Updated: Aug 26
Bottom Line: You gets what you pays for.
5.11.22, Day 0, “And So It Begins” -
I drove to West Lancaster and let myself into the “Modern Rooms and Suites,” per their written instructions. Seemed to me it was an Airbnb in a residential neighborhood. But, no problem.
I anticipated seeing Mark the next morning. When Mark and I made phone contact not long after, he informed me that he’d already driven to Palmdale, so we rendezvoused at BJ’s for burgers and beer to discuss plans for the morrow.
5.12.22, Day 1, “No Spring Chicken” -
My iPhone alarm set, I arose at 5:20AM. I dragged myself out of bed, as if suffering a hangover. Agh, an ungodly hour.
Mark and I rendezvoused at a Denny’s in Palmdale for our hardy-breakfast send off, huge by my usual standard, but . . . who knew what lay ahead on the trail for us?
As we ate, Mark talked about the poor conditions of his room. “I wouldn’t take a guest there,” he said.
Daybreak upon us, the air crisp and the sky clear, we left the comforts of my car at Sierra Hwy & PCT junction, mile marker 456.3, then drove in Mark’s SUV to Indian Canyon Trailhead, mile marker 444.1, our last hike’s most northern destination.
Northbound, we started at 8:30AM, late by usual hiking standards. Upside, we hadn’t planned a long day’s hike.
Cool breezes refreshed me as they kept the temperature reasonable and a number of through-hikers passed us as we moved along under direct sun. I felt content with our steady pace, however.
We’re no spring chicken, Prim8.
I expected the PCT would take us near Vasquez Rocks, but was delighted when we passed through the park. I’d driven by those rocks many times and admired them from Hwy 14 on my way to previous PCT hikes and visits to Joshue Tree National Park.
The trail passed under Hwy 14 via a water-drainage tunnel, then wound between rock formations until the most iconic of them loomed in front of us. When we came to an area with picnic tables, Mark and I decided on a lunch break.
“Reminds me of an episode from the Big Bang Theory,” I told Mark.
Our lunch-break view of the iconic formation at Vasques Rocks.
We encountered no problems during our day’s hike and covered the twelve miles in short order. Thankful for the German foot paste, Gehwol Extra, which I’d spread on my feet, I developed no blisters.
Something had worked, Prim8!
I relocated to the same motel as Mark in Palmdale, though my wife, Janet, needed to confirm my check-in at Knight’s Inn in order to assure the clerk that I was “on the up-and-up.” You know, domestic disputes, credit card fraud, that kind of thing. Regardless, the room appeared clean and everything worked.
Once again, we paid our respects to BJ’s burgers and beer in Palmdale. Habit forming, I tell you.
Showered, teeth cleaned and to bed early, I planned for a 5AM wake-up.
5.13.22, Day 2, “Ease Up a Bit” -
6AM, Mark and I rendezvoused in the motel parking lot, then drove our cars to Denny’s for another pre-hike breakfast.
Denny’s getting to be a habit?
While we ate, Mark complained that he’d not slept much. “I found roaches in my room. So, decided to get inside my sleeping bag,” he said.
I’m glad there weren’t any roaches in my room.Were there? I hoped not, anyway. “My room seems okay,” I said, “the TV and air conditioner work.”
By 8:30AM, we’d positioned one car and driven the other to our day’s start at Sierra Hwy junction.
So much for an early start!
An intermittent cool breeze and clear sky created pleasant hiking conditions.
We enjoyed a relatively gentle ascent at first, though soon enough the trail steepened and we began an ascent of nearly 1,700 feet over a 3.7-mile distance. Wind gusts up to 40-50 mph, I guessed, helped prevent a sweat-fest, however.
Where the trail descended into a wind shadow and the breezes dropped, I felt the heat of the direct sun. And so did the two non-poisonous snakes we passed as they sunned themselves along the trial.
The first snake Prim8 and I have seen on the PCT.
When we stopped to snack, perhaps halfway along our day’s journey, the breeze raised goose bumps on my exposed arms and legs.
The remainder of our day’s hike went smoothly, though my feet and legs tired.
What were they telling me?
Our 9.3-mile hike finished at 12:50PM, we had ample time to pre-position my car at San Fransicquito Road junction, return to our motel in Mark’s SUV, shower, eat dinner at BJ’s and get sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s hike.
