I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much. – Mother Teresa
As nice as it is to sleep in a bed, I miss the alicoop and night noises. I wake early, organize Olive Oyl and cross the street to Kohnens bakery to have breakfast and meet Rae. I can’t choose between a bear claw and an apricot strudel, so have both – and coffee with cream. Rae has a miniature scone with coffee, and how often does this happen – I have exact change. We sit down to eat and chat just as the giant clock announces 7 am by playing ‘Edelweiss’ and sending two life-sized dolls in lederhosen out to spin around. It actually kind of creeps me out.
Rae is the trail angel I contacted last night asking if she might take me back to Cameron Road to pick up the trail. She was a flower child in the ‘60s living in a commune in Sonoma. She moved to Tehachapi forty years ago to take part in the birth of wind farms and in charge of collecting wind data. As we drive through the canyon, she points out the small turbines as the older ones, when only so much power was thought harnessable. Now, there are massive turbines with three blades spinning slowly but creating far more juice. I find the windmills beautiful on the hills, glinting in the bright sun.
Rae gives me a hug telling me the driest section is over, but I’m not so sure as I’ll depend on two caches and a muddy trickle to manage today. When she drives off, I shiver in the cold but smile too, happy I have such ideal hiking weather as I enter the Mojave desert. I first walk a mile on a road next to the highway, a few truckers honking and waving causing me to spin my sticks in the air.
My cutoff heads steeply up on switchbacks through scrubby oak and grasses that have sharp, clingy pieces. I’m glad I wear long pants with a fabric that doesn’t pick up these prickers. A jack rabbit with enormous ears bounds in front of me, his head appearing and disappearing with each hop.
As I reach the top, I enter a sea of fans, some spinning and others, as Rae told me, turned off because only so much energy can be collected. The trail works its way through this high plateau and I try to establish just the right tempo for the long haul I’ll walk today – and likely much of the rest of the PCT. A young woman catches me with a tiny backpack. She takes my picture and tells me she likes my spirit walking this entire path. Her pace is fast, but she’s just tagging the road, so I meet her coming back too.
I wonder what it will feel like to take a short walk after this is done, or even a short backpack trip. I do set high goals, mostly so I can finish and begin my new life. Ah, listen to me! I’m actually starting to look forward to the future. This is why I came out here to walk, in order to heal and move forward. There was a time not too long ago when I was afraid to go home. Now I’m beginning to feel a pull back home – to exactly what, I don’t know, but I’ve got ideas!
A bushy Wile E. Coyote trots on a dirt road maybe fifty yards from me. I whistle and his ears perk up. He stops to look at me, then continues down the road before cutting off into the sage. This morning, I opened a new map – Southern California, the final “state.” As I cross Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, a sign tells me I am now entering the ‘desert segment’ of the PCT. I thought there was a water cache, bug see nothing and wonder if I can accomplish the upcoming ascent on one liter, when I realize the cache has been set off the road at a picnic table. Man, you gotta love trail angels. They stash maybe thirty gallons of water under the table to stay cool and invite us to take what we need. I am so touched someone looks out for us. Water is very heavy and carrying more than a few liters would be really hard for me.
I have a second breakfast, drink down a liter and refill from the jugs before heading up the hill. The sun is intense, but there’s wind, it’s dry and the temperature is around 68. I laugh at myself because I assumed desert meant a long, flat section through cactus. Instead, I am climbing steadily for the next ten miles, slowly sidling as though tracing the circumference of about ten mountain-sized beach balls.
No, the desert is decidedly not flat as it takes me nearly four hours to walk up here, slowly leaving the windmills behind and entering a land of life and death intertwined, including a small burned section. The plants are scrubby, things prick me but the ground cover is a gorgeous mauve of spiky stems and tiny flowers. Shade is nearly non-existent and I simply sit in the trail under a minuscule shadow to drink more water and have another snack.
At last, the trail levels out and I am on top of something, but bushes block all views. It’s a little maddening when the trail heads up again in this tunnel, but I power up from a strong place inside me until finally I can see down to a small community way up here in the mountains. I’d read that one family looks after us hikers and am curious what they do when I see in the clumps of bushes ahead something bright red.
It’s an umbrella! At mile 549, there’s a whole set-up of folding chairs, the sun umbrella, chimes, a flower in a bottle, a hiker box, and most important, a huge water cache, plus danishes and fresh fruit. Trail angels are outstanding! I crank open the umbrella, find a seat and eat a delicious apple – then a danish and two cookies, plus a liter of water. It’s absolutely heaven.
I sign the register and see several friends already passed through. My plan is to camp at the muddy trickle, so I head on, this time looking out towards the desert to enormous solar farms. Spring must have been incredibly beautiful because wildflowers bloom everywhere in huge clumps, though dry now and in more muted tones. It’s late afternoon, and the colors are especially beautiful. I descend quickly looking at the giant folds of a spotted elephant in the mountains ahead, a black crow exactly at eye-level, throws himself into the abyss, making an unusual guttural clicking sound when he changes direction.
I spy the aqueduct below, straight into the horizon. I walked the Ninety Mile Beach in New Zealand’s North Island and I feel like I can handle hot, repetitive walking. But that’s tomorrow. Right now, I need to work all the way to the bottom of the ravine, cross a dry creek and head right back up again on sandy trail that’s eroding and disappearing. I sink in and use my sticks to keep from sliding all the way off.
At the top is a register. People have added quotes, some clever, some profound, some silly. I quote Mary Shelley – “The beginning is always today.” and it makes me feel good because we all can use a do-over now and then. Also, it gives us permission to experiment and test, then cast off what we don’t want or doesn’t work. I smile as I leave knowing my beginning is today and tomorrow too. It’s always the first act.
The trail comes to that spotted elephant, tracing every curve and dip in its folds. Like a fun-house ride, I walk in loops seemingly making no progress. The desert disappears as I begin to descend into a canyon. The full moon won’t have as much impact, but I will sleep next to a seep. No one is here and it’s s bit spooky, mostly because it has the appearance of a mountain lion’s lair. I start talking to this possible feline in my midst, rather loudly discouraging a visit since a) I am skin and bones with no body fat whatsoever anymore and hardly worth the effort, and b) I have a high C and cats hate opera singers, especially coloraturas.
Someone dammed the trickle, so I use my pot to scoop it into my filter bags. It’s muddy, but tastes sweet. The tent stakes don’t stand a chance on this gravel and I set the non-freestanding alicoop with rocks, though there’s no wind, at the moment anyway. Dinner is fast as darkness comes even faster. The crickets are singing plus some interesting birds. I am cozied in and likely have my strange little canyon all to myself. I wonder when the moon will peer in?