The PCT is often an experience of extremes. During the past week, we went from maximum relaxation mode at the homes of the most legendary Trail Angels on the PCT to hiking through some of the most severe landscapes/weather yet. Leaving the Saufleys was harder than I thought it was going to be. Hikers call these places (towns, and Angels) “Vortexes” because they suck you in with creature comforts. Like showers. And chairs. Only 24 miles beyond the Saufleys, you reach the Andersons, yet another family of amazing Angels who open their home to hikers.
The Andersons are famous on the trail for their laidback atmosphere. They provide small campsites (just big enough for one or two people) cut into spaces throughout a seemingly endless Manzanita forest in their backyard. They make taco salad for the hikers every night and pancakes and coffee every morning. When we were there, we counted around 60 hikers – some of whom had been there for days, unable to pull themselves away. Terri Anderson, one of the hosts, says (not so jokingly) that she has a two-night minimum. We stayed for taco salad, then pancakes, then one more round of taco salad before mustering up the motivation to hike out that night under a full moon. It was nice to have a day of lounging without running around and doing errands as we usually do on our days off.
We hiked on, passing the landmark of 500 miles the next day, and soon pulled into “Hiker Town.” Hiker Town is not a town, but rather a private home with tiny buildings made up to look like some sort of old western town. You can sleep there for a small donation.
After Hiker Town, we hiked on into the Mojave Desert and then up into the Tehachapi Mountains. We were feeling extremely grateful (almost guilty) for the unseasonably cool temperature as we entered the desert (hovering around 80 degrees instead of the 100-110 most hikers face during this stretch). Little did we know, however, that we were about to face a challenge of a different kind, as there was a high wind advisory in place.
Walking into the mountains, we came across hundreds of wind turbines. It was exciting at first – something to look at that wasn’t brown desert! But as we walked on, the wind began to pick up, and soon the gusts reached 65+ miles per hour. It was like backpacking in a hurricane. The wind knocked our legs out from under us as we stumbled down the trail. All of our muscles tensed as we walked, and occasionally we had to just stop and brace ourselves against the strong gusts because we literally could not take a step forward. There was no vegetation, therefore no shelter from the wind; you just had to hike on. We couldn’t even talk to each other as the wind screamed in our ears – we just occasionally looked at each other with tired expressions of desperation. It was exhausting. The wind lasted all night, as we “slept,” and into the next day as we hiked 25 miles to the town of Tehachapi.
We have now made it to the base of the Sierra Mountains. Next week we will hit Kennedy Meadows and the true beginning of the High Sierras, and we will finally say goodbye to the Southern California desert.