A foot check revealed no blisters.
Phew! So far, so good, Prim8.
5.14.22, Day 3, “Rattling Along the Trail” -
Our hiking pace averaging 2.3 mph, or thereabouts, Mark and I decided we should start earlier to avoid the anticipated heat of the day, particularly since our planned segment distances would increase and, to boot, we faced crossing Antelope Valley. A relatively flat expanse, at lower elevation than the mountains we’d been passing through, populated with brush and few trees,and with little shade from the sun . . . where the temperatures are known to soar.
Thus, we upped the ante.
Mark knocked on my motel door at 4:45AM, and to arrive at trailhead earlier, we opted fora McDonald’s drive-through.
“A small coffee and biscuit with egg sandwich. Hold the cheese, please,” I said from Mark’s passenger seat.
Mostly tasting of white flour, Careful, don’t choke on this, Prim8.I concluded biscuits are decidedly better when not dry as dust.
6:10AM, we enjoyed another cool start, and with no clouds above, we faced a gradual uphill slope northbound from Bouquet Canyon junction.
Pausing for a light lunch, we rested on a bench next to a sign reading, LEONA DIVIDE 50. Names of the winners since its inception in 1992, both male and female winners, appeared to cover all the spaces available.
Gonna need to add more boards to the sign. “Never heard of the ‘Leona Divide 50,’” I told Mark.
“I haven’t either,” he said.
We speculated awhile before continuing on at our usual pace.
Close on Mark’s heels, with an eye on where I stepped, lest I stumble over a rock, I’d allowed Prim8 to take over and run the show, everything progressing in a routine fashion—that happens now and then—when Mark gave a shout and jumped forward a few steps . . . and I heard the telltale rattle.
Jerked out of my mini-cerebral vacation and with no time to think, I took a several shuffling steps backward.
I recognized a rattlesnake aside the trail about ten feet away, though it appeared entwined with something.
Caught in the act of swallowing a bird?
The snake began to move across the trail, dragging its meal along as it warned us to keep our distance.
Yep, maybe a Robin.
Mark started his phone video, while I fumbled with my iPhone.
But it wasn’t like Mr. or Ms. Rattlesnake would pose for us, and within seconds had crossed the trail towards the cover of brush, with the bird firmly in possession.
First poisonous snake Prim8 and I have seen on the PCT!
Video credit - Mark Reinhardt.
Finished at 11:20AM, our early start formula, though not perfect, seemed to be working out well.
That’s the trick to beat the heat, Prim8.
While I drove us to Mark’s car, he googled and learned that the Leona Divide 50 originally covered a fifty-kilometer distance, though since then fifty-mile and thirty-kilometer race options have been added.
Though my legs and lower back felt sore and my feet ached, I felt relieved to discover I still hadn’t developed blisters.
Yay, Prim8, maybe the foot cream is the trick!
We’d covered 12.7 miles to mile marker 478.2 in 5 hrs, 10 min.
After pre-positioning my car for tomorrow’s hike at the the San Francisquito trial junction, we returned to the Knight’s Inn around 12:30PM where I took full advantage of my room’s air-conditioner.
5.15.22, Day 4, “Deer, Oh, Deer”-
We positioned Mark’s car on a ridge traversed by a dusty road, somewhere near mile marker 491.5, before we headed southbound at 6:40AM.
A panoramic photo of Mark looking north towards Antelope Valley from a ridge.
Mark had surmised it easier to hike downhill than uphill . . . and I concurred, though the PCT undulates over ridges and around mountains, seldom takes a straight line for any appreciable distance, and rarely maintains a level contour. But working our way along as day hikers, I felt agreeable to accept whatever advantages we could.
The trail will become harder when we enter the wilderness of Evolution Basin farther north and the real hiking starts, replete with overnight camping, hauling more gear in a heavier pack, cooking out, planning for water resupply, likely encountering bears and perhaps dodging storms. We’ll face the necessity to be more self-reliant, sans the creature comforts of civilization, in spite of our more recent accommodations at roach motels.
Before the trail departed the ridge we startled two small deer, who made haste on a bee-line through chest-high brush and the remnants of burned trees.
