Miles: 27 (new longest day!)
Water: tap at hiker town; carried out about 3L
I wake just in time to see the sun rising over the valley. It’s an easy morning stroll into Hikertown, a trail angel stop right on trail. The sun is mostly gentle today and the wind keeps the flies away. I feel good. Until itchy red bumps start appearing in clusters on my legs. Bug bites? Poison oak? My leisurely jaunt turns into a dash for Hikertown. All I want is a shower. Now.
I let myself in the gate. A mini old west movie set lines the driveway. There’s a hodgepodge of other structures, a yellow house with picket fence, some trailers. There are chickens everywhere but no humans. I walk around unsure, a little bit in all directions until I find a hiker to point me to the shower in the garage.
More hiker friends are here too, hiding from the wind that rattles and howls. Also a mangy looking chicken, that much to our amusement proceeds to lay an m egg on the concrete right in front of us. There are flies everywhere.
I wash invisible traces of poison oak, itchy bits of fear, from my legs and clothes, and stay to blog. Hours later, I walk out alone. The only other hikers still here are hitching up trail, to Tehachapi, to Kennedy Meadows. “I am done with the desert,” they explain.
I head across the valley with confidence that is only a little bit false. I am embarking on the infamous section of trail that is directly on top of the covered LA aqueduct. I will walk on it across a wide desert valley, with no access to the water is carries. There’s one faucet 16 miles up, usually a reliable source. It’s off this year. The Aqueduct is not running because of low snow explains the water report.
For the first few miles, there’s an open canal, a sparkling expanse of water in the desert. Then it’s just me and the wind and an old pipe, all steampunk with rust and rivets, partially buried in the shifting sands. I wonder if there is any water in there at all.
There are traces of trails to either side, and a dirt road just below. The road looks plowed, constant work to keep it a road. I take turns on each, wondering where I am supposed to walk. But the sand is too soft so I stick to the pipe, leaning into the wind that threatens to knock me down.
After many miles of this, trail and aquaduct turn alike, and finally the power of the breeze is at my back, the sun is setting and the desert turns red and pink, Joshua trees casting twisted shadows. Black tailed jackrabbits bound across the road, so big I think they are coyotes until giant bunny ears give them away. This is always my favorite time of day in the desert.
But then I realize I am out alone walking strange dirt backroads to a wind farm and it is getting dark beside a now ffully burried aquaduct. There are creepy looking trailers here and there, tumbleweed, truck tracks in the road and not much else. Probably not the best stretch of trail to do by myself, I think. I shrug off my worries, at least temporarily. The footprints of friends ahead give me courage. I follow traces of Brooks Cascadia trail runners as much as the trail signs, and more often than I consult my maps. The ones in my size belong to Soccer Mom, with Shenanigans’ a bit bigger.
It is getting dark for real now. I think through my options: stealth camp behind bushes on private property or keep walking. I keep walking.
Then, as the last bit of light fades I see a couple up ahead. The first people I have seen in four hours. I introduce myself and meet This Girl and That Guy. They are just starting their ‘day’ of night hiking and kindly let me tag along. The full moon rises; it’s a perfect night. Until we realize we are off trail in a maze of backroads. The familiar footprints are gone, signs nowhere to be found, or our of reach of the dim beams of lightweight headlamps. We find the way again, but the wind objects, blasting head on, driving sand into my legs.
Around 11pm I get to where camp is supposed to be. “Cottonwood creek” reveals itself as a a dry ravine below an industrial bridge right in the wind farm. I don’t see any campers. But That Guy and This Girl saw the sign and the trail down, I backtrack and follow. There are tents here, all in a row. I walk to the end for an empty space, and there’s Bad Camper, hanging half out of his tent which has partially collapsed. I myself collapse in my sleeping bag but still find some energy in my thumbs for blogging, the only part of me not exhausted. I look around. I am lying on a ground sheet in a dry creek bed among wind turbine giants. This is the same windfarm whose lights I watch blink on and off last night, way up the otherside of the valley, impossibly far away now. I pull my buff down over my eyes, against the blasting sand, against the full moon. I am probably going to sleep just fine.