The toughest and the greatest (so far)

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Tehachapi to Lake Isabella – 94 miles 6 days Total: 652 miles 46 days + 4 zero days

In the land of cars, towns are a hiker’s nightmare. Tehachapi would have been no exception if it hadn’t been for the invaluable help of the trail angel Thomas. He drove us to the post office, the supermarket and back to the trail sparing us time, energy, frustration and a difficult hitch.

The smallest of gestures means a lot on the trail. Mike & Jeannie, fellow thru-hikers, caught up with us the other day. They were meeting someone who was bringing them water and said they would leave some for us. The next day we found the water they had left by the side of the trail, but what touched us most is that beside the bottles there was one soda can! One soda can is nothing but right then it meant the world to us. We love you, Mike & Jeannie!

The smallest of gestures means a lot on the trail and we’ve been given loads. You pay back with all the gratitude you can express, many many thank you, a contribution for the gas and you pay forward with donations so help can get to the next hiker too, but it doesn’t seem enough. Until you realise there was the sound of satisfaction from a job well done and time well spent in Terrie’s voice when she asked the hikers if they were happy with their bellies full. Thomas was happy to share his experience of former thru-hiker and tell stories; it was for him the occasion to remember and relive his PCT. Their help and generosity are priceless but it feels better to know that we’re giving back more than it seems at first glance.

We expected the Mojave to be hard. It was boring following those dirt roads and it was depressing at times to see the trail as far as the horizon and know you had to go all that way, but it was easy, a creek was running through the desert! This last section was much tougher. The landscape was still mostly arid, lots of Joshua trees. It had gotten hotter and the terrain was far from flat. Water sources were far apart and usually way off the trail so either you hiked long miles each day or you carried lots of water. Thanks to a trail angel there were two water caches that made it easier. Those bottles full of water were the most beautiful sight. This section has also been tough because we weren’t so much hiking for the pleasure of hiking but more to get somewhere. And then you can never get fast enough to the place you want to be. We wanted to be in Lake Isabella to take a much needed zero day, knowing that then there would only be 50 miles and 4 days left till Kennedy Meadows and the Sierras.

We had our worst day in this section. It was the first time I felt like throwing off my pack, sitting down and saying: “Fuck this! I’m not going any further!”. That day we took off with 3.5 liters of water each and had 14 miles to go till water. When it’s hot and climbing, 3.5 liters for 14 miles is not enough. We still had 4 miles to walk that the water we had left would have barely filled a glass and we had been thirsty a while ago already. And thirst is not a nice feeling! Four miles never felt so long and water never tasted so good.

But the trail gave us our greatest reward in that section too. Isabelle, unknown psychic of our time, said she sensed something, something told her to look up. All I know, I poor mortal, is that suddenly she swore and made a giant step aside. My first thought was of a snake but then I heard noise in the grasses above the trail, something big. A deer? We’ll see two deers later that day but no, this was different. “Bear”, Isabelle said. In my mind I was like: “Yeah, right. You’re kidding me.” until my eyes fell on, yes, a black bear. It had gotten scared and had started to run away but then had stopped and was now looking at us. It decided we weren’t a threat and went back to its bear life. We decided it wasn’t a threat and watched it for a while. During that time it was partly hidden behind dead branches but before heading deeper into the woods it stood with its front paws on the dead branches and looked at us. Picture perfect. Unfortunately for you guys that’s when the camera died on us, no more battery. But the image is engraved in our memories forever.

We also saw our first brightly coloured sunset on the trail and when we reached the top at Skinner Peak the feeling of anticipation at discovering what lied beyond was met with a rejoicing view: snow covered mountains in the distance. We’re getting closer!

We started to pick up gear for the Sierras. Bear canisters to protect our food from bears but that add an extra 1kg to our packs, microspikes and snow gaiters. Ice axes are waiting for us in Kennedy Meadows. We plan to drop our comfort level and get rid of all superfluous stuff. We’ve started to feel our knees lately and there’s no way we can cross high altitude snow covered passes with heavy backpacks. We’re looking forward to the mountains but we’re also dreading them. From accounts of hikers that have already gone through, it’s tough. To quote Isabelle: “On va en chier, mais ca va etre beau!” [“It’s gonna be hell, but it’s gonna be beautiful!”].

Yesterday we pushed it 21 miles to the road, breaking our record again. It’s amazing how the prospect of a shower and proper bed can make you do wonders! But it would have been for nothing if not for Joe who gave us a ride to Lake Isabella. Thanks Joe!

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