Failure to Launch / Sayonara Desert

You could definitely call it a failure to launch. Our original plan included spending only two days in Tehachapi, but it took four to finally break away. It took only a few minutes of walking to feel zapped by the hot desert sun burning our skin and pack straps digging into our shoulders, the ever-present wind turbines spinning slowly above us.

It started out as a joke: well, we’re only 8.1 miles away from Highway 58, another access point to Tehachapi. Say someone offered a ride… Would we go back?

Only if someone offered a ride, though.

8.1 miles later, someone offered a ride.

But not to Tehachapi. To Mojave, 15 miles the opposite direction. We said yes anyway.

So in we went, to the very small town of Mojave. The woman who gave us a ride played tour guide, driving us around the Mojave Spaceport and on. She left us at a Best Western where we—for the fifth night in a row—slept in a bed. We congratulated each other on being terrible hikers and spent the rest of the day watching movies on HBO.

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Attempt No. 3 the following morning was more successful, but only marginally. We made it back to Highway 58 (the tour guide’s husband gave us a ride), and we made it a whopping 6.5 miles before finding a good tent spot and crashing.

The following day greeted us with the coldest temperatures I’ve felt on the PCT yet. A freezing cloud of fog settled on the trail and left me shivering well into the afternoon. Then, like throwing open the drapes on a sunny morning, we walked to the edge of the cloud and into burning hot sun once again. We made it 15 miles that day and slept to the roar of wind turbines.

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By then, we took too long to make it to Kennedy Meadows before running out of food. We made the decision to stop into Ridgecrest and resupply, but first we had a 42-mile waterless stretch to get through—our last dry, sandy taste of the Mojave Desert.

It’s like the Mojave knows this is it’s last chance to mess with you. The trail turned into a steep sandbox, and with every step, we sank backward. We trudged on through the Joshua Trees for 21 miles until we came to a godsend water cache. We watched the sunset and called it a night.

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20 more miles to Walker Pass, and we caught a ride to Ridgecrest—a hot, dry town of 28,000—gorged on Vietnamese food and checked into the Clarion Inn.

I felt run down. I felt homesick. I felt sore and sad and over it. I figured a dip in the hotel’s hot tub would ease my physical/emotional/mental pain, but when I got there, I discovered the world’s most depressing jacuzzi. For starters, it was barely even warm. And it was about opaque like watered down milk. But kind of a creamy yellow, so, not any milk you’d want to drink. And the jets spirted more than bubbled. I sat in it anyway, hoping something would miraculously change. A young girl did a cannon ball into the hot tub and splashed my face and my phone in a wave of disappointingly cold, milky, yellow water. That’s when I lost it.

Hold up: I know what you’re thinking—I’m complaining about a hot tub. How spoiled is that? You don’t understand. You don’t know what I’ve been through! Alright, maybe it’s petty. But at the time, I was at my end. And there was only one person in the world that could help.

Mom.

I sat for a long time on the motel steps with a towel wrapped around me, sobbing into the phone, listing off every ache and pain and hardship the trail had brought so far. My mom listened for over an hour, then—as if she wrote down the things she would say to me in this moment, before I even left for the trail—she built me back up.

She told me I was strong, that she can’t imagine how hard this is. She told me I could come home, but reminded me how disappointed I’d feel in the long run. She asked me if it’s worth quitting, just because it’s hard. Of course it’s hard. What was I expecting? She reminded me of the many wonderful and unexpected experiences I’ve had out here and told me there are so many more ahead. She said everything I needed to hear and more. Our conversation resonated with me for the next several days.

With the taughtful advice of my mother, I went back to the motel room and apologized to Storytime for being a hangry asshole and proceeded to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

We still didn’t exactly exude enthusiasm (wow, lots of eeeee-literation there) to get back on the trail the next day. We needed to find a ride 30 miles back to Walker Pass and the desert was pushing 100 degrees. We opted for late check-out. Then we got lunch (burger, beer, ice cream). Then we stumbled upon a movie theater, so we saw a movie. Then we got some pizza.

And I’m so glad we did, because as we looked for a table, a couple and their 12-year-old daughter invited us to sit with them. They were so excited to listen to our stories and learn about the lives of Storytime and Dirty Paws. They offered to take us to the trail the next morning. They lifted our spirits as much as we lifted their’s.

So at 8am on Tuesday, May 31, Walter, Franki and Maddie drove us back to the trailhead, and we dubbed them trail angels—a concept they had never even heard of.

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We hiked another 18 miles, and then 24 miles, and then 9 miles into Kennedy Meadows—the gateway to the Sierra’s.

It hit me like a punch to the gut. I cupped my hands to my face and tried to laugh it off and told Storytime I just needed a minute, but yeah, seeing the rocks on the ground brought tears. The rocks spelled out 700.

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Two more miles to Kennedy Meadows and when we got to the small general store, we were greeted by the applause of dozens of thru-hikers. I wasn’t expecting it. They all clapped and hooted and hollered at us we walked up. I was so, so happy. As we sat on the deck and watched thru-hikers come in after us, we clapped for them, too.

I’m only a quarter of the way done with the trail, but the first major milestone has been met. The desert was no doubt an adventure—full of stunning views and scorching sun and a lot of adjusting to this new lifestyle. The hot sand and rocks of the desert sent Marcy home, but the late-afternoon climb out of Julian introduced me to Storytime. The desert took us to a spectacular oasis called the Morongo Casino and to the glorious Hiker Heaven and to the over-glorified Hiker Town. Cacti growing little pink flowers and tens of thousands of lizards dotted the way. One hip injury, one knee injury, and one night of over-drinking. We met many amazing people. We drank a lot of root beer and Mountain Dew. We created and laughed at a hundred inside jokes. We howled at the sky. We made it this far. Now, onward.

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2 thoughts on “Failure to Launch / Sayonara Desert

  1. I’m glad my taughtful advice helped! When I ask myself if I could do the journey you’re doing I honestly don’t know. You’re amazing.
    Love you,
    Mom

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