Update: Last week, Andy crossed the 1,000 mile mark of the trail – almost halfway there! Right now, he’s heading into the Lake Tahoe area. Stay tuned for new entries from his journal as he continues through the Sierra Nevada. For now, though, here’s a look back at some of his entries from his time in the foothills of the Southern Sierra.
5/27/12: I awoke in the hotel to my alarm at 6:30 am still quite tired – probably because I had conked out at 8:30, woke up again at 11:00, organized and packed all my stuff, then had a movie marathon of Good Will Hunting and Dumb and Dumber until 3:30 am. Still, I had to get up. I had scheduled a trail angel to pick me up at 7:15 to take me back to the trail. I used the hot water dispenser in the hotel’s downstairs coffee area to rehydrate some spaghetti, which soaked during the ride back to the trail and made for a nice breakfast. On the way, we picked up my old friend Chris, whom I hadn’t seen since Big Bear. He had taken five days off in Tehachapi, killing time because he has a friend meeting him in two weeks. We hiked separately during the day, but met up again at the spring that night, 25 miles up the trail.
My longest day yet didn’t seem that bad, even with a fresh-out-of-town (i.e., heavy) pack. It must have been that power breakfast or my intermittent cat naps. I crossed Tehachapi Pass at Highway 58, then up up up again into the next range, the Piute Mountains, I think. And… more windmills! A little less offensive than the previous ones. These were smaller and slightly quieter – like a Cesna instead of a 747. Once back up in the mountains, the trail leveled out and winded around near the ridgeline all afternoon.
I walked into Golden Oaks Spring at 7:30 pm. Chris had already pitched his tent. We set up some cut rounds that someone had conveniently stacked right there and started cooking dinner. His fiancée works for Wolfgang Puck, so he has gourmet food with a high calorie count; his dinner bag looked like astronaut rations, with calories, grams of fat, protein, and carbs all listed on the front.
As we were finishing our dinners and chatting about life, we see a guy clamber in during the last vestiges of dusklight. He’s wearing two packs, a regular backpacking pack behind and a smaller daypack in front. “Howdy,” he says. His name’s Dwayne. Comes from the swamps of Florida. Has an accent to match. We ask where he started in the morning.
“Oh, back at that creek…”
“Oak Creek?” That’s 25 miles back, near where we started.
“No, like Tylerhorse somethin’…”
“Tylerhorse Canyon?!” That’s a whole 42 miles back!
Damn, that’s a long day! And I thought 25 miles was a lot.
“Yeah, I do ’bout 40 a day. Goin’ from Saufley’s to Kennedy Meadows in one go.”
That’s 250 miles in one resupply – impressive. I average about 100. For over an hour, Dwayne told us stories from the Florida swamp, where he’s lived most of his life, about eating snakes and gators, canoeing 150 miles to his friend’s house, and large-scale marijuana growing, where you float the plants in styrofoam pots in the deep swamps – “No need to water ’em. Some guys turned us in though, so I spent most of the 90’s in the pen. Dad would’ve been in fer life, ‘cept Clinton pardoned him when he left office.” At one point, we remarked that the water of our spring was a little murky. “Oh no,” he said, “this is beautiful water! You should see the water I drink in the swamp.”
After an amazing run of swamp stories for more than hour without him scarcely taking a single breath (I don’t think he gets to talk to people very much because he walks so fast), I inconspicuously slipped into my sleeping bag, and the Southern drawl slowly faded out. Chris said he heard Dwayne leave at 3:30 the next morning. He had said he wanted to do 50 miles that day.
5/28/12: No day goes exactly as planned. After camping at Golden Oak Spring with Chris and Dwayne, I woke up and started off like I would do any other day. After about a mile, I had a bit of a tummy ache, so I put down my pack and lay under a pine tree. I watched Chris pass me, then some other folks I knew, then some more people, but I still didn’t feel like getting up. I feel asleep, then woke up still unmotivated – but motivated enough to move to a shadier resting spot. Soon, it was 3:30 pm, and I had still gone only one mile. I realized I just had three liters of water left, and that the next water was 18 miles away – a distance I surely wasn’t making today. You generally want one liter for every four miles, plus an extra liter for overnight to make dinner and breakfast. So, I was two and a half liters short.
I decided to walk back a mile to Golden Oaks Spring with just my bottles and Steripen to get enough water for the night and the next day. On the way, I ran into Sean and Diana, who alerted me that they had just seen a bear. Sure enough, five minutes later… BEAR! It ran away as soon as it saw me, a nervous adolsecent (the bear, I mean). I got to the spring and saw my friends “Trailwhore,” “Chile,” and “Pepper,” all settling down for the night. I talked with them while I filled and treated my water. The resident frogs would go wild, croaking with excitement when I turned on my Steripen. For 90 seconds, they were too loud for us humans to even hold a conversation. Then, as soon as the light went out: silence. I said good night and walked back to my site fully-loaded with a total of five liters.
5/29/12: Today was lovely. Ups, downs, heat, cool wind, stillness. I awoke well-rested and ready to go after my relaxing day yesterday. I did 10 quick miles before noon, leaving the menacing windmills at my back and finding myself in a grassy meadow under a giant oak tree.
ANT ATTACK! Within seconds, my pack was covered with biting red ants. I could feel them nibbling up my legs like a wave of stinging needles. Ahhh! Retreat! RETREAT! I guess under an oak is a favorite hangout for resting hikers as well as ants, so I opted for a spot in the grassy meadow. No shade, but no ants.
After this midday break, I packed up and easily did the 1,000 foot climb up the next ridge. Those climbs are getting much easier; my legs hardly notice them anymore. I hadn’t seen anyone all day except for some very contented but skittish cows. Toward the end of the day, I ran into Joe, whom I had never met before. He shared some cherry tomatoes, and I shared some Mom’s Homemade Spaghetti – a skewed exchange, I know, but I was craving fresh veggies.
I made it to Robin Bird Spring, mile 602, by 4:00 or so, and saw Sean and Diana. They own a well-known dog on the trail named Chunk, who’s on doggie vacation for this dry desert section, but will rejoin us at Kennedy Meadows. The spring was newly-renovated with a barbed-wire fence to keep the cows out, a little cow-proof gate, and the water flowed from a large black pipe, cold and clear. I filled two liters and found myself a flat spot to cook dinner: homemade spaghetti with parmesan – mmmm, one of my favorites. The sauce is dehydrated and looks almost like a Fruit Roll-Up, but dissolves as the angel hair pasta cooks. Then: fresh parmesan crumbled and melted on top! Add one oz. of olive oil for extra goodness and calories. Joe was like, “wow.” I enjoyed some more of his cherry tomatoes as well. After dinner, I was still hungry (the stomach becomes a bottomless pit for the thru-hiker). I had two of Mom’s Cowboy Cookies – once again, homemade – with oats, walnuts, coconut, and white chocolate chips. I must have the best food on the trail :-). I’m glad I didn’t get the trail name “Gourmet,” because my friend who did get it now feels like he has to live up to his title and generously shares his delicious creations with other hikers. At least once, he almost ran out of food for himself.
After dinner (and dessert), I lay down by the spring on a grassy hillock under a tree. It was only 5:00 pm, but I quickly dozed off. About an hour later, I woke up to see a GIANT BULL standing over me, breathing heavily. I think, in my dazed astonishment, I just smiled. This guy was huge, more like a rhinocerous or a stegasaurus. I looked around, but all my hiker buddies were nowhere to be seen, doubtless hiding in the bushes from the great beast. After a minute of this dreamlike bovine intimacy, a patch of juicy grass must have caught his eye, and the bull casually left. I still don’t know if maybe the whole thing was a dream. I quickly fell back asleep and awoke just before dawn.
…It’s nice here under the Joshua tree. There’s a breeze, and he makes good shade. The land is barren and desolate, but I know I’m safe.
5/30/12: I find myself back in the desert again today, waiting out the hottest sun under a huge Joshua Tree. There was a water cache a mile back, but not much was left. I took just a liter for the seven hot miles to come, over the next ridge to Willow Spring, mile 622. That’s where I think I’ll camp tonight. The spring there has plenty of water, so I can chug with impunity, cook dinner, and leave as much water as possible in the caches for those behind me. It looks like the rest of today and tomorrow will be in this arid high desert terrain. However, tomorrow afternoon, I enter Sequoia National Forest – one step closer to the Sierras! I can almost smell the pine trees and taste that pure, high mountain water.