Clouds blocked the sun. That and the breezes kept the temperature down.
Headed in a contrary direction as most hikers in southern California this time of hiking season, we began passing northbound hikers. Most hadn’t had time or hiked fast enough from the Mexican border to get farther north, yet.
Out of curiosity, I started counting them after we’d passed a few.
Nearing the end of our day’s trail segment, a cloud formation drew our attention.
“Those clouds remind me of tornadoes,” I said to Mark. Referring to downward pointing extensions, I added,“Those fingers suggest rain or at least some turbulent weather.”
Will those clouds overtake us?
When we arrived at San Francisquito Canyon Road junction, I’d counted forty northbound through-hikers. My feet had complained of pain, and I hoped that didn’t portend foot blisters.
Water cache at San Francisquito junction trailhead. The jugs
appeared empty. Note: Not all water caches are created equally!
Having determined hiking earlier afforded us cooler temps, and our bodies willing, we decided to add another segment for the day in order to shorten later hike segments. So, after a 13.3-mile trek, we drove to the trail junction at mile marker 496.2, where we left my car and headed southbound to Mark’s vehicle on the ridge, an additional 4.7-mile hike.
We joked and enjoyed the surprises and confusion from the fourteen northbound hikers we passed for the second time of the day when they made comments like, How did you get here, and Didn’t we pass you earlier today?
We left none of them in a lurch as we explained our carpool scheme. Then, their worlds made total sense again.
Mark’s vehicle awaited us when we arrived at 12:30PM for a total of 7 hours, 50 minutes hiking over 21.4 miles and 1,975 feet cumulative elevation gain, with an average hiking speed of 2.3 mph.
We checked into a different Palmdale motel, though this time my fortunes had declined. I picked up the room phone to complain that the blinds were off and had been replaced by a bed sheet, which hung somewhat on a kilter. But heard no dial tone.
I hobbled to a window at the office, where I made a complaint and the attendant assured me the problem would be corrected.
Back in the room, I discovered my feet had grown two blisters, one of each in-step near my heels.
Not again, Prim8! And we’d been doing so good, too.We’ll up the ante and tape on those suckers for tomorrow's hike.
Mark and I went for dinner, when I returned to my hotel room the window blinds hadn’t been fixed.
No wonder these place are so cheap, Prim8! Relatively speaking, that was.
5.16.22, Day 5, “Five-Hundred” -
We started our hike at 6:27AM. A strong breeze helped cool us.
Better than a sweat-fest.
Ten thru-hikers, also northbound, overtook us, though we maintained our average pace in access of 2 mph.
I’d move faster, Prim8, but our age has its drawbacks.
As anticipated, we passed the five-hundred-mile mark on the trail, though discovered four hiker-made markers, spaced apart about one-hundred yards.
No need to quibble on the exact spot.
Cause for celebration! One of four 500-mile markers.
Soon after the five-hundred mile markers, we gained and followed a ridge, enjoying scenic views of Antelope Valley, before we began our descent towards Hikertown at Hwy 138, near where we’d deposited my car yesterday.
With a view of Antelope Valley Mark R. leads as we start the long decent to Hikertown.
The last mile or so of our day’s hike—who cared to know how far?—ran straight and through open field on a gentle downhill slope.
Feet hurt, Prim8 complained repeatedly.
And I repeatedly answered, Keep going, fella.
Though I tried to consider that last bit of trail a reward, it seemed more like a punishment.
So close, yet so far!
At 12:45PM my car offered immediate relief for my feet.
Yay, Prim8 said.
You said it, guy.
Though I drove us to Mark’s vehicle, at least my feet no longer needed to bear my weight.
We’d covered 21.4 miles and descended a cumulative 2,664 feet.
Mark and I checked into to a different motel. My gear moved into my newer accommodations, another foot exam revealed my blisters had grown.
Agh! No way around it, Prim8,more tape is required . . . more tape.
5.17.22, Day 6, “Day of the Dogs”-
Up at 4:15 and out of our roach-motel rooms at 4:50Am, we breakfasted at IHOP.
7:30AM, our day’s trek from my car at mile marker 517.6, a spot where unmarked gravel/dirt roads intersect and diverge in various directions, like strands of an ill-constructed spider’s web. They spread across the north slope of Antelope Valley, which losses elevation to the south and affords views of the valley’s expanse.
