- Day 30
September 22, 2017
Kennedy Meadows South – Spanish Needle Creek
Oh man what a day. Freezing cold last night with ice in the top of the bottles. Need to make sure I put the water bottles in plastic bags at night in my pack, just in case. Nothing like a frozen water bottle or bag when you can prevent it with this small step. A little bit of a warning from Nature that I will certainly heed. Definitely warm enough in the tent but I’m pushing the levels of comfort with the gear I have. Any colder and it’s gonna be a long, long night of shivers.
I start the days walk in the dark wearing my down jacket for the first three hours. Then the sun rises and it’s a beautiful day for walking. Never warm but not cold, either. That perfect in-between temperature that makes for a good day to harvest some miles. Two long climbs that bring me into the true desert landscape. I feel good moving through this land. New birds, plants, trees. I have transitioned fully from the abundance of the Sierra in terms of water, views, elevation; to the minimalism of the desert. I, too, have shed all I can. I’m stripped down to all I think I need and not an ounce more. The key is to find the beauty in the minimal which is not hard for me to do. When you unload all the shit that weighs you down, literally and metaphorically, the lightness of being and clarity of thought allows for simple beauty to shine bright. I continue to strive for this every single day.
The only exception is the stop at Fox Hill Spring where I go all out and drink too much too fast and feel seriously worried for a few hours after that my kidneys are going to burst. Oops. Lesson learned.
Small water cache in the desert. I was so full of water fr Fox Hill Spring it was hard to look at water. I didn’t ever rely on these caches but were so happy if I found them, only taking a little bit or nothing at all if I did not need it. I always carried water. Always. Just incredible ppl leave water in random places to help hikers. Grateful.
I camp at the creek with food in my tent. Last place I want to camp is in the desert at a few-and-far-between water source with no place to adequately hang the food but I’ve gone far enough and there are no options close by. Soon after I lie in the tent I hear animals walking around. Surprise? No surprise. Humans aren’t the only creatures coveting water. We all need to drink and animals, well, many exist nocturnally and here I am at their watering hole. I realize as I lie here this may be a long night. Oh well.
September 23, 2017
Spanish Needle Creek Camp – Pinion Forest Camp in Deer Hunting Season Opening Weekend
I’m up at 3:20am after a night of critter movement all around. Nothing that sounded like a bear, at least. Note to self: don’t camp at the desert water source if you want to sleep. Just don’t. The morning walk is a beauty. I don’t feel the sun until 9am. All the climbing warms me up regardless. It’s slower than I anticipate but oh well, it is what the terrain dictates and is not a race, anyway. I enjoy this walk through my first groves of Joshua Trees. Yucca dots the landscape all around. I see their shapes as the sun rises on the horizon blocks by desert mountains. They are alien to my senses and make me smile because I know surely I am in the desert now. The mystical desert trail section that has me concerned about water this late in the hiking year. Yet I’ve had water everywhere I thought it would be. I remember Peter telling me to check at road crossings and trail junctions, to look all around, maybe just maybe there’s a bottle or a cache someone has left. Look all around and you will be surprised, he said, you will most often find something, even if just a few ounces, to keep you going and replenish what you’ve carried and inevitably dwindle.
Finally some direct sun before I take the first break at 3 hours. The desert.
It’s with these thoughts I stop and drink some of my water on a little pass that let’s me sit in the morning sun those 3 hours of walking later, when I meet a section hiker who quizzes me about water, how much I carry, blah-blah-blah. I’m pretty vague because his questions are aggressive. Because I don’t give him exactly the water strategy he thinks is the only way to plan and carry water in the desert (because I am basically bullshitting him because I don’t feel like I need to tell this person who has been on the trail for approximately 8 miles my plan) he gives me unsolicited advice I smile at but don’t comment on. He tells me how it is and I smile some more. He finishes with the statement ‘and don’t think there is any water at Walker Pass. There is nothing there. Nothing.’ I smile again. When he finally stops talking I offer some intel on the water situation north of where we are, where I have just come from. He is not interested. I smile some more.
