Day 26: Dealing with the inevitable…

Day: Friday, June 24th 2016

Miles: 623.4 – 630.8

630.8 – 652.1 (Fire closure hitch)

652.1 – 659.7

I had a pretty horrid nights sleep last night. No sooner had I zipped up my sleeping bag but the wind started to whistle down the ridge into my former oasis of calm. With it, came a nauseating stench of burning and more smoke. At some point in the night one of my tent stakes lost its grip so the tent flapped in the wind. I was too exhausted to do anything about it and left it flap. This morning I got up before the sun rose, eager to get the hell out of this strange position I was in and wanting nothing more than clean air and to smell like something other than campfire smoke.

I started down the next section of trail with little will other than to escape the smoke. It did appear that up ahead the sky was a little clearer, the smoke was shifting further west with a little pocket of joyful clean air in between myself and Birdspring pass. The views this morning might have been spectacular (in hindsight) but I had little interest in them at the time. I met a hiker named Erin whom I had met way back before Warner Springs. I actually didn’t remember him but quick as a flash he remembered the where, the when and the who. I felt a little embarrassed that I did not remember him but I have simply met so many hikers in the last 6 weeks that some of it is a haze (just like this mornings skies).

Entering Birdspring Pass and I immediately saw my old friend Kitchen Sink who had passed my camp in the night. Similarly irritated by the thick smoke, he was resting at the pass and enjoying the water cache and snacks left by a trail angel. Erin eventually caught up and we hung out with Devilfish (the trail angel I met a few times before), when he arrived to check on the cache. He told us the fire was in Lake Isabella and the highway and towns were evacuated up there. It seemed like a bad situation all round.

Feeling sick from the heat and smoke, Kitchen Sink opted to take a ride with Devilfish to Walker Pass or Kennedy Meadows. Erin and myself decided to stay and complete the next 20miles to Walker Pass once the sun went down. The skies were clear around here and it seemed like the easterly track would take us further away from the smoke. Devilfish and his passenger left as I took a nap beside a very friendly (hungry?) chipmunk.

Roll time forward an hour and I feel like it’s Groundhog Day as I hear Kitchen Sink shout “hay buddy” to me. I wake up a little disoriented to his next statement, “trails closed buddy, you gotta come”. That was it. Devilfish checked his cell phone after getting back to the highway and read that the entire PCT was now closed from Tehachapi to Walker Pass. We had to get off the trail and likely with good reason – from the time I took my nap to an hour later, the smoke crept back up the valley and would now surely lead to another horrid night on the trail if we continued. Our choice had been made for us but likely a choice for the best. We loaded into the minivan and aimed for Walker Pass.

After getting back to the highway after an interminably long drive on a mosaic of dusty dirt roads, we decided to drop into Ridgecrest as one of Devilsfish’s tires needed some TLC. Taking the opportunity for cleanup at the Toyota dealer, ice cream and McDonalds (in no particular order) was a welcome indulge meant after the last 24hrs of hardship. That was when I realized just how filthy I was from the ash.

After completing our errands and Erin decided to adjust his plans, eventually just myself would be venturing back on trail tonight. Devilfish dropped my up to Walker Pass around 7, whereupon I started back on my trek northwards, hoping the smoke wouldn’t follow me as I followed the switchbacks high above the Mojave once again.

I walked through to 10pm before finding a nice sheltered spot on a saddle looking down to Ridgecrest. The view was nice and the air was cool and clean. I’ve never felt so appreciative of clean air! Today was pretty eventful, almost as much as yesterday. Hoping that’s the end of the drama for the time being!

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