Sunday, June 2, 2013

Days 42-47, May 28-June 2 - Sleepless Nights for 100 Miles

Sleep was hard to come by at the Sawmill Campground - the nice cool breeze we'd enjoyed during the day turned to a full on windstorm at night, and we spent the night continually re-pitching the poor tent, which kept collapsing in the gusts. We had to restake the tent at least 5 times throughout the night, and then woke up to a rainy and dreary morning - a definite change! The day was long and chilly, but passing mile 500 felt great. All milestones are exciting, but 500 seems like the first really legitimate big deal. I can't believe I've WALKED 500 miles - it's hard to wrap my mind around! 

After hiking the dreary day through a creepy desert hunting club (seriously), we made it to mile 518 and a strange little place called Hiker Town. Oh...Hiker Town...what a place. After Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna, this place was a little bit of a shock to the system. It didn't help that we showed up right around dusk and there were about 30 people there ahead of us already. Hikertown is an old western style "town" built right next to the highway, with small buildings designed to resemble a saloon, schoolhouse, general store, etc. on the facade. Inside, they're bunks available to rent out for the night for a suggested donation of $10. I think it would be a fun, cheeky place to stay at times, but when we arrived the place was bursting at the seams with hikers and the proprietors seemed a little overwhelmed.  We originally planned on continuing on, but after our lack of sleep the night before, were deterred by the weather forecast which predicted continued wind storms with gusts up to 80mph. The owner allowed us to roll out our sleeping bags in the garage, where we decided to stay with Games and Reason. (They'd decided that the lodging they'd been offered on the other side of highway was just a bit too dodgy after noticing the plethora of "No Trespassing" signs and the use of a rock to jimmy open the side of a barn.) Joining us in the garage was a dog, who apparently doesn't like the wind, because he howled ALL NIGHT LONG. Coupled with the wind slamming the aging garage door against its metal rails continuously throughout the night, and we literally got absolutely no sleep...for the second night in a row! I finally started to drift off sometime around 4am, but the roosters on the property started crowing and actually pecking on the garage door sometime around 4:45. It was an awful nights sleep, and a fairly creepy place to wait out the howling windstorm, but I couldn't help but crack up as we packed up and hightailed it out of there by 5am for fear we'd otherwise be asked for our $10/person "donation" for the night's "rest." 

I didn't mind getting an early start, because day 43 was aqueduct day! For some reason, I was really excited about the prospect of walking for miles and miles across the sweet, flat aqueduct. It seemed like such a fun change of scenery, and as we walked on and on I couldn't help but marvel at the feats of civil engineering to carry ALL THAT WATER to Southern California. Maybe I was just drunk off the sight of that water! And, did I mention it was flat?! We even walked on concrete for a few miles.  I loved the aqueduct...for about an hour. Then the novelty wore off, and I was walking in the exposed desert in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and it felt like it went on forever. We finally made it to a cache under a bridge at mile 535, where we caught back up to the Wolfpack! It was so good to see everyone, and it turned out we'd barely missed them at Hikertown the previous evening. After waiting out the heat of the day, we took off for camp at Tyler Horse Canyon at mile 541 - only 6 miles to the end of the day! The last 6 miles went directly through a gigantic wind farm - wind mills that went on and on as if forever.  It almost felt apocalyptic, like the only things left on the earth were wind mills and a few straggly hikers. Turns out, those wind mills are there for a reason - it was incredibly windy, and there were a few moments when it literally took all my effort to just stay on my feet. It was exhausting but funny - we laughed as we had to practically throw our bodies forward to get one step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the wind didn't die down, and we had another awful night's rest. We were cowboy camping (no tent) and the sand whipped across my slightly burned face all night. So frustrating. When you're putting your body through the daily rigors of a thru-hike, sleep is the magical solution to so many problems. Somehow, you can go to bed dog tired every night sore and in pain, but wake up the following morning after a good night's rest and be ready to go out and do it all over again. A night's sleep is a terrible thing to waste out here, and I felt absolutely awful after 3 nights of no sleep.  (What are the odds the only time in my life I'd have trouble sleeping is when I'm more exhausted than ever?!)

We didn't plan on taking a zero in Mojave, so we left camp early to complete the last 17 miles to town early enough to leave time for chores. The hike was brutal - I'd cut holes in the top of my too-small-shoes to try and give my toes a little extra room up front, but then we returned to super sandy trail. You can imagine how that felt as it filled my shoes with every step. But there was trail magic waiting when we arrived at the road! Coppertone was on site with his camper passing out root beer floats - a little taste of heaven! 

A nice trail angel named Doug drove the 10 miles to pick us up and drive us in to Mojave...which the guide book had recommended over Tehachapi as the "less awful" of the two options. To put it lightly, there's not much for thru-hikers in Mojave. Our hotel was directly across the street (highway) from a train switchyard, and our dining options included fast food, Denny's, or El Jefe Mexican and Pizza (which we visited twice during  our slightly more than 24 hours in town). Mojave was great for actually taking care of chores and relaxing though - fewer distractions! I caught up with family and had a surprise package waiting from my Mom - stocked with cookies, candy, chips and a little Irish whiskey! Amazing. 

We waited out the heat of the day in Mojave the following day and then got back to the trail around 8pm, after trail angel Doug and his equally kind wife Suzy picked us up and brought us back to the trail. We only hiked about a mile and a half - now that is a serious near0! The following morning, we hit the trail by 7, but it wasn't nearly early enough - it was one of the hottest days we've had yet, and we were boiling almost immediately, with a 2500 ft climb looming. The hiking wasn't the prettiest we've seen, and the wind mills continued - I'm ready to be done with the wind mills! We had a late lunch with Sunshine, Dance Party, Buff, Boulder, Scooter, Lighthouse, and Viking. I was tempted to stay at the nice shady spring to wait for the Wolfpack, but given how hot it had been and the fact that they'd taken a full zero the day before in Tehachapi, we weren't sure if they'd catch up. We hiked on to 586 and found a nice flat camping spot. I took a Tylenol PM, which I'd picked up in town - wasn't prepared to deal with another sleepless night! I don't even think I moved until the alarm went off at 4am!

Today proved as hot as yesterday, but the hiking was so much more enjoyable. We tackled the day's big climb first thing in the morning before it was too hot, and then had a nice break underneath the shade of - wait for it - pine trees! We talked about the summer and our plans that are suddenly feeling very soon. I realized we'll be in Mammoth in 2.5 weeks! I couldn't be more excited. In all the excitement, we also crossed mile 600! Only 2,000 left to Canada! Made it to mile 609 at Landers Camp and set up camp underneath huge pine trees in the middle of a field. I feel like we're finally getting close to the mountains, and they are calling!

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