The hills north of Agua Dulce weren’t too exciting. In fact, most of section E seemed nothing more than the shortest possible route to get to the Sierras. That first day, we hiked a hot 23 miles through rolling chaparral covered hills. 7 of us camped in a tiny little open sloping area near a road. We packed in like sardines and joked ourselves to sleep.
The next day started as more of the same. We stopped for a long lunch next to a perfect little creek. This creek seemed out of place. All around us, the land was one drought away from becoming a full-fledged desert. The creek was an oasis. Large green trees rustled in the breeze. Below them was a soft sandy beach. The cool water soothed our perpetually sore feet. I had picked up my guitar in Agua Dulce, so I had that as a distraction as well. Brightly colored western tanagers were dancing in the trees. It felt like a miniature Eden. It couldn’t last though. Too soon it was time to climb up some more hot dusty hills. Toward evening, we were all running out of water. Nathan and I decided to go down a hill to a nearby campsite & creek to fill up and cook some dinner. The others decided to just keep going and hope there was some water at another creek farther down the trail. The climb down the hill went fine, but we decided to take a shortcut back to the PCT and wound up bushwhacking our way up a steep creek bed. It took a good hour to go half a mile. After that, Nathan and I only went a couple more miles and camped on a grassy ridge top.
By the next day, the hot dry hills were getting monotonous. At one point, we took a little side trip up a nearby mountain to get some views of the surrounding area. The most interesting view was of large bear tracks headed the same way (we never did see the owner of the tracks). We were as close to the Pacific Ocean as we’d get. I strained my eyes looking at the horizon, but I couldn’t see anything flat, only miles of rolling hills.
At this point, the PCT took a turn north to get across a 25 mile section of the Mojave Desert. We headed down the mountains and into a section of private land owned by the Tejon Ranch. I’m not sure what the Tejon Ranch was worried about, but they only allowed the PCT to be routed very inefficiently around the perimeter of their property. It was really frustrating to hike twice as far as we needed to just because of the fears and bullheadedness of some silly corporate ranch. I did have a little excitement on this section though, a rattlesnake almost fell on me. It was resting on a ledge just above the trail. When I walked by, it got startled and fell on the trail right near my feet. I jumped, but I think the snake was more afraid than I was. I had walked by a bunch of rattlesnakes already, but they were always in the bushes & out of view. This was the first good view I had of a rattler in the open. Most of the adult rattlesnakes in the area were about 3 feet long and 3 inches in diameter at their thickest – sort of short and stocky. This one slithered off the trail and buzzed its little tail off. Finally, we made it down to the flat expanse of the Mojave, and after a couple more miles we arrived at the home of Jack Fair.
Jack is a little hard to describe. He’s a very strong-minded old guy who’s lived a pretty interesting life. He was currently living in the Mojave desert, creating his own brands of poetry and philosophy (“Damn I’m good”, he once commented of his writings). Jack once ran a messenger service / bike gang (the shaggers), apparently was in the navy at one point, did security for some hollywood stars, and bred attack dogs. He probably did all kinds of other things too, but we only had half a day to spend with Jack. He made damn sure that everyone knew what he was talking about all the time. Jack demanded and deserved your full attention and respect – It was just impossible to make any kind of joke or sarcastic remark at his expense. He charged people a dollar for a ride up to the local store, and a couple bucks to sleep in his yard (although he later mentioned that you didn’t have to pay if you couldn’t afford it). The ride was well worth the dollar though – just for the conversation on the way to the store. Jack had a number of hiker guests at his place, and we all had a great time. We spent the night there and headed out early the next day.
The section of the PCT through the Mojave desert was flat and dry. We were lucky that we didn’t have one of those absolutely scorching hot days that the Mojave is famous for (it was still fairly hot though). The trail passed by a huge forest of Joshua trees and dozens of lonely desert homes decorated with junked cars on their front yards. But mostly it was flat, dry, hot and monotonous. We followed the LA aqueduct for about 10 miles, first as an open straight river, and then as an underground pipe. We could hear millions of gallons of fresh water flowing beneath us, but we couldn’t get to it (except at one location). Everyone I met in this section of California really hated the aqueduct. One person told me, “I pee in it every chance I get”. Back in the early part of the century, the aqueduct got sabotaged so often that guards had to be stationed every half a mile or so.
