DAY 33: CASA DE LUNA (478.2) TO UPPER SHAKE CAMPGROUND (493.4)
Finally escaped the vortex! Joe, Sara and I packed up first thing in the morning so we wouldn’t be tempted to stay another night. Spent most of the day waiting on the UPS truck with Sara’s insoles. When they arrived we hit the road, got a hitch back to trail. It was about 5pm but still very hot, and the uphill out of the valley was rough. Definitely lost my trail legs after almost three days off. Beautiful sunset views, and once it was dark it cooled off right away.
Our end goal for the day (night) was Upper Shake Campground. Trail had lots of overgrowth across it and the soft sand was difficult to walk on. It was pitch black by the time I got to the trail junction down to Upper Shake, and the trail to get there was frustrating, tripped a couple times on the uneven ground and then the campground was very difficult to find in the dark.
When I got there, there was a bunch of hikers I don’t know already sleeping, I had a quiet-as-you-can dinner. Sara showed up shortly after. The hikers in camp had seen Chad but I couldn’t find him and we figured he had hiked on. The two of us waited for Joe while Sara ate, but no sign. We ended up running into him a little later while trying to find a quiet site. Probably could’ve set up tent due to bugs but didn’t have patience to do it in the dark, so cowboy camped. Met hiker Mark (later named Invisible Man)
DAY 34: UPPER SHAKE CAMPGROUND (493.4) TO HIGHWAY 138/HIKERTOWN (517.6)
Definitely least favourite morning on trail so far. To get down to the water at Upper shake there was a steep hill scramble, and the water was murky and still. A half mile of climbing after that to get back to trail and legs were sore from yesterday. Started with a pretty nice walk through some trees but then came the F L I E S. I had my own personal black cloud that kept trying to get into my ears/eyes/nose and the buzzing noise was incessant and distractingly loud. Headphones helped a bit with the noise, but still had to endure bugs bouncing off my face and arms. No point in trying to kill them, it was a waste of energy since there were too many and they never seemed to land long enough to be swatted. They were also mixed in with these large, bright yellow flies that BIT and took enough flesh out to make me bleed, but thankfully these were so slow it was almost satisfying to watch them land knowing I was about to get an easy kill. Came across Joe and Sara sitting miserably on the side of the trail. They had collected so many flies between them I kept my distance and hiked on hoping that maybe some of my flies would offload to them, no luck.
We had planned to meet for lunch at the only reliable water source today, an underground guzzler. I completely misread guthooks and ended up on an old footpath that tapered off and put me smack in the middle of tall thorny bushes, which became so impassable I had to double back and crawl beneath the thickest part of the shrubs. My hair and pack kept snagging, and the flies were still going strong. Got back to trail and realized I had completely missed the nice easy dirt road leading to the guzzler, nice one jack. But problems didn’t end there. The guzzler was covered by a tin roof a few feet off the ground, and to get the water I had to lie on my stomach and scoop it out of the below-ground trough. The flies took full advantage of my exposed legs and I couldn’t turn around to swat them away.
I never ran into Joe and Sara after my off trail adventure, so wasn’t sure if they were ahead or behind. My tuna wrap made the flies go extra crazy and I ended up eating it while wrapped up burrito style in my tent, which helped with bugs but was hot and sweaty, and I definitely angry-cried a bit out of frustration. After my sad lunch I didn’t bother stopping the rest of the afternoon. Hit the mile 500 marker for one brief photo, bugs were driving me nuts and I was seriously questioning what I was doing out here.
Late afternoon the flies thankfully let up a bit and I took a quick break at Horse Trail camp, just before the descent to Hikertown. Ran into Brother & Bearfoot and Mark and Tasmanian Tom. I was tempted to stop for the day but Hikertown was only a few miles ahead, and there was apparently a 6pm shuttle to the nearby convenience store I wanted to catch. The hills going down to the valley floor were quite beautiful and I did end up doing a little bit of running on the downhill, not smart but sometimes I just can’t help it. Trail took a wide arc through some hilly desert and I ended up doing 3-4 miles extra than I figured would get me to the road. I was tired and hungry and just wanted to get to food, but it was pretty fun finally getting to a hill above the last flat walk to the highway. I could see Mark way in the distance heading for the road. Really typical Western movie-style desert with tumbleweeds and all. Was a little apprehensive about getting to Hikertown alone, I had heard some not-so-stellar reviews, especially from women. Made it there just in time for the 6pm shuttle to convenience store for a quesadilla.
