September 27, 2017
Highway 58 – Tylerhorse Canyon Creek
24.8 miles/9 hrs 20′
Wasn’t going to walk this morning but, heck, it’s my Birthday, so let’s go. There’s no way I’m spending this day in a hotel room. Happy to walk. Exposed, hot, dry and lonely, endless windmills and lots of climbing with many miles of washed out trail. Happy Birthday. There is no other place than I’d rather be.
I cruise along, no pressure to go fast or far. Take it all in with a smile because today is my day, number 45, and nothing makes me feel more gifted, free and alive (with a massive dose of perspective that this is a very privileged place to be). I am loaded with food. Weighted down with water. I am smiling and happy and free. I am 45 years old and I am walking through the desert and laughing out loud.
Me and the windmills on my 45th B-day
Nothing can make this day better. Until I reach Mile 549. I reach this human-made oasis in the desert that is an absolute surprise. A birthday present if I can pretend it is just there for me (which it is not). I approach this other-worldly setting in the middle of parched, torched and desolate land. It is an oasis of sorts with water, treats, humour and garbage disposal. Yes, garbage disposal. It does not get better than this when you’ve been rationing all day and walking in silence. In solitude. As I have already expressed, in absolute joy. This place for the hikers walking the PCT is a very intentional act of kindness. I sit and wonder and laugh some more. I cry when I laugh because these sorts of things restore my faith and hope in humanity. This trail. The people who people it and support it. It’s just too much.
Then the trail degrades and because I had an intentional late start enjoying a breakfast with my trail angel friend JD, the light of day begins to fade and I am grateful, again, to be walking this section with some light. Wash-outs are everywhere from mudslides long hardened. The trail crew in this section must throw up their hands time and again. It would be impossible to keep the ribbon of fine walking in check with the clay-like, powdery ground turning to syrup if and when it does rain. And when it rains, it pours.
Shades of red, orange, ochre and browns paint the slopes all around, made even more vivid with the setting sun. I reach the canyon I think I’ll camp in though wonder if this is a good idea to sleep in a canyon that apparently always has the ribbon of water flowing when cold air descends and makes for frigid nights. I think, however, it’s been so hot, so maybe the cold will feel good.
I hear the gentle trickle of water and see it’s flow down below. It’s a little ribbon of liquid making me jump for joy. You have to see where this is and have walked through parched land for miles to understand fully how impossible this seems. Yet, there it is. Liquid. Life. Any thoughts of continuing on for higher ground are gone. I’m tired and it’s time to stop.
I rinse off behind a tree with my water bottle shower, set up the tent and sit to make some food when I hear footsteps. Footsteps? Yes, it’s another human. He’s SOBO and says hi from above my camp, still on the trail. His name is Ohm Boy and he’s SOBO, flip-flopping in this odd year of ice and fire on the PCT. He began at Burney Falls, NOBO, then flipped back south and is now here, in the canyon, on his SOBO way to complete his hike. I’m happy to meet someone on the trail and a very nice and humble young guy, at that. At first I thought his name was ‘Homeboy’ which seemed really odd because he didn’t seem like the kind of person to be named or name himself that. I learn later, days later, that it’s ‘OHM Boy’, like his pack. Which I did not know was a pack. Which shows how much I know about hiking.
It’s not long after setting up in the tent that I am hot, so hot. Cold air has not and will not descend into this canyon. For the first time on the trail since just north of Belden Town on the very first night out by myself, I am hot. Uncomfortably but not regrettably hot. Shortly after taking some layers off I see headlamps bobbing in the distance. Two more hikers. Then another. Before midnight, I am still in and out of too-hot-but-not-ungrateful-because-I’m-not-cold sleep, and another headlamp in the distance makes it’s way to the canyon. Hard to believe all these SOBO hikers are here after not seeing many people for so long. I wonder if it’s the crew from the brewery in Tehachapi. I will soon find out.
September 28, 2017
No-Sleep-Canyon (Tylerhorse Canyon) – HorseCamp with Picnic Table
33.4 miles/10hrs 50′
People coming and going, animals crunching and chewing, acorns falling all night long makes for a crappy sleepless night. Oh well. And, yes, I was hot. Ha.
The 3:30am alarm hurts but still, I answer the call. The thought of walking the infamous dreaded LA Aquaduct in any more blaring sun than I have to gets me up into my dirt clothes, out of the tent, packed up and on the trail by 4:25am. I try to be quiet because my new friend OHM Boy is camped near by. I’m pretty sure I have not made this much noise yet on the trail packing up. Oh well.
Woosh – woosh – woosh of the windmills with their blinking red lights in the distance makes the darkness of morning take on an eery tone. I feel like I’m on an alien planet with big windmills as people or animal. My whole being is buzzing and humming from the energy transmitted from these energy-gathering machines. I’ll take this feeling over the stink of sour gas wells or the plumes of pollution from tar-sand fracking any day.
The wind farms of the trail are welcoming and hiker-friendly. This one in particular seems to be calling out for hikers to visit. Which makes me smile. I continue on my way, water rich and walking in the cool of morning darkness. I can imagine they have a ton of visitors in the springtime bubbles of northbound hikers. Which makes me grateful, again, for this kindness, even if I don’t need it.
