Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It's windy in Tehachapi

Go figure it would be windy as heck in Tehachapi. The wind is so strong most of us can barely walk.

The PCT Guide book breaks the hike into sections and the one I've been doing, from Agua Dulce to Highway 58 near Tehachapi is Big Bad Section E. I have one thing to say about Section E: Skip it. Really. It's just a big giant object lesson.

First thing you do is hike a couple of days westward in chaparral, weaving in and out of ravines just below the crest, completely in character with all the other days so far. Then just when the trail is really pretty, you get your first object lesson about the Mighty Tejon Ranch and how mean they are not to let you stay in the pretty mountains. You weave in and out of their property line for an eternity, heading eastward now.

Then you get your next object lesson hiking eastward through the Mojave desert. You beat your feet to a pulp on the concrete-covered aqueduct to teach you a lesson about the mighty L.A. Deptartment of Water and Power. They deign to provide you one little drinking faucet amply marked as unfit to drink next to a bridge where you can sit and enjoy the shade.

When I came through the Mojave section on June 2 it was windy and in the mid-80s. Not too bad. I hauled a lot of water out of Hikertown so I only needed to refill one liter at the faucet. I had to fill my cooking pot with the water and filter it into my bottle.

Under the bridge, which is over Cottonwood creek, a creek with one cottonwood and no creek, the wind roared and in the shade it was quite cold. People were wearing their down jackets and getting in their sleeping bags. This wasn't the deathly hot desert section we all had imagined.

Almost all of us had made the 19 mile trek from Hikertown to the bridge by noon and sat under the bridge napping and resting until about 3 or 4pm. Then we continued. The trail went uphill after the bridge. I could tell that at one time the hills, which were dotted with juniper and joshua trees, had been covered with carpets of wildflowers.

The guidebook says section E is uncharacteristic, but I found it to be quite in character. As we ascended out of the desert I could see two canyons: Pretty canyon on the left with oaks and living things and ugly canyon on the right with no living things and obviously burned to a crisp. Naturally the PCT chose the ugly, lifeless, waterless canyon.

The going was extremely difficult as the wind roared in gusts that nearly knocked me over. I could barely keep upright and go forward. Sometimes I couldn't even go forward. This was the beginning of our third object lesson.

As the shadows lengthened I grew nervous I'd never find a sheltered place to sleep. That is also in character for the PCT. The PCT is a narrow strip of trail clinging to a cliff offering you as much as 20 miles or more of cliff-side, waterless, camping-less hiking. Miss a place to lay your head and you could be out of luck for a long time.

I passed a juniper tree where somebody had sought shelter from the blasting wind under the branches. Unfortunately there was no more shelter under the tree, so I risked pressing on, hoping for better shelter somewhere else.

The trail went higher on the ridge and the wind grew fiercer. I tried leaning into the wind and letting go of all my weight to see if it would hold me. It almost did even with 4 liters of water in my pack.

I crested a ridge and there before my eyes was Tylerhorse canyon. It was dark, deep and shady and had a trickle of a creek running through it. Yay! I was going to be alright.

I got down there and Steve was filling his water. He was going to press on. I was not going to take any chances. I set up my sleeping quilt under a fallen, burned oak tree. It seemed like the most sheltered spot in this relatively calm canyon. Relatively. Instead of hurricane force wind it was merely strong enough to blow sand in your eyes.

I didn't dare cook anything so I made a peanut butter and jelly burrito. I battened down all my stuff so it wouldn't blow away and got into my quilt to keep it down.

As I rested, watching the sky grow darker, other hikers arrived. All of them gave out a Woot! when they saw this canyon. All were relieved to find shelter for the night.

I propped up my things to form some kind of windbreak and went to sleep. I had to sleep inside my quilt all the way, with it over my head. It was way too warm for that. Every gust of wind seemed to puff up the down even more and make it hotter. I have hope now that maybe my quilt will be warm enough after all. The trick is to puff it up really high.

I woke up every now and then in the night, checked on the stars and wiped the sand out of my eyes and off my teeth. I slept pretty well.

In the morning, June 3, I packed up early like I like to do and hit the trail. The trail was in awful condition in this burn area. They have marked it well but I really believe they should have marked a new route and abandoned the current route. People should not be hiking there. It's like hiking the upper Potrero trail right now only a little bit worse. Burned with nothing but falling sand to walk laterally across.

