The Gratitude Cafe Part 9
DAY 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94 - Tehachapi to some stealth camp spot along the LA aqua duct, to parking trail head, to Maxwell Road, to Casa De Luna, to Hiker Heaven Agua Dulce, to North Fork Ranger Station, to Foutainhead Spring, to Little Jimmy campground to Wrightwood.
Sometimes things don't come full circle
Yes. I've been slack on the blogging. Mainly because of the boys being around, but moreso, exhaustion. We've been hiking in to the nights on some days and it just gives me no time to journal. But I'll try to recall the days. It's been a crazy few!
The boys finally arrived. Maple, Barry and Burgie all arrived in Tehachapi after a week waiting for them. I started to worry a little about the hiker body. It started to relax. It started to swell. I started to feel the aches and pains that I haven't felt in ages. I wasn't doing my 25-32 miles a day regime. I got on the treadmill to try and get the miles up, but that was simply wrong for my mind and after 3 miles, I hopped off that mental game and went for a walk. Being outside is my muse. But still, no matter how many times I circled the Kmart and the grocery stores, it was no where near my mileage. A weeks rest is not ideal to keep the hiker body at it and panic stations were definitely arising. I was trying so hard to not worry, but I was constantly thinking about whether I had made the right decision.
When the boys did arrive, it was such a treat to see them all. You see, I felt strange about it. Seeing all the comments that a few people made in regards to "finally back with people" etc, I started to wonder why people want me to hike with other people so much. I asked the same to my parents. Funny though, they are on my side of this thought. People think 'safety in numbers' or that hiking with someone else is the best choice. Wrong. Sometimes you can hike with really stupid people who make terrible decisions. You can be in a big group for "safety" to cross a river, but if YOU think it's too dangerous to cross but are the only one in the group who thinks so, you are simply out voted. Therefore you could put your life more at risk in groups. Some people in groups don't put the same priority on things as you do. Like some people don't care about camping near water because they have a dry pop tart for dinner, so do you stay with them for safety, or camp near water in order to eat and hydrate?
And then some people are just bog downs. I choose friends. I don't just find people and think 'great, you're a hiker. Let's be friends.' I can't do that. So I was a little taken aback when people were so cheerful of me finding some of the boys again. I set out on this trail to SOLO hike the PCT. Yes. Solo female hiker. No matter what everyone else's fears are, I face mine. I never intended on hiking with people, and I've slept numerous nights alone out here. When I told my parents of my questioning of people's reactions, it's funny how they said they don't think twice now when I camp alone or hike alone. At first it was a terrifying thing for them, but now, it's just the way it is. And after following other people's journeys along the PCT, they too would agree, that the concept of "safety in numbers" isn't entirely true. Sometimes being solo, you make better decisions.
But, anyways, these boys are awesome and when they arrived, it was a delight to see them! So many stories we have shared and tried to catch up on. It's funny how we have all changed in some way or another. We've grown. We've matured. We've become a lot more wise to this experience. We are thru-hikers now. It's a nice feeling to share this with the boys.
We started off out of Tehachapi the following day. Wow. The body. I felt it. The push and pull of every muscle saying to me "What the hell are you doing to me?! Aren't you finished the trail? Didn't we stop?!" It was tiring a lot easier than it had been doing these last few weeks. We passed the most spectacular of wind farms, turning in the breeze as we all hiked by. It was nice to be with the boys, as strange as it was to be walking with people again.
After being solo for so long, it was an absurd concept to hike without a true plan. I like a plan. Especially in this section. Maybe if you took me back to Washington, I would say different. Water sources are every mile in the North Cascades. The alpine waters are always flowing and the seasonal weather permits it. However, in this section, we were looking at 35-45km water carries. I personally can't just "wing it" in this section. It takes serious map navigation to work out water refill and wet camping spots. So, it seemed a little odd to not be discussing possible mileage and campsites to not get ourselves into strife. But I played along and thought 'que sera sera'.
Then, the return of the gnats! Yep. And they are even the same level of irritating WITH people around. No one will ever understand this madness. I won't bang on about them. They don't deserve my energy. But seriously, gnats!! Haha
The sun was starting to feel like the desert again. Scorching rays and super exposed ridges meant little to no shade. Every now and then, I found a small bush that was creating about a 50cm patch of shade. I sat down and would shade myself from a little of the heat. Barry would sit down too, so we actually got to hike a lot of this section together. It was nice to catch up on old topics and new conversations. We share a lot of PCT growth. It was nice to reminisce and laughing hysterically over stupid things. We seriously crack each other up. Maple can't deal with it! Haha
Towards the end of the afternoon, we began our trail into the LA Aquaduct. The sun was going down and the sky was lighting up the trail and cooling down the heat. It was getting dark. We were walking 4 abreast like the Washington troupe we were, along the wide dirt road. Then "Burgie! Look out!" I yelled.
