May 23, 2022
Campsite near Cottonwood Creek at mile 534.9 to campsite at mile 558
DLT shakes me awake. “Petra’s leaving,” he says. I sit up and see her, pack on, ready to go. I give her a little wave and then immediately lie back down. I will not be moving any time soon. I fall asleep quickly after that, then wake up again when the sun hits me full in the face. I guess we should probably get going. I eat a Complete Cookie for breakfast (oatmeal raisin, the best flavor!), then slowly stand up. Everything is yelling at me. My hips are the tightest they’ve been on the whole trail. My IT band feels like a crusty hair tie. My feet are so mad at me. I haven’t had to take ibuprofen much so far on the PCT, but today is one of those days. I swallow two with water, then we start moving. It’s well after 7.
It’s slow going this morning. Luckily, the first part of the day is a very gradual uphill, so gradual that parts of it feel flat. DLT walks slowly with me as we move through the turbines and Joshua trees. I have to stop a few times within the first couple of miles to stretch out my hips and achilles. I am SO tight. I can’t wait for a double zero in Tehachapi. I’m going to stretch and roll out EVERYTHING.
Machine catches up to us and chats for a while. He’s going to Tehachapi today. He’s hiked the PCT before, and he tells us that the Thai restaurant in town is delicious. It also has the best name ever: Thai Hatchapi. I mean, come on. Incredible work. We keep hiking, and I try very hard not to think about the enormous green curry that I’m about to smash when we get to town.
The trail leaves the wind farm and turns back into actual trail, then immediately climbs a huge hill. DLT makes a cathole side trip while I keep chewing on the incline. It’s not that big, but it feels like an absolute mountain to me today. I put in music and try the 100-step trick until I get to the top. I look back at the rows and rows of white turbines.
There’s a sharp downhill to Tylerhorse Canyon, one of our only reliable water sources today. I see Ishay under the minuscule shade of a tiny bush and plop down next to him. I cannot be bothered to get water yet, so I sit and eat some chip drink and finish the rest of my electrolyte water while I wait for DLT. He comes down the hill shortly afterwards bearing the good news that his team back in England, Leeds United, has won their very important game today and will not be relegated. Woo hoo! He’s almost as excited about that as he is about the rattlesnake that he spots under a bush just by the water. I walk over to see it when he points it out. My first rattlesnake of the trail! It’s not too big, sort of a medium size, with a beautiful rich coloration.
DLT filters water while I fall asleep leaning against my pack. It’s already so hot, and I’m so tired from last night. I wake up with a jolt and see Machine smiling. “Passport, one thing I admire about you is your ability to fall asleep in the weirdest places.” This makes me laugh. It’s a quality that I honestly love about myself, too. Although apparently this ability does not always translate to sleeping at night on the trail? Grr.
I filter water while DLT takes a turn sleeping on my tiny, almost nonexistent sit pad that I pulled out of a hiker box in Georgia, his head resting on my electronics bag. It’s hilarious. He’s not a short person and he looks so sad laying there on the dirt all curled up.
From our conversations at the stream, it seems like everyone else is just as wrecked as we are. That aqueduct section is deceiving. It looks easy because it’s flat, but it’s still a long section, and the repetition is rough on the body. It was apparently pretty manageable for Andy, though: we hear the news that at 7 this morning, he had 8.5 miles to Tehachapi. He’s going to do this in well under 20 hours. How?! Absolutely amazing.
After sucking down another liter of water and filtering three, we decide that it’s time to start moving. It’s hot, dusty ridge walking for a few miles, then the trail takes a big dip into a valley before going right back up for four miles. I tell DLT that I need to put my headphones in and go to music land for this one, and he does the same. He’s much faster than me on the uphill, so he goes ahead. At first, I feel pretty good. The hill is nicely switchbacked, not too steep. But when I feel like I’ve gone about a mile, I check Guthook. Not even 0.5. This is going to take a while.
I slow down significantly as I move upwards. I take a lot of breaks, check social media when I get service, change my music, drag my feet. Ugh. I hate this. It flattens out, and I dare to check again. I’ve gone a mile and a half. I trudge on, step step step, try to listen to Sleigh Bells but get overwhelmed, and finally remember that I’ve downloaded some episodes of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! Perfect. I love that show. I pick an episode and zone out. Slow step after slow step. I look up and see a tiny silver dot that is DLT’s umbrella moving across the mountain far above me. Sigh. Just keep moving. I listen and laugh and trudge upwards. Finally, the grade evens out and I’m walking across a ridge. It’s not a very nice ridge, though. More scrub brush and burnt-looking trees.
Finally, I round a corner and see two red umbrellas and what looks like a cooler. Is this trail magic? Turns out that it is, in a way! It’s a water cache, pantry, and little library maintained by a local trail angel. I walk up and see DLT, Rob, and a huge group of other hikers sitting under the little bit of shade that the umbrellas provide. My brain is fried when I get there and I find conversation impossible, but after two packets of Spam on tortillas with chip drink and a liter of water, I feel ready to be at least marginally human again.
We stay at the cache for a while until we dare to walk again. DLT stays with me this time. We talk about podcasts and shows and car stories. We spot a horny toad and have a little visit with them. Then we come upon Rob and Petra, the latter of whom isn’t feeling very well. Soon, Jive Turkey and Feather Blue join us. We sit there talking and eating snacks at a little campsite until we decide to start moving again.
This may have been a mistake because from here, the wind is absolutely bonkers. We’re trying to go another mile to find somewhere to camp, but the minute we enter this winding valley, the wind pushes against us so hard that it almost throws us off the trail. There are more wind turbines along the ridge, which makes a lot of sense given the weather conditions. Down we go, around more ridges, occasionally tucking into a corner with less wind but inevitably entering another wall of force. I can’t remember hiking in wind like this before. It is powerful and irritating and mighty. I start to worry about finding a campsite. Where can we possibly go to get away from this? I guess we just have to keep going.
Rounding a corner, I spot another one of those ceramic trail art critters. It lifts my mood instantly. Hi, little friend! I start seeing the humor in the wind. It’s so funny how it throws me around like a little rag doll. What are we? Who do we think we are? We’re just little specks of flesh walking in a squiggly line. It’s cute, compared to the wind. We go down, down, finally entering a copse of trees that minimizes the wind’s power. Then there’s a dirt road and a campsite behind another line of trees and shrubs. That’s it. That’s the spot. We stop here for the night, squish into another tiny clearing, cook a low-effort dinner (note to self: do not buy chili flavor Maruchan ramen because it is not messing around on spice), and lay down to sleep with the wind whooshing through the trees.
Andy made it to Tehachapi by 10:40 this morning, for a time of 17 hours and 30 minutes. What an achievement! I can’t fathom what that must have been like. We’ll be there tomorrow. I can’t wait for a couple of town days.