From Tehachapi Willow Springs Road to 3.5 miles before golden oaks spring
Six am comes way too early. I should have gone to bed earlier last night – some rest day – chores and staying up late. J and I have to hustle to get out the door by 6:30, when we meet the trail angel who has offered us a ride.
We’re not really ready, in fact. J is up front talking to Dave, and I’m in the backseat with a huge bag of food we were supposed to eat for breakfast. There’s a bit of a mix up about where to get dropped off, which is a relief. I need a few extra minutes. I’ve got a quart of orange juice to slam, three Hawaiian rolls, three bananas, and a pound of grapes. J asks Dave about Tehachapi – “I moved here recently from the coast,” he tells us. “I haven’t been here that long. I just heard about all the thru-hikers recently – in fact, you guys are my first hikers.”
Well how about that – a trail angel gets his wings.
Once we’ve been dropped off, finished our breakfast, and stopped fiddling with stuff, it’s 7:30. (I feel a bit sick from pounding orange juice.) Not bad for coming out of town, or even a regular day, if you’re us. Too bad it’s shaping up to be a long one – we’ll pass a water cache in eight miles, but after that it’s another 17 to a water source. We’ll either be dry camping after a long hot day, or walking 25 miles on a long hot day.
Those first eight miles are a real drag, both body, spirit, and the landscape. It’s almost entirely easements through a windfarm – nothing but gates, barbed wire, and no trespassing signs. It takes us to highway 138, where we are just as far from Tehachapi as when we started this morning. It’s noon and boiling hot. The water caches by the highway are a relief to see, but it’s too bad there’s no shade for them. “It’s the Tehachapi hot springs,” I joke, filling up a water bottle.
“Well, here we go,” says J. “About to go walking through the hottest part of the trail during the hottest part of the day again.”
“It’s our specialty,” I reply.
“Sure is.” We fist bump each other and start walking.
All the PCT talk about the desert, the long stretches with no water, the heat – they’re finally all making sense. I understand now why hikers talk about the first 700 miles like it’s a wasteland. It’s because the very last section melted their brains into a quivering gob incapable of remembering cold misty mornings, cool forest rambles, crisp mountain peaks. All they remember are this nasty highway stretch and no shade no shade no water.
There’s a highway overpass over a little drainage next to us. The shade is irresistible. “Let’s go sit down,” I press J. He agrees, so we slide through the barbed wire fence and put down our packs. I lay down in the dirt and pass out next to some old beer cans and a broken chair.
Two and a half hours later I wake up. J is half asleep next to me. “Wow,” I mumble. “What a great nap.”
“Yeah, you didn’t even wake up for the train.”
“Train?” I look to my right at the tracks, fifty feet from us. Could’ve been fifty miles for all I knew of it.
It’s still blastingly hot, but we need to go. We get out our sunbrellas and trudge uphill. “It must be a hundred degrees right now,” I think. We trudge. Every hour or so we throw down our packs in some meager shade and try to cool off. I have cell reception so I check the weather. 100 degrees.
At the end of our long climb we crest into a high plateau, and suddenly the trail is easy and we’re in the pines. Oh man. Shade. There’s a rustling in the bushes – “is that a deer or a cow?” I ask. The glimpse of fur I saw was too ruddy for a deer. Then it rustles again, then a bear comes crashing through the bushes, careens across the trail, then back into the bushes again. It’s the cutest bear I’ve ever seen, brown and fuzzy and round.
“Wow! Wow!” I exclaim. “A bear! Exactly how I like to see them too!”
“What, running away from you?” asks J.
The area here is lovely, with big, nice looking campsites nestled underneath trees – but no water. We keep going.
The long uphill in the heat has wiped out both of us. We’re thirsty, but saving our water for when we’re really thirsty. It’s a terrible feeling – the whole world seems like it’s against you. Thru-hiking isn’t fun anymore, this is real business, this is work, this is danger.
We walk through a fabulous sunset and then on. There’s a half moon, which is enough to see by, once we’ve stumbled through the hazy, shadowless, twilight. We’ve left the trees and we’re back in windmills. Freaking windmills.
Three and a half miles to water, but we can’t do it. We cowboy camp by some windmills. We’re too thirsty to eat dinner, so we don’t. Only one liter for the morning, for the two of us, and I could drink that thing in a second right now. We’re covered with ants all of a sudden, so we have to set up all over again, before going to sleep to the whooshing of windmills. Gonna be one of those nights.