Yep. My first rattlesnake. Not just any rattler. A green mojave! Laying flat out across the road. He wasn't looking down at all and SQUASH. He stands directly on the rattle of the snake. I pull him towards me and ran forward away from the now infuriated and perched rattler, hissing and shaking his rattle like he's in a Mexican band playing La Cucaracha.
We all had a moment because none of the boys could see him. We continue walking and talking in shock of what just happened, when 1 minute later "BARRY! Look out!" I yell again.
Another green mojave laid stretched across the road. Barry slams on his breaks and jumps over the snake. He rattles with discontent but doesn't assume the attack position. The boys are freaked. Not only at the rattlesnake but how in gods name I can see these camouflaged monsters. I don't know, but I have some crazy hawk eye. Us Aussies can't fool around when it comes to spiders and snakes. We have to be alert. Maybe something I picked up as a kid, living in outback central Queensland?
So, I suggested it's 'headlamp' time and we all take a moment to set up for a bit of night hiking. The boys discussed NEVER cowboy camping again and make me lead the pack! What the?! How did I, the only girl, end up leading a pack of boys through desert terrain? I spot a couple of terantulas, but they are really no harm. As long as they don't get into your tent or sleeping bag.
So here I am, being the Steve Irwin of the PCT, talking snakes and spiders to the boys and giving lessons on what to look for and first aid. I surprise myself out here. I am way braver than I think.
That night, we stealth camped along the dirt road, with all the boys setting up their tents again! The previous night, they had all laid out on the ground without a worry in the world. Now, they were thinking twice!
The next morning, we began out 20 mile stretch of the Aquaduct. The FAMOUS LA Aqua Duct! The aquaduct that contains soooooo many thousands of litres of water, rushing under the ground and through big tunnels; yet we can't get to it. We have to carry water for nearly 45 kms, because the LA aquaduct has been shut off to public access. It's quite ironic to walk on a flat road, on top of a flowing pipe for miles and miles on one of the driest stretches of the PCT!! How LA!
The last mile of the Aquaduct is open for access, if you want to risk falling in. There was a water source coming up, so we just hiked on.
We stopped in at a town called Hiker Town, a strange yet integral stop on the PCT. Bob, the owner, opens his residence up to hikers to refill water, camp and shower etc. It is an incredibly generous thing, plus he fills up a couple of the upcoming caches in the dry stretch to follow. We didn't camp. We filled up, took a rest out of the scorching heat and hit the trail again in the afternoon.
Saying goodbye to Hiker Town brought some of the greatest desert views. It really summed up what we had just been hiking through and how dry the section really is.
The following day, we hit our 500 mile marker! That was exciting and sad all in the same moment. Barry and I began to sing a chorus of The Proclaimers, because how can you not?!
Strangely, the past 3 days, Barry was complaining of a severe pain in his left foot. He was trying to keep up miles, but I could tell his gait was altered and he was have sharp pains.
Burgie and Maple went ahead and we camped a little before the main highway. It was actually the most superb campsite, as we watched the sunset and could hear the wolves howling from the Wolf Sanctuary below the ridge. It was magical. I was beginning to worry that Barry's foot was more serious than we had all anticipated.
This is where the next few days went crazy. We all made it to a trail angels place in Green Valley called Casa De Luna. An incredibly generous hiker house, but definitely not my cup of tea. Maple and Burgie were going to hike on, and Barry was going to head into Santa Clarita for an MRI. After much thought, I made the suggestion to Barry that if he wanted company, I was more than happy to come with him to Santa Clarita.
He was in a bad mental headspace and this seemed to cheer him up. It's not really something one would want to do on their own, so off to Santa Clarita we go!
Doctors, X-ray and MRI done, we head to wholefoods to get some decent lunch. Barry meets a lady (Liz) in the checkout line who is totally interested in what we are doing. She gives him her number and says call her if we need somewhere to stay.
After the MRI ran until 6pm, it was a little late to source a hitch somewhere, so we call Liz. She says her husband will come and get us. So he picks us up.
We arrive at this ridiculously beautiful house to a home cooked meal, robes, towels, shampoo, conditioner, iced tea, incredible showers and more! What amazing humans! To let two people into their family home. We shared stories over dinner and into the evening. Even had a full cooked breakfast the next morning. The generosity of strangers. I will hold this family dear to my heart. It says a lot about people to just open their hearts and homes up.
Liz drove us back to the trail near Agua Dulce, where we were awaiting doctors results. Burgie and Maple were there also. Maple returned to the trail that afternoon to meet his parents down the trail further.
