PCT CA Section F

Tehachapi to Walker Pass

Day 1

It was mostly a town day, which meant running errands. After a relatively slow start with breakfast from the hotel, there was laundry in the hotel coin laundry, followed by a trip to a local laundromat with larger washers and dryers to do my sleeping bag. While that was going on, I went shopping at the sporting goods store and got tent stakes, canister gas, freeze dried food, etc. then went and got some takeout in the form of a knockoff facsimile of shrimp pad thai as imagined by someone who had never tasted the real thing. I’ll blame it on a lime shortage as there had been none at the Walmart either.

It took far longer than expected for my sleeping bag to dry (and I ran other errands at my hotel and Walgreens while this was going on), so I called it good enough (if still slightly damp) at 3:30 since I had to be out of my hotel room by 4. Got back at 3:55 and threw everything on a bell cart just to get checked out as quickly as possible. Called Ted again to get a ride to the post office and then the trail. Wasn’t quite repacked when he arrived, but only five more minutes were needed.

Long line at the post office and they didn’t have the package I had ordered either. Plus I couldn’t ship home the heavy mobile battery I had replaced in the box I had selected nor could I change boxes with the post office closing, so I just left it with Ted to give to anyone else who wanted it. After buying a final goodbye Coke, he drove me down the highway to the spot where Cheryl Strayed started the trail. I climbed until dark fighting knockdown gale force winds until I found my tent site with its barrier wall. The mice came hunting my food as soon as it got dark.

Wind barricaded campsite
World’s boldest mouse

Day 2

Kind of a boring day but the weather was good (if still somewhat windy) and the trail was pretty easy (except for the annoying dirt road walks). Lots of wind farms. About 12.5 miles to a Golden Oaks Spring, the next water source, where I made camp.

Day 3

Another hiker (Allan) showed up at the spring while I was packing up the next morning. We chatted a bit about nothing and then I left him there. We leapfrogged a couple of times when he took a siesta on the trail. Met a man who wants to run the whole by parking at a different place each day and running up and down the trail to connect up where he’s been before. Wanted to talk about how the PCT compared to the AT. Dry camped at a random flat spot beside the trail when it started getting dark. No wind all night. 15.5 miles.

Horned Toad Lizard

Day 4

Used up remaining water for breakfast and proceeded the remaining 3 miles to Robin Bird Spring dry. Had to modify the pipe intake to get the spring to flow reasonably. A little time to collect and filter but left soon with a half full bag to pump out the 7 miles to Landers Meadow campground and spring as quickly as possible. Hiking was easy with low rollers through a forest along a creek.

Campground had privies (a rare treat) and the most powerful flowing spring I have yet seen. Took a nice hour-long siesta by the spring before doing another half-full bag and back on the trail. Met another hiker coming down to the spring as I left. Walked through an interesting area capped by “granitic plutonics” right out of Disney Land’s Big Thunder Mountain.

The hiker I saw caught up with me on the final stretch down the hill to Kelso Road, my final destination. Two more were close on our heels. Two more had past me during my siesta and were already set up by the road. Two more arrived while I was cooking and making camp. And another in the middle of the night. All told there were about 8 of us thru-hikers camping at or near the road that night. Some names I remember: GT, Circus, Sleeping Beauty, Cammy and Zack/Free Dose (a trail couple), Flash. I chatted a bit with most of them, but after the next day, in which they intended a supermarathon 28 miles, I wouldn’t see them again in this section. 17 miles total.

Someone wrote 600 in the road and then a car scattered the 6
This cable barred the road to Casa de Oso, a small cabin on the trail. Clearly, 8 different households have access to it.
Cammy and Free Dose
GT and Sleeping Beauty

Day 5

Left in the middle of the pack, but was soon passed by everyone. Miserable, exposed section that started with an annoying climb. Met my first angry rattlesnake. Stopped at a road crossing that randomly had 4G cell service for a call home and some research for my next town stay. Stopped under a shady Joshua tree for lunch and a long energy recovery at midday. Trail remained completely exposed with almost no shade for the entire 15 mile stretch. Came into Bird Spring Pass (a road crossing with a water cache and a few tent sites) so drained I had a hard time mustering the energy to make camp and dinner. Knowing that the rest of the gang had blown through this section, immediately surmounted the following 3 mile climb up Skinner Ridge and continued another 13 miles wore me out even more. Eating supper helped bring me back closer to normal (though not quite human perhaps). Slightly windy night but not too bad.

