So, last week I left off at the Tehachapi airport, waiting on my new pack to arrive in Mojave. Monday morning my alarm went off at 6. I was now 16 hours behind OG, Puddin’, Karaoke, my tent, and my water filter. I ate, changed and packed in 20 minutes, and then I got to work. I walked 2 miles across town to do my resupply at Albertson’s, I had 40 minutes before the bus would leave from K-Mart a mile away across a field. Racing through the aisles I threw ramen and bars in my cart by the fistful and tapped my foot as the checkout clerk made small talk. Out front I jammed everything into my pack then shot across the field arriving just in time to get the bus to Mojave. I arrived in Mojave before my package, so I killed half an hour at a deli down the street, tapping my foot anxiously the whole time. As soon as I got the delivery notification in my email I bolted back across the street, grabbed my box and hurriedly swapped everything into my new pack before running to the post office to send my old pack and some of Caroline’s stuff back to Seattle. The time was 1:20, I was now 23.3 hours behind the group. I ran back over to the bus stop to grab the north bound bus to the trail head only to wait 50 minutes past its intended arrival time. Every daylight hour that went past meant that I was a minimum of 2 miles further behind the group, so my anxiety was rising by the minute. I got to the trail at 2:40, 25.7 hours after everyone else. Subtracting for non-walking activities, my estimates put me at 22 miles of catch up. So I used this as an opportunity to see how many miles my body could handle.
Coming out the gate I charged up the hill to a ridge covered with trees and wind turbines and hit my first spring around 7pm. I packed out 5 liters then hiked a little past sunset and camped in the turbine field, the white noise of which gave me one of the best night’s sleep yet on trail. I needed it. By nightfall I had covered 20 miles, and the following day at 23 hours from my departure from the highway I was at 34 miles, coming up on mile 600. There hadn’t been a water source in 16 miles, and I was struggling to not guzzle my last liter. I was nauseous, beginning to get light-headed, my muscles were spasming, my vision was getting weird, and my mouth was a sandbox; my guess was that I was dangerously close to heat stroke. Water was 2 miles away yet, but I had to stop. So I stripped down to my boxers, drank the last liter of water and sat down in the shade while I waited for my body to stop overheating. After 20 minutes or so I was feeling well enough to make a move again, but this time I would respect the midday sun and ease my pace.
My appearance as I approached the group hanging out at the spring an hour later was described as maniacal. I grunted greetings to a few people I knew as I stumbled my way to the spring where I proceeded to drink 3 liters in about a minute. Once I was feeling sufficiently quenched I plopped down in the dirt and chatted with a bunch of the familiar faces for a few hours, drinking water (at a leisurely pace) and waiting for the heat to wane and for my muscles to stop moving of their own accord. Then I did another 13 miles.
A mile into the next day’s hike I caught Karaoke. It was fortunate I hadn’t done that 1 mile the night before or I most likely would have overshot her in the dark. She had camped right near a water cache that had been replenished since the last water report, so that was a pleasant surprise. This saved us from having to walk 3 miles off trail to a spring that was likely dry, and preventing a 30 mile water carry. But there wasn’t much left, so I walked out with 3 liters to cover 15 miles. Karaoke and I hiked together with Ninja, Cracker Jack, Hugs, Tink, Little Spoon (now Danger Spoon I’m told) and The Reverend Blisster until about midday when everyone started huddling under Joshua trees to hide from the sun. There was another water cache 5 miles on that was also reported as empty, but I hate not knowing. So, not learning from the previous day’s mistake, I set off into the midday sun again… but this time I used my Chrome Dome umbrella, or as I like to call it, my Mobile Shade Unit. That sounds more manly than parasol, right? Whatever you want to call it, it lowers the temperature by at least 10 degrees, so I strolled on, barely breaking a sweat. Kind of.
Two miles from the supposed cache I met a southbounder named RoboDoc who informed me that there were some 75 gallons of water to be had!! My pace down that hill could have been described as a sprint if the awkwardness of wearing a 30 pound pack didn’t make me sway side to side. I found a patch of shade, dropped my pack and greedily helped myself to the water. It was about 80° and plasticky tasting, but I couldn’t have cared less. About 3 hours passed before I saw the rest of the group, and shortly after I was ready to roll again. Now that I had caught Karaoke I had my sights set on catching OG and Puddin’. There had been a trail register back a few miles and Puddin’ had put his name in it the previous day, but fairly late judging by the number of hikers who signed it after him that day. I figured I had 10 miles max to close on the boys. So I finished out my the day with 28 miles and positioned myself 8 1/2 from Walker Pass and my next water source.
Straight away leaving the spring the trail climbed the 1000 feet up to the next ridge at mile 672. At this point I had hit my first 30 mile day and was prepared to do a few more. Before continuing on, however, I sat down to cook dinner while I still had some sun. While I ate, some hikers came up the ridge so I asked if they knew the boys and by chance they did and said they were right behind me! They had stopped at Uranium Spring and I’d sped right past. So instead of hiking on I made camp right there on the ridge and put my shirt on my trekking poles near the trail as a banner to announce my presence (I don’t think anyone else is hiking in a Walking Dead t-shirt). But no one woke me in the night, and I didn’t see them as I slowly packed in the morning. I dawdled for a bit, but when they didn’t show by 7 am I just decided to continue my masochism run and finish out the remaining 30 miles in as little time as possible and surprise the others the next day. Plus, I was hoping to satisfy my ridiculous hunger cravings of spaghetti and meatballs, grapefruit juice, and Chili Cheese Fritos.
Immediately heading down the other side of the ridge I found myself surrounded by trees for the first time all week. I winded my way down to a small valley where I filled up to capacity again at a nice cold creek a few miles out where Boots and Jaybird were hanging out, along with Stubing who I thought I’d never catch. I chatted for a bit, but wanting to stay ahead and secret I ducked out quickly and swore everyone to silence. The last 30 miles were some of my least favorite. The next water source, a seasonal creek, was dry, so once again I carried 5 liters and still ran out. I was attacked by biting flies, I aggravated my shin splints tripping over a rock whilst swatting said flies, I got one last big burn area with no shade, the wind inverted my Mobile Shade Unit constantly, and I was just anxious to arrive. Kennedy Meadows signaled the end of the desert and the beginning of the High Sierras. It meant constant tree cover and green surroundings. It meant abundant water. It meant cooler temps and less harsh wildlife. It meant I could relax a little.
When I hit the Kern River I sank to my knees. Finally, a proper body of water! I camel’d up with a couple of liters, then packed out a liter and a half for the last 4 miles. I sped across the mostly flat terrain surrounded by vast fields of sagebrush full of clicking cicadas all looking for love. Only the clicking sounded like applause to my ears. I’d made it. The desert was over. I was overflowing with happy relief as I came up to the Kennedy Meadows sign at 6:30 pm on Friday. I had completed 137 miles in 4 days, 3 hours and 50 minutes. Yes, I’m bragging. That was a feat. The General Store had no spaghetti and meatballs, but they had Chef Boyardi Lasagna with meat sauce, cans of grapefruit juice, and a large bag of, you guessed it, Chili Cheese Fritos. How happy was I?! Words can’t describe. So I kicked back with my treasures and waited for the rest of Team Siesta with a newfound sense of calm.