Tehachapi is a self-described small, “dynamic” town with a population around 15,000, a handful of chain hotels, an Albertson’s, three sushi restaurants, a movie theater, some famous train junction and a lot of PCT thru-hikers that don’t really want to leave.
It’s not that the town is particularly cool. It’s not. But there is something about it that has left me stuck here for four days now. Here’s what lead up to that.
First, we left Auga Dulce, AKA Hiker Heaven, AKA showered, laundered, organized bliss. We left it on a cold, cloudy morning and walked the 24 miles to Casa de Luna–the very antithesis of Hiker Heaven. Walking up to Casa de Luna was surreal. We were greeted by 20 or 30 hikers all sitting on old couches in the lawn out front a small yellow house, and had a pair of well-worn Hawaiian shirts thrust upon us. We walked through a small forest of muscle trees where what felt like hundreds of hikers had already claimed small plots and set up their tents. We had an erie feeling.
That feeling was not helped by seeing one of our friends, clearly stoned out of his mind, who told us, “Welcome to Casa de Luna. You’ll never leave.”
Actually, we kind of wanted to leave right then.
But we didn’t.
Instead, we ate a pile of nachos generously provided by Terri, who runs Casa de Luna, and drank some beer and went to sleep. Terri and her husband, Papa Joe, fed us pancakes and coffee in the morning and we warmed up a bit to la casa. It was an experience nonetheless.
One we left behind to walk 1.5 miles up to the Powerhouse Fire Closure, then another 1.5 miles back to the road. We scored a ride around the closure, to Lake Hughes, and spent the next four hours drinking beer and eating and playing pool at the Rock Inn. Papa Joe made a cameo appearance and gave us a lift back to the trail. There, we backtracked another few miles to the end of the closure (damn trail purists), and made it five more miles to a campsite by dark.
The days that followed were long, hot, windy and frustrating. We hiked into the weirdest stop on the trail thus far, a small lot called Hiker Town. Hiker Town is made up entirely of garden sheds with painted signs that say “Hotel,” “Sheriff” and “Post Office.” It has reports of contaminated water. The main attraction is a cool garage with a bunch of mismatched couches and a resident mouse.
But it was in Hiker Town that we met the van. The van is an ancient Ford Astro with a habit of not starting. The seatbelts are mostly cut through and the sliding door doesn’t close all the way, so instead it’s tied with some rope to the Oh-Shit handle to keep it mostly closed. That was a surprise that kept me laughing for most of the ride into the small convenient store that serves hamburgers and pastrami sandwiches. In true form, the van decided once again not to start at said convenient store, leaving us momentarily stranded with the hood up and a can of carborator spray. Eventually the engine turned over and never was there a sweeter sound.
By the time we made it to Hiker Town, we had done 17 miles, but we still had the Los Angeles Aquaduct to walk–the true beginning of the Mojave Desert. We decided to hike it at night to avoid the nearly 90-degree day ahead. We left Hiker Town around 9 p.m. and walked along the open water, enjoying the gorgeous night. The stars were out, the air was cool, our energy was bouyed by soft drinks and music. Eventually the aqueduct closed and became a long, rusted metal pipe running mostly underground. Then it transformed again into a smooth concrete walkway stretching for miles across the valley floor.
My feet ached and I was tired. We made it until about 1:30 in the morning (24 miles total) when we threw down our mats and our sleeping bags on a large concrete platform over the aqueduct, and fell asleep to the distant city lights and the sound of the water rushing beneath us. It was the first time I’ve ever cowboy camped. At 4:30 a.m., the alarm rang again.
Walking again. This time, through an appropriately windy windfarm. Feet still aching. Stopped under the shade of a bridge in a dry creek around 10 a.m. Kept going. Passed through dozens of giant wind turbines, turning lazily in gusts that nearly pushed me off trail. Stopped again at a small creek and filtered water. Kept going, up a 2,000-foot climb in elevation. Hot. Tired. Aching. My knees. My feet. My pack against my hips. Sand filled my shoes, made every step twice the work. By the evening, I reached my end. For the first time since I started the Pacific Crest Trail, I felt SICK. OF. HIKING. Storytime felt it, too. We got after each other. We made up. We kept going.
27 miles later, after three hours of sleep, after 24 miles the day before, we set up camp and ate hot Mountain House meals and slept. Only 10 more miles to Tehachapi, the first hotel stay we’ll get since Wrightwood, 10 days ago.
“This time tomorrow, we’ll be sitting in a jacuzzi,” Storytime said.
We made those ten miles in only a few short hours the following morning, walking through yet another wind farm. We scored a ride at the highway from a fella named Matt, who was nice enough to take us to the post office and the Marriott. We decided we deserved it. We went to Albertson’s, Storytime got a haircut, I got an ice cream cone and bought myself some nail polish. I decided I wanted to pretend for one day that I’m not a thru-hiker. It took 30 minutes to scrub all the dirt and sand and grime off my legs in the shower. Storytime surprised me with a white cotton shirt and some linen pants he bought from K-Mart. Between regular clothes and “I need a refresh-mint” colored toenails, I felt kind of normal. We went to a movie (Captain America, it was good). We sat in the hot tub.
And that is how one day turned to two. We decided to zero and spent most of Friday doing chores: I wrote an article for the Boise Weekly recapping the first 560 miles, Storytime repaired some gear, we ate sandwiches and I took a nap and called family, then we went out to the self-proclaimed “world famous” Dog House bar, where we drank too much (it doesn’t take a lot out here) and thus Day Two turned to Day Three. Day three was mostly spent recopurating from the Dog House. That’s why Day Four happened, to make up for Day Three.
Day Four was awesome. We finished chores, I took another nap, we ate sushi for dinner and went to an Oriental Foot Massage parlor–yet another first. $30 got us an hour in big, black armchairs while our feet soaked in warm water and received shoulder massages. We ended the evening in the jacuzzi once again.
“Are you ready for tomorrow?” Storytime asked me.
Tomorrow is the start of one of the hardest stretches of trail. It’s 146 miles through the Mojave Desert and up to Kennedy Meadows–the gateway to the (still very snowy) Sierra’s. It’s the last 146 miles of Southern California and true to its character, it includes 42-mile-long waterless stretches. It’s six days of food to carry, and that’s a lot. Tehachapi is the last sizeable town until the other side of the Sierra’s and that’s intimidating.
It’s been fun for a few days to pretend that I’m not a thru-hiker and that the most walking I have to do is from here to the nearest pizza place.
Regardless, I turned to him and I said, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”