We’d hiked about one mile, about when I’d settled in and established my hiking pace.
Without warning, two collies approached us quietly from behind. We might’ve concluded they were in attack mode, except for their friendly exuberance. Energetic, they jumped and pranced about, indicating they were happy to meet us. They approached to gauge our responses, then retreated. Working as a team, they’d scout ahead, then return to us, as if requiring reassurance and a re-connection. Occasionally, they nuzzled our hands from behind with their noses, sometimes pausing to allow a pet or rub, before moving away again. Both black and about the same age, surely they were of the same litter.
Mark and I maintained our steady pace, all the while wondering from where they’d come. About the same time we noticed the concrete on which we were hiking. Had to be a covering on the California Aqueduct, we concluded.
They maintained contact with us, explored sounds and movement in the brush along the road, which the PCT paralleled. In hunting mode, they frequently reacted to a lizard, or other small animal, though that proved fruitless.
Prim8 briefly leads our pack towards Hikertown. Note: A branch of the California Aqueduct flows beneath the concrete cap on the right of the parallel gravel “maintenance” road.
"Wrongway" Mark poses with our two adopted dogs on a segment
of the exposed California Aqueduct concrete covering.
I couldn’t help but imagine our encounter some latter-day re-enactment of the dawn of man-dog bonding, though perhaps I was romanticizing a bit.
Little left to consider beyond the idea that they’d adopted us in their own canine manner.
The wind, unimpeded by low brush and absence of man-made structures, blew at speeds I guessed to be 35-40 mph. In spite of the effort to hike in those conditions, especially when the trail turned us westward and headlong into the breeze, the wind kept us cool, even in direct sun.
The dogs took opportunity to chase a flock of sheep grazing as we passed a ranch.
“Come here,” Mark yelled.
“Leave those sheep alone,” I yelled.
Momentarily, they returned to us, as if responding to our commands!
Mark provided them water and bits of his Slim Jims when we paused for a snack at an above ground aqueduct structure.
Eager to accept his offerings, they were quite behaved, I thought.
We’d made appreciable progress, I considered, when the trail met and followed the exposed CA Aqueduct.
The dogs quenched their thirsts, remained exuberant, enjoying their adventure.
Water foul, geese and gulls mostly, avoided our approach, taking flight headlong into the strong wind, as we and the dogs advanced along.
Astonished that the dogs remained with us when we arrived at Hiker Town at 1:30PM, after a six-hour hike, we concluded we shouldn’t abandon them at the side of the road. We too, had grown fond of them.
“Maybe, they’d get adopted at Hiker’s Town,” I told Mark.
“Let’s talk with people there and see,” he said.
At Hikertown, Mark conversed with Marta in Spanish. She immediately offered the dogs food and water. They interacted with her and other hikers in the same friendly, playful way as they had since first approaching Mark and I.
Done deal, Marta adopted them.
A decision was made to determine their genders. When I lifted each dog by their front legs, they whined as if in pain. I concluded that, perhaps, they’d been abused, and “run away,” in search of a better home.
Mainstreet, Hikertown on the right. Note: Looking like a movie set,
most of those buildings serve as sleeping quarters for hikers.
In spite of our 14.7-mile trek across Antelope Valley, we’d gained 1,111 feet by the time we’d arrived at Hikertown.
To shorten drive time to our trailhead junction and start our hike earlier, we opted to get motel rooms in Mojave.
Checked into my room, showered and resting before Mark and I headed off in search of dinner, I discovered a roach crossing the floor.
Crap, another roach motel.Though now the term applied literally, not figuratively.
I squashed the thing with my boot on its second foray into the open, where I left it for the motel maid to find.
My foot blisters hadn’t improved. If anything, they’d grown slightly. Not willing to allow several blisters to waylay this hiking trip, I stuck with my strategy.More tape, Prim8, more tape.
5.18.22, Day 7, “Staggering in the Wind”-
5AM, we drove-through McDonald’s for a take-out. I ordered a egg & bacon sandwich, sans cheese, though this time on a brioche bun. Much better than a desiccated biscuit!
