April 28 (~07:45 – ~11:00) & April 29
Mountaintop before Tehachapi Willow Springs Road – Tehachapi Willow Springs Road (9.5 mi / Total: 558.5 mi)
Weather: Warm, getting hot during the day.
I open my eyes at 6:15 in the morning, and glance back to the trail behind me, just as Speedy and Prince pass. I am nowhere near awake and close my eyes again, yesterday’s long day still weighing heavy on me. My body is tired, my ankles are throbbing and I’m not in any rush. I’m going into Tehachapi today and I only have less than ten miles left to walk, as I hiked over thirty miles yesterday. Tomorrow I’m taking a day off. I’m looking forward to it.
I check my phone even though I barely have service. There’s a message from Speedy, saying they’re aiming to get to the road around noon, so we can hitch into town together. I’m confused – they just passed. They’ll get there much faster than that. If they camped at Tylerhorse Canyon they must’ve got up super early again, possibly to avoid the sun. I’m not sure what’s going on but I decide I can’t let it rush me. Noon is still far away. Instead I listen to everyone else camped on the mountaintop pack up and slowly leave, until I’m the last one left.
The wind is calm this morning – a huge difference from last night, when I got hit with sand in my face all night long and cold lashings kept me alert. When I leave it’s still chilly but it soon gets warm. The beauty of yesterday has gone: the trail is an easy walk at higher elevation, and then a long stroll out. I was afraid my body would hurt, but once I go I feel good, and it’s a straightforward morning down to the road. Wildflowers line the switchbacks down, and I make fast progress, taking advantage of the easy path, and I pass several other hikers on the way down.
It’s not yet 11 when I reach the road, and I look out for Speedy and Prince. I feel nauseous when I realise they aren’t there – they obviously got here early and didn’t want to wait this long. Now I’m going to have hitch alone. I text Speedy, checking if they’d gone already. I’m scared, I didn’t want to hitch on my own but I decide to go for it. Let’s just stand there and stick up my thumb, and see what happens. Worst case, I might be able to hitch in with the hikers I just passed.
I cross the road and awkwardly give the first car the hitching sign, and try not to think about it too much. The road isn’t busy, but enough cars pass not to worry about it too much. I barely realise that the first car has actually stopped behind me, and the two women inside are happy to take me into Tehachapi. Score! What an amazing hitch, and I’m happy to be picked up by two women. What a huge relief.
Michelle and Brooke take me into town, and for the first time in a long time I arrive in a place alone, where I know no one. Then I get a response from Speedy. They’re not at the road yet, they have another four kilometres to walk. What? Did they go to the Interstate eight miles ahead? No, she says, they’ve been following my foot steps all morning. It makes no sense. It takes a long time to realise the people who’d passed me that morning weren’t actually Speedy and Prince, even thought I could’ve sworn they were. They must’ve been figments of my imagination. They’re still on the trail, and I’m in town, alone.
I wonder where to go. My maps don’t give any good suggestions, and I hover in front of a German bakery, unsure if I want to go inside. I’m the only hiker there, and I feel out of place. Where are all the other hikers? I look on the map again – the town is stretched out, but there’s a Starbucks a twenty minute walk away. I decide to go for it – it’ll be easier.
It doesn’t take long for Speedy and Prince to get to the road and hitch in. We have coffee and pho and get a hotel room not too far away. We spend the day and a half in town cleaning everything, sitting in the hot tub at the hotel and constantly walking the several miles back and forth to the grocery store and all the other shops we need to visit. I find the Albertsons supermarket and buy boiled eggs and way too many strawberries, and take away sushi. I love this place. Even though the town is a little too big for us hikers to get around easily, it’s nice to relax, and eat some different foods. Not much else happens, but that’s okay. And after what feels like a long time in town, I’m quite excited to go back to the trail again.