View from siesta spot

Day 6

Slow, lazy morning. Out by 8am and playing music to help power through that steep 3 mile climb to Skinner Peak. Still had to stop a couple of times on the climb for breaks. Took well over 2 hours.

Following trail was a long descent followed by some rolling sections with trees. Stopped for a break before another climb but decided not to make it a long one. Joined an annoying rough dirt road around 2pm already so close to my destination that I was seriously considering pressing on the last 8 miles to Walker Pass and hitching into town early–even though I had no good reason to be there yet–figuring whether there would be enough daylight by the time I got there for drivers to see me. Passed a couple of dune buggy drivers but they had no beer.

Arrived at McIver’s Cabin (1920s gold prospector, cabin preserved/maintained as hiker/camper shelter) and Spring to find a giant customized Toyota Tacoma ($28000 in offroading and camping gear built into it) and three guys who were out for the day ready to offer me a beer and a Louisiana hot sausage with grilled onions. All intention to keep hiking immediately evaporated and I spent the entire afternoon with them–John (Huang Jun) the IT guy and truck owner, John Jones, and the Amazon worker whose name I forgot–eating what food they were willing to offer and charging my phone.

Sometime later, a man arrived alone in a Lexus SUV. After the OHV three left, I went over to hang out with him. He had set up a campsite right out of a magazine, with his tent on a ledge and everything, and was escaping his domestic life for a weekend for an opportunity to see the Milky Way. I shared an apple cider with him and then went to cowboy camp on the front porch of the cabin. I woke up at 10pm to the sound of mice inside the cabin scraping at something. I got out of my sleeping bag to brave the mice and bats inside the cabin to retrieve my pack (in case that was what they were chewing on) and hang it from a nail outside. And then I saw the Milky Way.

Water cache
View from the cabin front porch
The cabin has a thermostat (face plate)

Day 7

That guy was leaving by the time I got up the following morning. I left around 7 with just the last 8 miles to Walker Pass to go. All downhill, I was there by 11am. Made a sign and hitched a ride to Lake Isabella with Lisa and Alex, who had never given a ride before. They left me at Lake Isabella Motel. The owner did everything, infusing charging 5 dollars a head for all the locals using the swimming pool–kids and their beer swilling parents. After getting a room and a shower, I headed out to walk the town. I got a popsicle and a tea from the Shell station and walked a mile to Nelda’s Diner for a burger and a shake. I stopped at the grocery store on the way back for resupply, plus some plums and a bunch of limes and an iced tea. By the time I walked back to the motel, the last of the locals was leaving the pool, so I took a plum, a lime, and the tea down there to have a solo swim. This is where I learned that when Timex says “100m water resist” they mean “water will get trapped under the face plate if you submerge it more than a few inches and your indiglo backlight will never work again.”

When the sun started getting low, I went back to my room to change (and hang shortly wet shorts from the TV directly under the swamp cooler in the ceiling), I headed out to Dick Weed’s for fish tacos and a massive salad and some craft beer. I left just before closing time to return to my room and that was my day in town. My second day in that town will begin the next post, which may be a very long time coming due to internet unavailability.

Lisa and Alex
Lake Isabella is falling apart… Looks like a movie set
Swamp cooler in every room
Isabella Motel (pool to myself)
Dick Weed’s bar
PCT CA Section E

You Need Sweet Water to Hatch a Pea

First day

Long climb out of Agua Dulce starting at 3pm. Passed by three thru hikers. 8.5 miles. Weather very cool and cloudy. Camp by 9pm. Cold night. Bright moon. Hard to stay asleep.

