Day 44: A Wild Windfarm Appears
Thursday, May 3, 2018 9:12 pm
Location: Tehachapi Willow Springs Rd / Tehachapi (558.5 miles)

In spite of a near-marathon day planned to get to Highway 58 and go into Tehachapi, I didn’t actually get started early. I headed out from camp a little after 7, and began a steep one mile climb to Tylerhorse Canyon. This gave me a great view of yesterday’s wind farm, but little did I know of the magnitude of the wind farm waiting not that far ahead.

At the canyon, I loaded up on water — six liters worth — just in case I wasn’t able to make it all the way to Highway 58. This had the effect of significantly slowing my speed the rest of the day; I barely managed 2 mph all day. At the canyon, I also ran into Saunter, who had initially camped back at Cottonwood Creek, but then got up in the middle of the night and night-hiked to Tylerhorse.

Past Tylerhorse, the trail bounced around a bit, and transitioned from firm ground to something resembling a mountain of loose dirt that had the potential to erode away with every footstep if you weren’t careful. After a quick dip into a canyon, the trail began a four mile, 1600 ft climb up a mountain of loose dirt, and it was pretty slow going. There was, though, a great look back at the wind farm from yesterday.

About six miles from where I started, I took a break, partway up that climb. There was a nice view, but it was marginally disturbing that the rock (or what passed for rock) was so weakly bound that you could break pieces off just by running your finger over it.

After meandering up and around for awhile, the trail started to cross a number of dirt bike and ATV trails, leading to quite a few more trail markers than usual. A blanket of yellow wildflowers covered some of the hillsides, providing a nice distraction from the more common brown and dull green colors.

Three miles later, at the top of the climb, I reached the “Mile 549 Bar & Grill”. Nominally a campsite, it was also the location of some persistent trail magic, with chairs (!), a water cache, some small juice drinks, and apples, bananas, hard boiled eggs, hot sauce packets, and town information on Tehachapi. I wound up taking an unexpected and quite welcome break there. (Thanks, Daniel, Robert, and Patti!)

Being a bit after noon, it seemed unlikely I’d make it to Highway 58 today (almost another 18 miles). But, I could also get to Tehachapi about eight miles sooner at an earlier road crossing, Tehachapi Willow Springs Rd, so I set that as my new goal.

Not long after leaving the campsite, another wind farm came into view. And unlike yesterday’s wind farm which had just one kind of windmill, there were quite a few different kinds of windmills here. And, this wind farm was gigantic, seemingly stretching for miles in all directions. I took a quick break after five miles or so in the wind farm, and continued pushing on downhill to the road crossing.

There were also quite a few wildflowers alongside the trail, and after all the yellow from earlier in the day it was nice to see some purple.

When I got to the trailhead at Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, I sent a text message to Wits End, one of the trail angel groups in Tehachapi, requesting a pickup, and overnight hosting, if possible. (J Dub had, the other day, discovered that the hotels in town were almost entirely booked up for the weekend, so otherwise, staying in town to do resupply tomorrow would be problematic.) Wits End, according to the advertising as far back as Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, has a phone number that is connected to 25 trail angels capable of providing rides to and from the trailhead. This is a vast improvement over what usually happens: the trail angel group provides a list with phone numbers and call restrictions, and expects hikers to randomly call people on the list. (In fact, the other trail angel group in Tehachapi has 40 people on their list!) It’s no fun having to try and randomly select a trail angel like that, and even demoralizing when you don’t get a positive response after a few calls.

Shortly after, a pickup truck arrived looking for two other hikers who had requested a ride. They were a bit confused to find only me at the trailhead — they hadn’t received my message until just then due to bad signal — but since I was there, and they weren’t, and since the truck would be full anyway, I hopped in, and we drove into town.

In the truck was Dalton (in charge of Wits End) and his husband David, as well as hikers Padre and Wishy. Thus began my first of many trips to or from the trailhead, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

The drive into town made the extent of the wind farm more apparent: it was a lot bigger than it appeared from the trail, stretching on for miles on both sides of the road. After not too long, we arrived in Tehachapi, and Dalton gave us the tour, pointing out all of the good restaurants and other locations of interest. It quickly became apparent that Tehachapi was a very long town, not really built with hikers in mind. A large part of the town is centered around two long main streets, and while some of it is walkable, it’s two miles from the start of town (near Wits End) to the second main street that has the grocery stores.

We dropped Padre and Wishy off at one of the food stores, and then returned to the trailhead to pick up Austin and Mikala (who he was there for when he picked me up), as well as Saunter, who had shown up in the meantime. On our way back to town, a call came in to pick up a hiker who had already been picked up, but was now sitting on the side of the road with car troubles. (A busy, two-lane road with barely any shoulder.)

We found the vehicle, pulled over, and helped the hiker — Heidi — get her bag into the truck. While we were doing so, a cop pulled in between the broken-down vehicle and ours, wanting to know what was going on. (He was under the initial impression we were the cause of the obstruction on the road.)

It probably looked suspicious, with seven people apparently trying to fit into one vehicle, but David was able to explain to the cop we were transferring packs from the broken-down car, and that the person currently in the (covered) truck bed was helping to load packs into the truck. We did, however, have to leave Saunter and Heidi on the side of the road until we could come back later to get them.

On our way to Wits End, Dalton brought up the suggestion to slackpack the eight miles between Tehachapi Willow Springs Road and Highway 58. I had thought of doing that, but since I would hopefully be staying with a trail angel, I didn’t want to propose that myself as I didn’t want to take unnecessary advantage of the trail angels. I had already indicated I wanted to zero and resupply tomorrow, and adding a day of slackpacking would extend that to a third day. But with Dalton proposing it himself, Austin and Mikala pretty much immediately on board (since they were staying in town three nights due to a reservation snafu), and Dalton assuring me that staying an extra day wouldn’t be a problem, it was a no-brainer to say yes. