The Aqueduct: PCT Days 31-33
Day 31. Miles: 9.5 Total: 517.6
After an easy cruise downhill, we find ourselves in Hikertown, USA. It’s an eccentric hostel modeled like an Old West town, complete with faux shop fronts and trailers converted to look like covered wagons that you can pay to sleep in. There are dozens of hikers here.
I heard straight to the mail room and find my new shoes. They are blindingly white and make me feel a full inch taller with their untouched foam soles. Keeping them clean will be futile, but I liked the green accents.
We spend the afternoon at Neenach Market, where we eat burgers and buy a few resupply items to round out our food bags for the remaining miles to Tehachapi. I teach Billie Goat a summer camp dance to The Proclaimers “I’m Gonna Be,” and we dance across the patio celebrating 500 miles until we remember that in mere hours, we will begin one of the most infamous sections of the PCT.
Hikertown marks the beginning of the LA aqueduct portion of the trail. For over twenty miles, the trail will be wide, flat, and completely exposed to the desert sun and wind. It’s tradition to buy glow sticks and face paint and hike these miles through the night to avoid the relentless sun.
Sure enough, when we return to the market, a troupe or hikers is preparing to hike out in the evening. Billie Goat first rounds everyone up for a group photo.
Shortly after, a parade of painted, glowing hikers departs in the fading sunlight, while we lay out our sleeping pads for a few hours of sleep. The wind is gusting and the trucks on the nearby road are loud. I set an alarm for 2am, put in my headphones, and attempt to go to bed.
Day 32. Miles: 27.5 Total: 545.1
The stars are bright when my watch starts vibrating. I turn on my headlamp’s red light setting and pack up. When we’re all ready, we crack some glow sticks and head back to the trail.
At first we’re nervous that we’re going to wander off trail in the dark, but once we reach the actual aqueduct road, the route is wide and flat and unmistakeable. We turn off our headlamps and hike by the light of the moon and our glow sticks.
By dawn, we’ve covered nearly ten miles. It’s unusual to be able to walk side by side, so we hike in a group and play word games to pass the time. It’s getting hot when we reach a bridge, the first shade in miles. Some of the hikers who pulled the all-nighter are sprawled in the sand beneath the bridge. There’s a cache of water, so we each take an extra liter and keep moving.
The trail finally leaves the aqueduct and begins to climb from the valley by way of a wind farm. We drift apart again. I put on a podcast and use my umbrella to block the sun, shrinking my field of vision to the ground immediately below my feet. I pass through windmills and Joshua trees.
Around 1 p.m., I crest a hill and spot an oasis of green in the desert landscape. A few huge trees are growing along a tiny trickle of creek in Tylerhorse Canyon. I hike down and find a dozen hikers sleeping in the shade. We relax for several hours, feeling proud of ourselves. We covered 24 miles in less than 10 hours, and now we can nap through the hottest part of the day. Around 5 p.m., we gather our things back together and hike four more miles to cowboy camp at the bottom of a sandy valley. We’ve come 27.5 miles total, the most I’ve ever hiked in a day.
Day 33. Miles: 13.4 Total: 558.5
It’s another clear, hot day. I start hiking early, climbing out of the canyon in steady switchbacks. After the water cache, the trail is gentle to the road into Tehachapi. I go to Walmart in the afternoon to resupply because tomorrow, on my first full zero, I intend to do nothing at all.
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