Day 45: Golden Oak Spring

23.8 miles (566.4 to 590.2)

I say goodbye to Dad and Pete and hike away from Highway 58 by the light of my headlamp. A crescent moon hangs in the eastern sky, no help at all for lighting the way. I stop to sign the trail register. I’m the first hiker to sign today. Only four signed yesterday. Everyone else must be waiting out the heat wave in town. For over a mile, the trail parallels the highway. Then the climb begins. The trail rises over 2,300 feet through Joshua trees into juniper and pine – and wind. The wind keeps me cool on what would otherwise (even at 6am) be a scorching climb. 

Sunrise over the Highway 58 corridor.

I start out awkwardly, but toward the top I find my uphill stride. Then, I’m unstoppable. I break all kinds of personal records, doing an unheard of 13 by 10. My goal is Golden Oak Spring (16.9 miles) by noon. I’ll wait out the heat there, then collect a few more miles this evening, topping out around 20-25 miles for the day. That’s my goal, anyway, and so far I’m doing well. There’s a particular angle of slope that’s perfect for running, and on those downhill slopes I run, every time, without even meaning to. That’s what my body wants to do, so I do. 

The record-smashing 13 by 10.

The landscape here is different than anything I’ve seen so far. Mountains are pointer, and rockier, and there are rocks and boulders and rock formations all over the place. This is really cool. I pause again and again to take pictures.

Ahead on the trail, I catch sight of three hikers. They’re moving about my speed (fast), so I’m not gaining on them; they must have camped somewhere along the way last night. I’ve already walked by two cowboy campers, both still asleep, at 3 miles and 10 miles in. Looks like some people attacked the climb last night. 

I’m loving the views.

I cruise along and pull into the spring, completing those 16.9 miles by 11:30. The three hikers I saw earlier, all male, are already crashed out in the shade. I spread my tent’s footprint in shade by the trough and eat lunch. The spring is flowing well. A little waterfall burbles from pipe to trough while I take a nap. Polywogs swim in the trough. I doctor my blisters. I sit around not doing much of anything. Even in shade next to water, it’s hot. I don’t think I could hike far in this heat. I’m glad I have somewhere to spend the afternoon. 

I leave the spring at 4:45 carrying seven liters of water. It’s just under 19 miles to the next water source. This time, I’m probably carrying too much, but I don’t mind the weight when it allows me to drink as much as I want without worrying about rationing. I hope to do at least 22 miles today, so I feel slightly frustrated when I pass a plethora of good campsites along the way, much too soon to stop. Thus begins the “how far should I push it” mental debate. I could pass all of these sites and find myself in a campsite void just when I need to stop. Part of me really wants to hike as long as the light lasts – at least another hour of cool temperatures! Another part of me says, “Hey, this is Day 1 in your new shoes and your arch is starting to ache. Don’t do anything stupid.” 

Another wind farm.

At nearly 24 miles in, I stop at a cool little spot overlooking a wind farm and set up my tent and eat dinner. It’s windy, of course, but it’s going to be windy anywhere up here – I’ve walked through wind farm after wind farm all day. The sun sets. I get into my tent to clean up and do my daily writing and get some sleep. Tomorrow morning I’ll be up at 3:45, hiking again before dawn. 

*More pictures on Instagram

Days 43 and 44: Tehachapi zeroes

0 miles

Dad and Pete arrive mid-morning. I spend most of the day attempting to organize my resupply and sorting through spare items that I may or may not want at Walker Pass or Kennedy Meadows. I’ve decided to take two zeroes. Tomorrow is supposed to be the hottest day of the week. I won’t mind skipping that. Also, giving my blisters another day to heal will make the next section more pleasant. 

How I spend the first morning.

Dad won’t be hiking out of Tehachapi with me. He and Pete are going to drive me to the trailhead in two days, and then they’ll head to Kennedy Meadows to test Dad’s foot. If it’s hikeable, he’ll hike with me from Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows. 

Joy is organizing for a family reunion, and even though we’re welcome to stay, we decide to simplify her life and migrate to JD and Liz’s for tonight. At JD’s, we hang out in the salt water swimming pool. JD and Liz serve us a delicious dinner of barbecued chicken. 

I sleep late (6am!). We go out for breakfast at Henry’s Diner, where I devour hash-browns and an omelet stuffed with spinach and avocado. Next, we drive an hour or so down to the valley to pick up Dad’s car from my friend Dave’s house. After a quick visit, we drive back to Tehachapi. I reorganize my food and gear. Then it’s already 9pm, and I have to wake up at 3am tomorrow to hit the trail before the heat becomes overwhelming. Two zeroes aren’t quite enough. There’s always too much to do. 

Day 42: Where Southern California ends

16.7 miles (549.7 to 566.4)

Hikers pass my tent at 10:30pm. They sound like my 34-mile-day crew. Too bad I couldn’t night hike with them. I immediately fall back asleep. My alarm wakes me too soon at 3:45. Do I have to? Yeah, I really do. In a few hours, it’s going to be crazy hot. I need to get off this mountain and into town. I pack and leave by the light of my headlamp. 

Hiking by headlamp.

This morning, I’m slow. My blisters make each step awkward. I can’t get my legs into a steady pace. I make lots of goofy mistakes, like forgetting to put my hat away when I take out my umbrella. I’m not really getting anywhere, and while I’m flopping about the temperature is rising. This has to stop. I put in my earbuds and go. 

Sunrise

With music directing my pace, the ridiculousness vanishes. My trail legs are back, and they make quick work of the miles. They carry me through a wind farm, down through the hot morning to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road. There’s a small water cache here. I’m still doing ok with the last of the eight liters I carried from Tylerhorse yesterday, so I cross the road and boogie through another (the same?) wind farm as the temperature continues to rise. I keep my music on repeat, the same album that got me to Hikertown. I’m making good time. 

Somewhere between Tehachapi Willow Springs Road and Highway 58.

I seem to be the only one who didn’t get off the trail at Tehachapi Willow Springs Road. I don’t see another hiker from there to Highway 58. That’s ok. I keep my headphones in and cruise.

At the top of the climb, before a 3.3-mile descent to the highway, I stop in the thin shade of a juniper to eat lunch and call Tehachapi trail angels for a ride. Joy will pick me up in an hour and fifteen minutes, which should give me plenty of time to finish the 3.3 miles. I fly down the hill. Actually, I run. The trail isn’t slippery or rocky, and rather than fight gravity I let my body run when the slope is right. 

The trail joins a paved road, which I follow to the place where the PCT crosses Highway 58. In Guthook’s app, this is where the Southern California section ends and the Sierra section begins. As I walk along the freeway toward the crossing, the magnitude of this accomplishment fills my eyes with tears. From Mexico, I’ve hiked out of Southern California. I’m really doing this. I’m a real thru hiker. 

Looking down on Highway 58 and the end of Southern California.

And I’m even more badass than I thought: I’m half an hour early. There’s no shade, so I open my umbrella. I plop down in the dirt – and immediately jump up. Hot! The ground is too hot to sit on. I look at my thermometer. 104 degrees at 1pm. 

Right on time, Joy arrives. She takes me to her house. I shower and change into her daughter’s clean shirt and shorts, then we head over to her friends JD and Liz’s home for a Father’s Day barbecue. JD and Liz are also trail angels. I take a nap on one of their guest beds. I sign their PCT book. They treat me to a dinner of smoked tri-tip and sides. I arrived on the right night.

Tomorrow, Dad and Uncle Pete (Scarecrow) will arrive with my resupply box. Dad spent the last four days with his sister Martha. His foot is healing, but slowly; he won’t be able to return to the trail with me right away. 

I might not return to the trail right away, either. Excessive heat is forecast to continue all week, and I don’t want to put my health in excessive danger. Also, my feet have erupted in blisters, probably due to long days in intense heat (really old shoes may have contributed as well). It would be nice to heal these blisters before setting out again. Plus, I haven’t had a day off in 200 miles. Two hundred miles without a zero! But I finished strong, in a heat wave, literally running down the trail. I’m going to be ok. 

