[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

David's Journal

[26 June]

Early I dawdle at the Saufleys' doing little chores and finishing up the
chicken, ice tea, and ice cream that I bought at Chuck Richard's Market.

Chris, a through-hiker that showed up last night, is having trouble with
his foot and suspects his shoes. Donna offers to drive him to a sports
shop. Later down the trail, Joe, another Trail Angel, says that she
should get a commission because of all the hikers she has brought to the
shop. Chris has just finished a philosophy degree and is taking a year
off before starting law school. He wants to set himself up so that he has
only to work six months of the year - the rest would be available for
adventures.  Before they leave, I'm ready to go and Donna offers to drive
me the mile down to where I need to start; I accept and the infamous
Section E has started.

The day is already very hot at 0930 and I need to take several long shade
rests until, at 1700, I'm at Bear Spring, a trickle into a cow trough
only 8 miles along. In another couple of miles is a Trail Angel water
cache -- four 2.5 gallon bottles covered by a Mylar umbrella, discreetly
just off the trail, and a note that there is another cache in 6-7 miles.
I pull out about 3 liters and scribble a quick thank you and continue on.
By now I'm getting some shade from the lowering sun and my pace increases
and feet hurt less. I stop at 2115 and make a quick camp directly on the
trail. Sleeping under the stars every night with only a ground sheet
vastly increases the number of places I can camp. Based on today's
experience, and knowing that the desert is on its way, I resolve to start
hiking earlier, have a long lunch and nap, then hike as late as possible
into the night. I will need more flashlight batteries, though -- I can
get those down the trail. Today, leaving such pleasant circumstances in
Agua Dulce, has been psychologically tough.

[27 June]

The next morning I awaken at 0530, later than I am supposed to. I wonder
who is the prisoner, the worker who, trapped in his lifestyle, is afraid
to venture out, or me who, following my dreams, harnessed to this trail,
is whipping himself internally for not starting his 20-mile walk of pain
before the burning sun rises?
At the second cache I pull out just a liter for better hydration. The
trail is a bit torn up, partly because of inferior construction and
partly because of a 100-mile endurance horse race that had been held a
couple of weeks previously, during the peak of the through-hiker season.
Donna said in Agua Dulce that she had talked to the powers-that-be about
this questionable timing. Apparently, though there weren't any
rider-hiker incidents. Madame Butterfly, the hiking partner of Improv,
the deaf through-hiker, would stick close and when she heard a horse
coming at a high rate of speed, would reach out and get Improv off the

During the morning I become obsessed with having lunch in Green Valley
during my rest stop, and, over the objections of the
nothing-but-the-trail part of me, concocted an elaborate scheme to
minimize the walking I had to do. At the ranger station, though, I
couldn't get a ride (downhill and fast traffic), so muttering to myself
about regretting the path I was on, I walked  the 1.7 miles down to the
restaurant, which turned out to be a pizza place that was closed. I
called Joe, the Green Valley Trail Angel, but he wasn't home. I talked to
Brittney, his daughter; it turned out there was a full restaurant further
down the hill. By this time it was a choice between a 2 mile uphill walk
with dehydrated beans or a 1.5 mile walk downhill and a full lunch. Down
I went, but just a few hundred yards later a dune-buggy-like white
Volkswagen bug with no windshield pulled up right in front of me. I
started around but Joe called me by name. We were soon settled down to
burgers, fries, and a chocolate shake. Joe and Terry have been hosting
hikers for a while too.

Goatteed Joe works on scenery and sets for movies in Hollywood, and is
keen on doing a through-hike in 2005. He is fascinated with the drama
unfolding in the hikers' lives at this point in the trail, and remembers
each one and what he and Terry were able to do for him or her -- provide
a blister-healing station, provide a shower, help a hiker see a
particular basketball game on TV. Donna had called Joe to let him know I
was on my way, and he had actually gone out on several parts of the trail
yesterday to see if he could see me hiking.  I pause at their house long
enough to rest my limping feet and get water, then Joe says he'll hike
with me a while up the trail. We boogie up to the trailhead in his
fantastic car. The next two miles of trail fly by with Joe's company, and
we talk about everything under the sun, it seems. Lunch or not, I'm glad
I headed down the hill into Green Valley.

That night, I reached Elizabeth Lake Canyon Road, but backed off a bit to
camp away from view of the road. I had hoped to travel farther today, but
my forefeet have slowed me down. Probably the 2 miles downhill on
pavement in the middle of the day have started up my forefeet blisters
again. These two days have been both shorter days -- about 16 miles each.

[28 June]

Today is a long 21 mile day, climbing the ridge westward still, going
from water source to water source. 
The hills here in SCal where it is hot wear only their undergarments of
chaise. The hotter it gets, the thinner the garment, until in the desert,
where it is hottest, they wear nothing at all. They are proud to show off
their rounded slopes and furrowed contours.  Further north, though, the
high mountains, with their lofty airs, clothe their lower slopes with
trees, leaving only their shoulders and throats bare. Though some fret to
leave the lowly for the lofty, I know I will find them both beautiful,
each in her own way, different.
A stone message at a road crossing tells Improv, "Happy Birthday". 

As I hike alone I think about the togetherness of long-distance hiking.
It seems kind of Piano Man - ish. "Sharin' a hike they call loneliness,
but its better than hikin' alone..."  Very individualistic hikers,
including me, communicating with messages in trail registers. Why can't
we just walk together? I could tell at Agua Dulce that Chris was
interested in more interaction, like me at the back of the pack, but I
wasn't free to raise the partner issue for the third time, and I don't
know what limitations my body or spirit will yet impose on my progress.
This is a funny position between aloneness and togetherness.  "Let's go
hiking together; we just won't hike together."  or "I'm hiking this
trail, and so are you; isn't that grand?" I wonder how many hikers would,
if they were truly hiking alone (like Eric Ryback), the only one on the
trail this year, would actually finish? Our emergency procedures, which
partly are "wait until somebody comes along," and which work (proved
already this year by Marge The Old Gal's broken leg), imply
interdependencies, but there are strong barriers too.

Joe the Trail Angel had asked me if I had lost weight. He thought that by
this time I should have lost about 20 lbs. Looking down, I doubt that,
partly because of my two-week knee delay off-trail. Although my Lycra
shorts are great to help eliminate chafe, they are not flattering. But I,
like the waddling women in their florescent lime-green stretch pants,
forge ahead, despite the consequences, hoping there is someone out there
with a taste for the absurd, the foolish, the grotesque.

Most of the previous hikers' footprints disappear -- apparently quite a
few have taken a shortcut that does a cross-desert roadwalk, skipping
quite a bit of the west-then-east PCT to save about 35 miles. Each to his
own hike, but this seems to me like the ultimate switchback cut. They
missed a beautiful oak forest up on Liebre Mountain, and the 7 miles of
Tejon Ranch trail ahead will turn out to be better constructed than most
of the PCT so far, and quite pretty, despite what the guidebook says. The
aqueduct will be fascinating. So there.

That night I have limped down Liebre Mountain as far as a pretty pine
knob above a sag pond where I hope to get water in the morning. The
Mojave is very close. I have been reading about this part of the trail
for seven years. It is thrilling to actually be here. I make camp in the
grassy flat (read: dozens of sharp grass seeds sticking to everything)
and clear a place for my stove.

As night falls, a shadow drifts to a branch just ten feet away. My
flashlight shows an owl about 2 feet tall, white with thin dark
horizontal bars. It blinks with huge eyes, then turns its head and I turn
off my light. Soon it drifts off into the night. Although I listened
intently, I couldn't hear a sound of its flight.

[29 June]

Just a bit of water left as I head down to the pond, but the pond is bone
dry. As I resign myself to hitching or walking 3 miles into Three Points
to get water somehow, there is a plaid-colored container on the side of
the trail with a sign on the top weighed down by a rock, "For PCT
Hikers". Inside is a Coke, two light beers, and around nine pints of
water. Although it has obviously been a while since the cache was placed,
the containers are all commercially sealed. I gratefully take four pints
and write a thank you note on the sign.
The next seven miles, The Tejon Ranch section, head in a stair-step
fashion NE over to Highway 138. Although there is a large sign indicating
that this is private land, etc., etc., it is not offensive and certainly
better than the miles of "No Trespassing" signs we have in the Northeast.
The walk is pretty.

Eventually it's 1100, I'm down in the  relative flat of the Mojave, and
I've walked the 1.3 miles west down to The Country Store, claimed my
package from Dad, and settled into a shady picnic area on the side of the
store. By 1700 I've consumed 2 microwave chimichangas, chips, and three
large bottles of ice tea, ordered a new pack from Mammoth Mountaineering
(my pack straps are just about flat), bought extra batteries, reorganized
all my food, and worked out with Dad just what equipment he would send to
Kennedy Meadows for the Sierras. 

I need to make tracks and head straight across to the PCT, bypassing a
Trail Angel's house. Soon the trail crosses the California Aqueduct, then
starts following the Los Angeles Aqueduct where the two cross. The canals
and pipes are fascinating. Up the LA Aqueduct about three miles is a
grated box attached to the buried pipe, and climbing up and peering down
I can see and hear the water rushing by at incredible speed, like the
underground boat ride in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When the
trail turns east, the LA Aqueduct's iron pipe becomes a cement tunnel
whose roof is a wide road through the chaparral and occasional house or

As I drink from my drinking tube, the water siphons from the higher water
bag into my thirsty mouth. I do not even need to suck.  In the same way,
the Los Angelan opens his tap and, without even having to bother to suck,
siphons the Owens Valley farmer's water through the huge straw under my
feet into his mouth. I am well-watered and not jealous of The Angels that
steal this water and squirt it into the air, in tracing patterns and
amusing combinations, in their Water Courts.

Night falls, and although the starlight is sufficient to walk by, I use
my flashlight to watch for Mohave Greens, the deadliest rattlesnake out
here. My forefeet are in serious pain on the hard, regular surface and I
stop for Second Skin and more duct tape; the blisters I had licked weeks
ago are back in force. The wind blows constantly and makes the
temperature pleasant. Walking on, I wonder what kind of a ride would it
be were the aqueduct roof to collapse under my feet into the roaring
water. Is there air space to breathe? Are there grates, strainers, other
nasty things? How would they stop the water to get me out? What kind of
stories could the aqueduct engineers tell? 

Later, I see movement to the right among the shrubs that line the
roof-road. I stop and shine and there, headed across the gray cement with
a purpose is a six inch scorpion with pincers and meaty, deadly-looking
tail. As I follow it across with my light, it becomes dependent on the
bright circle. Safe in the relative darkness I try to lead it closer
without success. I move the light quickly away and it stops momentarily,
then heads down the edge and off into the desert night, headed somewhere
to do something.

Finally, ~2330, though I have not reached Cottonwood Canyon as I had
hoped, I find the previous bridge, then, scouting off the aqueduct, the
pipe-dribble that is the next water source. I camp close by and make
supper. By 0130 I'm asleep with resolution to awaken early.

[30 June]

The flying insects that were banging against my light last night and
making eating an adventure have awakened me a couple of times. The third
time I break camp, checking warily for scorpions, at about 0400. It is
dark and warm. As I fiddle, sitting on my groundcloth, I hear a strange
yelp/bark just 30-40 feet away.  I hear it several times more. It seems
to me as though a coyote, his head down in his morning routine, has been
surprised by my light and large presence. He stops for a moment then I
hear him again to the west, near, and then north across the aqueduct.
Soon his buddies join him, then another pack to the west, and the night
air is full of cries and yips. I do not think they knew that, if they
desired, they could tear me to pieces. I know they will not, but it is a
strange contemplation.  I had fallen asleep last night with just enough
warning to close up my cookpot with its unfinished dinner, so this
morning I pack it into the top of my pack for later. By 0600 the sun is
clear and hot in the flat, shadeless desert. My feet are painful but
eventually with the help of Vitamin the walking is tolerable. I smell an
animal; a headwind, so it must not be me. A break at Cottonwood Creek for
water, to wash my head and rinse my shirt, and to eat last night's
remains. The rabbits and quail come in while I am motionless and I can
see a little bit of what the water running out of this pipe means to the
local wildlife.

A long climb tempered by a good breeze leads me beside some fantastic
Joshua Tree specimens. By breaktime I'm at Tylerhorse Canyon with a
trickle of water in the green slime.  My feet are painful enough at this
point to remove all the duct tape despite my dwindling supply; the view
is not pretty. On my forefeet and between my toes are blisters on
blisters; the top of my right foot, where the sand had infiltrated the
duct tape, was rubbed red-raw as though I had spilled hot water on it. I
wash them and drain the blisters, then try to nap, but shooting pains
prevent it. Eventually I coat the raw places with triple antibiotic
cream. This seems to help. After more rest and lunch, I switch socks, but
leave off the duct tape. I still have two newly-washed pairs from
Donna's, and they are so clean it brings tears to my eyes. My feet don't
feel nearly as bad when I leave as they look.

The trail on these loose slopes, sags down, year upon year, like our
I spot a deer-like animal that prances away, not like a deer that bounds
feet together. Perhaps it is an antelope of some kind.