When I reach Walker Pass and look around, like Peter suggested, I find about 5 gallons cached. Which this fellow must have missed. Which I suppose happens when you are walking around with so much important information in your head you are preparing to unleash on all people you cross paths with on the trail. Must be hard to be so smart. So as I drink some on this nice water, and when I reach the next water jug in plain sight across the road at the trail register by the campground which is near the spring above the campground I was going to go to had there not been any water at the road or trail register, my smile turns to laughter. People. Oh, some people. What else can you do but laugh.
There’s even a place to leave trash at the road junction. I leave the small accumulation stuffed into ziplock bags. Always grateful to lighten the load in any way, no matter how little is left.
I think back to the lady hiking I meet 7 miles from Walker Pass who says with enthusiasm ‘you’re almost there, almost to the pass.’ I look at her passing me by while I stand on the side of the trail. ‘Oh’ I say. ‘Yes, almost there’ she repeats in a cheerleading tone. I watch her walk and don’t way anything else. She does not even look at me and I wonder why she says this when I still have seven miles to said pass, which is nowhere near ‘almost there’ in my books. People can be odd. They can be aggressive with unsolicited information and I wonder why they have to direct this information at others when they clearly intend on a one-way conversation.
I try my umbrella out for the first time on the hot exposed ridges and switchbacks into Walker Pass. To my delight it works. The damn thing actually makes the scorching heat bearable. I take a break and watch two hawks ride the thermals up the canyon to my left. Raven does his Raven dance in the sky to my right.
After crossing the highway I make my way up and up and begin to see hunters. I learn it’s hunting season and opening weekend at that. I see all men in pairs, groups, families. Solo men with their rifles in their cammo gear. Everyone is pleasant to me and I don’t feel threatened in the least. I do, however, feel a little nervous to be walking within this land with all levels of skill and awareness holding those guns. I’m glad I’m wearing a bright pink dress but wonder if I should also have something orange. I make a note to get some hunting tape or a hat or something when I reach the next town, Mojave.
I see a Mexican-American Grandfather with grandson ahead. They walk North and I, South. I say hello and they both smile. The Elder is leading his young and fit grandson along and the latter can barely keep the pace. I think about my father-in-law, Elías, who took my husband Peter out time and again deer hunting. Peter talks about those times with his Dad and how special they were. How his dad would be out there all day not eating nor stopping. I cry after crossings paths with these two knowing Elías will never be out there again. I miss him so much and shed some tears mixed with laughter while walking with his memory.
I pass many hunting camps hearing Ranchero musica in the forest. Hearing laughter. Seeing generation of families out there sharing an experience. We’re all different, I’m reminded, and feel happy for these people having their own meaningful times in nature.
I make camp in the Pinion forest. The plump pine nuts are all around, just like at Kennedy Meadows Store. I snack on them and look into my food supplies. I check my app for distances while taking stock of what I have left. Something doesn’t make sense. I look again from mileage to food…then suddenly realize I’ve miscalculated this section by…oh…about 53 miles. I realize I have to ration the food I have, making two days of food last four. I’ve been here before on other hikes and it’s not a big deal. It’s uncomfortable, yes, to walk with hunger, but as long as I have water I’m ok. Still, this is going to be rough. Thankfully there are snacks on the ground to make up for some calories lost (pine nuts). Yes, this is going to be a hungry walk. Somehow I’m looking forward to it. Just another challenge of this hike. If anything, it will make me plan the food better next time. Which is what I always think yet I know it’ll happen again. I used to enjoy planning, sorting, packing food down to the last almond, but now I basically pack what I think is enough and re-evaluate along the way. It’s not rocket science to know what gives you fuel and what you will be motivated to eat. Still, the odd screw-up happens. Part of the adventure, I say. Good thing I had that burger feed at Kennedy Meadows store and therefore missed eating one of my dinners. Oh and good thing I bought that pound bag of avocado flavoured tortilla chips at the store, too.
Onward and upward.