But I had no knowledge of an alternate route so I had to take what the PCT offered. It was slow going and the wind was still roaring. Eventually it calmed and I felt relieved I could deal with the burned out, motocross-ruined trail without being blown off a cliff.

There were no footprints ahead of me so when I saw fresh footprints I knew they were Steve's. When I saw them going the wrong way I worried about him. I never saw his footprints again for the rest of the day. I learned later he went way far the wrong way and ended up completely off the trail and hitchhiked into town.

After a long time the trail climbed out of the burn zone into pinyon pine forest. Pinyon pine forest is some of my favorite forest and I've been disappointed we haven't spent more time in it. The trail hiked along up and down, criss-crossed by motorcycle tracks. There were motorcycle tracks in the trail as well.

Then the trail continued with object lesson number 3, which was to take you by the windmills of Tehachapi where the wind roared in 65mph blasts that almost dashed me against rocks as if I was flotsom in the surf. The trail went in and out of ravines, took a little dip to show off the PCT's famous switchbacks that lose almost no elevation, then climbed back up to the windmills again, all the while letting me gaze longingly at a pretty canyon below where there was a creek and no wind.

Eventually I dropped down to the creek and the trailhead on Willow Springs Road or something like that. I didn't know what road it was and thought it was Highway 58, the end of Section E. There was a log book where I duly noted my least-favored status of Section E.

I walked up to the road where there was a parking area just as a man pulled up in a car. He checked on some water bottles behind a rock and said he maintains the water here at the parking lot and offers rides to Mojave. I said I was going to Tehachapi, not Mojave. He said he'd take me.

He was a retired Narcotics officer in the LA Sheriff's department. He bragged about his daughter and recommended places to eat in Tehachapi. He drove me all the way to the Post Office which was located way too far out of town. There should be a law that post offices must be located in the downtown area not miles out of town.

He waited for me and then took me to the Appleshed so I could eat. He refused my offer of money for gas and dropped me off. It's wonderful when you meet nice people like that.

I ate a lunch there and then walked down the main street, stopping at the Chamber of Commerce to see what they recommended as far as cheap motels. They said to go to the Santa Fe which was a block away and very cheap. It's run by a nice Indian family. Sadly there are no Indian restaurants in town.

I got a room for two nights. In the morning, June 4, I ate breakfast at Kelcy's and then at 9AM realized I better get to my shopping. Things always take longer than you think. I resupplied in K-Mart and at Albertsons, spending $180! Oh my! I did buy a lot of sundries, but still. That's a heck of a lot of food! There's about a 9-day stretch with no resupply opportunities so I had to buy a lot and also get the little extras I'm running out of.

I carefully measured my food. I decided to add a second breakfast to my meals. My dinners are pretty small because I'm usually pretty tired when I get to camp and a peanut butter and jelly burrito is usually quite enough. I realized as I looked at my food that most of it isn't even dehydrated. I eat things like:

Breakfast: Grapenuts with powdered milk, handfull of nuts and handfull of dried fruit
2nd Breakfast: Poptarts
Lunch (if you can call it that because I eat it over the course of the whole day): 2 or 3 Clif or other similar bars and a small snack bag of cashews and dried fruit, sometimes fresh fruit, peanut butter and jelly burrito, cookies
Dinner: Ramen or mashed potatos with dried veggies if I feel like cooking, peanut butter and jelly burrito or crackers and peanut butter if I don't.

Well, my time on the free Internet at K-Mart is running out. I have one more night in Tehachapi and then it's out into the wind storm and into a 30 mile waterless section. Ugh. If I ever do a long trail again it'll have water and not just be walking along a lateral trail near a ridge with nowhere to lay your head to rest.


  1. Hey Diane,

    Just wanted to let you know I am following your posts and enjoying your writing. I am planning my PCT hike for 2009 and your posts are really helping my planning an keeping me inspired.

    Keep on Truckin'


  2. hey diane
    my husband and i were in independance on friday june 13 and met a girl named kathern who is also doing the pct trail she was staying the night at this bed and breakfast that we were also staying at when i got home on sunday i got on the computer to find out more about it and read your blog wow the stuff you have gone throgh i find your blogs very interesting i will keep on following you keep your spirits up and good luck
    kristina bautista
    from bakersfield