There are beautiful small hardshell insects here, everywhere, on the
trail. Their shells are blue, or shield-shaped in hunter's green with
trim.  There is a pile of fallen desert blossoms, which must be
intoxicating to these creatures, because they are drinking, falling on
their sides and backs, mating. Down below, as the night falls, I see the
sage brush in the canyon bottom like sheep, colored light blue, not like
Frederic Remington's night shadows, which were green. Old Fred was not as
lucky as Remington Steele, who had Stephanie Zimbalist as his partner.

By 2030 that night, including the last long 15-switchback uphill section,
I've put in over 20 for the third day in a row. The summit nose is very
windy. There are beautiful juniper trees up here. Someone has removed the
leeward branches, making a small, sheltered, sandy campsite. I could have
pressed on for more mileage but can't pass up the beauty and windy
adventure. I'm too lazy to make dinner and, flat on my back, gaze up at
the branches and stars while the wind tries to pick me up and fling me
off the bushy ridge.

[1 July]

In the morning, though I am dinnerless and breakfastless, I have enjoyed
the night, but my forefeet are painful again. By 1015 I am at Tehachapi -
Willow Springs Road, but it has been a long downhill. I'm worn down and
grumpy. I realize that, not only my feet, but also my spirit will need
some healing at Mohave.
Bill from White's Motel shows up just before 1100. White's gives free
rides to/from the trail for PCT Hikers. Mohave appears to be some sort of
transportation hub. The road is busy with tractor-trailers and the
railroad tracks have constantly moving boxcars, tankers, and hoppers.
Apparently Highway 14 used to be Highway 6, which runs all the way
through Connecticut and Rhode Island to the East Coast.

Later that day, showered and ice-tead, I hear a key in my lock,
unsuccessfully trying to open the door. It doesn't take me too long to
realize that the management have told another hiker that I am here, and,
a bit blitzed from the trail, that he/she has remembered my number first.
A quick phone call confirms this and I meet Sean from Kentucky, staying a
few rooms away. Sean is a fit, lean cross-country coach who has just
finished off his first teaching year with a state championship. He did
the AT in '94, got married a year ago, and is section-hiking the PCT to
Onyx this year. He started the trail with his new father-in-law, who did
about 180 miles with him. Sean and his wife had their first anniversary
while he was in Agua Dulce. Sean has run all his life and does all the
training with his students, so is in superb shape.

Sean's feet, once he has torn off all the tape, bandaids, and other
medical goop, look almost exactly like mine, though the bottom of his
forefeet are not blistered. He has cut holes in the side of his hiking
shoes to give more room for his little toes, which were being shredded.
He has followed my tracks for miles and miles, since Agua Dulce, and
camped only 4 miles behind me last night. His company is very uplifting,
and we eat dinner together at Denny's, a block's painful hobble away.

[2 July]

After resting most of the day, Sean and I head to the laundromat, only to
encounter territorial, stressed-out nasty locals fighting over the
machines. I am glad we are two.

Sean offers to hike with me, even though his pace is a bit faster than
mine, but I know that my feet and body are not ready. The next sections
are Sierra sections, with long miles between resupplies and difficult
access to civilization.

Later, I see Sean off in Bill's white truck. Sean is in high spirits with
only 80-something miles to go and get back to his wife of one year. He
says all sorts of encouraging things to me as he leaves. His plan is to
top off his hike with a glass of "The Coldest Beer in the World" from
Ewings on the Kern.

I go back to staying off my feet as much as possible.

[3 July]

I head the mile down to Stater Brothers grocery store, get my extra food,
bleach, and duct tape, then eat a grinder at an Italian restaurant. I
can't seem to shake a deep tiredness and depression. My feet should be
ready to go, I'm too tired, I wish I were with my family for the 4th,
playing in the lake and on the computer with my daughter and nephews.  On
the way back to the room, I come to the conclusion that my feet and
spirit need another day of healing.

I spend the evening, as usual, off my feet watching TV.

[4 July]

I definitely made the right decision. I'm walking almost normally now
without ibuprofin and I feel in better spirits. I've accepted and relaxed
within not being at home. If this was my post-Agua-Dulce cut point, I may
have survived it. I certainly came close to bailing out.

I spend the morning working on this journal, and on my hydration level,
at Denny's.

Bill will bring me back to the trail this afternoon, I believe, and then
I commence what I hope is the last deserty stretch for a while. I resolve
once again to forget about the overall picture and to concentrate on the
moment. Indeed, that is what got Fyona Campbell around the world.

-- Dave
* From the PCT-L |  Need help? http://www.backcountry.net/faq.html  *