PCT Update 5: Marathon Through the Mojave

By in Pacific Crest Trail

In the middle of the blistering heat and barren landscapes sits a place with shade, running water, and even air conditioning. Run by a couple of "trail angels" out of their own home is Hiker Heaven, and a heaven it is indeed. They have yurts setup with everything from hangout spaces to computer rooms. They do your laundry for you and act as a psuedo post office, receiving and sending mail for hikers. They have a shuttle to ferry hikers in and out of town, offer showers, an air conditioned guest house, and plenty of space to setup a tent for the night or three. And they do it all for free out of the kindness of their heart.

On my way to Hiker Heaven I had to walk through a long dark tunnel with a light at the end of... wait a second...

After a couple of long days trekking down from Mount Baden-Powell and through the desert, Hiker Heaven offered a great recharge point for Dennis and I. I would've liked to have stayed there for days, but unfortunately my time in heaven was limited to only a few hours. I had miles to make that very night, as it was to be the beginning of my death march marathon.

If these rocks look familiar it's because you've probably seen them on Mars. Or rather in a movie on Mars. This region near the Vasquez rocks has been used as a filming location for countless movies and TV shows.

Farewell For Now

The same was not true for Dennis. He would be staying in Hiker Heaven for another day or so while I went off ahead. This would be our first time apart after over a month of hiking together.

This plan was put in place in the days leading up to our arrival at Hiker Heaven. I was going home in two weeks for my sister's graduation and to spend some time with my family and my girlfriend. We wanted to be able to stay together for the next section of the trip, the Sierra Nevada, which is arguably the most dangerous and generally inadvisable to do alone.

Hanging out with Dennis in one of the yurts.

I ran the numbers and figured if I could average a little over 21 miles a day I could make it to a further highway crossing and be a about a week ahead of Dennis when I left for home. This would make meeting up significantly easier when I returned to the trail. It also meant I was about to push myself to my record high every day for nearly two weeks without a break, and after coming off of a week of hitting close to 20 miles a day average. But I was determined to succeed at this challenge.

After a few hours in Hiker Heaven we said our goodbyes for now. It was sad to walk out the door without Dennis. We had been through this journey together from the start and it felt weird to suddenly be without my hiking companion.

Going off solo.

That evening I literally hiked off into the sunset. A brilliant red filled the sky as I ascended over desert peaks and into the green valley on the other side. I camped completely alone for the first time since I set off on this trip. The rustling of animals in the bushes combined with the solitude and a complete lack of phone service led to an uneasiness that night.

Possibly one of the most vibrant sunsets I've ever seen.

Never Truly Alone

The next day proved to be the hardest for me yet. I saw almost nobody, and of the few I did see there was little more than passive greetings exchanged. On top of that I had little to no service for most the day. I felt very alone.

I started the day in a place called Green Valley.

I meandered up and down mountains, all the while the sun bore down on me getting hotter with every hour. Water was scarce, and I was pushing for 27 miles, a soon-to-be new record.

Green Valley didn't stay green the whole time.

The heat, thirst, and solitude drained my mind as much as my body. Motivation became harder and my speed began to slow. As the mid afternoon hit I was wiped, and I still had 7 miles to go, all uphill.

There were also a lot of snakes. A few minutes after passing this huge guy a rattlesnake took me by surprise as it hissed and rattled while slithering sideways off the trail and into the bushes.

It was around then that I had a couple bars of cell service. Not much, but enough to make a phone call as long I didn't move. I called my girlfriend, Jessie. We talked and laughed, and it was exactly what I needed. After the conversation my mental state did a 180, and the next 7 miles ended up my fastest of the day.

After starting in Green Valley I had made my down into a more desert region. But I ended the day back up in a green and grassy forest.

Into the Mojave

The next day I descended down into the Mojave desert. It was another long day, this time the physical pain being the harder to overcome then the mind. Near the end I popped some Tylenol and ibuprofen to make it through the last few miles.

The southern edge of the Mojave desert.

That night I stayed at a place called Hiker Town along the southern edge of the Mojave desert. It was a sketchy place that was modeled after an old Western town. It was complete with buildings like the sheriff's office and the cat house. And just like those old Western towns, the place felt totally abandoned and rundown.

Hiker Town.

I woke up and got ready to go still under the light of the stars. I was planning on hiking over 30 miles that day and completing the entire Mojave section of the trail in a single go.

Day breaks over the desert.

Hiking alone under the stars in the wide expanse of the desert was an experience I will never forget. I felt like a renegade as I hiked swiftly along the flat terrain in the coolness of the night sky. I could see day break miles away as the sun slowly made it's way into the sky. I passed through forests of Joshua Trees, which under the shadows of the sunrise looked like they could've been a thousand people dancing.

Joshua Trees dance under the morning sun.

I put many miles in before the same old desert sun came bearing down in full force. The trail weaved through wind farms where hundreds of turbines sat, ready to take advantage of those extreme desert winds. However that day they were motionless, leaving me to complete my Mojave march without so much as a breeze to cool me down.

A windless wind farm.

Far Away From Home

Over the next day I made my way to the town of Tehachapi. I hitched in, resupplied and did laundry, and then hitched back to the trail a few hours later. There was no time to rest as I had many more miles to go.

It's a little known fact that dinosaurs still roam the PCT.

This next section came with a warning to expect "little to no cell service or water." It was to be the most remote section of the trail yet. It was also my last 85 miles before I would reach the highway and begin my journey home. The last hoorah of the desert.

Barren but beautiful.

Winding up and over mountain after mountain, the trail became more and more remote with each mile. At the beginning I was still amongst some lingering wind turbines from the wind farms of the desert, but those quickly faded away. Wilderness reached out all around me with the only signs of civilization being other hikers and the occasional ATV road cutting across the trail.

The desert stretched out for what looked like forever.

Twenty Percent

As I neared the end of this stretch, the peaks of the Sierra Nevada rose above all else in the distance. Their summits were blanketed in snow and surrounded by the only clouds in the sky. It was a teaser for what was to come upon my return to the trail.

My last sunrise for now.

Tired and weary, I made my way to the highway that marked the end of this section. A trail angel had stashed some beers for hikers to have for celebration. I cracked open a Guinness to drink while I waited for a hitch into town. The beer was hot from the sun, yet after all these miles it was... gross. Hot beer never tastes good.

Beautiful wildflowers lined the trail on the way down.

It wasn't long before a nice couple pulled over to drive me into town. As we drove off, I felt a sense of completion. The hike was now 20% done, I had completed the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail. When I come back I will be entering the Sierra Nevada where new terrain and challenges await. But for now I looked forward to some time of rest and to get to see my family and my girlfriend.

I'll be back.

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