After a night in hiker heaven (another hiker house which was way more my cup of tea compared to the other place), we watched the two World Series baseball final games and chilled out. Barry was needing to wait longer as results hadn't come in yet. He invited me to go to LA with him whilst he waited. Funnily, with all this rest, the foot wasn't getting better. It was getting worse.
I had to make the decision. I needed to hit the trail again. It was calling. My body was losing strength by the day and I needed to get back out there. I said goodbye to Barry, and hit the trail early next morning.
It was sad to have to hike on. Almost like the end of an era. But I had to pick myself up and get back out there. So I did.
However, holy shit. The body. I was actually catching up with mum on the phone whilst I started hiking, when suddenly "ouch!!" Mums asks "are you ok?!" I reply honestly "ummm no." Every muscle in my legs was cramping. I had never felt this before. I couldn't walk. At all. I was limping and each muscle felt like it was going to snap.
I started downing sodium, electrolytes and anything musclular! It was only 9am! I had another 20 miles to go! But guess what?! I was fine going uphill!! I was wishing for uphill because every downhill was making my calves feel like rubber bands about to break and my quads were knotting. The irony!!
The views were gorgeous though, with the overcast weather coming in over Southern California. But I was on struggle street. Having to stop every 20 minutes to massage out the knots and spasms. What was happening?!
I reached my campsite (JUST) and couldn't wait to lay down, praying to the gods that I could walk tomorrow! The night was rough. Severe winds were tearing across the valley and I was patting myself on the back for doing an ace tent pitch tonight. It was solid and holding up rather well!
I awoke the next day to a body that was able to move. I was scared for what the downhill might bring. The days started uphill for about 7kms and then downhill for roughly the same amount. Sure enough, something happened overnight. I was cured! No more muscle spasms. THANK GOD!
I turned my cell data on to receive an update from Barry. A stress fracture. Six weeks recovery and a moon boot. My heart sank. For him and his adventure trail. He had gotten so far to be stopped so abruptly. He wasn't finished. Mentally. But physically, it was over for him. He's proud of his hike and I am proud of his hike too. He was the only person out here who really found the joy (without being stoned!) and truly laughed. We laughed. I am thrilled to have met Barry at the bench in Skykomish. We may never have crossed paths again on the PCT. But we did. And that I am grateful for. He is probably one of the only hikers I truly had a connection with. Someone who I resonated with and I am beyond thrilled to have shared so much of my trail with him - the adventure trail. Who knows? Maybe we will hike the TA in New Zealand together one day! It was on our bucket list! Haha
After that text, I made a decision to get to the Mexican Border. And solo again.
So, on I hiked. Continuing on through the desert... hang on... an icy sign?!? Isn't it the desert? The San Gabriels are notorious for winter snow! This, I did not know. However, the freezing temperatures are telling me so. I'm back to hiking in my High Sierras clothing and sleeping in my tyvec bivvy!
And another milestone down - 400 to go!! Mum and dad had mentioned that the "desert" terrain should drastically change. I thought they may have been watching the wrong "desert" videos on YouTube and taking a peruse around the Swiss alps! But they were right. Today was significantly NOT what I pictured Southern California to look like, and I actually LOVED it!
I began walking through clouds. Higher elevations. Cooler temperatures. Green trees. NO GNATS!! This section is wonderous. The precipitation from the clouds is breath taking and almost makes you feel like you're flying (until a gust of wind almost knocks you off the ridge and you realise you don't actually have wings and you could die)!
But yes, it's getting cold! This picture below was such a juxtaposition. Having the grey and misty clouds roll in, whilst a sunny blue sky sat behind. This would come and go. It was spectacular, but also a little terrifying as the sky created a dark, grey coverage, making me fear what may lie ahead for the weather.
I settled into my tent at Little Jimmy Campground. My air mattress has suffered a stabbing somewhere throughout the last weeks terrain, and over the course of each night, it's deflating, with me sinking further into the ground. It's delightful! Haha! But it's funny how I don't actually really care too much. Every 3 hours throughout the night, I sit up, roll off it, blow it back up and prepare for the next 3 hours of deflation whilst I try to get some shut eye. It's a little silly, I know, but there's nothing one can do until you can find the hole to patch it. Thru-hiking; the place where you just learn to deal!
I awoke in the early hours of the morning to raindrops pelting down hard on my tent. I contemplated in just staying sheltered for a few hours, but I needed to safely hitch from Highway 2 in to the small town of Wrightwood to get my resupply package. By "safely" hitch, I mean, daylight hitch.
Packing up a soaking and mud riddled tent was not the most pleasant experience, covering my legs and freezing hands in wet soil and leaves. It was a frustrating morning, as when everything is soaked, it makes for a difficult pack up.
I was slow moving. Part of me was telling myself 'Gretel, hurry the f*ck up and get your body moving' and the other half could've laid on the ground and had another 3 hours sleep - maybe with an inflated mattress!!