*More photos on Instagram

Day 41: Killing it

14.8 miles (534.9 to 549.7)

I’m camped in a wind farm. This close, wind turbines sound like a freeway. Wind gusts all night, though not nearly as strong as I anticipated (being in a wind farm), and for the most part I’m able to sleep through the night. I wake a little after 4am, contemplate getting up, convince myself I need more sleep, then wake again shortly before 6:00. I hike away at 7:00 without having seen any of the hikers I came in with last night. They’re probably asleep under the bridge. As of last night, they planned to hide from the sun all day and hike out tonight. I, on the other hand, am going to hike 6.6 miles to our next (and last) water source in Tylerhorse Canyon, and then I’m going to fall asleep in the shade. I’ll get going again this evening.  

Through the wind farm I go.

The hike to Tylerhorse is hot. I’m in a wind farm, but the breeze isn’t strong enough to rustle my umbrella. I use the umbrella the whole way. When I drop down to the creek, Martin is there brushing his teeth. I tell him I’m in search of shade. He tells me a hiker named Just Mike just walked up the canyon to pitch his tent for a nap. I set off up the canyon in search of shaded campsites. After a short scramble, a voice above says, “Hey, Martin!”

“It’s not Martin.”

I’ve seen Just Mike’s name in some of the tail registers, but this is our first meeting. He’s pitched his tent on a small shelf above the stream, as far under a live oak as he can get. He’s going to wait out the day here. I ask if there’s room for another. Possibly. I climb up and take a look. I manage to wedge my tent into an awkward position on the edge of a cliff. Good enough. I’m in shade, and flies can’t reach me. I go into such a deep sleep that when I wake, I think I’m dying. I fall asleep again, and the next time I wake I don’t panic. 

By mid-afternoon, our tents are in the sun. Mike proposes moving into the channel itself. He’s right: there’s nowhere left to go to escape the sun. He drags his tent down. I juggle mine down without ripping anything. I go back inside and sleep hard for a full hour. 

Finding shade (no streams were harmed in the process).

As we’re packing to leave, Just Mike finds coffee in his food bag. He decides to stay long enough to brew a cup. I leave at 5:40 carrying eight liters of water to get to Highway 58, 25 miles away. My pack doesn’t feel as heavy as it did the last time I carried eight liters. I must be getting stronger…or my body has become numb to pain. 

As I round the first bend coming out of the canyon, I see two hikers a short distance ahead. They’re the same two hikers I leapfrogged with this morning on the way to Tylerhorse. Weird timing. I go a little farther out of the canyon and stop to photograph the view. Whoa. There’s a plume of smoke rising to the south. I walk a little farther and the plume grows. There’s definitely a wildfire to the south. It looks to be in the area through which I recently hiked. I hope everyone on the PCT is safe. 

Smoke on the horizon.

The trail climbs mildly for awhile, wrapping around the mountain, then it drops to the bottom of a dry canyon. At the bottom, I catch the two hikers, who’ve stopped for a break. I’ve seen them several times before but we’ve never said anything beyond hello to each other. Now we finally have a chance to talk. After a few sentences, the girl eyes my pack and asks how much water I’m carrying. 

“A lot.” 

She’s carrying 1.5 liters. So is he. 

“I have eight.”  

They’re shocked. They’re counting on being able to fill up at the cache at the top of the upcoming 2,000 foot climb. I won’t rely on caches; I’ve already found one empty. I let them take off ahead of me. I’m carrying eight liters of water; I’m going to climb slowly. 

Or not. Soon, I catch the two hikers on the switchbacks. As I pass, the gal says, “You’re killing it, even with all that weight.” 

After a few minutes, I realize I’m killing it because of the weight: I’m drinking enough water. I always carry at least 30% more than anyone else, and look at me now. I stride up the mountain with ease, hardly aware of the weight. My body feels strong. I can go and go and go. And I do. After each switchback I pull farther away, until the two hikers are tiny figures down below. Wow. Is this my body? I hiked 34 miles yesterday, and tonight I’m flying up a mountain with eight liters on my back, leaving ultra-lighters in the dust? I’m shocked. I’m so proud of my body right now; it’s performing well above expectations. I’ve become the badass thru-hiker I’ve always wanted to be. 

