Day Thirty Five

Today's miles: 17
Total miles: 535

There is a note in the maps that we carry that reads, "a surprising number of hikers become ill during this section. Take care to filter your water and pay particular attention to good hygiene."

Rotisserie went to bed last night feeling very sick. Katie and I moved to a different section of the trailer to give her some space, and poor thing spent most of the night beside the toilet. We soon learned that Focus and a number of our other hiker friends were also suffering from a similar stomach virus, and it made for a dour morning. We had successfully battled through every challenge the PCT has thrown at us for thirty-four days, but this was a challenge for which we were unprepared. What do you do when you get deadly sick and you're miles from anywhere, in the middle of the Mojave Desert?

We had planned on night hiking through the LA Aqueduct section of the desert tonight to avoid the blasting heat, but with Rotisserie sick we stalled our plans. We didn't know what to do. We had become a family, and we didn't want to leave her behind. But Hikertown wasn't exactly a great place to be stuck, and we were an hour and a half by car and a two day walk from the next town, Tehachapi. We mulled over our options. Wait for Rotisserie to feel better? Hike without her and call her a cab to get her to Tehachapi? Let her rest and catch up with us later?

She was feeling better this morning, which made us hopeful, but by early afternoon was looking wan and sickly again. We let her rest in bed and watched as our other hiker friends left to hike the desert. Sansei and Papa Bear said goodbye, and even Focus left, though he was still feeling poorly, too. Katie and I napped throughout the afternoon and then started getting ready to go around 3:00. Rotisserie wasn't feeling better, but she said she wanted us to hike on without her, and she would take a zero day in Hikertown and catch up with us later. We weren't happy about leaving her, but we didn't have many options.

At 4:00pm Katie and I left Hikertown, our moods somber. For the first time in a long time, we were hiking alone.

The LA Aqueduct section of the PCT was a 22 mile stretch of very flat terrain that skirted the edge of the Mojave Desert. It was notorious for having no shade and no water, despite the irony of walking over an aqueduct almost the entire time. Most people either night hike this section or try to get at least 17 miles in, where there is an overpass that offers the one bit of shade you are able to find in the desert. Otherwise, you suffer a very monotonous and long stretch of dry, hot hiking.

An odd sight in the Mojave: an aqueduct bringing water to LA, but no way for us to drink it

Since we were doing our first night hike, we didn't expect the sun to be a problem for too long. In fact, the lowering sun over the desert was quite beautiful, and the only thing we had to worry about today was how boring the hiking was. It was incredibly flat, which meant we were cruising at a steady 3 mph and talking about everything and anything along the way. We stopped for dinner at sunset and then continued following the concrete river as it made its way through the Mojave.

As the sun disappeared and the stars slowly appeared, Katie and I donned our headlamps, marveling at how quiet and calm it was. We had to check our maps more often than usual to make sure we didn't make a wrong turn in the dark, but for the most part we were able to follow Sansei's very distinct Chaco footprints in the sand. We learned that a wide number of interesting creatures begin making appearances in the dark of the desert. We ran across several snakes, a number of translucent scorpions, and a few kangaroo rats hiding in the low shrub brush. As the night wore on, we began seeing blinking red lights far in the distance that looked like radio towers. It reminded me of my time spent working on schooners, looking for the distant lights of towers and lighthouses far on the horizon. But it wasn't until we got closer that realized the red lights weren't radio towers at all: they were wind mills! They loomed suddenly huge, big and bright all around us, the loud mechanical whoosh whoosh noises startling us on all sides. It was very surreal and alien.

Unfortunately, where there are wind mills, there is wind. It had been a very tame and pleasant hike thus far, but now it was 9:00pm and with only two miles to go to reach the underpass, the wind began blowing in earnest. With nothing to block its progress, it slammed right into us. The weather advisory for today predicted 60 mph gusts, and it certainly felt like it. Katie and I had to scream at each other, even though we were only inches apart. We hiked at 45 degree angles to the ground, using all our strength to try and push forward, though with each step we were slowly falling back. It was exhausting work trying to make progress, and we slowly, painfully struggled through those two miles, moving two steps forward and one step back.

At last we reached the bridge at 10:30 pm, which offered precious little protection from the wind. We nearly tripped over Sansei and Focus, who were both cowboy camping in the sand. Too tired to set up our tent, Katie and I rolled out our sleeping bags and crawled inside them. But the wind would not abate. I pulled my face inside my hood, but all night the wind howled, whipping my sleeping bag around and throwing gravel into my face. It was a long night, without much sleep, and I lay looking up at the red moon and wishing for calm.