Trail register

Pipe gate

Second day

Clearer and warmer. Hiked out by 8:30am. Was just past noon by the time I had hiked far enough to be unable to see my first campsite on the other side of the valley. Lots of wildlife on the trail: rabbits, chipmunks, big and small lizards, horny toads, birds of all sizes, ants literally everywhere. Hiked until 3 then tried to nap on the bench. Too cold in the shade with the wind, even with down jacket on. Left an hour later and pitched camp at 6 two miles further on. 10 miles total. Laid in tent as sun set trying to get a warm nap. As soon as the sun was gone, it was freezing again.

How to keep the sun out of your face when napping

Day 3

Hotter day but still breezy. Broke backpack chest strap when about to leave. Left camp by 8. It was out of sight by 10. Followed/led a family down the hill to the road and stopped for a snack in a small clearing near the trail register. Climb up grassy mountain not too bad. Had lunch on opposite side. Lots of wildflowers. Long dry exposed section followed down to next road. Climb up was tough and still exposed. Explored a tunnel. Filled up at spring and made it to the top of the hill before having to give up for the day. Total distance about 14 miles. Camped in clearing with rabbits and hummingbirds. Made double supper. Accidentally squirted water all over the tent floor and through sleeping bag and had to panic clean it up.

These lizards are everywhere on the trail all the time
Very few snakes about so far
Along with an abundance of spring wildflowers comes an abundance of bees and other flying insects

Day 4

Up after six and going. Soon found headphone was crushed in my sleep. Next six days will be without audiobooks. Had trouble finishing bagel. Had to stretch water for 5 miles from camp. But two old men with three dogs arrived at nearby parking area and one donated most of a bottle of water! Arrived at Maxwell Camp guzzler after 5 miles of relatively easy hiking. Foul smelling stagnant water, but cold. I filtered it and took as much as I could, but left my Buff smelling awful from using it as a macro filter. Laid on the concrete for a couple of hours just to relax before moving on. Five more miles to Sawmill Camp to stop. Beautiful site with luxurious amenities such as a pit toilet and cell service. Tried to sit and enjoy the dusk by candlelight, but it blew out. Broke a tent stake and the remaining half would not hold. Had to get up in the middle of the night to weight the ropes with rocks. Also one strap on my pillow stuff sack came loose. Starting to lose track of all the things that are breaking this first week.

Can you spot the hummingbird?
Maxwell Camp guzzler
Sawmill campsite
Sawmill camp toilet
Water tank near Sawmill camp

Day 5

After taking my time getting up and spending an hour filtering water at the tank, I didn’t get out of camp until 10am. Immediately had to do a huge mile-long climb. After 4 miles, stopped at another tank and climbed under the metal roof to wait out the hottest part of the day in the shade.

After a couple hours napping on the tank, was joined by section hikers Tailgate and Gidget, who spent some time under the tank roof with me. They’re ending at Tehachapi this year. After some discussion, I convinced them to join me at Horse Trail Camp 6 miles further on.

They left first, but after one more big climb, I passed them making dinner trailside, then pushed through the meadows and down a steep hill to arrive some thirty minutes before them. I had already cooked dinner and was ready to set up my tent, so I told them I needed a huge rock to weight the cables in lieu of the broken stake. Instead, they offered me one of their stakes since they were nearly finished with their hike and hardly used them anyway for their freestanding 3-man tent. Stayed up well past dusk enjoying the Verizon LTE the campsite afforded.

The 500 mile point on the trail is around about here
This is probably past Mile 501, but it does mark the top of an annoying hill climb
I don’t know what these spiky pods are or do, but when they are on the ground cracked open, they are mostly hollow
The desert toward which I am headed
Tailgate and Gidget’s tent at Horse Trail Camp
Casa Mia at Horse Trail Camp

Day 6

Gidget’s voice woke me at 3 am: “Can you hear it?” I managed to doze off a bit until 4am, at which point I could sleep no longer. I laid awake until 4:30am, then crawled out with my water bag and filter to go down the steep trail to the spring by headlamp.

