Never be ashamed of what you feel. You have the right to feel any emotion that you want, and to do what makes you happy. That’s my life motto. – Demi Lovato
It wasn’t long before the sky lightened above the canyon walls and a huge moon emerged turning my little lair silver. I heard the wind out in the desert all night, but where I slept was dead calm – and no visits from felines or other creatures. I take down the tent and the multitude of boulders I piled on since the ground was like concrete. After being battered by the wind above Walker Pass, I’m extra careful how I set.
The trail heads back up and I look down into this tiny V in the mountain, and its tiny seep of water – the only natural spring of the section. It’s life-sustaining down there and I thank it for housing me for a night. I then head into the wind farm, a fan ballet of sorts in progress as these huge turbines move slowly, almost sultry. The temperature is perfect, the air dry and still crisp. A bird sings – up a fifth, down a step ending with a flourish. I sing back and we carry on for several minutes. The desert is dusty, the sun shining through lending a mist-soaked forest feel. Blade shadows casually cut off my head over and over.
My feet are in sand now, the desert feels dull and the same. I know when I get in a grind, it’s a signal to get water and have a snack – and I’m right on schedule as I reach the completely dry Cottonwood Creek, but right nearby is a faucet with water not from the creek, but from the Los Angeles aqueduct. The good people of LA’s public works allow us access since it’s another 18 miles to water from here.
At first, I walk right by, glad I have no witnesses to my confident bumbling, turning around, cursing, then seeing the faucet from a concrete box right where the sign pointed. I still need to purify it, but drink a liter and take two with me after my second breakfast. This ‘box’ I speak of turns out to be the only access to water along most of what I’ll walk. The aqueduct is covered completely by concrete, with only intermittent openings locked tight, but with a small air hole where I can hear the water gurgling and swishing as it travels.
Which is a big torturous as the day begins to heat up. Mostly, it’s the sun and its reflection that enervate as the air temperature is mild, but it’s also walking on flat ground, that repetitive motion, that tires me. I can walk on concrete or a gravel road with long strides, moving faster than any day yet on the PCT. I also can sing and work my way through all my Joni Mitchell albums, choosing a spot far in the distance to walk to and tie it to a particular song’s length. Just as I get going, a man pops out of a grove of Joshuas. It’s Callum! and he’s dressed like the Sierra in running tights under shorts and a long sleeved shirt. He tells me a man driving a truck passed a while back and asked where he’s from. When he told him Northwest England, the man responded, “That’s a long way to come and walk on a dirt road.”
I don’t mind it, but this is the day most like the worst parts of the Te Araroa – long, tedious road walking. I had been wondering if it was smart to walk here at mid-day, but Callum seems perfectly fine. I stop for some water and food ten miles out and he heads on. I waited a bit too long as no more trees grow here and only a medium-sized bush gives me any shade. I down a liter and gobble up some food before continuing, reaching houses and rows of RV’s set semi-permanently in the sand.
Here, I have cell service, so check in with Richard to nail down his arrival and make a list for one last package including new shoes and new water bottles. A hiker from day 2 texts me named ‘Waist Deep.’ She took a week off to visit her dad and has been behind, but she made it through the Sierra and is doing great. She writes,
Also just wanted to say it was great to meet you on this trip! You are such a badass lady that I aspire to be like one day. I wish you the best of luck on the last section of your journey.
That made this middle-aged blissful hiker’s day.
And so, it continues with desert cows by a tank, three tall slender cypress trees that remind me of Tuscany, an American flag on a pole listing to the right, a burned barn carcass and lots of rusting stuff in yards. I like this because I see how people live, also like New Zealand. It’s not just wilderness.
Callum is far in the distance now , emphasizing the vastness of this place. I see paw prints in the concrete, some walking straight across without pausing, others in a confused mass. Soon, I turn away from the aqueduct for town looking deceptively close. Two women in a car with ‘a meadow’ on the plate stop and hand me a water bottle. A huge half-buried pipe appears to my right with a sign warning to stay 100 feet back even though this is physically impossible. Callum parks himself under a raised section for a snack, a geodesic house with a wreath on the front door sots across the street.
The road is sinky sand and hard to walk on. My energy flags and I count steps to the turn where I finally see water, a sign warning not to swim because you will likely drown. I pass a closed school, the rope of the flag pole banging plaintively, a deserted bin on wheels at an odd angle near the locked gate. Ahead is Hiker Town, an odd assortment of tiny buildings out of the old west, each with a bed inside for us hikers. Bob shows me around, handing me a towel for the outdoor shower.
It’s splendid, but the wind is cold, so I take a short one before Callum and I get a ride to the store to stock up and have dinner. Erin and Rook arrive and we all sit outside watching an orange moon rise, the temperature dropping enough to put on our puffies. A few more hikers arrive and clear the rooms of black widow spiders. It is the desert and they’ll likely mind their own business, but I’d hate to share a bed with one. Here’s hoping!