Day: Friday, June 3rd 2016
Miles: 529 – 550.5
Remote Camp 529 – Remote Camp 550.95
The Irish. A particularly interesting group from a genetic perspective. We have been insulated for generations from the gene-pool smorgasbord on our European doorstep thanks to geography and politics. The Greeks first referred to Ireland as Hibernia, an “abundant land”, but other than third-hand references, it seems that they never decided to swing by. The Romans were only too happy to use the same name, but viewed Ireland as a threatening assortment of high seas, bad weather and creatures from the underworld. A land where only bad things could happen. They never even ventured to visit despite conquering what is now England. Even later the effects of any European migration was moderated through our linkages (whether rightly or wrongly) to the United Kingdom. In a sentence, we evolved in a bubble of pasty white Celtic skin with a complete inability to deal with any weather phenomenon other than our seductive mix of cloud, damp and rain. I attribute this reason with why today was such a hard day. In the past, I’ve worked hard, played hard, exercised hard and generally lived hard. But today was one of those days where your limitations are exposed in only the hardest way possible – when you physically realize you cannot go any further.
Seriousness aside, I did wake up on top of a concrete water mains this morning. There’s nothing unusual about that given my current journey, although some would be forgiven for calling it atypical. Right before I went to sleep, two of the Korean hikers who were back at Hikertown caught up to me and settled on the same slab for the night – most appreciative that I allowed them to (they were hesitant to also camp on it until I motioned that they were very welcome to). By the time I decamped, the two gents didn’t seem to have any intentions of moving.
Despite the inauspicious lodgings, I was very happy to beat the sun to work this morning, and first light provided the full spectacle of barren hot and windy terrain that I would be covering for most of today. The trail kept following the aqueduct as it wound towards the hills and an impressive array of wind turbines in the distance. I hoped to cover about 8 miles to the next water source and an a pipeline overpass that provided shade, and this early start was allowing me to munch through the miles.
I pondered the concept of keeping rolling to the next creek at Tylerhorse Canyon about 6 miles ahead. The sun wasn’t yet beating down and if I kept a solid pace, this was barely a 2 hour walk. It was about 9:00AM by now. I decided to be ambitious and go for it without idling at Cottonwood for long. The trail very quickly began to deviate from the aqueduct after a short distance, and so my presumption of pace based on a road-walk was dealt a blow. The trail now moved into its usual course of switchbacks and avoided a large section of the wind turbines, aligning with a straight line route to the creek. My pace was far slower than expected and once the trail departed from the aqueduct the temperature also rose quickly. I was now hiking in warm wind with prairie grass and wind turbines scattered in all directions.
As I began to question the wisdom of my stretch goal, I came across a shepherd with his 3 sheepdogs. He was corralling a few hundred sheep close to a water tanker and shouted “mucho sol!” to me as I walked past. Sadly with not much Spanish on my part, to engage in a conversation, that was where it ended but I did have a chat with one of the border collies briefly.
It was hot and barren but there was still signs of life in the dusty soil. The jack rabbits seemed to be doing very well and quite a few interesting cacti and trees/bushes bearing fruit were scattered in the scrub.
By around 11am I had covered only 4 of the 6 miles on my plate and it became obvious that final 2 miles would be tough. The trail rose in elevation relatively quickly in order to enter the canyon whilst it seemed that the heat of the sun was rapidly increasing. Today was expected to be in the 106F/41C range and it felt every degree of it. Realizing that kind of heat is not just uncomfortable but dangerous I started to think about alternative options to making Tylerhorse Canyon. At 2miles shy of the target that was a pretty hard pill to swallow, I was beaten! There had been some scrub bushes further back, there was a wind farm site office a mile east or a wind turbine as the only viable options for shade. Looking ahead I noticed that 1 turbine was closer to the trail than any others and I ventured to hunker down there for the afternoon instead. I had plenty water and there was a pleasant breeze in this area of you could catch it in the shade.
Walking towards the turbine, I noticed it was emblazoned with the letters E10. “Right. This is Et(h)en the wind turbine” possibly highlighting that I was at least slightly delerious from the sun. It was a modest turbine but for today it was my turbine, with a pleasant rectangle of shade and perfectly lined up to catch the breeze, I had fallen on my feet!
The afternoon was very relaxing and included some light naps, a little lunch and frequent adjustments to my placement in the shadow. Given the height of the turbine and the sun being almost directly overheat, the shadow moved a significant distance every 30mins. I would nap, then wake when I felt the sun scorch my toe or shoulder or elbow, then move a few degrees and reset the timer!
By 4PM the sun had dropped a little and I felt sufficiently rested to aim for Tylerhorse Canyon. One or two intrepid hikers had passed me during the time I was resting but it seemed like most stayed back at Cottonwood Creek. I was pretty happy with my decision and felt quite the bond with this inanimate lump of steel that shaded me all evening. The hike up to Tylerhorse was short but still difficult in the residual heat. The creek in the canyon however was cool and inviting and a very large number of hikers were resting up in all the shaded spots on the canyon floor.
I rested up and filtered enough water to get me to Tehachapi (mile 558) and spent a while talking to two hikers from Nebraska and Washington who had been holed up in the canyon all afternoon. Around 6PM it was time to get going again and I the ascent back out of the canyon, knowing I was on the final straight to Tehachapi and my goal for June 5th.
A glorious sunset once again ensured that I was heavily distracted for the initial few miles of the trail tonight. It was a tough section, very sandy, and heavy rains had washed out entire chunks of the trail, necessitating some delicate pole vaulting and bracing.
As nightfall decended, the twinkle of other hikers headlamps could be seen ahead and behind me for much of the evening. Everyone was in night-hike mode and as humans do, tended to bunch up into waves. As the lights below twinkled in Lancaster, about 20miles away, I felt a little extra bounce in my step knowing that tomorrow is finish up for two weeks, although a little sad that my momentum would lie in stasis here in California, frozen until I return. My usual mind-wanderings during the night hike ranged from politics to ideas for travels when I finish the trail, only punctuated by my evening treat of a snickers bar (you can only eat them in the evening when they solidify!)
Passing an interesting trail Angels spot with apples and water, I caught up to the two hikers from back at Tylerhorse. After hanging out for a short time I decided I would turn in for the night around the next good spot, which was mile 550.95. I put up my tent in an area of soft ground, only to later realize it was a giant ant mound. Figuring that it was an incentive to get up early and beat them out of bed, my energy levels dictated staying put, so with my bug screen firmly shut, I turned out the lights on my last big day of Southern California!