Day 43: We Finally Escape the Vortex

We thought we were going to get an early start this morning…but that was before we looked at the bus schedule to take us back to the trail and found the only bus before 9 AM was at 5 AM. (Shockingly, East Kern Regional Transit does not have an incredibly thorough or frequent bus network.) Fortunately, Dilly and Dally and their wonderful car came to our rescue — after we’d demolished enough hotel breakfast for nine people, the three of us hopped in the back of their car and he drove us out to the highway, exactly where we’d left off the day before from our slack-packing adventure.

Today begins the single driest stretch of the PCT: we’re crossing the Mojave Desert, and water is even harder to come by than normal. We’ve heard tales of 35-mile stretches without water, and we’re really dreading that if they’re true, because it’ll mean carrying something like twenty pounds of water each. Even this morning, the combination of seventeen miles from the trailhead until water plus five days’ worth of food in our packs meant they were heavy. After spending three days in town, sleeping in a bed and soaking in a hot tub, it was really, really painful to hoist all that weight onto our backs and head down the trail once more. It didn’t help that our late start meant it was already hot, either. It was the kind of start that lets you see exactly how hikers get stuck in the vortex of a town and never leave — even if you love hiking and want to be out there, those first few steps are just so painful, like jumping in a really cold swimming pool first thing in the morning.

The mountains out here remind me of Death Valley: many of them have these horizontal bands of deep color, whites and deep reds and dark greys. They’re beautiful, really, and the color makes me feel all the more adventurous as we head off into the Mojave. I certainly don’t want to have to hike through any place quite as desolate as Death Valley itself, but it’s nice to be reminded of its stark beauty.

The town we stayed in, Tehachapi, is only about eight miles from the city of Mojave, CA. Mojave is notable for the fact that it has a genuine spaceport — companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic launch their rockets and other crazy space vehicles from here. We haven’t witnessed a launch yet, but we have seen some crazy stuff: we’ve heard several absolutely enormous booms from far off in the distance (the latest of which, today, was later accompanied by a huge black pillar of smoke from over by Mojave — I hope everything was OK!), and some kind of strange plane flew overhead today with a wingspan and shape unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Apparently one of our fellow hikers was picked up when hitchhiking by a guy who works for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and is assembling the world’s largest plane in a hangar in Mojave. (I believe Virgin Galactic launches its spacecraft off the bellies of large aircraft, so this completely makes sense.) It’s pretty crazy, and exciting, to be out here near where this stuff all actually happens — I read about it online periodically, but it’s different when you’re actually right next to it.

Our hike today started out with a pretty brutal five miles uphill (2400′ of elevation gain) in the hot sun, carrying a full five days’ worth of food and seventeen miles’ worth of water. I have to say, if anybody had come across us and not known about the PCT, they would’ve thought we were completely mad to be hiking out there with our heavy packs. It’s not exactly the kind of trail you’d pick for a beautiful day hike, nor the time of day you’d normally start. But we come across this periodically: it’s the stretches of the PCT that prove you’re really in it to complete the whole thing, rather than merely for the pretty or easy parts.

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