While there, I was repeatedly swooped by bats presumably attracted to the insects drawn to my headlamp. I also brushed my thumb against some stinging nettle, which would continue to nettle me for the next 24 hours. The sun was on the verge of rising by the time I climbed out of the ravine with my full bag of water. I drank my breakfast at the picnic table and watched the sun rise. It had risen by the time my campmates crawled out of their tent. They still managed, by dint of delaying breakfast and having two people to pack up one tent, managed to leave a half hour before me. Before leaving, they offered me an extra belt they didn’t need to use as a chest strap on my pack, thereby solving another of my problems. I left just after 7 and very quickly passed those two on the downhill section of trail. I did the 10 miles to Hiker Town without a major break (even though the trail was very annoying with constant ups and downs). Phone battery low so no pictures of that section. Arrived around 11:30

No one was active at Hiker Town to greet me or explain how the shower or anything else worked or where I could get the package I had sent there (nor did anyone answer the phone), but G&T arrived shortly and had called the Market Cafe that was (I soon learned) owned by the same people that owned Hiker Town. Tino took all three of us to the market where I got some popsicles, some beer, a salad, et al. Because Jimmy would be disappointed if I didn’t, I ordered a burrito too. Already there was Mike (Sea Egg), and we sat there for a couple hours just eating and drinking and chatting. Learned that Gidget hadn’t slept much due to a probable mouse running around their tent crunching on the Tyvek all night.

After Tino took Mike and me back to Hiker Town, I got a nice cold shower for a hot day. I met Marta, the hardest working woman I’ve ever met. She offered to wash and dry my laundry for free, gave me a can of Coke, made Mexican ceviche tostadas for everyone there, made grape agua fresca, and would have made pancakes for breakfast the next morning if I had been there.

When G&T returned from market, we ask chatted on patio for a while until Mike started preparing to leave to start a night hike across the desert. Soon after he left, Tacoma Tomato arrived, called Tino to get a ride to the store. I rode back with him to get a Powerade and the free ice cream they give to people who stay at Hiker Town. Soon, we were all back at the patio chatting until the sun went down. Bad microwave pizza for supper. Tacoma Tomato stayed out there until late waiting for his girlfriend to come pick him up. I went on repacking and preparing for the next day until past 9, and took to my bunk to fall asleep some time after 10.

Tailgate and Gidget
Tino, dog, and Mike (left)
Mexican ceviche tostada filling
Grape agua fresca
Cactus blossom after dark

Day 7

Awoke by alarm at 3am. G&T were up as well. After morning routine and two microwave pancakes on sticks for breakfast, began desert flatland trek at 4:30. Most of it went along the LA aqueduct or down straight dirt roads. Around 6, already 2.5 miles in, stopped to put on sunscreen, sunglasses, and eat 2 granola bars. Would eat nothing but Starburst for the next 6 hours. Very boring with only a few highlights:

  • the man sitting alone on top of a pipe bridge loudly reading from a book (like a history or philosophy book) in a broad-brimmed hat and bandana up to his nose, occasionally telling his dog to shut up and stop barking at me so he could keep reading. Like something you’d only see in a western movie.
  • This three-pawed mama taking her pups for a walk, following me for about a mile while hunting lizards and ground squirrels
  • Passing G&T when they stopped for a snack
  • Finally arriving at the bridge around mile 17 where the first bit of shade I’d seen since sunrise met the first water source, the aqueduct hiker faucet.

So, of course, Mr. Just Walked 17 Miles On 5 Hours of Sleep laid out his sleeping pad for a nap in the shade. G&T arrived a bit later, then left by 1:15 just in time for me to chase the shade across the dry creek bottom to where they had been sitting to continue my nap. We spoke of meeting up at the next campsite, but this was the last time I saw them.

