Hop, Skip, and Jump
The last dozen or so miles into Agua Dulce involved one hill that was tougher than expected, but other than that, not terrible. Unless you plan to haul an extraordinary amount of water, you have to walk half a mile off-trail to get water from a KOA. While there, an injured hiker named Monica bought me a soda.
I had been looking forward to hiking through Vasquez Rocks. Unless I'm mistaken, over 100 movies and TV shows have been filmed there, mostly because it's a rugged southwestern landscape less than one hour from Hollywood. When I got there, I didn't enjoy it much. There were too many people and too much noise.
Hiker heaven in Agua Dulce, at least at first, was much the same way. When I first arrived, there were at least four dogs barking, and someone was using a leaf blower. I approached another hiker and asked,
"Is it always this loud?"
"No, it's not."
"Good; I was thinking of leaving already."
After a couple minutes, Donna, the owner of the place, pulled me over and showed me around. They had an impressive system going. While at Hiker Heaven, I'm managed to take care of a lot of stuff, including:
- Got a shower
- Did laundry
- Groomed my beard
- Cleaned the sweat/grit out of my backpack
- Recharged my phone and power bank
- Found a new shirt and socks in the hiker box
- Resupplied on food exclusively from the hiker box
- Patched a hole in my sleeping pad
- Caught up on journals
- Arranged a ride to Tehachapi (more on that later)
Buy evening, Hiker Heaven had a population of at least 20. That was a lot to me, the most I'd seen in one place, but according to everyone else there, it was practically empty. Naturally, there were a lot of people I've seen recently. That included Antoine and Joey, who I hadn't seen for at least three days. They must have never been more than ten miles behind me.
Since I'd previously hiked the miles between Agua Dulce and Tehachapi, and that area is notoriously hot this time of year, I decided to skip around it. I got a ride from a Trail Angel named Mary, who was also shuttling three other hikers around the area. It had been a while since I'd spent that much time in a car, and perhaps due to that, I felt carsick by the end of the ride. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the ride with these fine ladies, including Monica, who had bought me a soda couple days prior.
I was dropped off at Tehachapi Pass at about noon, forced to take on a giant hill while the sun's rays were strongest. It wasn't always fun, but with some perseverance, it got done. Having a new shirt, short-sleeved this time, helped a great deal. I don't know why I listened to idiots on the internet. When it's hot, you wear less, not more. I should've stuck with my instincts and worn this from the get-go.
Upon reaching the summit, there were more trees around. I took that to mean we were done with the full-blown desert, and the landscape would look more like this all the way until Kennedy Meadows. This would probably be the last hill of this difficulty in this kind of heat.
Late in the day, while filling up on water and having dinner with a few other hikers around, a bear emerged from the woods to drink from the same water source we were using. We backed up and gave it some space, and it took its sweet time, munching on some of the undergrowth, then occasionally dipped it's snout in the water. Eventually, it had enough of that and started walking towards us. All of us started making noise, and it walked the other way.
The next morning, I woke up with a sore throat that persisted throughout the day. Let's hope this doesn't become worse.
As predicted, the weather stayed cool, probably no more than 25 C, and the trail was in the shade most of the morning. At about noon, at of water source, there was a guy sitting in the shade, complaining about the unbearable "heat." What a freakin' wimp. Well, either that or idiot; he was wearing three layers of clothes. Two of them were long-sleeved, and one of them was a rain jacket. What was he doing, going to an Eskimo costume party? Evidently, he wasn't the only one who thought it was hot, because there were at least three other people going down for a nap so they wouldn't have to walk through the "heat" of the afternoon.
Eventually, the trail crested another ridge, and you descended back into a desert valley. I guess I was wrong about being done with the desert. I found a flat spot under a joshua tree, and for only the second time, set up my tent with no rainfly. The night was warm enough that it wasn't needed, and looking up to see the beautiful stars through a clear night sky, in between the branches of a joshua tree, was a delight.
It would be another 17 miles before cresting another ridge and seeing vegetation again. In between, nothing but sandy hills, which only reflect the sunlight at you. I had broken my second pair of sunglasses the day before. This might not be enjoyable.
While dealing with excessive sunlight, heat, and hills, by far the worst thing about the day was sand. Deep, soft, beach-like sand. Walking in sand is twice as difficult, and it makes you slide backwards, especially while going uphill. On any other surface, the hiking would have been both faster and easier.
Still a better trail than the AT.
Once again, while at a water source near midday, a lot of people were down for a nap, taking up the few shady spots underneath joshua trees. As a result, the people who hike during the day can't get any shade, not even during their 20-minute lunch, because a few people who don't even hike during the day take up all the shade for hours at a time.
Leaving the water source, there was a six km uphill that would lead us back into the trees. It would be a long time before the next water source, so you had to push a lot of extra weight up the hill. At first, the hill wasn't too bad, but kept getting steeper as you went. Buy the end, it was a battle. But at least it was cooler up there.
Some days, even when everything is fine, you lose steam and take a lot of breaks. This was what happened after that hill. The hiking was easy: in the shade, slightly downhill, but I couldn't keep it going. Perhaps I needed to eat more. I sat down and ate a lot, but it only helped a little. It would be better to conserve this food for later. My problems were mostly mental.
I set up camp near a cabin at a random spot in the woods. There was a spring nearby. I'd been warned it had a sulphurous taste and smell, but the smell wasn't as bad as it could've been, and it didn't taste as bad as it smelled. Also there was a Russian truck driver named Svetlana. After picking her brain, it doesn't sound like a bad gig.
from PCT South