My early morning stroll leads me down into the valley of the LA Aqueduct. I reach the northern side where there’s a spigot for hikers, allowing for water filled with sediment straight from the flow below. I had this impression the aqueduct would be a pipe or an open channel of water across this valley but it’s not. It’s a dirt road that reminds me of Baja, Mexico, and many places Peter and I have bike toured. Odd settlements and homesteads occupied by god knows who. There is beautiful desert around and as the sun heats up, my umbrella comes out, and I am comfortable enough. It’s in the 90’s but doesn’t feel too bad. Knowing it could be in the 100’s or 110-120’s makes this downright bearable. I think about the history of this aqueduct, coming from places like the Owen’s Lake south of Lone Pine, which was almost drained and been the subject of endless lawsuits and health issues all around. And that is just one place this water came/comes from. We have yet to realize the most valuable resource we have: water (and air, for that matter). There is nothing like walking through the desert to make you comprehend the very essence of the saying ‘water is life’. Indeed, it is. We will see in the not-so-far future wars waged over this commodity we take for granted.
I walk along in my thoughts when a big pick up truck slows beside me on the dirt road. ‘Want some trail magic?’ an elderly woman asks. Heck, ya. This Grandmother and Grandfather are with their Grandson, Wyatt, who is happily skipping out of pre-school to go up to the cabin in the hills today. They were hoping to see some SOBO hikers to give some treat to. Lucky me. I’m given chips + carrots + celery sticks + homemade sweet tea. Dump my trash and fill up on water. With a big smile I wave to them as they drive away.
I’m sitting on the side of the road in the shade of a Yucca and my umbrella, eating some granola, when OHM Boy passes me by. It’s been 6 hours of walking and time for a break. He keeps going and says ‘see you in Hikertown?’ to which I oblige. He asks if I got trail magic and we both marvel at the chance of this, today, happening. The trail provides. Yes it does.
The walk along the exposed aqueduct when I turn west is long and drawn out. I keep checking the app to make sure I have not missed a turn. Finally, the turn to the highway, and the spur to Hikertown. Infamous Hikertown. I’ve heard this and that about the place. You either love it or think it’s gross. I don’t stay so don’t have an opinion other than it was a fantastic place to take a little break, get some water, eat some ice cream and meet some new trail friends.
Yes, the crew from the brewery is there in full force. As is Ohm Boy. Also, ‘Carefree’, who I know is german and female and SOBO. I’ve read her entries in the registers and have wondered if we should ever meet. There she is. Great energy, like the rest of this crew: Righteous (who has a wicked mullet and looks like a full-on Russian hockey player in the stanley cup finals with his beard…), Kirby (who is quiet and small and who is also a girl who hikes very, very fast), Per Bear (who is Canadian but really Norwegan) and Leafy (who is just a plain wonderful human being). We all laugh and drink water and hang out in the shade. All of us are moving on, likely to the camp spot about 9 miles from Hikertown.
I’m happy to find a little tribe of walkers, if only for the day, to share some stories and learn about their journeys from the Canadian border. They are all humble and encouraging and don’t seem to care that I’ve only walked from the halfway point.
Camping with OHM Boy the night before we get into the whole what you do/what you’ve done etc thing. It’s not weird or intrusive but I do mention I was an athlete. Which he asks some questions about, and I answer. So people know here because of this, and because Per bear sort of recognizes me from the 2010 Olympic time (he lived in vancouver), and Carefree is from Erfurt, a German city I raced in many, many times, which I mention to her I’ve been to and she asks why and…well…I mention the speed skating thing. Which is strange for me because on the Appalachian Trail I didn’t ever talk about sports except to my trail brothers YoYo and Tweet, and that was because we had been together long enough that I was so vague and weird I felt like I was lying and had to tell them my truth. This time I thought I will just say I used to do sports and leave it at that. Most people don’t really ask so I don’t feel like I need to go into things. Anyway, the point is, I’m not on the trail to talk about what I’ve done, nor should anyone be, it’s just better to be in the present enjoying the moments as they’ve come, satisfied with what you’ve been through, looking forward to what lays ahead. It feels good to deflect any talk of sports on the fact that ALL of these fine young people have walked this whole trail to this point, and the wonder and awe I feel and see in this. They are all super respectful and I’m grateful because I just still struggle with talking about this things I’ve done in sports and in life in the context of being on an adventure.
It feels good to say ‘but I have only hiked HALF of this…you guys (and girls) are what we should be talking about.’ I mean it. I really do.
The next 9.1 miles to camp go by fast. There are all sorts of weird compound-looking homes and pockets that make me nervous. At one point I walk by a dead bloated cow, in a fenced-in area, right close to the trail. There are goats and pigs alive and well, then this dead cow near where we all walk. A warning sign? I will never know. Yikes.
The trail winds its way along up and down into the Angeles National Forest. Camp is up high with the luxury of a picnic table. Cicadas chirp and a light breeze blows. There is water close to the camp but it takes some time to find. The few of us who try to find it almost give up, except me and Per Bear. I bush whack through stinging neddles, down a dry creek bed, up and down and all around. Per Bear does the same and finally, we meet, looking at each other thinking ‘we hear the water but what the hell where is it?’. Per Bear says ‘It sounds like a guy is taking a really long pee. Only nobody – I mean nobody – can pee that long.’ Which is the moment I look up to my left and see water squirting from the slope. It actually looks like someone is peeing. We scramble up the grade and find the hose that has literally sprung a leak (or someone has punctured) and do a little water dance.
Soon, we are all asleep, everyone but me and CareFree cowboy camping with that night breeze making for perfect sleeping temperatures. It’s a little trail family I get to be a part of for a day, a night, who knows.