Our best laid plan thwarted to leave my car at a WATER CACHE located on a ridge, according to Mark’s PCT maps, which would’ve split our last two segments roughly in half. But accessed by a gravel road, we were blocked at a closed gate within yards of the Oak Creek Road trail junction.
Forced to improvise, we drove some 45 minutes to the southern end to attempt access, but again, no dice.Another locked gate blocked us at an arched sign,TEJON. You know, one of those overhead arches marking a western ranch entrance.
Apparently, locals don’t like strange traffic.
Though we debated the possibilities of alternative routes to “the water cache,” without map coverage of areas to the west, and not willing to wander along gravel roads, anyone of which could also be closed, we gave up that quest.
As a result, we opted to hike a 3.3-mile section southbound from mile marker 536.5 back to our previous day’s starting point at mile marker 533.2. With a considerably delayed start for the day, we returned to my car after a hike of 1hr, 10 min.
To avoid a hiking day of low-productivity, we drove back to Willow Springs, mile marker 558.5, then hiked northbound to Hwy 58, to add another 7.9 miles.
The wind continued to gust, which again kept temperatures bearable, even in direct sun.
With warnings to stay on the path, and reminders we were on an easement across private property, the trail crossed the northern reach of a turbine wind farm, which stretched miles to the south.
The active turbines, blades turning, made sounds reminiscent of passing planes. Whoosh . . . whoosh . . . whoosh!
A Wind Farm on the way to Hwy 58 and trail junction.
Leaving the wind turbine farm, the trail dropped into a valley, where the winds subsided and the temperature rose into the 90s.
I couldn’t decide which was worse, the wind or the heat.
A passing train halted our progress where the trail crossed railroad tracks near Hwy 58 and Mark’s car. I didn’t mind the pause to caught my breath.
Sit, Prim8 said.
I refuse to sit in the dirt, Prim8. We'll have a problem getting up.
With1,300 feet cumulative elevation gain, we arrived at Mark’s SUV after another 3hours,20 minutes hiking from my car. For the day, we’d managed a total distance of11.1 miles. Paltry in serious hiking terms, though better than nothing!
Now, no other way around the fact, we faced a 23-mile segment from Willow Springs Road junction to our most northern approach from the south at mile marker 536.5.
Come hell or high water, Prim8, we’ll do it.
We pre-positioned my car at So. Oak Creek Road trail junction, the southern end of tomorrow's hike segment, and headed back to Mojave.Back in my roach-motel room, I kept a sharp eye for roaches, though thankfully saw no signs of any.
5.19.22, Day 8, “The Water Cache”-
Before I moved my gear into Mark’s SUV and abandoned my motel room, I ensured my blisters were well taped.
Mark’s car left at No. Oak Creek Road junction at 5:40AM, we started southbound on our last trail section of this trip.
A desirous hiker can always call a cab for a ride
into town from the North Oak Creek trail junction!
A mere few steps along we encountered a sign which indicated we were entering the PACIFIC CREST NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL, DESERT SEGMENT.
Hmm. Entering? Every inch I’d hiked on the PCT from Mexico has been through the desert segment, mountains or no.
Under clear sky, we soon faced strong, gusting winds as we gained elevation on slopes of scrub brush, grasses and blooming wild flowers.
“The weather forecast for Mojave predicts wind speeds of 27 mph,” Mark said.
More like 47mph! “Yeah, but that’s down on the valley floor, not here on the ridges,” I said as I worked to maintain my balance and forward progress.
Pushed this way, then that, I worked to counter the wind’s intensity and change of direction moment to moment.I’d adjust my footing and balance, take several steps, and then be left in a lurch, staggering along the trail like a drunken sailor.
Damn wind! Its going to be a long day, Prim8.But what choice do we have?
Feet hurt, Prim8 whined.
Just tough it out, fella.
As usual, the trail snaked upward, then downward, around a hill, then over a larger hill, then a ridge. Headed from one highpoint to another, down into a valley, up to another nearby highpoint, but not in a straight line as the crow goes. Nooooo! Seldom level nor heading where I’d rather go, I considered the trail designers sadists, that had deliberately designed this trail as a perverted means of punishment.
That would mean I’m a hiker-masochist.
