Day Thirty Six

Miles today: 16
Total miles: 551

I barely slept at all last night, so when the sun woke me up again at 5 am, I was exhausted. Katie, Sansei, Focus and I stirred from sleep and slowly got ready for another day on trail.

We had six miles to our next water source, Tylerhorse Canyon Creek, which supposedly was flowing, according to our water report. I didn't think that six miles would take us very long, but I forgot to account for the wind farm. We had camped in the middle of it last night, and today we had four miles to travel before we were out of it. Every step we took was against the wind, and every step was uphill and exhausting. I was operating on barely any sleep, and so everything was a battle. I wanted nothing more than to curl up on the ground and cry and give up entirely on today. But I made myself eat a granola bar and I plodded onward, fighting with every step the wind that strained to push me down again.

After four miles, when I thought I couldn't stand the wind for one more second, we suddenly left the desert. My guidebook read, "congrats! You made it out of the Mojave! That wasn't so bad, was it?" Unfortunately, it didn't tell me how much worse the trail was going to get from there. The wind abruptly died, and the trail began sharply climbing back into the dusty, barren hills. Suddenly I went from wishing for less wind to begging for more. The air was completely still, the sun was brutal, and I was pouring sticky sweat as I struggled up the mountain. There was absolutely no vegetation on this hill that was higher than my kneecaps, so shade was non existant. I was beyond ecstatic to finally reach Tylerhorse Canyon Creek, for even after six miles, I felt as though I had walked a whole day's worth.

Sansei, Focus, Happy Hour and his new girl Squeaks were already there resting by the water. The "creek" was barely an inch deep and no more than a foot wide, but it was enough water to refill our containers and splash our warm faces. Though there wasn't any shade, we took the opportunity to rest in the dust for an hour and recuperate. We carefully poured over the maps, trying to figure out what today had in store for us. It looked like a lot more elevation gain. Focus discovered a road that appeared to parallel the trail and half considered trying to road walk instead of take the PCT. He thought it might cut off some of the climbing we had to do this afternoon.
"Anyone game to go with me?" he asked.
"What is it you're thinking of doing, Focus?" Happy Hour asked.
"I'm thinking of hiking my own hike!" Focus laughed.
Hike Your Own Hike was a mantra that any thru-hiker knew by heart. It meant it didn't matter the decisions you made along the way, it was all about the journey.

In the end, we opted to take the trail, because the road seemed to have more back-tracking than we expected, and didn't save much climbing, overall.

We climbed onward, trying to stay steady in the heat of the day. I felt more awake now, but was still grumpy about the heat. Focus hiked ahead, scaling a big climb ahead of us until we could barely see him in the distance. But with nothing to block our view or sound waves, he yelled back to us with perfect clarity, "come on, it's not so bad!"
"Liar!" I yelled back.

Sansei, Katie and I climbed more slowly behind him, dragging our way through the switchbacks. By 1:00 we knew we had to take an afternoon siesta or risk baking in the sun. There still wasn't any shade, but we found a skeletal tree on the trail and Sansei rigged up his tarp so that it created an awning of shade over us. We rolled out our sleeping mats and took a nap, looking out over the desert, now far below us.

In the distance we could see curls of smoke rising up over the mountainside and I wondered if it was a wildfire. They are quite common in Southern California but we had yet to experience any. As it turned out, we were seeing the very start of the Powerhouse Fire, a wildfire that eventually destroyed over 30,000 acres, including the beautiful wooded campsite we had stayed at two nights ago and the Manzanita grove with the water cache. The fire raged for two weeks and closed over 52 miles of the PCT so that it had to be rerouted. We were very fortunate to have just finished those miles before the outbreak.

We made lunch under our tarp and had fun feeding the leftovers of our tuna to the ants. It was fascinating to watch them hauling away the food in a very organized line, but soon they were out of control and overrunning our siesta spot, so we had to move on. It was 3:30 then and the heat was slowly, slowly becoming more bearable. We finished our climb and found a trail register at the top. We loved flipping through trail registers because it gave us an idea of which hikers were ahead of us, and by how many days. The Chain Gang had stopped by this morning, and Lunchbox, too, who had left a hilarious note in the log that read:

"Dear Wind,
Thank you for constantly blowing at 60 mph each night while I'm trying to sleep and keeping me from going "soft" in the desert.
Hugs, Lunchbox."

Around 5:00pm we stumbled upon a surprise water cache that also had a basket of fresh apples and chairs to sit in! Delighted, we claimed our dinner spot and cooked in the setting sun. We were soon joined by our old friends Games and Nate (now named "Reason"), who we hadn't seen in quite some time and we were glad for the reunion. They had just completed the same hot slog we had finished and Games joked that her journey entry for today was going to be entitled "The Death March." It had certainly been a long day.

While we ate we read through another trail register that was kept with the water cache. My favorite entry was one from Happy Hour, who had written earlier today, "I'm excited for less desert and more dessert!" Except that he had spelled "dessert" wrong, so the note simply read: "I'm excited for less desert and more desert!"

We had a big plan of going another six miles so that we would only have three miles left to Tehachapi in the morning. But the wind picked up as the sun went down and since we were walking an exposed ridgeline again, we had to take campsites when we found them. We came across a somewhat protected flat area, and Katie and I set up our tent. Sansei cowboy camped just outside our door and Games and Reason just across the trail. The wind howled outside all night, but it was comforting knowing we were so close to town.