A Day of Trail Magic In The Mojave

I’ve been on the trail for almost six weeks now, the desert is almost at an end and Kennedy Meadows is just over the horizon. I’m resting up for a night at a trail angel’s house in Ridgecrest before pushing out the last miles to KM. The desert seems to have made every effort to hit us with all it’s got in the last week. After Tehachapi, temperatures in the Mojave hit triple figures and we faced a potential 40 mile section without water. I’ve learned a few things in the last few weeks and one is that I’m not opposed to skipping some miles from time to time – hike your own hike and all that. On this particular day getting off trail was the best thing I could do. Another is that trail magic is a strange and wonderful thing, and sometimes it comes from other hikers.

After a surprisingly cold night, I forced myself to get out of my sleeping bag at 5:30. I quickly found out that my two litre water bottle had a tear in it which had been leaking all night outside my tent. Luckily my group and I had camped near water but my maximum water capacity was reduced to just 3 litres. With a 40 mile waterless stretch ahead this didnt look good. I broke camp by 6:30 and hit the trail, trying to make the most of the first few cool morning hours. For a couple of miles we were shaded by the Seqiouas and I was able to get a good pace going for the first time in a while.

We reached a water source and I filled up all my bottles. After that I had to stop frequently to try and catch the leak which was slowly soaking through my pack and dampening my sleeping bag. The trail quickly left the shade of the trees and entered the desert again, it was unbearably hot almost immediately. Twelve miles from where we’d camped there was a water cache by a dirt road where we knew there might be more water so we planned to stop there and wait out the heat until late afternoon.

By the time we reached the cache it was only 11am but because of the heat we were all depleted and exhausted. There were a few gallons of water left in the cache so we took just what we needed and sat under a Joshua tree which provided some sparse shade. The next water on trail was 30 miles away. Spirits were low and with three members of our group in pain from hiking injuries we all decided that if a car happened to come by (which seemed highly unlikely in the middle of nowhere) we’d hitch to town.

Almost on queue a car pulled up – it was the trail angel who stocks up the water cache who had arrived with more water as well as beers, sodas and fruit. He told us he makes the 50 mile drive to the trail to restock the cache three or four times a week – the generosity of trail angels is humbling. He was headed back to town and had space for four in his car which meant that half of our group could go.

The only shade for miles

The four of us who elected to stay were feeling pretty sorry for ourselves as the others drove away – not taking seriously their promises to come back for us. We returned to the tree and shifted around trying to find the best shade to wait out the heat until it was cool enough to hike again or until a car came by. More hikers arrived and soon there were 12 of us hunched under the tree trying to avoid the sun. There wasn’t enough shade to lie down so we all sat uncomfortably, watching the sun beat down and keeping an eye out for cars. In six hours only three cars went by, all headed not to town but further into the desert.

Unloading the van in Ridgecrest

As the hours passed the sun was still blazing but (going stir crazy by this point) we decided to hike out at 5pm. As we were slowly gathering our things to go a van pulled up, we got up quickly to run to the road and saw hikers getting out. It took me a moment to realise ‘hang on, we know those hikers!” the other four had actually come back for us. They’d hired a 15 seat mini van and driven an hour and a half back to the trail from town to get us. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “We did promise” they said as we looked at the van, stunned. They’d also picked up cheeseburgers which they handed out to hungry hikers milling around the cache. It was easy to find 15 hikers to fill the van and we all piled in with our packs on our laps and started the 50 mile drive to Ridgecrest. Driving through the desert I was glad to be enjoying it from a car, and even more glad to have friends who would drive for hours through the desert in a 15 seat mini van for me.

Sometimes the mountains look just as good from a car

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