Hiking Through a Rainbow

May 6, 2018

The wind woke us at 4:30 a.m., whistling in the pre-dawn dark, shaking our tent like a mischievous puppy begging us to come out and play. Acquiescing to the inevitable, we packed and started walking. Our reward for this ridiculously early start was a gorgeous sunrise.

Wind turbines accent the morning glory of sunrise and clouds.

Once again flowers brought exquisite loveliness to our hike. As the sun took its first steps above the horizon, blooms glowed with unearthly flourescence, absorbing dawn ultraviolet light only to emit it in vibrant color. Forward progress slowed as I strove to capture some of this ephemeral splendor.

A hiker named Phoenix, from Switzerland, overtook me, long legs working to make short work of the miles.

“Good morning,” I greeted him. “Aren’t these flowers glorious? I feel as if I am hiking inside a rainbow.”

Phoenix paused, contemplating this visual imagery. “Yes, beautiful. But here there is the smell also. That makes here more nice than a rainbow.”

Walking through a rainbow of color

At 9:30 a.m., Jay and I reached Tehachapi Willow Springs Rd. Here there was a list of 40 trail angels who reportedly delight in ferrying dirty, smelly thru-hikers to their town.

The list also contained the phone number for the local bus. I called the bus, asking if it ran on a Sunday, and was informed that it would come by Hwy 58 at 1:30 p.m.

“Hwy 58 is not a regular stop for the bus,” the dispatch lady told me. “You’ll have to call and request a special stop if you are going to be there.”

Jay and I looked at each other – could we cover 8.2 miles in three and a half hours? We had already hiked 7.5 miles this morning. “Let’s give it a try!” We agreed.

And so we set out. No lollygagging, no ‘comfortable pace’, no stopping for flower pictures. Now was the time to see what our bodies could accomplish when pushed. Up and down hills, over grasslands, past wind turbines, we barely paused to drink, staying focused on this self-imposed goal. At 1:00 p.m., we triumphantly reached the overpass, a bridge in the middle of nowhere, existing only to let cars enter the highway from Cameron Canyon Rd, a seldom traveled country lane.

I called the bus station again, to be told that there was a problem with the bus, and it would not be arriving until 5:15 p.m. Oh my gosh! All that hurrying, and now we had four hours of waiting in hot sunshine on the side of a highway interchange. Hitch hiking from the bridge didn’t seem too practical, and hitch hiking on the highway itself was quite dangerous, not to mention probably illegal.

Jay noticed a sign attached to a fence, advertising yet another phone number for a trail angel. Without much hope, we called it. Within a few minutes, a text came back, “Your request has gone out to 40 trail angels.” All we could do was wait.

Jay wandered off to answer a call of nature in the privacy of some bushes. I sat on baking gravel beside our packs.

An old car pulled up, and two men with gray hair and long beards called out, “Do you need a ride to town?”

“Sure,” I called back. “Do you have room for me and my husband?”

The two men got out of the car and began rearranging a plethora of stuff in the back seat. “I think we can fit you both in,” one said.

Jay appeared at my side. “I just got a text,” he whispered to me. “It says ‘Dave’ is on his way here, and to not take any other rides. We can’t go with these guys.”

I gave Jay a panicked glance, then turned to the two helpful locals. “Uh, excuse me,” I began apologetically. “My husband just got a text that someone is coming from Tehachapi to pick us up. I guess we better wait for him. But thank you so very much for offering us a ride. It is incredibly kind of you!”

The two men good-naturedly stopped rearranging their belongings and climbed back inside their car. With calls of “happy hiking” and “thank you so much”, we parted. Once again Jay and I were alone on the empty road.

I was digging through my pack for a snack when another car pulled up, and a tall man called out, “Do you need a ride?” This trail angel had been helping hikers at Tehachapi Willow Springs Rd, and decided to swing by the highway before going home. Once again we explained about the text from ‘Dave’. “Are you sure he’ll arrive?” The man climbed out of his car. “I’ll just wait with you, to make sure.”

We chatted for about 10 minutes, until yet another car pulled off the highway. This time ‘Dave’ was inside, and we happily piled our packs in his trunk. I know I have said it often, but once again, I was truly amazed at the willingness of perfect strangers to help us with transportation.

Arriving at the Best Western in Tehachapi, we gratefully took showers, washed clothes, and refueled our bodies. It had been 50 miles since our last shower, and 83 miles since we’d had dirt-free clothes. The luxury of cleanliness was not something we took for granted.

May 7, 2018

Zero day! The last time we spent a whole day in town was 225 miles ago, at Cajon Pass! Our goal today was to pick up forwarded mail at the post office, and resupply at a grocery store. The post office, on the edge of town, required a 1.6 mile hike across railroad tracks and back over Highway 58. Once there, a long line greeted us.

“I’ll wait outside,” Jay decided, generously offering to hold my empty pack while I joined the queue. By the time I had picked up our mail, three different people had offered us rides back across town!

Candice was ready to leave at the same time as us, so we piled into her car.

“This is so nice of you,” I told her. “I’m grateful to skip walking across the highway and railroad tracks again!”

“Yes, thank you very much,” Jay agreed. “It’s amazing how many people want to help hikers in this town.”

“My husband and I are having a contest to see who can give the most hikers a ride this season,” Candice laughed. “I’ll need to take your picture when I drop you at the grocery store, to prove the numbers I am claiming.”

