PCT Desert Days 36 & 37: This is Living

Day 36: 0 Miles

Day 37: Mile 566.44 to 577.26 — Today’s miles: 10.82

As usual, I don’t sleep well in town, but it’s nice to lounge in bed for an extra hour or two this morning, knowing that I don’t have to get up and hike before the sun hits me. I do have my town chores, though. First on the list: laundry. I put on my sleep shirt and wind pants and find the hotel’s laundry room. It’s coin-op, but there’s no change machine. There’s no one at the front desk to change my dollars, either. I walk down to the convenience store on the next block and buy a tiny bottle of detergent, and ask for a few dollars in quarters with my change. The cashier refuses. Huh? I walk a few more blocks to Kmart, buy some food, and ask for quarters again. At first this cashier also refuses (!) and says quarters are hard to come by in this town. I am so confused. But we’ve been chatting about the trail, and she covertly changes a few dollars for me, whispering that she can’t let her manager see. I am so confused.

With my long quest for quarters finally at an end, I put my laundry in and proceed to the hotel’s breakfast buffet. They have a big apple juice dispenser that’s available even when the breakfast bar is closed! Heavenly. After my shower I do epic foot care, losing another two toenails (at this point, I don’t mind in the least — they’re all painless when they fall off, and the toes fare better without them). I walk to the hotel next door, where Whiz Kid, Sprout, Cowboy, and EarlyBird are staying, and hang out in their room while they sort food for the next section. Cowboy has an unbelievable amount of food, and encourages the rest of us to take his extra bars.

I’m excited that I have dinner plans with Rockin’, whose blog I’ve long followed and who lives just outside of Tehachapi. There were a few years when the PCT seemed like an impossibly far-away dream for me; I won’t have enough time for a full, one-shot thru-hike until retirement. But Rockin’ completed the trail in sections, and her trips helped me approach PCT hiking in a new way. This afternoon, she picks me up at the hotel and generously drives me out for a resupply run. While I’m searching for beef jerky, Rockin’ runs into Ironman and Mashed Potatoes, and we drop them at their hotel before heading to the German deli. I order a sandwich as big as my head and we chat about the desert conditions this year, Rockin’s upcoming trip to New Mexico, and what it’s like to be an introvert on the trail. It’s awesome to meet one of the people who inspired this hike while I’m actually on the hike!

I sleep a little better the second night, and in the morning I do the remaining town chores — backflush my water filter, wash my soaking jar, take an epsom salt bath, repack everything — while mega-hydrating with all the cold drinks I purchased. After check-out I meet the friends for lunch before we hike out. It’s cloudy and cold today, for which I am deeply grateful. The BBQ place in Tehachapi has all my favorite childhood foods. I order brisket, mac and cheese, hush puppies, and fried okra. They have unlimited refills on sweet tea, and eventually just bring us a couple of pitchers of it. Rockin’ is kindly giving us a ride to the trailhead, and we squish our packs (each heavy with a week of food and four liters of water) and ourselves into her car.

By 3pm we are back on the PCT in the cold grey light, hiking parallel to Highway 58 and marveling that this is where Cheryl Strayed started her trip. I haven’t read Wild in several years, but I remember thinking that the desert section seemed to go on and on. Now I realize she only did about 140 miles of it, and we’re prepared to knock those miles out in a week. Once we turn away from the highway, we begin quite a long climb. Somehow I am hiking in front for most of this, but I feel strong today. Powered by massive quantities of sweet tea, no doubt. At every switchback, I just keep going, pounding out the uphill and feeling grateful for the chilly weather. Halfway up there’s a series of short switchbacks, so I can look down and see Sprout, Cowboy, and Whiz Kid right below me. Cowboy yells over the wind, “This is hard!” Sprout replies, “This is living!” Whiz Kid follows up with “I love hiking!” — and I’m almost certain that her proclamation is one part sincerity, one part sarcasm, and one part an effort to convince herself.

We take one short break about two-thirds of the way up, then push through the rest of the climb. Near the top we emerge into beautiful sweeping views and new landscape of silvery-green brush and scrubby trees with perfect campsites tucked into them. Many days on this hike I’ve passed incredible campsites that regrettably didn’t fit with my mileage plans. We take a sit-down break at the end of the climb. I am in the best mood — my body feels strong and rested, and I feel happy and comfortable with my trail family. We begin a downhill, during which my leg starts hurting again. It’s exacerbated by the very rocky and uneven trail we walk through here. But soon we arrive at a flat, open campsite with a lovely view across the mountains. EarlyBird shows up just a bit later, and we’re the only two who set up our tents. I’m glad I did, because it’s quite cold tonight, and Whiz Kid has to get up and do some pushups to get warm before bed. The sunset is beautiful. I’m so happy to be back out here.

Our packs all lined up outside the BBQ place.

One of everything, please.

With Rockin’ at the trailhead. (She had just come from a work event and was super dressed up, especially compared to us!) Thank you, Rockin’, for hanging out and for the generous ride out of town!

Trail fam! Whiz Kid, Sprout, EarlyBird, Apple Juice, and Cowboy. Here we are heading out for the driest and most remote section of the desert! Next stop, Kennedy Meadows!

View as we started to climb.

Tiny Sprout and tiny Cowboy on the side of the mountain.

Sprout and Whiz Kid after the climb. These clouds!

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