The morning started with an uphill climb towards Mount Baden-Powell. The higher I climbed, the tougher this section felt. I started to regret my time off post-Sierras, as I have truly lost my mojo with the uphill climbs. Everything seems hard again. I feel all the aches and pains that my hiker body was experiencing prior to being conditioned to the terrain. Muscles that were not hurting before have started to come to my attention. The weight of my pack feels heavy again because my body is too busy worried about the actual logistics of hiking again. It's a real set back and a huge lesson learned. DO NOT TAKE SIGNIFICANT TIME OFF WHEN THRU-HIKING!!
I was back to the "find the joy" mental state. I haven't mentally been here in that headspace for a while and it was a wake up call. I had the feeling of "I just want to touch that border" rushing through my veins.
Ummmm what?!? I haven't felt this before? I stopped and looked around. I had to assess this feeling. What was it? With less than 400 miles to go, I suppose this feeling is natural, yet I don't want it to be over. This is the adventure of a lifetime - and not that the type of adventure where I am sitting on a boat, dressed up with people handing me cocktails and I'm dancing to loud music. Or laying on a beach somewhere, sun tanning and eating outrageously good food. That's not an adventure. This is an adventure; physically, mentally and emotionally. A true adventure of a lifetime. One will never experience the amount of mental change many PCT thru-hikers experience in the space of 3-5 months, in a normal 3-5months. It just won't happen. It's also a lesson to know that your life will not continue to change at this pace once the trail is over. It's important to recognise that, because life could feel slow and mundane post-hike.
My mind has hit the determination button now. I'm ready. I'm ready to keep conquering. I've got my goals and I am willing to do whatever it takes to achieve them. The border signifies the beginning of this, for me. Not the end, as such. People would reach that monument and think "well, now what?" For me, the world is about to change and I cannot wait to begin it. It's a strange concept and one I don't think anyone will ever understand.
At the top of the ridge, I looked to my right. And there I was. On top of the clouds. Above the world. I must clarify. Nothing in this moment stimulates a feeling of superiority; like I am above everyone below. It doesn't make me feel better than any human. The feeling of being on top of the world is invigorating. Like our fascination with being in airplanes and looking out the window. Even when we are adults, we still catch ourselves doing it (unless you have a phobia in which this is NOT you). How many times have you flown through the clouds to catch yourself looking out the window, to then look to your right and see the stranger next to you is doing the same thing? Even the people in the aisle seat are trying to look out a window. Take a look next time. And if you see someone with their head buried in the share market section of the newspaper, have a moment for them. They may be a frequent flyer, but life is literally passing them by. They are missing out on one of life's most beautiful and miracle filled moments. Humans flying through clouds. We aren't birds. We don't have wings. A machine takes us to the clouds. And yet, here I am - walking through them, to then be above them. I didn't even need a plane. My legs did this. That's the feeling. Not superiority.
At the next ridge, I looked to my left. The desert. The section where I had just come from. The flat and sandy mounds. It was an accomplishment to have hiked this far and to see the terrain I have trekked. The world is an absurbdly big place and with less than 400 miles to go, I just want to keep going!
Back into the clouds to make my way into my resupply town of Wrightwood. I hitched a ride with a lovely 3 person team who were out searching for scrap metal under the ski lifts! Haha The people you meet. They were wonderful and so interested and proud of my hike. Hitching alone as a solo female is always frightening. It's not something I would ever recommend and it is still probably my scariest moments of the trail. I would sleep alone with bears over hitching.
This was probably my first scary experience though. A guy pulled up first to offer a ride and I trusted my instincts. He looked shady and a little off-his-face. I kindly turned down his offer and closed the door. He hung around for a minute, until I waved him off. The next ride was the awesome 3 team whom I ended up riding into town with. All went smoothly and they wished me on my way after dropping me at the main market.
I then walked two blocks to the cafe to grab a sandwich and coffee. I was talking to the owner of the cafe and sat at my table. He then signalled the guy behind me to ask for his order. The guy didn't say anything and just kept looking at me. I looked up. It was him!! The guy I turned down the ride with! The owner repeated the question and the guy said "ummmm" and just turned around and left. The owner and cook joked saying "hmmm the menu must be overwhelming" and I said "that's him! The guy I turned a hitch down with, because he seemed creepy!" And they said "hmmm we thought he was with you cause he just kept staring at you". I said "wow. He followed me here." The owners were extremely weirded out and checked that I had somewhere to stay for the night because they would organise somewhere if not. I stayed put in the cafe for a while.
Yeah. People say the wilderness is scary. It's in town when you should be worried. I'm good, if not a little shaken by it, but instincts are vital. Onwards I go.