Episode 6: Water, Sand, and Giants
Agua Dulce to Mojave/Tehachapi (mile 566)
The usual introduction where Chuckles rambles on:
We’ve all adjusted to our desert pace, which seems to exist in the extreme reaches of the bell curve. We have long, exhaustive days where we scamper over ridge lines and slide down sandy mountains like the little panicked lizards that crisscross our trail. In the past week, we walked fifty miles over two days, finding our trail legs in a frenzy of sun and desert wind and long, dry stretches.
But the chaos of our lives centered around movement stands juxtaposed to stillness. Days where our pace slows, where the hot sun seeps into our skin and we saunter or drag our feet. We’ve had our share of slow days this week as well, sliding into lethargy like the lazy snakes that cross our trail, trailing feet shiny with callous in rare streams, mesmerized by the cold shadow of a canyon wall.
Our bodies and faces are familiar in feel, unfamiliar in appearance. Skin boiled like leather in the Mojave sun, legs so skinny that the stringy muscle twitches underneath, little paunches swollen from our hiker diet of granola, cheese, and beer. Town is full of noises, strangers, mirrors, and food – and we can’t eat enough now. We stop not just to rest our muscles and refill our tanks, but to store up faces, experiences, and stories to feed our minds on the trail. As our water carries grow longer and we learn to conserve liquids, we are also learning to conserve thoughts, to wring every angle out of an idea as we walk from switchback to switchback in the motionless heat of midday.
Trail Angel Hopping
After the Saufley’s kind treatment in Agua Dulce (where we had laundry, showers, and a kitchen to use), we were forced to walk a whole 25 miles to the next trail angel hotspot: Casa De Luna. The Anderson’s run what they personally describe as a ‘Hippie Day Care’, which is pretty accurate. But first, we had to get there. The hike out of the Saufley’s was made easier by the fact that it was absolutely beautiful. The trail goes directly through town, so a short road walk brought us back to soft earth under our feet again and soon, wide open fields.
It was hard to leave the Saufley’s, especially since the Brit Family Robinson showed up along with Fae, Boom, Jetpack and Dayhike – all people we would rather sit and talk to than hike into the desert heat. The sun was setting as we reached the top of a ridge with great camping, and we all celebrated sneaking in ten miles after a prolonged day in town.
The sunset was incredible enough that we all dropped what we were doing to get a picture:
The next day we had another short 15 mile day to the Anderson’s, but the repetition of it made it seem to take forever. Little Spoon and I would walk around a hill and see a long switchback, the three friendly Ukranians who play disco or techno music as they hike, and the next hill, also brownish green and covered in a mixture of wildflowers and small desert shrubs. Then we would walk around that hill and see a long switchback, three Ukranians, and the next hill. Then we would walk around that hill and see… You get the idea. The trail looped around foothills on the same side for the entire day, and we were a little loopy ourselves by the end of it.
Fortunately, Casa De Luna is a perfect place to hike to when you’re feeling a little crazy. We slept in their manzanita grove out back after sitting around on outdoor couches and eating some amazing taco salads, courtesy of Terrie and Joe Anderson.
At Casa De Luna, Hawaiian shirts are provided and mandatory.
The dinner spread. If you don’t follow the serving rules, Terrie paddles you on the butt.
Under this sign, the Anderson’s ask hikers to assemble for a picture. What you don’t find out until the picture is being taken is, Terrie moons the hikers as they pose. This results in some pretty great pictures.
Casa De Luna = House of the Moon. Get it? We were warned that the desert has lots of exposure. (All pictures stolen from Facebook.)
Slop and smell the goats – slowing down
After the Anderson’s, there was yet another trail closure around Lake Hughes. The detour around it was a 12 mile road walk that a lot of people just hitched and we considered skipping – except that we heard there were weird animals. I’m fairly certain we made the right choice. The road walk was long and hot but had a bar in the middle of it – where we may have stopped for lunch and bloody Mary’s – a lot of goats, a wolf reservation, and an ostrich farm. In short, we were pretty entertained all day even though the terrain was asphalt and the scenery was mostly dead lakes:
The menagerie of animals that we were promised was definitely delivered. We spent about ten minutes laughing at the goats and the human-like sounds they made at us, then Julie did an amazing Ostrich impression after the Ostrich crossing sign.
Armed guards aside though, there were tons of friendly locals on this stretch (illustrated by Zucchini):
We took another short day and hiked into what Little Spoon has been calling the ‘Scooby Doo Campground’, an abandoned campground which was made spookier by us building a fire and telling our best ghost stories.
We camped with Zucchini and Flowers, two 20-year-old thru-hikers who act a lot older. It seems like thru-hiking attracts a pretty independent type of young person, but we’re always surprised by young people we meet on trail, especially when we think back to what we were like a decade ago and reflect on how much we’ve grown. I remember myself at 20 being intimidated by everything from traffic to resume writing (actually those two still get me), so it amazes me that people that age feel confident enough to attempt something as logistically challenging and autonomous as a thru-hike.