Wind farm at sunset.

I climb and climb through a strange landscape. The slopes are steep and slashed with ATV tracks. Rutted paths are everywhere. Luckily the PCT is well marked at intersections. It would so easy to go astray here, especially after dark. 

Dark is coming. I manage to reach the trail magic with its (fully stocked) water cache before enlisting the aid of my headlamp. I wanted to hike as far as possible tonight to make tomorrow’s trek easier, but here’s the problem: I’m alone. I’m alone in deer infested post-fire shrubbery, which means mountain lions live here, too, and I don’t want to run into one of those in the dark all by myself. I constantly swing my headlamp around, looking for eye shine. My light glints off a trail marker on the trunk of a conifer. I haven’t seen a trail marker on the trunk of a conifer since…section hiking in northern California? Briefly, I feel like I’m not so far from home. 

Looks like home.

Solo night hiking is not for me. If I had a companion, I could keep going. Instead, I reach a campsite listed in the app and set up my tent. Nearly 17 miles separate me from Highway 58. Tomorrow is going to be another long, hot day. 

*More photos on Instagram

Day 40: Metamorphosis

33.9 miles (501.0 to 534.9)

I leave at 4:45am by the light of my headlamp. Soon I reach a marker for the 500th mile…located at mile 501.8. The trail has obviously changed over time. 

What used to be mile 500.

It’s already hot out here. I have some water left, but not enough to chug like I really want to. I stop in at a water tank just off the trail, hoping I can collect a little water. As noted in the water report, water level here is low and mixed with garbage. No thanks. A tenth of a mile later I check in at a guzzler. The water is so low that it’s not worth trying to collect. On I go, until mile 504.5, when I head off trail to another guzzler. Yes! This one has plenty of water, and it’s clean and cold. It’s my first time getting water from a guzzler. Not bad. I load up for the rest of the walk to Hikertown. 

A guzzler collects rain and stores it underground for wildlife (and hikers).

After the guzzler, the landscape changes from shrubland to oak forest. I descend, sometimes steeply, through several species of oak and associated shrubs. I see a doe and lots of deer tracks. 

Descending toward the desert floor.

Then I’m in dense shrubs again, getting lower and lower while the temperature rises higher and higher. I stop for a break in what could be my last chance for shade. It’s about 10am. I only have 6.6 miles to Hikertown, which shouldn’t take too long, and then I’ll spend the afternoon relaxing in shade. I put on my shoes and backpack and descend to a paved road. Good. Now it should be smooth sailing to Highway 138. 

From here, the trail…goes up. As I climb, I see what looks like a trail ahead on the next hill…still going up. What the hell? I pull out my phone and take a better look at the elevation profile. Oh, no. I’ll be climbing and descending over and over again, all the way to Hikertown. My skin tingles. I don’t know if I can do this right now. It’s too hot. There’s no shade. No wind. Why is there no wind? There’s a wind farm below! But not even a breeze stirs the air up here. Sweat streams down my face. Am I carrying enough water to get through this? I definitely don’t have enough water to sit around all day waiting for the heat to pass. I have get out of here. 

I can’t believe I’m really doing this.

I’m far outside my comfort zone. I need help. Distraction. Something. Normally I don’t play music while I hike so I can listen for rattlesnakes. Now, however, I’m desperate. Now is the time for music. I plug in my earbuds and play the noisiest album on my phone. Please get me through this. The first song covers the sound of my plodding footsteps. The second song is called “Welcome to Dying.” Hmm. Maybe this album wasn’t the best choice. Actually, it’s perfect. When I feel especially horrible, I laugh out loud. I’m really doing this. I’m dragging myself through the Mojave during a heat wave. 

Welcome to dying.

I catch only light, infrequent breezes. The trail keeps going up. Where is this trail taking me? How is there no breeze? My music ends. I play the album again, at higher volume. The trail merges with a dirt road and takes me up yet again. At the top, I can see straight down to Highway 138. Finally, the end is near. I shuffle down the dirt road, and across the highway, and then a little farther to Hikertown. 

The end is near.