A couple hours later, the shade was threatening to run off without me again, so I got up, fetched water, drank a lot of it, ate some cold soak ramen, and left by 5 to cross the wind farm. The wind was strong enough to threaten to push me off the trail when it gusted. Too sleepy to climb the remaining 1.2 miles to the creek in the dark after a 23 mile day, I camped in the first ravine after the wind farm ended. Discovered a tent stake had gone missing by means unknown. Weighted the tent end with rocks (never enough) and slept through the buffeting tent flapping that left my sleeping bag covered in a crust of fine dust by morning. Crawled out of the tent naked after 10pm to try to reseat the rocks, watched by unflappable deer, little success, rushed back inside to stave off hypothermia.

Open LA aqueduct
People like to walk on this pipe, but I didn’t
A long straight dirt road. Exciting hiking!
Notice the right rear paw is missing
Being outpaced by G&T
The only shade available all day. Good nap spot.

Day 8

Left camp by 8 with no water. Climbed the 1.2 miles to Tylercreek and spent several hours playing in it, soaking in it, collecting water from it, and sadly bidding it adieu when I finally got moving again. Stopped again 3 miles later in the next ravine, having spent the entire time watching the dirtbikes make circuits up and down the hills. Amazing how steep the sandy trails they climbed were when I could barely climb a relatively shallow sandy trail on foot. Stopped for lunch and watched the water in the little stream dry up as I sat there.

Gorilla came running down the hill behind me just as I was getting up to investigate. Said he was speedrunning the trail like most crazy things he’d done in his life. 35 miles a day ultralight with no zeros and a plan to reach Kennedy Meadows without stopping in a week. We chatted and he said he might see me at the next trail magic after a straight four climb at the end of which I intended to stop for the night, but I knew there was no way he would still be there by the time I crawled up the hill over the course of the next four hours.

It was not an easy climb. It caused some chafing. A blister on the bottom of my right foot popped midstride. The “549” trail magic was great though. Cabinets with food and many many gallons of water. I ate a lime, a jar of strawberries in syrup (and drank the syrup in water with lime juice), and a cookie. Then I made supper and drank as much water as I wanted…several liters worth. The sleeping experience was identical to the previous night… the rock was heavy, but the wind easily pulled the ropes from under it.

Observe my hydroengineering prowess
Goodbye Mr. Creek! I’ll miss you!
When you can clearly see the four mile climb that is waiting for you
The desert flatland I crossed the previous day

Day 9

A relatively easy downhill 10 mile hike without breaks down to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road… if it weren’t for those weeping sores between my legs. Found a number for the only remaining trail angels on a post at the roadside. Called. Picked up by Ted Johnson and brought to a hotel in Tehachapi about a half hour later. Very nice man. Showered and went to T-K’s for supperĀ  (pizza, salad, local craft beer). Did a bit of Wal-Mart shopping and went back to hotel for a phone call and very quickly arriving asleep. I would leave Tehachapi late the next day… but that is a story for the next post.

Peach Creamsicle


Two Days in San Diego

I’ll be straight. We spent the vast majority of these days in our hotel room.

But there were nonetheless some errands to run and a few fun meals to be had.

Thursday began with a breakfast of cold pizza, candy, and Coke. Then it was off to Wal-Mart in National City to buy supplies. Which was miserable. Poorly stocked. Poorly organized. Crowded. Loud. Rude people blocking the aisles. But they had nearly everything I needed to pick up.

Except for a fuel canister. Which mean a mile down the road to another Wal-Mart. One that was the opposite in every way. Well-stocked. Organized. Less crowded. Polite people. I wish we had known to go there in the first place.

Then it was time for lunch and a touristy visit to Coronado Island. Mexican food at Miguel’s Cucina. Because it’s San Diego. You have to get Mexican.

Then we went back to the hotel, so I could pick up some boxes from the post office next door and a package from the front desk containing all my section maps for the trail.

After a brief break in the hotel room, we decided to spend the evening out by visiting a brewery. The Gaslamp Quarter was surprisingly happening despite the various current events conspiring to shut the city down. It’s probably for the best that this place wasn’t open:

But Knotty Brewing was open and a great time. Two flights of craft beer and a chicken sandwich dinner passed the next two hours in a flash while the neighborhood joggers and dogs paraded around us.

