PCT Update #4 - The Desert

2019-05-20, by Natalie Pendragon

adventure backpacking pct

We've made it to Walker Pass, and hitched into the nearby town of Ridgecrest. It's mile 652, which means we've completed over 20% of this trek to Canada! This is also the final update with "the desert" in the subject line; north of us lie the Sierra Nevadas and other such interesting parts of the trail.

Chapter 4.1 - The Magical Manzanita Forest

I really love seeing the random yard art found on and around trail-side property.
I really love seeing the random yard art found on and around trail-side property.

After the last update, we had a short couple of days' hiking to get to our next goal: Casa de Luna. Similar to Hiker Heaven, this is an absolute legend on the trail, and is an establishment run by a family with an extraordinary amount of generosity and creativity. Upon arriving, everyone must don a Hawaiian shirt, of which there are at least 50 hanging in a rack in their driveway at all times. Then, you find a spot to pitch your tent in their backyard. Mind you, their backyard is an enormous manzanita forest (we legitimately got lost multiple times, both trying to find our way to the tent, AND trying to find our way back to the house). The forest is also full of bizarre mannequins and painted rocks that hikers have been painting at their painting station in the driveway for the past 20 years (they've been hosting hikers for a long time!). Finding your way back to the house is well worth it though, to avail yourself of socialization with the other hikers, and the famous taco salad dinners and pancake breakfasts that the Andersons make for hikers every day. Yes, every day. As I said, extraordinary generosity! This adventure continues to amaze by showing us the reaches of human kindness, empathy, and enthusiastic acceptance of all.

What the heck is this thing?
What the heck is this thing?
Hiking through a cloud to get to the much-talked about, much-anticipated Casa de Luna.
Hiking through a cloud to get to the much-talked about, much-anticipated Casa de Luna.
We made it! Here is our night's gang at Casa de Luna.
We made it! Here is our night's gang at Casa de Luna.
Some words of wisdom painted on a rock by hikers past (who I take it were also Douglas Adams fans!)
Some words of wisdom painted on a rock by hikers past (who I take it were also Douglas Adams fans!)

Chapter 4.2 - Sushi, Sushi, Sushi

We planned to hike 20 miles out of Casa de Luna, but that turned into 22 when we heard that the campsite at 20 had a frequent visitor... of the bear variety. As a small bonus, this meant we also got to celebrate 500 miles before going to bed that night.

500 miles!
500 miles!

The next day, we did 17 miles to yet another notable stop on the trail: Hikertown. It's apparently run by a retired movie producer, who has turned a large amount of old Western movie props into a hiker hotel, of a sort. Everyone we talked to about it that had prior knowledge or experience with the place said, after a slight pause and with a tilt of the head, that it's "... interesting."

Quite the view!
Quite the view!
Signs that we are approaching civilization
Signs that we are approaching civilization

With sore feet and ankles and legs that day, we decided to forego "interesting" in favor of a 20 minute ride into the town of Lancaster. We showered and celebrated our 500 mile achievement with a not insignificant amount of sushi. It was the first time having sushi since before trail, and it was EVERYTHING I hoped it would be. Yum.

Chapter 4.3 - Aquaducts and Angel Food Cake

With clean(er) bodies and clothes, and satiated hunger, we set out once again. The next stretch was about 17 miles along the L.A. AquaductIncidentally, the Los Angeles Aquaduct has a fascinating story, and played a somewhat pivotal role in the history and growth of Los Angeles. Political intrigue abounds!. It's often such hot hiking, for a full day in the California desert on top of a cement canal, that hikers tend to night hike the entire section. We surprisingly had cold, rainy weather, which is its own kind of challenge, but it at least allowed us to day hike without trouble. I'm glad we did, because it was a very interesting section to be able to see - farming relics of days past, groves of Joshua trees, new mountains, and our closest encounter with a wind farm. We camped nearly underneath one of the wind turbines, so of course we toodled right up to it. And let me tell you, those things are terrifyingly massive, it's just hard to tell from far away. Individual blades on them are 80 feet long, and the tips are traveling at more than 150mph.

The L.A. Aqueduct
The L.A. Aqueduct
Posing next to the aqueduct.
Posing next to the aqueduct.
A wind farm
A wind farm
Standing under the blades as they WHOOSH by.
Standing under the blades as they WHOOSH by.