Greeted by a volunteer (?) hiker Gandhi. The place itself was a collection of old buildings styled like an old western town, a couple bunk houses and private sleeping cabins. The bunk houses were all full, which was unfortunate because I wasn't too keen on sleeping alone, but I got a little wooden shack with a bed and the backseat of a van. Chad arrived, not sure how I got ahead of him. He claimed the car seat in my little shack which made me a lot more comfortable. No sign of Joe and Sara, I’m guessing they’re stopped at Horse trail camp at the top of the hill, so I’ll wait here for them tomorrow morning. Even now at 8pm it’s uncomfortably warm, although the wind is really picking up.
Day 35: Hikertown (517.6) to Cottonwood Creek (534.9)
17.3 miles. AQUEDUCT DAY
Woke up hot as balls in the tiny shack with Chad, it was already sweltering at 7am. The winds last night were strong enough to make me wonder whether the roof would blow off, and kept me up most of the night. Despite the lack of sleep it was way too hot to stay inside, so we went for a breakfast run to the convenience store on the 8am shuttle for coffee, a breakfast quesadilla and air conditioning.
Back at Hikertown, Joe and Sara had arrived, they did stay at Horse Trail camp last night. They hiked through the midmorning heat to get here which sounded absolutely miserable, I’m glad I got in yesterday evening when it was slightly cooler. Every single hiker opted to wait out the heat and do a night walk along the aqueduct. Spent the afternoon doing bucket laundry and napping in preparation for a late night.
After dinner, I hit the trail with Joe, Sara and Chad around 6pm. We got to the aqueduct right away-it starts as an open tunnel of water (very tempted to swim in the heat but pretty sure that would get me kicked out of the States) which becomes a covered metal pipe running along a paved road. The walk was completely flat, but the hard road made the arches of my feet ache pretty badly right away. We had beautiful weather during the sunset, not too hot and not too windy, and the road passed by an incredible forest of Joshua trees, the first ones I’ve seen in my life. After the sun went down we picked up a new hiker Eowyn, her and Joe bonded over being wildlife majors. We didn’t need headlights since the road was so flat, and the stars looked incredible. I was getting pretty tired after our midnight snack break, but tried not to complain since Joe and Sara had hiked all morning already and Eowyn was knocking out a 30 mile day.
Finally made it to the water source (Cottonwood Creek) in the middle of a wind farm full of turbines. There’s no actual creek but there is a faucet down the hill, and a bridge that we can use for shade. It’s now 2am and I'm tired as heck, we’re planning to night hike tomorrow as well because it’s reaching unbearable temperatures during the day. Tehachapi soon, hopefully will catch Tony, Yves and Francis. Cowboy camped with Sara, Joe and Chad, looking forward to a lazy day tomorrow.
Day 36: Cottonwood Cr (534.9) to Campsite (549.0)
Spent most of the day under the bridge with Sara, Joe and Chad to beat the heat. When we packed up all our stuff to go down to the bridge this morning, Eric, Cy and Lukas were already there underneath one of the bridge supports. Others showed up pretty soon after, I don't think anyone would be able to hike during this heat. It was miserable just to lie still in the shade.
Lazed around all day trying not to move and napped. The sand was so hot it burned my feet when I went up to get water, shoes stayed on after that. Left around 5:30pm and as soon as we got to the road again, trail magic! It was actually the same guy that had picked up Brian and I in Wrightwood, I remembered his cute dog. He gave us a beer and fruit and Cosmic brownies (yaaas), great way to start the night.
No commentary on scenery since it was dark, but lots of little scorpions, one big ass tarantula (is it a tarantula? Do they have those here? I miss google) and kangaroo mice that seem either stupid or suicidal, they run right under where you’re about to step and then stop in the headlight beam.
Got to a campground at the bottom of a huge ravine around 10pm where a bunch of hikers were staying, but I opted to keep pushing and get the next big climb out of the way while it was cool. Hard uphill, glad to be doing it at night. Cy, Lukas and Eric were just behind me and stubborn, competitive me wanted to stay ahead so was pushing really hard. Eric did end up catching me but it took a long time, and he is fucking fast. Really happy to get through the uphill during the cool night weather.