Candice, Sarah, and Jay in the town of Tehachapi.

May 8, 2018

During breakfast at the hotel this morning, some other hikers shared the phone number of a trail angel willing to give rides from Tehachapi back to the trailhead. We called Daniel, and he graciously agreed to pick us up at 10:00 a.m., after he had dropped off another carload of hikers.

During the drive, we discovered that Daniel was Robert’s brother, and the owner of the extremely comfortable campsite where we had gorged on spaghetti two nights ago! What a wondrous world we live in!

Daniel, trail angel and awesome person!

I hated to say goodbye to such a nice person, but the call of the trail pulled us onward.

From Hwy 58, the trail headed uphill in a series of long switchbacks. Junipers and Joshua trees provided sporadic shade.

Someone turned this group of Joshua trees into a lovely rest area.

Near the top of the climb, jutting rocks accented the scenery.

Flowers continued to enchant.

After climbing over 2,000 feet in the course of 12.7 miles, I was glad to see evening shadows bringing the peace of a campsite. We camped under a live oak tree on the edge of a meadow, with a ridge of wind turbines just beyond. Once again an owl sounded a lullaby as I fell asleep.

Easter Morning and Beyond

April 1, 2018

Easter morning! I woke early, wanting to take part in the ancient tradition of greeting the sunrise. Some of my earliest memories as a child on Easter include shivering in the pre-dawn light, waiting with my family to see the fiery orange sun breach the horizon.

I sat outside the tent, trying to meditate and pray a bit, wrestling with concerns deep in my heart.

A cottontail rabbit hopped by, intent upon its own rabbit business. A bird tuned up, lifting it’s beak to the sky.

Suddenly, as the great orange orb lifted above the easternmost limit of my sight, the surrounding hillsides were bathed in streams of light and color. The illumination lasted only a moment, then the sun ducked behind a thick layer of clouds. And Easter morning was over, the hillsides turning gray-green, the wind hinting at moisture in the air, leaving only a memory of glory surrounding me. My meditation had yielded insights as brief as the sunrise. But the wonder and beauty of those few light-filled moments lingered in my heart.

We hiked under cool clouds, happy to have shade on a desert exposed trail. Just past noon, we rounded a curve and suddenly saw a huge cache of water bottles, kindly provided by Trail Angel Mary. We gladly filled our empty bottles, writing notes of thanks in the trail journal.

A sign attached to the cache announced a free Easter dinner for all hikers, served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Mile 145.4, just two miles away! Jay and I looked at each other. It seemed too good to be true! Should we forego our trail lunch and beat feet to some trail magic?

Being a practical person when it comes to my stomach, I voted for eating half of a trail lunch, then going for the trail magic. Jay agreed, so we quickly gobbled a partial lunch, then headed onwards, two miles from an adventure!

The smell of roasting meat provided the first clue of our imminent destination. Our stomachs growled. Nothing in the desert had ever smelled that good! Twenty minutes later we saw a sign, guarded by an Easter duck.

We turned, and saw a crowd of hikers, seated under shady canopies. Trail Angel Mary and her friends were busily cooking steaks and salmon, along with delicious vegetables, ice water, lemonade, and wine, with Viennese coffee and berry tarts for desert!

This is Jay’s fourth thru-hike, and he has never seen a feast like we had today! Trail Angel Mary planned on 20 hikers and ended up serving 45 of us. Everyone seemed to get enough to eat, and there was much sharing of food, along with laughter and visiting.

Even the dog got enough as he blissfully chewed on steak bones!

After two hours of feasting, we thanked our hosts several times and waddled away.  My stomach, used to simple trail meals, thought it had died and gone to heaven. But even better than the food was the camaraderie we had enjoyed, thanks to the vision and generosity of Trail Angel Mary and her friends!

Monday Morning Routine

March 27, 2017

Monday morning. Daylight steals softly into the tent. Neurons deep in the recesses of my brain signal a change. Eyelids crack open to see night-dim shades of gray transmute to vibrant hues. Color is my cue to begin the day.

I sit up and stretch, stiff from sleep. Routine begins with a smile at Jay and a whispered, “Good morning.” Sleeping bag and pad, headlamp, gear – all get loaded into my pack, then it is time to put on shoes and stagger outside.

A barred owl, heading home for the day, lets out one last call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

A cardinal greets the day with good advice, “Cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer … cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer.”

The tufted titmouse sings out my brother’s name, “Peter, peter, peter … peter, peter, peter.”

The pileated woodpecker marks his territory with loud rattling pounding upon a tree, then a raucous call of derisive laughter.

A ruffed grouse joins the chorus with deep bass thrums – wings beating the air up to 50 times per 10 second interval – thump …….. thump …… thump …. thump … thump, Thump, THump, THUmp, THUMP, THUMP!

Upon exiting the tent, my first and most urgent need is to answer a call of nature. On the way back, I collect the food bags, hanging out of reach of marauding mice and bears. Today my food bag tree slants over the edge of a small cliff. I plant my feet, sling one arm around the friendly tree trunk, then lean waaay out, fingers stretched to snag the rope, bringing our food within reach. Who needs early morning caffeine when one can access a quick adrenaline rush while doing chores?

The sun tosses its first beam of light over the ridge top as I coil the food bag rope. Jay and I hoist our packs, heading north through the early morning sunrise. We’ll hike for 30 minutes to get warm, then stop for breakfast. My Appalachian Monday morning has begun.