We also hit up a Ralph’s around the corner for some breakfast food and snacks, then back to the hotel to start putting map/guide/water report packages together, and a little bit of TV in bed to finish out the night.

Today didn’t involve nearly as much driving or traveling far at all. We started off the day by grabbing take-out breakfast from the Panera across the street and eating in the hotel room. Then, I spent the rest of the morning finishing putting together all the map packets for my bounce box and a food package for my first resupply. By early afternoon, I was ready to return to the post office to ship them.

But we were also ready for lunch, so we just continued out into the neighborhood to visit another brewpub: The Local Eatery of Resident Brewing. Nachos, beer cheese pretzels, Cuban sandwich and fries, and two amazing IPAs. My mom said the first was the best beer she ever tasted. (All Together IPA for future reference.)

Back to the hotel. After a short digestion break on the bed, I repacked my pack for tomorrow. Then, we went down to the pool area to sit on lounge chairs and chill as twilight disappeared. I had my laptop and downloaded 20 audiobooks from the library and a couple dozen podcasts for my mp3 player to listen to while walking. That’s how I always roll as you might know by now.

And now it’s blogging while a Julia Roberts movie from the 90’s plays on Lifetime. The big show starts tomorrow. The nervousness is all gone now–but I still hope I’m not forgetting something. Something always gets forgotten.

Next update to follow within two weeks. Best I can do.


Getting ready

I’ll be straight with you about this. The name, tagline, color scheme, icon, and background image for this blog come from an anime. Go ahead and call me a total weeb if you like, but I’m going to tell you what it has to do with this trip anyway.

The anime is called Laid-Back Camp, and it’s about a bunch of girls that go camping. It focuses on food, fun, gear, exploration, and beautiful scenery. The theme song, Shiny Days, is a straight-up ripoff of the Jackson Five’s oeuvre, as YouTuber TripleQ has demonstrated with this mashup:

Shiny Jacksons by TripleKyun

The song ends with San Diego from South Park…but my journey begins here in San Diego.

I got my gear packed just a few hours before it was time to go to the airport. Here it is spread out on the garage floor:

You might notice some new items here that weren’t on my AT hike. In particular, I have a new ultralight tent,

From Tarptent

a new ultralight shovel, a new ultralight pillow, a new ultralight sleeping pad, and a new bear canister.

I took most of this new gear to northeast Georgia to do an in-and-out 25 mile section of the Bartram Trail over the first weekend of May. Although there was a decent amount of rain the first afternoon, the rest of the weekend was beautiful, and I only saw a handful of people for obvious reasons–except an enormous family completely taking over Warwoman Dell. I had a heck of a time getting through the crowd while maintaining social distance, and couldn’t even get close to the waterfall. I also severely blistered my left foot in a boot I didn’t realize was so ill-fitting. Anyway, here are the pictures from that trip:

So that’s what spring looks like in the temperate zone. Look back at this post once I start uploading pictures from the Socal desert for a stark contrast.

Modifications made and packing complete, it was time to catch a flight. The Atlanta airport was surprisingly easy to navigate in spite of, or perhaps because of, coronavirus adjustments. We were the only people in our Plane Train car.

The Delta lounge was open with more limited food availability. And it was full. The flight was an easy four hours,

but we arrived to find San Diego basically completely shut down. The Gaslamp Quarter is half boarded up to ward off riots. There’s nothing riotous happening, but it still manages to feel like we’re halfway to the zombie apocalypse.

2020 man. This is the perfect time to go get lost in the wilderness away from all this crap. Or it would be if it weren’t for the tremors under Yellowstone….

So what’s left? Wal-Mart trip. Package sending. And a drive to Agua Dulce to start. I should be on the trail by Saturday at the latest. Let’s do this.


First Post

I’ve got all the new and replacement gear I need now. Expecting to start hiking on Jun. 5. Stay tuned for pictures from my early May shake-out hike and pictures of all my gear together.