Horse Trail Camp to Tylerhorse Canyon (508.1 to 541.5)
Daily miles: 33.4
10 miles straight down to the desert floor where the collection of buildings called Hikertown sits. It’s a ramshackle place that some guy threw together that hosts hikers for the day or night, but most people just hide out there during the day to avoid the sun and drink water. Others head to the convenience store to buy beer and I’m assuming stay the night.
Eat tacos and mozzarella sticks from a tiny restaurant and they’re pretty good. Down a bag of donuts, cinnamon roll, and package of Hostess cakes and I’m set for the afternoon.
By 6 I’m anxious because everyone’s talked to someone who’s talked to someone who has some different kind of intel about the fire. Of course, all this info is contradictory and I’m feeling like throwing my hands up in the air in frustration so I just hike out. The sun’s rays are low enough by now.
Things get better after that. I act as if something is being taken from me, like this place and this time has been set aside for me, but it really hasn’t. The PCT is going to burn every year, it’s just frustrating when the cause is man made because it’s so avoidable. So I watch the sun set, and the desert grow big and expansive and stretch out forever before me, and the birds playing and courting in couples, and the Joshua trees sprouting up and sending their spindly needles out to the sky. I turn my music on and let it play out in the open air, and I walk along the LA aqueduct. A scent comes to me through the desert: the smell of the student union at Truman State, a place I haven’t been in almost 15 years (?!). It brings back memories, because that’s what olfaction does, and I hike with these memories. In fact, a lot of thru-hiking is spent reliving one’s past.
Soon it’s night and the air is cool and the stars are coming out. I can see the city of Lancaster, it’s lights shimmering in the distance. By midnight I’ve covered 17 miles, and set my sights on a campground 6 miles away, with a stream running through it. The trail drags me along, and up 2000 feet, and then I’m walking in the windfarm in the sun blasted hills above the Mojave. The big old machines make shadowy outlines against the brilliant night sky and whoosh and creak and spin and blink their red lights out to the void. I keep getting lost, and I’m losing energy because by mile 30 I’ve been up for almost 24 straight hours. I feel dizzy from walking by my hand lamp and stagger along, catching myself with my trekking poles as I hike. A pack of dogs spots me and comes barking after me so I take off running. It would be funny if I weren’t so tired and afraid they were going to attack me.
At a certain point it becomes less about beating the heat and conserving water, and more about this personal challenge of hiking well past my physical and mental comfort zone. At 3:30 a.m. I hike to the campsite, tents already pitched with sleeping hikers inside. I’m too tired to eat, so I just drink the rest of my water and throw my sleeping pad and bag on the ground and feel my feet and legs tingle as way off to the east, over the ridge, the sky looks like it might brighten and break a new day.