The next day, we woke up and had a slow morning at the camp, enjoying the opportunity to make coffee (we don’t often have available water sources for luxuries like coffee in the morning). That day, we hit a big milestone:
Of course, we celebrated by making a music video to the Proclaimers. How else? Jon produced and Julie directed, we did it in one take (although there was a lot of discussion about proper head bobbing technique beforehand), and we can be reached via [email protected] for professional music video work.
There couldn’t have been a more perfect day to hit five hundred. The whole forest seemed different that day, peaceful and lively and full of huge leafy trees that hung down over a trail that wound through grassy fields. The air was still dry but everything felt wet, as if we were back home on the East Coast. The miner’s lettuce was even orange and red where the sun hit it, so that patches of undergrowth looked like fall foliage in the afternoon light.
We too an extended break at the guzzler (a crazy structure that collects and stores rain water) to filter water and imitate Spider Man, and we got to the Horse Camp early enough to set up and make dinner before sunset. The day was a short and lazy 15 miles that reminded us why we love this trail so much.
From our campsite, we could see down to the floor of the desert where we would be walking the L.A. Aqueduct in full exposure for close to 20 miles. The flat stretch ahead was a little intimidating not for the heat or the exposure or the water carry really, but because of the mental endurance of walking for 20 miles towards a landmark that never seems to change – the far mountain range across the valley.
Embrace the desert – speeding up
We woke up at dawn and started moving, eager to put in a big day after our many short ones. About ten miles of PUDs (pointless ups and downs) in the foothills of the valley got us to Hikertown and the beginning of our long, flat walk.
We ran into a whole crew of hikers we knew: Beast Master, Rant, Buff, Flowers and others. A lot of them were planning to hike out later in the day and hike through the night, but per our usual obstinacy we decided to tackle the desert in the heat of midday.
The first few miles were pretty nice, albeit a little cruel, walking alongside the open aqueduct. We kept dreaming of jumping into the water. But then the open channel turned into a closed pipe that we could walk along:
We walked along the road beside for a while, laughing at the tumbleweeds that scurried towards us and tossing them at each other. There are two ‘faucets’ we hit today that tap into the aqueduct, but we were warned they aren’t always running. The first one surprised us by providing a few liters of water and then losing its water pressure entirely. We updated the water report with the information and tried to ration our water for the rest of the day, nervous that the second faucet would be the same. The aqueduct was buried completely a few miles later and we spent the rest of the walk on a concrete slab. It was pretty dull but we found our own distractions.
There was a forest of Joshua Trees alongside the trail, but it was all private land so a fence prevented us from taking shade under them. Eventually, we saw one on our side of the trail and underneath it was Camel, who could find shade on the surface of the sun.
Late in the day we reached the wind farm with its giants spinning their massive arms lazily. After 27 miles – as many miles in one day as our past two combined – we reached the second water faucet and were relieved to find it was on. Exhausted, Spoon and I cowboy camped after failing to get our tent stakes to stay in the loose sand, and we fell asleep watching the stars come out above us one by one.
After the whoosh, whoosh of the windmills lulled us to sleep, we slept solidly until after sunrise. When we woke up the sun was a bright yellow disk above the horizon and the day had started without us noticing. Another dry day laid ahead of us, but we drank coffee in the morning sun, as irresponsible as it was.
We started out through the wind farm, get slipping through the soft sand while the towering windmills cast massive, rotating shadows over us with their rotator blades. There seemed to be hundreds of them, and the gyroscopic movements of all their blades together was mesmerizing.
We walked uphill into the mountains again, reaching our only water source until highway 58, a creek that ran through the middle of a canyon. I ran into Giggles there finally. I’ve been hearing about my laughter counterpart for a while and wondering if the name was just made up, but she’s real! We camelled up as much water as we could carry for the next 25 miles and continued uphill. The climbing was tough on many of us that day (Toe Touch is super human, so she flew up the mountain). We struggled with the high winds and soft sand that kept sliding out from under our feet, but then at the top we found the most amazing trail magic:
The rest of the day felt a lot better after the water and chair stop, and by the end of it I almost didn’t want to stop – which is good, since we couldn’t find camping until Willow Springs road, making our 20 mile day into a 23 mile day.
We were so excited to get showers and laundry in Mojave / Tehachapi, we all ran parts of the last 8 miles that next day into the highway, interrupted only by some friendly cows (they seem to be everywhere out here). We took a couple days in the cheapest town we’ve ever stayed in (thanks, Mojave!) and now we’re preparing for our longest waterless stretches yet, 130 more miles of desert that separate us from Kennedy Meadows and the Sierras. We’ll be there soon enough!
Sponsors of Chuckles and Little Spoon that you should check out:
Mary Jane’s Farm organic dehydrated meals https://www.maryjanesfarm.org/
Honey Stinger bars, waffles, and energy chews https://www.honeystinger.com/
Big Sur Bars https://bigsurbar.com/
Katabatic Gear https://katabaticgear.com/
Mom’s Stuff salve https://www.momsstuffsalve.com
Little Spoon’s Instagram (Mark Santoski) https://www.instagram.com/marksantoski/
Centerfold’s Instagram (Jon Graca) https://www.instagram.com/jograca/
Toe Touch’s Instagram (Julie McCloskey) https://www.instagram.com/jtmcc272/
Toe Touch’s Blog https://seeyajules.com/
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