April 27 (~04:10 – ~20:20)
Hikertown / Highway 138 – Mountaintop before Tehachapi Willow Springs Road (31.4 mi / Total: 549.0 mi)
Weather: It’s still fresh in the early morning, and it gets increasingly hot during the day. Luckily it’s just a little overcast now and again and there’s a lot of wind. The wind gets worse when I climb up the mountain until it gets to be freezing cold closer to the top.
My alarm goes off at 3 am. It’s pitch black dark and the wind howls outside, banging on the door in an attempt to force it open. There’s some movement in the room, but no one gets up, no one is feeling it with all of this happening outside. I lie back for a while, then we simultaneously begin to get ready in the dark.
We head off just after 4, and follow the straight dirt roads up, our headlights illuminating the surrounding temporarily. Today we are hiking the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a twenty mile section without camping that is horribly exposed and hot. It’s known to be difficult because of its monotony, and the hard, flat surface. Many people choose to nighthike it, to avoid the hottest hours of the day.
We watched many hikers leave from Hikertown last night, but we decided to simply leave early in the morning, hike the first 17 miles along the aqueduct and into a wind farm, where there’s shade in the form of a bridge over the dry Cottonwood Creek and a faucet with non-potable water that hikers can drink from. We plan to rest there until the sun weakens again, and then walk another 6 miles to Tylerhorse Canyon, the first water source after the faucet, which has several tentsites.
In the dark we progress quickly, and everything around me is vast and open and spacious. It’s windy and fresh, but soon it gets warm, and I take off a few layers after the first hour, and take a quick break. As the sun rises I walk on, orange sky burning in the background and I can see the Joshua trees around me now, the trees I’ve been wanting to see.
Once I get going I embrace the monotony that that most people find difficult, and I download a few songs onto my phone, and listen to music for the first time on trail. It’s the perfect opportunity to get lost into something other than just my own thoughts and the landscape around me. The Joshua trees break up the plain desert floor, and small communities of camper vans seem to exist here and there. It’s an odd place. But I enjoy walking on the tarmac for once as opposed to the usual sand, and I feel steady on the hard surface. Soon I move away from the others and don’t stop.
Somehow, I’m loving today. I have a good steady stride which I don’t usually have and it’s nice to move along fast for a change. I see quite a few other hikers, people heading in a southbound direction, and I’m slowly catching up to the people ahead of me. Its getting hot now, but here’s a wind to keep it manageable, and a white cloudy haze in the sky softens the intensity of the sun. The road is covered in caterpillars, and I put effort into avoiding stepping on them, and as I get further ahead, the butterflies appear – hundreds of them, fluttering across the road, blown sideways by the strong wind.
It’s just after 9 when I reach the wind farm, and I’ve already completed the 17 miles to the water faucet. When I approach there’s a small building with a small crowd of hikers next to it, hiding in the shade. I recognise some as the hikers that left Hikertown last night, and they point me to the faucet lower down. I haven’t drank much so I pass for now, and sit down in what was once the riverbed, looking out onto the bridge, finding shade next to a small bush. It’s nice here. I’ve walked so much and it’s still so early and it feels good to do nothing for some time.
I watch more people come and go and after a few hours the shade of the bush has moved, and I decide it’s time to go. It’s two and a half hours later, and I fill up on water from the faucet, and continue the trail, which now moves through the wind farm.
My legs feel heavy, all my muscles solid after the continuous effort from that morning, but after some time I get back into that walking rhythm, and it feels good again. Away from the aqueduct the trail now meanders, through the Joshua trees and the giant wind mills, until some five miles later, when I’m at the foot of another mountain range. Suddenly the trail curves up and down, and the steep climbs are difficult to endure – they take every last ounce of energy out of me.
When I get close to Tylerhorse Canyon the views down are majestic – I’d never expected such a grand view right after that windy, spacious wind farm. It’s a swift descend down to the canyon, and again it’s littered with small groups of hikers, so I sit down right next to the trail, before it crosses the river. It’s close to 3 pm now, and this canyon is supposed to be my destination for today. I can’t believe it’s still so early. Although it’s been hot out, it’s not too hot to walk, and it’s not necessary to take an extended midday break. I take out my food bag again, and cold soak some Idahoan soup mixed with mashed potatoes I’ve never tried before. It’s salty, way too salty, but it’s a lot of food and it’s nice to try for a change.
As time goes by people move on again, and I realise I still have the energy to do the same. With my early start and fast pace along the aqueduct, I could be going for my first 30 mile day. Thirty miles is a lot, but I’m only 7 miles short. When it’s a little after 4, I decide to go for it. I pack my stuff away and head off – I grab water from the stream, pass a small furry animal who’s head is sticking out of the ground, and sidle up the mountain on the other side of the stream.
Just like before, everything is stiff and hurts, but I warm up again, and soon I’m going strong. This part of the day gets more and more difficult, and the trail is no joke. The ascends and descends take equal turns, but the views are gorgeous – dry desert mountains and the valley in the distance, dotted with the many wind mills.
When I’ve reached a certain point, the trail has simplified itself to following many long switchbacks, encompassing several hillsides, up to a mountaintop. As I draw higher and it gets later, the wind strengthens, until it’s grown to such a force that I can barely push through, and I have to hold on to the big rocks when I switch up to a higher level. At one point I get thrusted to the side, and I hold on to a small Joshua tree, my legs almost digging in to its razor sharp cactus-like needles, lethal like Spaniard grass. I think I’m safe, then another gust blows relentlessly, and I feel my legs speared slowly, like a knife through butter, and I’m entirely unable to do anything about it. Small trickles of blood spill out, and somehow the pain is completely overwhelming. I feel my muscles tighten up, as though my leg is rock solid, for about ten minutes. There’s nowhere for me to find shelter or help myself on the mountainside in this wind, so all I can do is try to walk, to keep on going.
After this it doesn’t take long for the wind chill to overpower everything else, and I’m crouching low to the ground, fighting this invisible force that must be blowing at at least 30 mph.
I’m still not at the top, and I keep checking the GPS to see if I’ve done 30 miles yet. When I finally do, the sun is lowering and the mountains are engulfed by shade, the far tops burning with the last yellow glow. I’m excited I did it. I walked 30 miles today. Unfortunately, I can’t stop yet. Everything is steep here, and there are no flat spots to set up a tent, or to cowboy camp, even.
I continue climbing, throwing myself into the bitter cold wind until it’s so cold I throw off my pack and immediately put on all the layers I own. Then I watch as the colours in the sky are joined by a pink and blue haze, and finally I reach the higher elevations, where I plough through until I find the tentsites at the top, where almost everyone is cowboy camping in the bare patches in the between the bushes. It’s almost dark when I arrive, and when I finally select a spot a hiker behind me calls my name: ‘Cosmo!’
It takes a while to hear him, and he tells me a deer just ran out from the bushes right behind me. I hadn’t even seen. I switch off my music and blow up my sleeping pad, and lie down on the ground, right underneath the stars. The wind is so fierce up here that sand gets blown into my face every few minutes. But I don’t mind. I feel the throbbing in my ankles and I feel good about today. I hiked over 30 miles and over 50 kilometres. Today was a crazy day.