Challenging? Character building? Chilly? I think I'll just describe today as memorable.
- Date: Tuesday April 14, 2015
- Miles hiked: 19.57 PCT
- Miles covered: PCT miles 558.51 to 578.08
- Weather Report: Low 39, High 62. Blowing fog and 30 to 50mph winds. Most of the day was in the mid 40's.
- Wildlife seen: Next to nothing
- Mood of the day: No agenda and no apprehensions; just see how it all goes. It's all good.
Well, I somewhat overslept, but I still met up with Dad at 6:30 for a little bit of breakfast (heh, two large scoops of eggs and two cinnamon rolls... if I were counting calories I'd guess it was around 1200 calories.) We drove out the Willow Springs Road and I hopped out at the call box.
Dad drove away, and I immediately regretted not taking my fleece beanie along. It was 45 degrees with strong steady 30mph winds from the west, creating a kind of blowing fog through the wind turbines and the dry hillsides, barren except for ankle high grasses and a scattered juniper bush here and there. I started out and up with a much lighter pack than usual--just a couple liters of water, some extra clothing, sleeping bag, and a few other things. Food and water were in the back of the parent's truck.
It became pretty obvious that I didn't really imagine that Tehachapi would be anything but hot and sunny. This was blustery cool weather more associated with the west coast of Scotland, not the edge of a famous desert with places named Furnace Creek scattered about. I remembered my rain jacket had a hood on it, so I put that on over my down jacket and felt a whole lot warmer. Yay. My hands were still somewhat cold, but those lightweight Lycra running gloves helped keep them warm.
As the trail went up, the wind also picked up, and the temperature dropped down to 40 degrees; I was taking shelter behind a juniper bush every fifteen minutes and it somewhat helped, but I thought I should just keep moving and move faster to stay warm. I was in pretty good spirits, and thought a lot about "wow, this is not what I expected" and "maybe if I get a strong tail wind I should just run a bit." So I did start running here and there, it was supereasy with the 40mph wind pushing from behind, though a few times I got blown a bit off the trail.
The trail went up to some seriously large wind turbines and walked right by them, many different models and with odd names like NEG Micon and Vestas and Yoyodyne. With many of the biggest ones I couldn't even see the tops of the blades, up there, slicing through the blowing fog. The fog was really strange--why is it there?, I tried to remember Venturi tube physics and PV=nRT equations, then I thought "oh yeah, it's just like when you see the vapor on top of an aircraft wing when it lands". The turbines could generate a lot of power too--the biggest ones, GE and Vestas, can produce 1.5 and 3 megawatts respectively, and there are hundreds of these turbines stretching for dozens of miles.
Anyways, the trail descended off of Cameron Ridge and crossed Highway 58; my running and light pack made quick work of that section and I did those 8 miles in about 2 hours and 45 minutes. I found a rock to sit on and wait for the parents, who showed up just a couple of minutes later. Dad took some extra gallons of water over to the cache; I sat in the car and wamed up and chatted with Mom and showed her "Find My Friends" so she can see where I'm at on the trail. Then I repacked my backpack with that 7 liters of water and 7 pounds of food... and tried it on.
The backpack felt super heavy to pick up, as it should; I'm guessing it weighs in around 42 pounds. That's the heaviest it's been so far, but still lighter than my backpack weighed as a teenager! On those 8 and 9 day Boy Scout trips to the Sierra, our backpacks generally weighed 45 to 50 pounds; that's almost child abuse these days.
But on my back, the pack felt solid and dense and... good. Not unusually heavy, just well-fitted and snug. After some pictures and goodbyes, I headed on down the trail. It was sunny but windy and cool, and I was looking forward to a few miles down the trail when it tucked into a canyon. In the next five miles the PCT gains some 2500 feet elevation. I wasn't particularly concerned though... I'd done a good eight miles and had all afternoon to do another eight or ten.
I didn't look at the maps closely enough. It wasn't a canyon that the trail was climbing up, it was an exposed ridgeline. The wind picked up, stronger and colder, maybe 40mph, then 50mph, I was being blown off the trail and found that if I crouched down I could actually make forward progress. It was hard work, but not particularly tiring, and the trail kept on going up and up to a pinyon-oak-sagebrush forest on the ridgeline, starting around mile 573.
I was a bit befuddled as to why I didn't read the topo map right, but did I read the topo map? I couldn't remember, but somehow I recall thiere was a canyon and Joshua trees and such, just five miles from the trailhead... because (then it hit me) that's what Reese Whitherspoon/Cheryl Strayed walked through in That Movie. She was exhausted just five miles from starting her PCT journey at that same sign where my parents and I took pictures--she didn't start at Campo, some 566 PCT miles before the sign. No wonder she had problems in those first few miles, my pack is hardly the beast that she had, but still it took me a few hours to climb that ridge today, resting often to just warm up.
Wild (the book and movie) is an interesting topic on the PCT this year, I've already had several discussions about it, and a lot of people have asked me "is it just like the movie?" and "what do you think about the movie" and all that. The book-movie isn't really about hiking the PCT, it's about a woman getting control of herself after a bit of addition to various things, and coming to terms with the early death of her mother. The "getting control" thing I get; on the PCT you certainly learn what's in your control and what's not, and deal with it. The addictions, well, I don't really have many, so I can't speak to that.
One thing that both the book and the movie do get right, in my view, is that it doesn't frame the PCT as a narrative, but as a collection of experiences. Some are amusing, some are illuminating, but there isn't much of a plot or driving force to pull you in and hook you, and people have a lot of problems trying to deal with a movie that's not constantly feeding you plot hooks. I find the PCT to be very much a non-narrative experience, the feelings I get out here don't really feel anything like Wild. I'd say the closest movie that matches my day-to-day mood is Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout, and yes it's available on Blu-ray :-)
Anyways, the sparse forest is a bit of a suprise, and the wind has lessened, and I'm feeling fit and chipper and good. I stopped for a rest around 5, planned where I'd stay for my first camp in the supposedly dreadful Section F of the PCT, and was thinking that section F is Fine, not Fearful. It's Forested. It's Fun! I was playing a word game and having a great time. I spotted a white-and-red plastic bucket? next to the trail. Is that a geocache? It can't be, that starts with the letter G! Oh, it says Honda on it, it's a dirt bike Fender! Yay! And my left foot slipped and I Fell. Hard. And said the F-word. Several times.
I landed on my left side, and ended up facing down with my right leg on top of my left. Damn it, I should've paid attention; this section of the PCT is shared with dirt bikes and OHVs, and that little frosting (stop it) of dirt on top of the rocks slipped me up good. What's more is that I banged my already sore right shin on a rock. It hurt like someone had kicked me hard in a soccer game. Ow ow ow. I sat on the ground and thought of all sorts of options, took an Aleve, and waited a few minutes to see if it got worse.
The pain didn't get worse, it just simply went away. Uh, OK. Is it fine to walk on? Yep. Thanks body--I've been trusting you to do a lot these past weeks, this is a weirdly quick turnaround but I'm fine with that. I kept on walking, spotted a place across a shallow saddle that looked flattish and out of the wind, hiked over... and set up camp and typed out this blog. I'll probably be a bit sore and probably prettily bruised from my Unexcpected Descent, but that's tomorrow's worries. For now it's food and bedtime.