Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tehachapi to Walker Pass

 After spending a day and a half in Mojave it was time to get back onto the trail.  Sue dropped me off early at Tehachapi pass and after a short jaunt along the highway it was time to start climbing.  While the conditions were good for all of the wind turbines, they were less than ideal for climbing a mountain. The wind was blowing so hard that at times I had to just brace myself until the gust was finished.  I eventually had to tie my sleeping pad down because it was acting like a sail and I was afraid I would lose it.

The climb was agonizing and almost broke me.  My right quad was killing me, even after taping it and wearing compression shorts and tights.  And this section had little water that I felt like I could depend on so I was carrying a lot.  It was 50 miles to the next access to the car.  Could I make it?  I came close to turning around.  But when I got to the top the wind died down and I found a place alongside the trail to collapse for a few minutes.  And wonder of wonders, when I got up the quad was happy, so on I went.

 Most of the wind turbines north of the pass seemed to be of the erector set variety.  I assume they were older, and were definitely smaller, than the turbines closer to the pass.  I hiked 24 miles that day and was never far from a small cluster of these turbines. The next day I was up and walking before dawn, and discovered that these guys all had a blinking red light on them. Quite interesting the synchronized red flashing in the dark.

I think I took a picture of every horny toad that I saw; I love them, I guess because of childhood memories.  Unlike the lizards that are all over the place, the occasional horny toad always poised for me.   Never did I see one move more than a couple of feet at a time.

 On the second day I had to get up to water a bush shortly after 4.  It didn't seem worth going back to bed so I went ahead and quietly broke camp and was on the trail before 5.  Walking by headlamp is not something I do often, but it does give a different appearance to the trail.  And the best part is watching the sun come up.  I had to stop, gawk, and take a picture every few minutes.

Most of the PCT runs over either National Parks, National Forests, BLM land or state parks.  But there is a couple hundred miles of the trail that is running over private land and the PCTA has obtained an easement from the land owner to allow us to travel across their property.  I am grateful for their willingness to allow us to trample a trail through their fields or forests.

 Meet Hamburger, Sirloin and Chuck Roast.  They, along with another dozen or so of their friends watched us go by for a while before they must have decided we might eat them early.  I have little experience with live cows other than on the PCT, and I have never learned to decipher what looks to me like a blank expression on their face.  Seems like they always stare at me for a minute or two and turn and either amble or run away.  These just ambled further on up the hill and out of sight.

600 trail miles from the Mexican border.  That means I only have a shade over 100 left on this trip.  The first few times I saw these I was surprised, but now I have come to expect them.  I only remember seeing one or two north of the Sierra in years past, but that may have changed with the larger numbers of hikers.

 Another of the tiny little flowers that adds color to the landscape.  I continue to be amazed at the variety of little flowers along the trail.  As I close in on the end of the trail, I find my body both getting stronger and starting to break down.  I have to be very careful how I walk to keep my right quad from seizing up, I am wearing a brace on my left knee to protect it, I am starting to get some blisters, plus the constant chaffing of my pack.  And then a patch of little flowers appears and brings a smile to my face and lifts my spirits a bit.

Occasionally you can find an old relic abandoned out in the wild.  This one appears to be a gold miners sluice, left alongside a dried up stream bed.  Did it ever actually find any gold?  Why is it left here all along?  Whatever happened to the man who lugged it out here and likely spent days, weeks or months running sand and gravel from the stream through it?

One thing the trail will do for you is to get you to think.  I wondered about so many things, from sluices, to rock formations, to the tenacity of life, to God's purpose for me and for his creation.  Sometimes I feel satisfied with the conclusions I reach, while other times the result is only more questions.  But it is good, and in some ways the most rewarding part of the trail to me.  I enjoy the occasional encounters with others, especially when the going is hard.  But I enjoy more the loneliness of hiking alone and being able to reflect.

More flowers!  I seem unable to help myself.  I have probably taken more pictures of little flowers than I have of anything else along the trail. Sometimes the ground is carpeted with little yellow, while, blue, purple or red flowers.  No picture I have been able to take captures the beauty that they add to an otherwise drab, and sometimes burned, landscape.

Joshua Trees are pretty cool.  They come in such a variety of shapes and sizes.  This one appears to be bowing down to all of the hikers who come by.  I know, I know; sometimes my imagination runs away with me.

 This bush, just before the Kelso Valley Road, reminded me of a burning bush, like the one Moses encountered.  It was all aglow with pink flowers.

Joshua Trees sometimes have big clusters of fruit just hanging to be picked, although you would have to be careful because the leaves are sharp and pointy.  I never did pick one, although I wondered just what they would be like.  The outer covering is thick and leathery, and would be tough to penetrate with the meager tools I had at my disposal.

 The Joshua Trees in the Kelso Valley were unusually full and bushy.  Many of them had sandy places underneath where one could cowboy camp if needed.  And I had an owl, or maybe a hawk, flit between several of them as I walked by.  I must have been disturbing him.

Yet another little flower growing up out of the sand.  And this one had no foliage that I could see.  It's almost as if someone traveling ahead of me was sticking little plastic flowers into the ground.  But if so they had a boat load of them.

 Imagination time again.  I saw this rock while on the long climb up Skinner Peak.  Do you see the pirate?

There was a water cache at the bottom of this climb, along with a small bag of delicious oranges. I grabbed a little water and threw an orange into my pack for dessert that night: very good.

 Before climbing Skinner Peak you first descend down into a valley, starting at the top left of the picture, working your way down and to the right and then roughly along and below the road.  You can see the trail start up the valley in the center bottom before it begins a long traverse to the left, for what seems like a good mile.  Then it switchbacks up for a while before crossing a ridge and then traversing back across the same side valley it had started in.  I had no idea where the trail was going when looking ahead, but from this spot I could look back at where I had been several hours before.  Sometimes it takes a long time to go where a crow could fly in pretty short order.

Toward Walker Pass I started to see what I assume is some variety of tulip.  They were mostly white although some of them had a tint of purple to them.  I only remember seeing them a few miles either side of this pass.

This message in the trail is from someone who obviously knows that the rigors of the trail are starting to take a toll on us, and seeks to cheer us up.  And I must admit that I needed it.  I really want to do this trail, and in general enjoy it.  But there are times when it almost seems to be too much.

Right after this, a short side trail descended down to the Walker Pass campground where I flopped down and waited for Sue to pick me up.  It had been a most unusual couple of days: In the past day and a half I had seen a grand total of 1 thru hiker, and that for just a few minutes.  I believe it was the only time so far that I have been so alone.  And I enjoyed that.  Now on to Lake Isabella and half a day to do nothing but eat, resupply and rest.

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