Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers
June 8, 2000
As the white Chevy truck rounds the corner I hold my thumb out expectantly but pull it back when I see the vehicle is already packed with three uniformed passengers. Is hitchhiking illegal in California? To my surprise, they pull over and a slim, 40-something man wearing stylish spectacles leans towards us.
"Where ya headed?"
"Tehachapi but anywhere down the road would be great."
From the backseat, I hear "Climb in."
The trunk of the car is fully loaded so I hand my pack to the man in the backseat, who holds it on his lap while I clamber next to him clinging to my trekking poles and garbage bag full of pine cones. Jerry, Elaine, and Steve (no Kramer, sorry) work for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), hence the matching tan outfits. They just finished teaching a program at a local school when they decided to check out the Pacific Crest Trail signs they'd recently installed.
When we leave Tehachapi we'll enter BLM jurisdiction, a nice change after trekking through private land all morning complete with "No Trespassing" signs threatening the prosecution of hikers who step off the trail.
Our driver, Steve, has climbed nearly 700 peaks and hiked on every continent except Antarctica. While he recommended other trails, like the Lone Miners Trail in the Inyo Mountains, Jerry squirmed and calmly announced "I think something's dripping over here." When you tilt and squeeze my Safe Water filter in a particular way it leaks a little, and I guess that Jerry had quickly developed the magic touch. With my pack on his lap, me in the middle holding my share of loose gear, and Duff next to me with his pack on his lap, maneuvering around to get the leaky bottle out of Jerry's crotch was a lesson in backpacker Twister.
"That's alright," chuckled Steve, "Jerry gets a little overheated and needs to be cooled down sometimes."
Our BLM shuttle drops us off in front of the Apple Shed in the "heart" of Tehachapi. The owners of the Apple Shed restaurant are supposedly hiker-friendly so we'd planned to have lunch there. Across the street I spot Lora and John, two other thruhikers we'd met at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce. Pack-free, they jog towards us and we exchange the usual trail-town talk.
"When'd you get here?"
"Where ya stayin'?"
"Who else is here?"
"Where's the post office?"
One hundred and ten miles ago, John was already racing towards Tehachapi so he could see "MI-2." Moving so fast, he dropped a Nike sock from his homemade pack, which I happily returned to himrelieved to get rid of the extra weight.
John warned us that the portions at the Apple Shed were small, while Lora lamented the long walk to the Post Office. But, good news, it's across the road from a Denny's. Picking up our resupply and "drift" boxes, sorting through the contents, and mailing nonessential food and gear either home or ahead is our least favorite town chore, so we decided to just get it over with and have lunch at Denny's afterwards.
I guess we looked a little lost, because a blue Toyota pick-up driven by an older gentleman wearing rainbow suspenders pulled over beside us. "Hey hikers, need a ride?" Good thing, too, because we'd walked about five minutes in the wrong direction. Fred drove us to the Post Office while talking about the unusually cold weather they were having and telling us to give him a call if we need a ride to the trail tomorrow.
Duffy takes my driver's license and gets on line in the Post Office while I settle down on a bench. He returns with our two boxes and a card from my mother. Soon our corner is littered with fresh garbage bags, GORP, mac'n'cheese, Balance bars, Hershey bars, raisins, multivitamins, batteries, and bits of cardboard wrapped in duct tape. Fortunately, it's a spacious lobby, so we're not in anyone's wayjust an eyesore. While we sift our supplies deciding what to keep, what to send home, and what to send ahead, Hawkeye, Tweedle and Willie walk in laden with boxes.
"Hiker trash!" The standard greeting and questions are exchanged.
Finally finished at the Post Office and with packs full of food for the next six hiking days, we head across the street to Denny's for a long-awaited lunch. It's only been four days since we last saw civilization, but we're already craving Dr. Pepper, a hot cup of coffee, greasy food, and ice cream. It's drizzling now, our first rain on the trip, and we're thankful this is our town day since we sent our rain jackets and the rain fly for our tent ahead to Kennedy Meadows in the foothills of the Sierras.
"So far the Mojave is everything we didn't expect," Duffy says.
He's right, although we hit some high temperatures and the sun was oppressively strong. The Mojave heat was not nearly as tormenting as what we encountered in San Gorgonio Pass (of course, covering nearly 20 miles one night helped). And we didn't see any rattlers. I'd imagined our first miles through this infamous desert would be dull and flat, but the mixture of large junipers, twisted, gnarled Joshua trees, owls, coyotes, jack rabbits, and wind turbines provided lots of interest while the Tehachapi Mountains supplied hefty climbs. And of course, I didn't expect to be wishing for my rain gear.
From a booth by the window we order coffee and water and then take turns going to the bathroom to wash our hands. We couldn't fit our packs under the table so they are sitting upright on the seats next to us.
While the chef works on my grilled cheese and Duffy's "Superbird" (both with fries, of course) we check our PocketMail, read the paper, write in our journal, and scan the guidebook for what's ahead.
New messages on the PocketMail! Duff's mom is offering to meet us at the Canadian border to help us celebrate the end of our trek, and Chris and Katrina from work are writing to tell us to have fun, be safe, and watch out for snakes.
By the time we finish eating, it's really raining. We have more coffee and a Butterfinger hot fudge sundae and make a grocery list while waiting for the sun. Today is Tehachapi High School's graduation ceremony, so we're not the only ones praying for clear skies.
Finally leaving Denny's and hoping the wind doesn't blow us off the overpass and onto the freeway. We can see a Best Western and the Big K across the train tracks and cut across parking lots, grassy wet knolls and a few ditches to get there ASAP.
Check-in at the Best Western, room 217, and start making a laundry pile on the floor. We take turns showering and Duff makes a few calls to find out where the local library is, whether it has Internet access, and its hours. In other towns we've had to walk miles to find the library, but here we're in luck. We can almost see it from our window. While Duff is over there checking out posts on the GORP site, reading e-mail, and printing out song lyrics for us to practice while we hike (we learned Tom Petty's "Free Falling" and parts of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" while crossing the Mojave), I'll work on the laundry.
Resupply advice for all you future thruhikers: Include laundry detergent in your boxes. Of course we didn't, and this laundry room doesn't have a vending machine. I tear myself away from a trashy Shannon Doherty movie on VH1 and head to the Texaco mini-mart, where I purchase a Mexican detergent called Ariel, animal crackers, Doritos Baja Picante!, Diet Dr. Pepper, and a Squirt.
After putting the laundry in, I pop my first blister and stare at our dirty bowl, spoons and potcaked in last night's mac'n'cheeseand decide to work on answering posts to our GORP pages instead while watching an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" on No Doubt.
Duff gets back from the library and calls his mom, then we head to Kmart to do our shopping. We're hoping to buy a couple cheap walkman radios so we can inspire our miles with tunes and Duffy can listen to basketball and baseball games. We'd initially feared poor reception but other people seem to be getting stations so we'll give it a shot.
Carrying bags filled with Pop Tarts, hamburger buns, Monterey Jack cheese, cereal bars, Lifesavers, Triscuits, and French's Chicken Gravy Mix, we hit Burger King for dinner. Two double cheeseburgers and a strawberry shake later we're back in the hotel room folding laundry, eating "It's It" ice cream sandwiches, and packing up our new supplies.
Chores complete, new radios tested, dessert consumed, we lie on the bed watching "Friends," "Frasier," and "ER" until we fall asleep around 10 p.m. Late night for us hiker-types. We'll hit the trail again tomorrow.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication