I shared my hiking plan with the rest of the tramily and they were on board to follow it.
The plan I put together was needed to help me figure out how to go home, but it gave all of us some helpful information. Because of the plan, we knew we needed five days of meals before our next resupply opportunity. More critically, we now knew that once we left Tehachapi we’d have 24.8 waterless miles ahead of us.
|Date||Wednesday, May 8, 2019|
|Weather||Variable cloudiness with a high temperature in the upper 60s|
|Trail Conditions||Ups and downs for first 8 miles, followed by flat section, then long climb |
Early in my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was given two pieces of advice by a well-known trail angel, Miss Janet.
"You need to slow down," she told me. "Throw away your spreadsheet."
I tried to follow her first point, but it was hard for me to do because at that time I had a schedule that, for practical reasons, needed to be kept. And that’s why I decided to ignore her second piece of advice.
The idea of being a free spirit, to go where the wind blows you, is a romantic ideal of the trail, but it doesn’t always fit a thru-hike.
As much as people will remind you to “stop and smell the roses” and “take each day as it comes,” circumstances can get in the way. Perhaps someone is waiting to pick you up at a trailhead. Or maybe you need to know how much food to carry so you don’t run short or don’t add extra weight. Knowledge about the trail that lays ahead and how long it will take you to walk is always useful.
A trail angel named Dalton dropped us off at the trailhead on Willow Springs Road, the same spot Debbie had picked us up three days ago.
This spot was in Oak Creek Canyon, which was once the main route through the Tehachapi Mountains in the 1850s and 1860s. When the time came to build a railroad through here, however, the route used was Tehachapi Pass, which was where we were heading.
There are reportedly a herd of wild horses roaming this part of the mountains, but I never saw them.
The horses have been roaming free and unbranded for at least 100 years. People who have studied them still aren’t sure if they originally belonged to ranchers, miners, soldiers, or Native Americans.
We began hiking at 8:40 a.m. The trail went over a series of rolling hills and through another wind farm.
A sign had been erected to indicate the trail was maintained by the wind energy company and a local Boy Scout troop.
I had to slow down at one point to let a Mojave rattlesnake cross the trail. There was plenty of room for me that I could have walked around it, but I was satisfied to patiently wait for it to get out of my way.
The Mojave rattlesnake is also known as the Mojave green and is one of the most venomous pit vipers in the desert. Its neurotoxic venom is considered the most potentially deadly of all rattlesnakes, though fatalities are rare.
About an hour later, I reached a bench that offered a pleasant view of Tehachapi Pass. Falls was sitting there with two slack packers (hikers who are not carrying a full pack because someone will pick them up later). I stayed to chat but didn’t sit on the bench when they left.
Captain and Gilly arrived at about that time, so we walked down toward the pass together.
At the bottom, the trail went parallel for about a mile with State Route 58, also known here as the Barstow-Bakersfield Highway. Then after going under the highway, the trail continued to follow the highway for a little more than a mile farther.
Being this close to the noisy highway was irritating.
I then came upon a hiker who was struggling with his pack. It was obviously much too heavy. He could barely put it on. I thought about offering to help, but he didn’t seem to want help. I didn’t realize at first that he was deaf.
Then Spamala arrived and she could also see he was having difficulty. This seemed like one of those situations when too many people trying to help would be overwhelming, so I decided to leave while Spamala stayed. She convinced him to go back into town and remove some of his unnecessary gear.
Clearly, he was not going to be able to go far carrying everything he had in his pack, and that could have been dangerous. We had nearly 17 miles to go at this point to the next water source.
Attempting to block some of the highway noise, I put on my earbuds and listened to a podcast. Soon, however, I heard what I thought was a voice calling my name. I looked around, but didn’t see anyone.
Then I spied Falls, Captain, and Gilly sitting in the shade of a highway bridge. They were eating lunch, so I joined them.
Once the trail left the side of the highway, it began a climb of more than 2000 feet in less than five miles. This wasn’t especially steep, but the barren terrain made the whole route exposed. There was no cover from the sun.
There were only a few Joshua trees on this section, along with some clumps of lupines and a scattering of leafy fleabane wildflowers.
Partway up the climb, I heard a loud roar coming from the bottom of the valley. I turned to look, hoping to see where it was coming from, but I couldn’t see the source. I had a pretty good idea what it was, however.
Down near the town of Mojave was the Mojave Air and Space Port. What I heard was likely a test of a rocket engine.
Originally constructed as a Marine Corps auxiliary air station during World War II, the airfield was converted to civilian use. Several experimental and developmental aircraft have been tested here, including Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which was the first private spacecraft. It won the Ansari X Prize.
The spacecraft's technology was later licensed by Richard Branson and development was continued at the spaceport for his Virgin Galactic project.
Knowing the first eight miles of today’s trail section would be easy, I didn’t worry ahead of time about the long climb. I expected we’d get a late start, but I thought we’d have no trouble walking more than 14 miles to a campsite big enough to hold all of us.
That turned out to be true, and I reached our intended campsite at 4:45 p.m. The trail guide said it was a "flat and sheltered spot amid trees,” which was perfect for us.
We would have preferred to be near a water source, but that was still 10 miles away. Because we knew this from my hike plan, we were prepared to stretch our water until tomorrow.
Including the AT, I’ve now hiked nearly 2,800 miles. In that distance and time, I think I've figured what is needed to be successful. That includes taking time for extra planning when it’s called for.
Writing down a plan is not needed for every day on the trail, but a little preparation makes challenging sections easier to handle.
And I been from Tucson to Tucumcari
From “Willin’” by Lowell George (Little Feat)
Tehachapi to Tonapah
Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made
Driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed
And if you give me weed, whites, and wine
And you show me a sign
I'll be willin' to be movin’