Walking on Water

May 4, 2018

The wind shook our one room shelter last night, waking me twice with its fierce determination to get inside. Sturdy construction thwarted the gale, and Jay and I slept peacefully.

This morning we took the shuttle to Neenach Cafe and Market, where we bought delicious giant breakfast burritos, called “piglets”, and food to get us to Tehachapi. We were grateful for the shuttle up and down Highway 138, an extremely busy, rather dangerous road. Hikertown is not a place I would want to linger, but I did appreciate the help this strategically placed hostel offered.

The PCT crosses the western tip of the Mojave Desert, following the Los Angeles Aqueduct through Antelope Valley for much of the day. This valley is known and sometimes dreaded by PCT hikers for its unobstructed wind and high temperatures. Many hikers choose to cross the valley at night, to avoid sun exposure. Today, however, temperatures are in the 70’s, perfect for a gentle stroll through the desert. As the picture shows, we have 17 miles of very flat walking ahead of us!

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We’ve left the San Gabriel Mountains, and now have to cross a small corner of the Mohave Desert before climbing into the Tehachapi Mountains.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct brings water from the Owens Valley, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to Los Angeles. First completed in 1913, with 233 miles of pipes and channels, the well-engineered design allows water to move by gravity alone. There are many opinions concerning depriving Owens Valley of water in order to facilitate the growth of Los Angeles. I, being a lowly hiker, have no political opinions. Walking beside a piece of living history did interest me, however.

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My first sight of the aqueduct surprised me with open water!

Soon the trail made a 90 degree turn, following the aqueduct in the form of a giant pipe half buried in dirt and sand.

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A single raven sits atop the pipe full of water, while we traverse the dirt road beside it.

Many hikers complain of the boredom of this day’s hike. I admit, I wouldn’t want to cross this valley every day. But after days of winding through hills and mountains, the novelty of flat and straight entertained me for hours. This picture shows Joshua trees on Jay’s right.

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Jay maintains that a successful thru-hiker must have a high tolerance for monotony. I agree, and add that it’s fun to find the entertainment factor in said monotony!

A few days ago, a local man had told Jay and me stories of his childhood, driving across the desert with his father, getting water through access ports in the aqueduct. He described the awe of peering down into the black moving water, fishing for liquid with a water bottle tied to a string.

After a few miles, the round pipe we had been following disappeared completely underground, replaced by a concrete road. I was disappointed to find the access ports firmly locked with no-nonsense official padlocks. Modern day mistrust can remove a bit of the wonder from life. My imagination, however, enjoyed free reign as I walked above all those gallons of flowing water.

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Access boxes to the water below were spaced at regular intervals along the aqueduct.

People do live in Antelope Valley, and signs of habitation gave me another thing to watch as we passed at walking pace.

We saw fences, a few cattle, and even some houses in the first five miles of the walk.

And so the day continued. We were grateful for beautiful weather. In the afternoon, the wind began to pick up a bit, but remained much gentler than last night’s gale!

I noticed bird tracks in the sandy dirt, and wondered which bird had run across the path. The footprints were too large for quail. Perhaps a roadrunner? Maybe a swaggering raven? (Upon looking it up later, I learned that roadrunner tracks form an X shape, while ravens have more of a classic bird print. I probably saw raven tracks.)

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For the most part, solitude reigned.

As we neared the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, we saw solar farms, more properly known as photovoltaic power stations, on our right, and windmills ahead.

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Evening brought welcome shadows to our walk.

The day ended at Cottonwood Creek, where a faucet taps into the aqueduct. We also found a 55 gallon blue barrel full of water, provided by Bob from Hikertown. Gratefully, we filled our bottles, then crossed the dry creek to pitch our tent on a flat sandbar while the sunset misted the sky with pink and peach colors.

2 thoughts on “Walking on Water

  1. This is country I’ve seen a million times, traveling 395 to & from Tahoe. But you’re seeing things up close; that’s cool. Maybe you won’t get there, but outside of Bishop, there are 2 or 3 radio telescopes up against the eastern mountains — originally put there by SETI, now run by Caltech. We visited an array of these in No. Cal, Hat Creek Radio Observatory. Fascinating. LUV to U!

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