Some hikers – usually women arriving on their own – call Hikertown creepy. Well, here I am on my own. The whole valley is ominous: the lonely highway, the heat, the desperate feeling of being alone on foot in an immense desert. I pass through the gate and walk toward the tree in the center of the Hikertown compound. Ghandi, a hiker/volunteer, finds me and gives me an overview of the place, but I can’t focus. I put my feet in a tub of water, then rinse my shirt in the tub and drape the wet shirt over my shoulders. Better. For a long time I just sit. When I think my stomach can handle it, I eat lunch. Then Ghandi helps me collect my resupply box. I take the box into the shade of one of the huts and sit on the tile porch organizing my food. 
Hikertown
 I need to get out of here tonight. I need to go as far as I can before I either fall asleep or my feet hurt too much to continue. The next water source is over 17 miles away. If I can get halfway there tonight, I’ll probably be ok; I can get up at 3:00 tomorrow and do the rest before the heat returns. I make plans to hike out at 6pm with three gals who spent last night in Hikertown. They’re friendly, they don’t take themselves seriously, and they’re nervous about the next stretch. My kind of people. 

When 6pm arrives the temperature has already dropped significantly. Movement seems possible. My new companions are slow to get started, however, and at 6:15 I finally take off ahead of them. I’m carrying six liters of water, which I hope will get me through the next 17 miles of desert, plus a dry camp tonight.

Apparently I’m the first hiker to actually leave Hikertown this evening. Everyone else is congregated around the water spigot, not moving. Oh well. I walk on and reach the LA Aquaduct and follow it until it turns into a giant closed pipe. Then I follow that. Then, after nearly four miles, a few hikers finally catch me. The first to pass is a guy from Georgia with an American flag strapped to his pack. Dad and I met him on our way to Wrightwood when we met the day hikers who offered us bananas. Another guy passes me, one I don’t remember meeting before, then two ladies I’ve seen several times, most recently at Casa de Luna; they left shortly after we arrived. 

Walking the aquaduct.

I hike behind them as the sun sinks lower and lower. When it sets, the four of them pause on the aquaduct to photograph the view. I can’t resist photographing them. 

Sunset at the LA Aquaduct.

I keep trucking while they remain behind; they don’t catch me again for over a mile. The aquaduct is now buried beneath a paved surface, and I’m cruising on the adjacent dirt road (easier on the feet than pavement) when the four of them breeze by me. I’d really like to hike with them – I’m going to need companions if I’m going to hike after dark without falling asleep – but they’re so much faster than me. I speak up and manage to insert myself into their conversation. 

One of them says, “There’s room for one more on the aquaduct.” 

“I’d love to, but I don’t think I can keep up with you.”

Well, not with that attitude. I have to try, so I do, and for awhile I struggle to stay with them. Then, somehow, suddenly I’m matching their strides. Once I settle into their pace, it comes easily. 

My new companions are Joe, Sarah, Jackie, and Chadwick (apologies if I’ve misremembered your names). As darkness falls, I tell them about Dad having to leave the trail. I hear some of their trail stories. Joe asks us to share our biggest accomplishments. 

“I recently recovered from Lyme disease.”  

“I didn’t know that was possible.”

“That’s why it’s such a big accomplishment.”

This leads to a discussion of my career as a wildlife biologist. Joe is majoring in wildlife biology. We geek out on wildlife topics for awhile. 

It’s dark, and it’s becoming obvious that I’m going to have to take a break. I don’t know how far I’m capable of going, but if I’m going to keep going, my feet need to rest. Someone checks the app and announces we’ve already done 8.5 miles – halfway to the water source. We stop and sit in a circle on the aquaduct and take off our shoes and eat snacks. Martin shows up and sits nearby. Others arrive and sit and eat. We pass around a bar of dark chocolate. Then we all start moving again. 

Shockingly, my feet feel ok. My body feels ok. Walking feels good, or at least not bad. Can I stay with these guys for another 8 miles? Can I really pull off a 34 mile day? Suddenly, it seems possible. 

Kangaroo rats race by in the dark. Red lights on the tops of wind turbines blink on and off. Close to midnight, one of the guys says that he’s running on fumes. I don’t even have fumes left in my tank, but somehow I’m still moving. The others want to take a rest stop; I could use one, too. We agree to stop at what will be my 30th mile. Thirty miles. And my body isn’t done yet. After the break I put my shoes back on. Except for the blister, my feet don’t hurt. This is incredible. We’re 3.9 miles from the water. I think I’m going to make it. 

We arrive shortly after 1am. I find a place to pitch my tent and collapse inside. 34 miles. In one day. 

*More photos on Instagram

Day 39: On my own

22.8 miles (478.2 to 501.0)

Ok. Here it goes: 1) the stretch of trail I’ve been most apprehensive about, 2) during an excessive heat wave, 3) on my own. 

I’ve dreaded the Agua Dulce to Tehachapi section since before I decided to hike the whole trail. I’ve read books and blogs by those who’ve survived. I know what’s coming. Long, dry stretches between questionable water sources. Whole days of nothing but wind farms. Intense heat requiring night hiking. Night hiking the LA Aquaduct. Hikertown, which is often called creepy by women traveling solo. This is the one section I don’t want to hike alone. The trail gods are testing me.

Trail angel Joe takes me and a hiker named Martin to the trail at 4:30am. We set off wearing headlamps. Hitting the trail without Dad is weird and sad. If all goes well, he’ll only be away for four days. But that’s almost 100 miles. Right now, that feels like forever. I choke up as I take my first solo steps. I really shouldn’t cry now. If I start, I’ll be a mess for most of the morning. I need to be strong, now more than ever. 

The day begins with a climb. A few minutes in, I’m already sweating. Ahead, something reflects the light from my headlamp. Something red. I get closer. There’s a Poorwill sitting on trail! It’s huge eyes glow in my headlight. Awesome. 

Only 45 minutes into the hike, I turn off my headlamp. Already my right foot doesn’t feel well. The ball of my foot hurts, a troubling new problem; my arch aches more than usual. I stop and switch insoles. For a few minutes, the aches and pains fade. Then they return. Is it the new shoes? I had two sizes sent to Hiker Heaven because I wasn’t sure which pair would fit. I went with size 10.5, rather than the size 10 I previously wore, because the 10s seemed slightly too small. Thankfully I’m still carrying my old shoes. I slip them on and strap the new shoes to my pack. The pain in the ball of my foot disappears almost immediately. The arch pain eases but doesn’t disappear entirely. It rarely does, these days. When I get reception near Lake Hughes Road, I order another pair of size 10 Lone Peaks. Live and learn. 

Heading down to Lake Hughes Road.

I now face an uphill slog to a spring. I raise my umbrella. Even in its shade, even at 8am, sweat streams down my face. I haven’t sweat this much the whole trip! Martin is at the spring filtering water when I arrive. I collect and filter 7 liters for the next 20 miles (plus a dry camp). I shock Martin with this whopping amount of water. I carry more water than anyone else out here, but I never regret carrying so much. I know I’ll drink it all and still want more, especially in today’s heat. 

I do 10 by 10. In fact, I do 13.2 by 11. Then I stop for a break in the shade of a live oak cluster. The shade feels great, but where there’s shade, there’s flies, and the flies are horrible. There are several species, including those out for blood. Martin arrives and rests for awhile, then heads off again while I stretch and massage my feet. When I get started again, my feet don’t hurt(!). 

I break for lunch near mile 15 in a cluster of conifers. Flies swarm my stinky body. I swat as I eat. I have a blister on the tip of my toe, the same toe that blistered early in the trip. I pull out my first aid kit and pop the blister and bandage it. I lay down for a few minutes and manage to fall asleep between fly bites. Before long, I’m back on the trail. 

To my surprise, I spend the afternoon wandering through forest. There’s so much shade that I put my umbrella away and hike in just my cap, no sun flaps necessary. The grade is mostly flat. The tread is easy. Down below I see desert and windmills. Up here, I’m surrounded by oak, pine, Douglas fir, and cedar. 

Shade

I hit 20 miles at 4pm and stop for a foot care break. If I take care of my feet, I can do a few more miles. Stretching and massage complete, I head out and soon reach PCT mile 500. When I see the little numbers on the side of the trail, I get choked up again. Dad’s not here, and this is a big one. This is 500 miles. 500. Hundred. Miles. 

Solo at 500 miles.

I take my usual photograph and continue on, looking for a campsite. The topo looked promising, and I expected to find something near here, but the trail is a tunnel through shrubbery. There’s no room for a tent. Finally a little site appears, tucked into shrubs beside the trail. Perfect! 

I stop and set up camp. At the back of the site I have a view of the desert. I enjoy the view while I eat dinner. Then I get into my tent and finally get away from the flies. I go through my foot care routine, which tonight includes popping a blister on my right heel. My feet feel good after such a long day. I’m encouraged. With the right size shoes and an appropriate foot care program, it looks I’ll be able to pull off big days. 

*More photos on Instagram

Day 38: Urgent care

12.6 miles (465.6 to 478.2)

I don’t like this campsite. Traffic is nearly constant, even after dark. Nocturnal rodents scurry near my tent. I worry about them working their way into my Ursack food bag. I finally fall asleep, only to wake at 3:40am, just before my alarm. We leave camp at the crack of 5am. 

There are moths everywhere. They were everywhere last night, too. One flies down my shirt. It tickles. I unbutton and let it go, rebutton, and continue on. Below, Bouquet Reservoir looks pretty. 

Bouquet Reservoir at sunrise.

The trail meanders between sun and shadow until the shadows shrink and we’re in full sun. Two hours in, I pause for a shoes-off break. Dad catches up and halts, too. I tell him that I’d like to get to the ranger station on San Francisqito Valley Road before stopping for lunch. That will make 12 miles before lunch, leaving 8 miles for the afternoon. We’re each going to proceed at our own pace, so we may not see each other until the ranger station a few hours from now. 

Shrubby views all day.

In the next section, I see a Cooper’s Hawk. I pass a few trickling springs. The day is already hot. The chafe-prone area on my lower back starts to flare. By 9am, I have full-blown chafe. I need to stop and deal with this. I give my pants and shirt time to dry; I smear some cream over the little red bumps. I keep moving, and by 9:20 I’ve done 10 miles. I think I can do 11 by 10, except it now feels like I’m getting a blister on the side of my right foot. I need to let my feet dry before this problem fully develops. So I sit in the shade of a shrub and pull of my socks. I eat snacks. After 20 minutes, Dad arrives. One of his toes is painful and red and swollen. This isn’t good. We need to get him to a doctor, but first we’re going to have to hike the last two miles to the ranger station. Hopefully someone there can help us. 

I hike ahead searching for cell service, finding none. Dang. We can’t even call for help. Dad manages to limp down to the road. The ranger station door is locked. Now what? We still can’t make a call or send a text. There’s a couple nearby sitting at a nearby picnic table. Maybe they can give us a ride. Turns out the guy is a hiker and his girlfriend drove here to meet him. They take us a few miles down the road to Casa de Luna, a famous hiker stop run by the Andersons. 

Our host gives us a ride down the hill to an urgent care clinic in Santa Clarita. The doctor X-rays and examines Dad’s foot and confirms that it’s infected. Dad needs oral and topical antibiotics and at least five days of rest. We discuss options. I’m going to have to hike on alone while Dad heals. He hopes to return to the trail at Tehachapi, 88 trail miles away. 

Urgent care in Santa Clarita.
We return to Casa de Luna. I take a shower. We take part in the famous taco salad dinner. I lay in my tent, wishing my mind would quiet down enough to sleep. Even if I didn’t have to proceed on my own, I’d be nervous about the coming days. An “excessive heat watch” will go into effect three days from now and continue for at least five days. Can I carry enough water to get through excessive heat

First I need to get to Hikertown, almost 40 miles (hopefully two days) away. Then I’ll do another 48 miles (another two days?) to Highway 58, where I’ll get a ride into Tehachapi. I don’t know if I can do four 20s in a row on my finicky feet. I don’t know if I can do 20 miles in 100+ degrees, period. I’m about to be tested in ways I’ve never been tested before. 

*More photos on Instagram