Desert Days pt. 2

The second half of the desert flew by even faster than the first. I mean this both figuratively, because time seemed to speed up, and literally, because I started to hike a lot faster. After my zero in Wrightwood, the soreness I had been experiencing disappeared and the miles came easily. Twenty mile days were now the standard, with many of our days being closer to twenty-five.

A new name for a new life

It was around this time that I acquired my trail name. I’m not sure how the tradition of adopting a silly nickname whilst thru-hiking started, but it definitely makes remembering the names of the many, many people you meet easier. Mine was given to me whilst we were in a car driving to Wrightwood. I was sat on someone’s lap as there were 6 of us and only 5 seats and asked, “why is it always me that ends up having to sit on people when there’s not enough space?” Another hiker responded with, “maybe you should be called Booster Seat.”

We laughed about it and I considered it for a while. The name felt a little too long to be introducing myself as, but maybe Booster could work? It felt pretty fitting, both because I’m small and look younger than my age and because I had spent most of the trail so far hiking with people at least a decade older than me, and I often felt like the child of the group at 25. Over the next few days I tested it out, introducing myself to people as Booster and seeing if it felt right. Soon we had friends who had never met me as Sofia, who didn’t even know that was my name, and it became clear that the trail name was sticking.

The LA Aqueduct

Before we knew it we had walked 500 miles and reached Hikertown, the quirky hostel that sits right before the notorious aqueduct section. This is talked about a lot before you get there because it is the only truly flat section on the whole of the PCT. For 10 or so miles the trail follows the LA aqueduct, then another 10 along a flat road.

You might be thinking this is a good thing, finally some flat walking, but it’s not. Flat in the desert means dangerously hot and boring. So this section is one traditionally hiked at night. Some people go even further to make it fun by decking themselves in face paint and glow sticks, but my little group of six just went for more traditional hiking.

We set out at 6.30pm, catching sunset as we walked along the aqueduct. We moved pretty fast, as we were actually slack packing the first 17 miles. This was thanks to the wife of one hiker, who was driving to meet us at midnight with the majority of our belongings. We quickly realised that the downside of slack packing is that you can’t stop whenever you want. As the tiredness set in around 10pm (much, much later than our usual bedtime) we all wished we had our sleeping bags so that we could lay down wherever we wanted.

Sunset over the LA Aqueduct

Finally, at 12.30am we saw the beam of the car’s headlights ahead and ran to grab our stuff out of the truck, thanking her profusely. We walked about 10 metres further and lay down right in the middle of a wind farm, with the whooshing of the wind turbines the background noise to our sleep. I actually didn’t manage to sleep much at all despite my exhaustion, not because of the turbines, but because I had eaten too many sugary snacks to keep myself moving.

It was so warm even at night that we knew the next day would be bad. I packed my stuff up as quickly as possible in the morning and was hiking by 5am, the air already feeling balmy. We had done most of the flat section now, but we still had 30 miles of hot, open desert to get through before reaching Tehachapi. There was one particularly rough climb that we did late morning in the sweltering heat and although only about 4 miles, it felt far longer than that.

The worst switchbacks

At the top we came upon a little oasis with water tanks and umbrellas for shade. Without water caches like these, maintained by kind locals, these sections would probably not be possible to complete safely nowadays, due to many of the natural water sources drying up. We spent several hours hanging out under the shade of these umbrellas, waiting out the 36°C heat of that day.

Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows

After that section, we only had one stretch of desert left before us: Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows. This had also been talked about for its long water carries. There was a full 40 mile stretch in this section without any natural water sources. Based on how much water I had been drinking per mile for most of the desert, plus the fact that we would have to camp in between, realistically I would need about 9 litres of water for this. I genuinely wouldn’t be able to carry that much. But again, this section was made easier by water caches, without which our hike would not even be possible.

As we crossed the Mojave I started to feel for the first time like I was glad we would soon be leaving the desert. Up until that point I had just been surprised at how beautiful it had been and that it didn’t feel nearly as long as I expected. But something about knowing the end was near made me suddenly ready for it, suddenly bored of those desert views.

Finally, on the 2nd of June, 43 days after I started my hike, I walked into Kennedy Meadows. The atmosphere when you arrive is great. The other hikers at the General Store cheer you on as you walk in. Everyone sits out on the deck, reunited with people you might not have seen in a while and you drink beer and celebrate the amazing feat you have just completed.

Arriving at Kennedy Meadows

For me, this whole experience was surreal. As much as I want to get to Canada and am determined to do so, I never took it for granted that I could. I’m still somewhat in shock that I’m actually here on the PCT, doing the thing I dreamed about, let alone that I actually made it all the way to Kennedy Meadows. I had never been so presumptuous that I had thought I would get here. But I did, and suddenly I would be entering the Sierra Nevadas, feeling completely unprepared for the challenge ahead but trusting that if I could make it through the desert, I could figure out how to make it through the mountains too.

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Comments 1

  • Jhony : Jun 19th

    Hey Booster. Well written. I really enjoyed. Great move on your part by making the Trail name shorter.
    Booster Seat to Booster. Not only much easier to remember but I feel a great name. I often wonder about those rather longish names.
    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the desert and will be moving on.
    Tehachapi is a great place, but did you miss Mojave? I am only asking because I love that place but not many do.
    All the best.
    Good happy walking to you.
    Jhony

    Reply

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