it was a task getting through it in the dark. It was a clearer morning than the one before, making me optimistic that I would get a good sunrise this time for my early morning efforts. Just as it seemed to be almost starting the trail shot down into the woods, blocking any view I had. It was a bit discouraging but I pushed on knowing I would get one another day. For my patience I was rewarded with a quick ascent up to an open ridge where I got my best sunrise since the one three days into my hike over the Anza Borrego Desert. I stopped to enjoy every minute of it before heading back on through a forested wonderland. My surroundings were beginning to look like that of the Sierra. It was a powerful moment, the first time it felt like I was really getting out of the desert. I pushed on with anticipation for what was yet to come, excited to see the real thing. I passed a southbound section hiker who asked me about what was up ahead for him, the only word I could use to describe it was magical. In turn he informed me that in three more miles the tree were going bye bye for a while. I stopped a mile later at Landers Fire Tank to enjoy my last bit of shade and also my last water for 30 miles. It was a beautiful spot in a grand forest of pine trees, finally this trail feels like true wilderness. When I headed on I faced a final climb up to a ridge filled with wild flowers before plummeting down 1800 feet to the Mojave Desert. It was around 80 degrees, cool for the area but it was nowhere near comfortable. I stopped in a shady spot even though I was so close to my destination at Kelso Valley Road. When I got there I was so thankful to find a water cache where I got to fill up. It was blazing down in the desert and there was no shade at all. Red Riding Hood was crouched under a lonely Joshua Tree which offered no protection. We had come 23 miles and were pretty beat but when Rebo showed up he somehow convinced us to push on four more miles in the cooler evening temperature. I’m glad we did because we are not set up in one of my favorite sites so far among a cluster of Joshua Trees with the sun setting over the desert around us. Another early start tomorrow will get us through the final desert section and within 6 miles of Walker Pass where the we will go into the town of Lake Isabella to reward ourselves with some church’s fried chicken and resupply for the final 50 miles to Kennedy Meadows.
May 12 – The starry night sky lit up the Mojave Desert completely as we began our trek through it at 4 AM. The land was bare, I was glad we had staged the day to do this section in the early morning. It was a peaceful hike, the moment grew more and more powerful as the sun began to turn the sky unbelievable shades of orange and red. After 620 miles miles this was finally it, the last desert section. All the details of the desert finally make sense in my mind, and it’s the details which give it its beauty. I walked on with power, at least until the heat began to set in around 9 in the morning. The sun was intense, and just about that time we entered into an uphill sand pit that caused me to slip with every step. I drank my last sip of water as the sweat dripped down my face, evaporating before it could very far. Once the trees began to pop up I couldn’t help but shed a few tears. The desert has been the most beautiful place I’ve ever hiked. It’s also been the most demanding.
At Bird Spring Pass I was more than gracious for the jugs of water that had been left behind for hikers. I had just hiked 12 miles through the desert, and my body was hating me for it. I took a long break under the shade of a Joshua Tree there while waiting for Red Riding Hood and Rebo to catch up. The sun only became more brutal as I the day went on. From Joshua Tree Spring, the trail ascended nonstop for 2000 feet. Trees were beginning to grow but the climb was still for the most part exposed. I looked behind me at the barren desert I had just crossed, then after a steep uphill to the peak of the mountain the snowy Sierra Nevada made its first appearance in the distance. The trail entered into thick forests of oak and pine, following the ridge for a mellow few miles. I stopped for a break in the welcome shade and ended up laying down for nearly an hour and a half. We had planned to stop for the day at McIvers Spring but when I arrived I found a note from Red Riding Hood that she had pushed on. It had already been a 25 mile day but I decided to go on a little more to try and find her. After two miles with no sign, I set up my Campspot feeling completely beat. An hour later Rebo caught up as I was cooking dinner and told me he was going to try to make it the final six miles to Walker Pass. At first I refused not wanting to move a muscle, but once he had gone on I reluctantly packed up my things and began my 2000 foot descent down as the sun set, a fitting end to the Southern California section. At Walker Pass Campground I found my friends and fell to the ground, pulled out my bag, and crawled right in after what had become a 31 mile day. BEAT.
May 13/14 – from Walker Pass we manage to hitch a ride 35 miles to the town of Lake Isabella. We reward ourselves for a tough stretch with a McDonald’s breakfast and as we’re eating are invited to stay at trail angel Bad Fish’s house. We spend the day’s going white water kayaking, restocking the bird song water cache, and eating good. We hear of all the people who have tried to go into the Sierras so far this year, none have made it out the other side. I’m left with a strange feeling, the desert I’ve adapted to so well is gone and a whole new set of challenges are about to pop up. I don’t know where this hike is going to go from here, this fact both terrifies and excites me. I’m currently also in the middle of a long dead zone when it comes to cell phone service so hopefully I can get this up on the limited connection I have right now.