The next day, we hiked into some thunder, and then rain, in the afternoon. We popped on our rain jackets and kept trudging. Our planned campsite was at the top of a mountain, which I was starting to feel a bit nervous about, as I watched the occasional arc of lightning flash in the sky. Then near the top, two things happened:

  • First, we came upon a small area with patio umbrellas, deck chairs, clean water, fresh fruit, and a metal cabinet with ANGEL FOOD CAKE inside. I really hope all the people that put things like this on the trail know how much it can lift one's spirits (especially when you're wet, cold, and a bit muddy from the knees down).
  • Second, we saw a bit of blue in the sky towards the horizon, so we knew the storm would pass soon. What a relief that was! Another day survived, another few miles hiked, and another few bits of unexpected bits of kindness discovered in the middle of the wilderness.
Some very unexpected, and well-timed, trail magic.
Some very unexpected, and well-timed, trail magic.
I wonder if it thinks we can't see it...
I wonder if it thinks we can't see it...

Chapter 4.4 - Ice Baths and V2 Kicks

We made it to another town, in the mid 500s, called Tehachapi. We arrived around lunchtime, and went straight to a Native American BBQ place, not knowing what to expect. What we should have expected, in retrospect, was more delicious food than we could finish, even with hiker hunger turned up to 11. We came upon some old friends, and exchanged stories while we tried to recount where and when it was that we all last saw each other.

We found a hotel for the night, and filled a bag with ice at the ice machine. We prepared a bucket of icy, icy, ice water, and proceeded to ice our feet and ankles while listening to folk music. With the trials and tribulations we put our feet though every day, this icing ritual is becoming a necessity!

And of course, the only thing wearing out faster than our feet and ankles seems to be their coverings - our socks and shoes. After a month and half of hiking the PCT, my two pairs of socks have holes in them and my shoes looked like they were about a decade old. So Tehachapi also turned about to be where we got "round two" of foot gear. New socks, new shoes, ooh la la! What luxury it was to put on brand new, cushiony socks again, and a pair of bright, pristine trail runners.

A well-worn pair of trail runners
It's bizarre to see a pair of shoes get legitimately worn out after less than two months, but daily hiking on the trail really puts them through the wringer.
A lone bench with a view - we had a nice little snack break here.
A lone bench with a view - we had a nice little snack break here.

Chapter 4.5 - Brunch in the Desert

We were still fighting sore feet and ankles leaving Tehachapi, but nevertheless felt up to the 5-day, 90-mile stretch to Walker Pass. We made decent time the first few days, hiking through more cold, rainy weather. I'm finally starting to feel a bit more confidence in my ability to hike through whatever the weather throws at us, which feels very empowering. Like I am, and we are, getting comfortable with discomfort, secure in the knowledge that with a bit of perseverance, we can handle the upcoming surprises the trail has in store for us.

Yum?
Yum?
Not much in the way of nearby roads, but this appears to be the charred remains of an old bus.
Not much in the way of nearby roads, but this appears to be the charred remains of an old bus.
A copse of Joshua Trees
A copse of Joshua Trees

The most notable thing pabout this stretch, so we thought, was that we may have to carry a full 2 days' worth of water though a particularly dry 35 miles of it. Water is the densest and heaviest thing we carry, and the prospect of carrying 2 days' worth of it, on top of everything else we usually carry, was daunting. We heard there MAY be a stocked water cache about 20 miles into the 35, at a dirt road crossing. That wasn't all too confidence-inspiring, so we hoped for the best, but planned for the worst, and were carrying a LOT of water.

We approached the location of the cache mid morning, and for the previous couple hours of hiking I had been mentally preparing myself for the cache to be empty, and us needing to ration water for the rest of the day. Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the dirt road to find cars, pop up awnings, tables, and 4 previous-year thruhikers making brunch for everyone. As I walked up, smiling, already unbuckling and tossing my pack onto the ground, they asked if I would like a pancake, scrambled eggs, and a mimosa. Yes, we had mimosas! It was such a wonderful surprise brunch in the desert. They even took custom pancake orders, and put peanut M&M's in mine.

Trail magic, oh my!
Trail magic, oh my!
A happy hiker making his way up a climb after the late morning trail magic.
A happy hiker making his way up a climb after the late morning trail magic.

That brings us to Ridgecrest, where we're planning the next big phase of this adventure, and our imminent escape from the California desert. We're very ready to do some hiking in a new biome!

Happy trails and until next time,
Natalie

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