The one thing that made last night’s windstorm tolerable was the knowledge that, tonight, we’d be staying in a hotel somewhere in Tehachapi, CA, snug and sound and completely impervious from however damn fast the wind wanted to blow. And, as we’re finding ourselves wont to do, we woke up early, at 5:00 AM, eager to get on the trail so that we could end up at showers — and laundry, and beds, and food, and food, and food — as early as possible.
The day’s hiking was more ridges and more wind farms: we walked through the Tehachapi Mountains, which are actually quite a beautiful place in this part of California, rising up starkly out of the desert and providing a much nicer place to walk through than the desert floor. The seemingly-endless parade of wind turbines continued, as we meandered among them, trying to figure out exactly when we’d start dropping down to the floor and the city.
We did run into a few notable stops along the way. One is that we finally met someone we’d heard about for quite a while, Horsin’ Around. She’s not a through-hiker — she’s a through-rider, riding her two horses, Lizzie and Cheyenne, along the entire length of the PCT. The PCT is designed for both foot and stock travel, after all, and it was a real joy to see her. There’s just something about horses that makes human beings happy, I think…they made me feel calm and content, watching them just graze on the side of the trail as we talked with her and slowly made our way around. I hope we get to see more of them on the trail; obviously, horses move much faster than humans, but they also require a lot more time at the ends of the day, I think, so perhaps we’ll run into her again.
We also came across another great piece of trail magic — a huge water cache surrounded by about a dozen plastic patio chairs. I realize that water and patio chairs may not sound all that special to folks back at home, but that kind of place can be incredibly relaxing after you’ve spent a few hours hiking through the desert mountains. We even met a sixtysomething man there who owned a neighboring hilltop — the PCT runs through private property on this stretch — and who lives there in a home he built in the last few years. (This was replacing a home that had been there but got destroyed in a fire a few years ago…perhaps something not all that surprising in this area.) He talked to us about the wind turbines, the surrounding mountains…and let us pet his dog. Because pets aren’t allowed on several stretches of the PCT, thru-hikers can’t bring them, so it’s very rare to run into dogs out here. It felt great to hang out with a friendly, happy dog for a while. (The dog got even friendlier once a fellow hiker snuck him a few strips of his pork jerky. 😉
Another notable person we met today: Thermometer, the single bravest hiker on the PCT. Thermometer is a sixtysomething-ish Korean man who speaks almost no English; his daughters post to the PCT Facebook page periodically, letting people know he’s out here and asking us to help him when we can. He’s the bravest hiker we know because he’s doing this all, by himself, in a country where he doesn’t speak the language. (And he truly doesn’t speak the language; aside from “Hello” and a syllabic “Hap-py Hik-ing”, all his communication is via sign language.) I’m kind of in awe: this hike is incredibly difficult for Americans who’ve lived here all their lives, and here he is taking on this entire thing while having difficulty communicating anything beyond the simplest concepts. When we ran into him again at the water cache, he managed to tell us he was planning to stay at the airport in Tehachapi (bizarrely, there’s $5 camping there, which comes with use of the pilots’ lounge), and I wrote out a card for him explaining this for him to give to a driver when he hitchhikes in. I hope I get a chance to keep tabs on him somehow — I’m seriously impressed with his dedication.
Midafternoon, we made it down to the road that connects to Tehachapi. We’d heard it was an easy hitch into town, but, honestly, it was even easier than that: there were cars from a couple of locals parked there, just waiting to shuttle hikers back to wherever they wanted to go. Amazing! We got a ride with a wonderful fellow hiker, DJ, who has been sidelined for a few days with a medical condition — which makes me feel terrible for him, but which meant he rented a car and was more than happy to take hikers wherever they wanted to go.
Checking into a hotel when you’ve spent six days on the trail is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. Not only were there showers and laundry, but our good friend Rally was there! We hadn’t seen her in quite a while, and it was fantastic to get a chance to see her again. Once we’d showered and dispatched our clothes to the hotel laundry, we immediately found the number of the Thai restaurant in Tehachapi, and placed an order. Think $90 means we were feeding ten people? Nope — just we three hungry hikers. That, plus beer from the local convenience store, milkshakes from the Burger King down the street, and the hotel’s seriously wonderful hot tub made for a blissful, blissful evening. We fall asleep deeply happy and relaxed tonight, and so happy for our upcoming zero in this city. Tehachapi’s the kind of city (population: 13,000) that, on a road trip, would be little more than a forgettable stopover on the way to somewhere else…but, for us, it seems like an ocean of paradise right now.