Hampered by foot pain, we plodded southbound, expecting we’d pass northbound through-hikers, likely some we’d encountered this last few days. After passing several, I started a tally.
Occasionally, we encountered things of our particular interest.
This non-poisonous snake, gettin’ some rays and waitin’
for a passing meal, didn’t budge when we walked by.
Can you see me? I’m a Horntoad Lizard.
Seemed about halfway—not soon enough, though—I spotted a white van driving down hill and away from a spread of red canopy.
“Must be the ‘water cache,’” I said to Mark.
We’d expected to find something of note there. Marked on a map, hikers would rely on that location for a resupply of water, their lives perhaps hinging in the balance.
When we arrived at “the water cache,” my eyes feasted on the elaborate accommodations, relatively speaking and out in the middle of nowhere, of course.Two plastic water barrels, I judged to be about thirty-gallon size each,were perched several feet off the ground on stands. Two red patio umbrellas cast shade roughly in the center of the site. Numerous folding chairs sat opened and spread around. An assortment of wooden boxes and crates housed some cooking equipment and utensils. A cursory inventory revealed one package of dried Ramen. The entire site, a postage-stamp clearing, nestled among chest-high brush near the ridge line.
Two lady-hikers lay on their sleeping mats while three guy-hikers sat nearby.
Without exchanging a word, Mark and I claimed folding chairs in the sun and snacked. Afterwards, I spied a box containing a log book, so signed in.
We didn’t interact with the other hikers. Tired and spent from my effort to get here, I didn't want to waste energy. I guessed they didn’t want to either. Besides, I considered they should initiate a conversation, not me. They’d had some rest, and opportunity to catch their breath,by the time I arrived. Nor did they offer us a spot in the shade. Though scant as the shade was, I considered the lack of offer rude.
“The Water Cache” at PCT mile marker 549. Note: The
Tehachapi junction lies another 17 miles north on the trail.
Interesting menu, though who would cook and serve? Whoops, no TP!
I didn’t want to leave my newfound folding chair, but my car remained miles away—Mark and I preferred not to know exactly—and wouldn’t be coming to me.
What good would that do to know how far? Wouldn’t shorten the distance one inch.
A final glance back at “the Water Cache” as more northbound hikers arrive.
As we plodded forward, the trail descended into a valley, and its attendant wind shadow, where the temperature rose.
“Check the temperature,” Mark said. He paused for me to look at the thermometer he’d attached to the back of his daypack.
“92 . . . point 4 degrees,” I said.
No surprise. Without the winds, I’d roast.
I trudged the uphill portions,and forced to endure my foot pain, I accepted whatever would come. Surprising to me, I felt in good shape otherwise. Difficult as it was to set aside my pain, I worked to enjoy the stunning scenery.
Wild flowers in bloom.
We hiked on . . . and on. The trail, seeming endless, snaked up, down, around, over this hill and that.
When we began the final downhill portion—a rare straight stretch, which offered a panoramic view of Palmdale and Lancaster through the haze—perhaps, as much as, four miles remained to my car.
Feet hurt, Prim8 said.
Tell me something new, fella. My blisters tolerable, the bottoms of my feet generated constant pain. Are our arches falling or another case of plantar fasciitis coming on? I’ve suffered a bout of plantar fasciitis. A truly painful affliction. Neither falling arches nor another bout of plantar fasciitis would bode well for my future hiking.
Hikers beware of traffic while crossing wind farm roads! Or perhaps this sign
is an invitation for locals to engage in a spectator sport to spot an elusive hiker?
Fooled several times about where the trail would bring us to my car, I told Mark, “I’m tired of feeling this foot pain. I need a rest.” Ready to sit in the dirt, or a pile of dung had there been no alternative,I wanted to take weight off my aching feet.
But I plodded on. A little farther, Prim8.Maybe, this is the place . . . I hope.
And, of course, the last time I told myself that, it was!
Eleven hours, twenty minutes after our start, we’d covered 23 miles, gained a cumulative 5,672 feet, averaged 2.4 mph when moving, and passed 72 northbound, fellow masochistic hikers.
I welcomed the creature comfort of my car seat, avoided an examine of my feet—just as well, that could wait—though donned my tennis shoes, and relished my return home.
Another 122.3 miles added to my PCT odyssey.