Started: 07:15 @ MM 517.6 – Hiker Town (Elevation 3,050ft)
Finished: 14:35 @ MM 534.9 – Cottonwood Creek (Elevation 3,092ft)
Water: Drank about 4L and morning coffee.
Food: Oatmeal, Kind Bar, Cliff Bar, Figs, Trail Mix, Jerky, Mac & Cheese with Veggies and Spam.
Wildlife: 0 Snake, 0 Bears
Health: 0 Blisters, sunburnt ears again!
The sky was just starting to turn from black to inky blue when I opened an eye and peered through the glass door of the Doctor’s Room. Across the dusty lot that called itself Hiker Town, I could just make out two hiker shaped figures filling water bottles and wrestling with the gate in the ongoing windstorm. They looked like warriors from a gale ravaged post-apocalyptic version of the future, heading out to check the perimeter for rouge tumble weeds or something. I lay there for a moment trying to figure out what was what, where I was and why I was where I was. It took a while!
Today was a big day on my PCT journey, today I would tackle one of the most notorious sections of the trail. Both feared and revered in equal measure … today I would be walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct! In the 1800s LA experienced a period of rapid growth and as the city’s population expanded the demand for water quickly began to exceed the supply. Two prominent Los Angeleans, Fred Eaton and William Mulholland, realized the untapped potential of the Sierra snow pack and devised a plan to move the water, via a 223 mile long gravity-fed aqueduct, from Owens Valley to LA. The project was not only an incredible feat of engineering, but it was also highly controversial. Rights to the water were obtained by duplicitous and underhanded methods, and once the aqueduct was completed in 1913 and water started flowing, Owens Valley became a dustbowl and all agricultural interests in the region were effectively wiped out. Unsurprisingly, farmers started to rebel and during the 1920s several attempts were made to sabotage the aqueduct. Of course the City of Los Angeles proved to be an invincible adversary and today the aqueduct still provides LA with around 40% of its water, more than 400 million gallons a day! Sadly water would be significantly less plentiful on my hike.
When I eventually made my break from Hiker Town it was still comically windy. I wraped my buff over my nose and mouth, tightened my cap and hid behind my sunglasses. Like a modern day Bedouin, I tried as best as I could to protect myself from the sand and dust storm. All along the trail piles of tumble weed gathered in the corners of fields and corrals. I crossed several roads leading to dilapidated ranches and I tried to work out why anyone in their right mind would want to live in such a godforsaken place. I speculated that they must all be cooking crystal meth and I fully expected to run into Heisenberg!
The first section was along the California Aqueduct which was open and actually quite pleasant. However, this quickly gave way to a longer piped section. About a mile into this I noticed that water was dripping down my leg … I might be old but I’m not yet incontinent. There was clearly a problem. I took off my pack to discover another hole in my clean 2L Platy bottle! With a 17 mile dry stretch ahead, this was a real problem. Thankfully, the hole was close to the top of the bottle, I drank it down far enough so that hopefully it wouldn’t leak anymore. Now I just had to deal with peeing every five minutes. I was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough water, but as always the trail provided. I came across a giant spigot and was able to open it enough to collect an extra liter in my dirty bottle. That would do in an emergency.
Once I was on the LA Aqueduct I got myself settled for along and monotonous walk. Basically, I would be walking along a flat and dusty concrete road through the middle of the desert for the next 5 hours! I put my music on, earbuds in and started to rock on. Fortunately there was nobody for miles in any direction to hear my woefully tone deaf renditions!
The greater majority of thru-hikers choose to hike this section at night because of the stifling day time temperatures, almost non-existent shade and lack of water. The cruel irony of walking the aqueduct is that you know the water is right beneath your feet, in fact at times you can actually hear it, but you can’t get to it. Thankfully, the heat really doesn’t bother me too much and I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. Bizarrely, this section that many hikers dread quickly became one of my most favorite. The scenery was so iconic and for once there was nothing to concentrate on and my mind was free to wander. Random songs would take me off in different directions … I thought about family, friends, past relationships, the good times, the bad times, things I’d loved and things I’d lost. Much to my surprise I found the space to cry, it was beautifully therapeutic and I really enjoyed feeling the intensity of emotions. I was falling in love with the LA Aqueduct!
By noon it was seriously hot and what tiny amount of shade there had once been was now almost totally gone. I scanned the path ahead for a reasonable sized Joshua Tree, just about the only thing that offered any protection from the blazing sun. I needed to eat and I also desperately needed to rest and air my feet. I could feel them cooking in my shoes. I found a suitable tree and after checking very carefully for snakes, settled down for a 30 minute rest. I had about 2 more hours until Cottonwood Creek and the next available water.
When the trail finally parted company with the aqueduct, it then made its way through a vast wind farm … certainly no lack of wind to be farmed! I was just arriving at Cottonwood Creek (slap bang in the middle of the farm) when I noticed a car approaching along one of the service roads. The driver pulled along side me, rolled down the window, announced my full name and informed me that he had a message for me! I nearly fell over … It turned out to be Rodney, a Trail Angel from nearby Lancaster. He maintains a water cache out here and was currently hosting my friend Pasty, who is off trail with an injury. I helped Rodney restock the cache and we chatted for a while before he drove off and left me all alone in the desert once more.
The wind had been intensifying all afternoon. I checked my map and seeing that the next camp site was even more exposed than this one, decided to stay at Cottonwood. I went off in search of large and heavy rocks and then got myself pitched behind a shelter that offered at least some protection from the wind. As night fell I watched the red lights on the tops of the turbines twinkle as the blades rotated and momentarily obscured them. Slowly the night hikers started to arrive, their white head torches darting about the camp. I drifted off into a deep and peaceful sleep, lulled by the continuous drone of the giant wind machines towering above me … It had been a most magnificent day in the desert!