Good trail magic at the register at 544.5, the angel had built a little stand with fruit and juice and cookies, and there were chairs and an umbrella, which I’m sure would’ve been a heavenly oasis for any hikers crazy enough to walk through the heat of day. Got there around midnight, Eric and new hiker Stake were there munching on cookies and fruit. Lukas and Cy caught up soon after but no sign of Sara and Joe, those two are slacking in the keep-up-to-our-campsite plans. Did another half mile to get to a less crowded spot, saw a coiled up rattlesnake that blended in with the dirt almost perfectly, would’ve stepped right over it had Eric not pointed it out to me. Cowboy camped in a nice little sandy spot in the trees just off trail. Not sure where Joe and Sara are, we’ll meet tomorrow in Tehachapi.
DAY 37: CAMPSITE (549.0) SITE TO TEHACHAPI WILLOW SPRINGS RD/TEHACHAPI (558.5)
Up around 7, Eric was already packed up and leaving. Lukas and Cy passed me while I was getting ready, waited in camp for a bit but still no sign of Sara and Joe and it was heating up so hit the trail. Easy terrain down through another wind farm, very hot early on and my right shin was bothering me again with sharp shooting pain every step, please don’t be shin splints.
I had originally planned to go to Highway 58, 8 miles further but in this heat, not a chance. Shirt was literally soaked through with sweat. When I got to the road, Cy was there already trying to catch a hitch, Lukas and Eric had pushed on to the next highway junction. It took a little while but finally got a ride from a friendly (but probably either tripping or coming down) couple, and got dropped at the Tehachapi airport, which has a nice green park for camping. A few unfamiliar hikers already staying there. (Later note: Chia and Six Toes!) I had probably my best trail shower in a repurposed port a potty, there was obviously no hot water but that was perfect for today.
Lukas texted that him and Eric had arrived and gotten a hotel room so Cy and I started walking to the Best Western, although a nice local picked us up right away and drove us the half mile through town. In the room, it was pretty crowded with hikers, had a few beers with the gang and then got a message from Tony that he was staying at the same hotel with Yves and Francis! Went down a floor and just had to follow the smell of weed to be reunited and catch up on each other’s past week. So nice to see them, it’s been a while.
A little later went for pizza with Eric, Cy and Lukas and Mark. Locals bought a couple rounds of beer for us and got a little tipsy. Joe and Sara arrived after hiking through heat of day, crazies. They were looking rough, I don’t think I could’ve done the section this morning during the peak heat of the afternoon. Zero day tomorrow.
DAY 38 & 39: DOUBLE ZERO IN TEHACHAPI
Zero I in Tehachapi
Not much to report, the Yves, Francis and Tony hiked out today but I rented the same room again with Sara and Joe. Where’s Chad?
We had amazing luck with trail angels while trying to hitch to the supermarket, an elderly couple named Eddy and Doll. They were a cop and firefighter back in the day and so well-traveled, Eddy told us a great story about how they met when his car broke down and he used the phone at Doll’s house but also fell in love with her. They took us to the post office and took us for dinner at a quaint little restaurant, paid for everything. They also offered to pick us up in the morning to take us to their favourite donut shop, such kind people on trail and in the hiking community.
Zero II in Tehachapi
Wasn’t planning to stay again but there’s a heat advisory for this whole area, temperatures are 107+ degrees which I gather is unreasonably hot. Had a very lazy day hanging around the hotel watching trashy TV and eating.
Went to the pizza place again for dinner and had a chat about skipping up a bit due to the heat advisory, Chad went ahead to Lake Isabella this morning after coming for breakfast with us and Eddy and Doll. We initially decided to skip this morning but changed our minds at dinner, doesn’t feel right. We’ll head out tomorrow evening, night hike until it cools down and hopefully not die of heat exhaustion. Get to switch the Guthooks map from Southern California to Sierras, although it’s still 200 miles to Kennedy Meadows.
Sara is happy to almost be out of the desert, but it hasn’t been so bad, I’ve handled the heat way better than I expected to.