By the end of the day, we were climbing the hills on the north side of the Mojave. The trail dipped down to a stream where we camped for the night.
The next day, we were all anxious to get to our next stop – Tehachapi. We climbed up and around more dry dusty hills (until we got high enough, where trees came into the picture). After a good 15 miles, we got our first views of the windmills which fill the area east of Tehachapi. There are some 10,000 windmills in the area. It’s the largest wind farm in the US and one of the largest in the world. I finally made my way down to the road, where I hitchhiked the 17 miles or so into Tehachapi.
My ride dropped me off a mile from the post office, which was conveniently located a mile from anything. I walked to the PO and got reunited with some of my fellow hikers. While I was taking care of business in the PO, I started talking to a local man named Jack. Before long he offered to give me a ride back to town. On the way, the ride to town turned into an invitation to come stay at his house. Jack told me there were really two big “industries” in Tehachapi – the wind farm and the prison. “I work in the prison”, he said. Before I had time to worry if he made license plates or something, he assured me that he was a prison psychologist. His wife and family were all Haitian, and before we went inside he taught me a few words of creole which I attempted to repeat. I took a much needed shower (it must have taken some degree of courage for Jack to invite me over – I was pretty dirty and smelly), and met the family. Dinner was great, an authentic Haitian pork and rice dish which almost put me in a quick contented sleep. Afterwards, we all visited for a bit and they made up a bed for me. Throughout my trip, I met so many people who went out of their way to be kind to me. It really gave me a good deal of faith in the state of our society. My stay at Jack’s place was wonderful. Soon afterwards, I resolved to try to live up to Jack’s example whenever I had the opportunity later in my life. There are so many people who live their quiet lives alone and afraid. Thankfully, there are also people like Jack who remind us how to be human.
The next morning, Jack gave me a ride into town to meet up with my hiking friends. They were all staying at a motel that Jack hadn’t even heard of. That should have been a clue that this place was… um… “involved in some side businesses”. There was a steady stream of traffic in and out of the parking lot all night (mostly white pickup trucks for some reason…). That evening, I went to a nearby bar with Jason, and the waitress confirmed that “we could have picked a better place”. Luckily, our stay there was short lived. After a day filled with running errands and of course, seeing the new Star Wars movie, we were ready to move on.
We walked back up the post office and managed to get a ride from a nice lady with a big van. Her hobby (which was almost a business) was making silk flowers for art & craft shows. Her van was filled with boxes of them. She dropped us off at the trailhead. As soon as she pulled away, I realized that I had left my hiking poles in her van. A lot of people hike without poles, and I could too, but my hiking poles were also my tent poles – without them, I had no way to set up my tent. I could have kicked myself for being so stupid. Luckily, Jason had this lady’s business card & phone number. There were a couple people getting into a car at the trailhead and I asked them for a ride back into town so I could try and get my poles back. Once I explained my situation to them, they offered to drive into town and find my poles for me. One of them, Lyle, said if he found them he’d drop them off at the next trailhead (about 10 miles ahead where the PCT crossed Hwy 58). So, I continued on after thanking Lyle and wishing him luck. The next 10 miles were almost entirely a landscape of windmills. We got close enough to the windmills to reach out and touch them (although there were signs all over warning us of dire consequences if we strayed 1 inch from the trail). After passing a group of day-hikers (who gave us some soft drinks), we made it to Hwy 58. Sure enough, my poles were just off the trail with a note attached to them. I lost Lyle’s phone number, so I was never able to thank him. (So, if you know someone named Lyle, who lives in San Diego and is a member of the Sierra Club, let me know!)