September 24, 2017
Peaceful Piñion Camp – Big Rock/Post Trail Magic Camp
29 miles/11hrs 15′
I walk into the darkness looking up now and again from the very dim low battery light of my headlamp, in awe of the blanket of stars above. Every so often I stop and listen to…silence. The burning red glow of the rising sun lights up the eastern horizon. Shapes begin to fill the space darkness has left for the day. I am in another world and it stimulates my senses in every manner. Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Oh, right, don’t touch. Everything bites here. Except the pine nuts. I have entered the Mojave Desert and it is so much more than I dreamed it to be. It is wild and vast and so full of life. Even in this time of Autumn and decomposing it is full of vibrance and colours and shapes and beauty. The orange sky softens the hard edges of the plants, settling into early morning light.
Three hours into the day I reach the MASSIVE water cache at Bird Spring Road. Strangely enough, these water caches taste the worst because of sitting in plastic in the hot sun day after day. Not that I’m complaining. No way. This is Trail Magic at it’s best: water in the desert instead of a 40+ mile carry. I’m grateful to have some drink mix + electrolyte fizzy tablets to take the plastic taste away. I make a bottle of mix. Then another. Drink them down, taking my time so as not to get the kidney aches, sitting and enjoying the surrounds, all alone and happy for this solitude. I make another mix to drink over the next three hours of walking. The one thing I have an abundance of is this SKRATCH labs drink mix. I used this in my last two years of bike racing and though it’s expensive, it really is the best. Thought I’d try it on this hike and it’s been superb in terms of lasting energy. Worth the weight to carry.
MASSIVE water cache
I’m hyper aware that my hunger for these few days is nothing compared to what thirst could be. Ask any long-distance hiker ‘if they’d rather’ be hungry or thirsty and I guarantee 100% the former. I’ve pretty much been hungry this whole walk but that’s how it goes when you’re putting in so many miles a day. You just can’t carry enough food. You get used to being hungry. Make peace with this and dream of all the things you’re going to eat in town. Then eat them all and more during town stops. It’s cliché even mentioning hunger because it happens to everyone on a long walk. Part of the adventure. Part of the deal of being out here. And yes, I love it. Gratitude is at it’s maximum for every single little tiny thing. Like sitting down for moment. Listening to the silence. Finding water int he desert. Watching a bird of prey soar.
I leave with 3 litres of water and adjust over the next few miles to the added weight. Not that much but 12 lbs on the back is noticeable. Happy to carry the added burden. I know from the PCT water report updates there is another cache in 15 miles but you never know what can happen so I carry a little more than I think I need.
The sun warms but it’s never as scorching as I know it can be. It’s hot, maybe in the high 80’s, low 90’s F, but I am fully aware it could be so much hotter. Cannot imagine walking through this exposed desert in that scorching sun. Yet I know if I’d chosen that timeline I’d make it work. But I’m here now and it’s awesome. Just awesome with my sun umbrella and the desert plants and rolling hills.
Walking in a desert wonderland
I make a bar last 3 hours nibbling away every half hour or so. It’s seven hours of walking until I stop to eat ‘breakfast’ of granola and powdered full-fat goat milk. I eat half of my normal amount, saving the rest for a little bit later at the next water cache. I see a new bird fluttering about from shrub to shrub. I stop and watch and know immediately what it is: the rufous-sided towhee. Haven’t seen this bird since sitting in a picnic area near the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico almost 20 years prior. A beauty. Nice to have some companionship out here.
In the distance I see the road where the 5 gallon jogs sit out in the open. Still can’t believe this is here. That people take the time to replenish the bottles. I sit there at the side of the road and drink some more, eat the second half of my breakfast granola. Sit and watch trucks with hunters drive by. Most of them wave. One stops after passing by. He reverses back to the cache, rolls down the window. I approach his truck and am greeted by a smile. ‘You hiking the trail? It’s hunting season. Got any orange?’ I say no, not yet. But I will. Until then ‘I have a pink dress…’ He reaches into the back cab of the truck and passes a bright orange cammo hunting baseball cap, brand new. ‘Wear this. It’s deer hunting season for the next month. Wear it, okay?’ Okay, I say. And, thanks.
I put on my new florescent cap and laugh as what I must look like with the pink dress and orange cap. At least I’m visible now. I begin the climb from this road, up up up. The air cools a little bit. Relatively cools, that is. I climb some more. I am so hungry. I enter another grove of Piñion and gather nuts from the sides of the trail. Where people have likely not walked. I eat them one by one, crunch their soft enough shells in my teeth, using my tongue to work the juicy delicious nut out of the sheath, then spit the shells out and chew the fatty meat. They are so good. I eat the last crumbs of the tortilla chips from Kennedy Meadows.
Finally, I reach the top of the climb to Paiute Mountain Road. I’m almost there and lost in my thoughts and a bit startled when a woman in a bright pink shirt says ‘are you SOBO?’ I look up and see a big smile across her face. Behind my new friend Cherokee is a very tall man with an equally welcoming smile, JD. They are from Tehachapi and have been out hiking. Cherokee grins and says ‘want some trail magic?’
Do I want trail magic….
I walk with them to the jeep parked on the side of the road. They have two coolers filled with sodas, beers, apples…REAL apples from the orchard near their home. I crunch into the sweetest apple I’ve ever had. I drink the best beer I’ve ever had (a coors light, which Cherokee reminds me is a pretty crappy beer, to which I say ‘ok the best trail magic beer I’ve ever had’), some chips, some chocolate. They offer to take my trash. They give me water. Sheepishly I mention after chatting with them awhile I am a little bit short on food ‘take all you want’ is their response. Cherokee offers me her 3 KIND bars left over from their day hike. It’s the first KIND bar I’ve been able to eat since eating way too many of the on the Appalachian Trail thru-hike I did back in 2015. It’s delicious.
Cherokee and JD, my new friends: Trail Angels, Hikers and wonderful human beings. Oh, and my new hat.
They are so wonderful and kind and generous. They are passionate about the trail and have even hiked about 750 miles of it themselves, piecing together sections and day hikes and spreading trail magic all over the place along the way. They said they hoped to meet a SOBO hiker that day ‘you SOBO’s don’t get much magic out here. We were about to leave and then saw you…’ They are genuinely stoked to help a hiker. I’m so grateful I almost cry. Actually, I do cry as I walk away. It’s just too much sometimes, the human kindness you can receive when you don’t expect it. Such fine human beings, my new friends from Tehachapi. I hope I make it to their town to buy them some beers.
I speed hike into the massive burn area that was once pine forest. I remind myself again to know clearly how important it is to clear a patch from forest duff below my cookstove. That a small spark in this dry parched forest can lead to disaster. Still, it’s beautiful, and re-growth is everywhere by way of plants, seedling trees, grasses and shrubs. Darkness comes in phases like dimmer settings on lights in a house. It’s as if someone is setting a nice mood for a dinner party. I spot two massive boulders just after the burn area ends. It’s not windy yet but I know it can howl at any time. The rocks will block the blow if I’m lucky enough to pick the sheltered side. It’s flat enough and I clear a patch of long jeffrey pine needles to set up the tent. The sweet smell of butterscotch pudding from the trees wafts all around. I am so happy. I am home. The waning moon rises high in the eastern sky as the soft pink of the western sky dims.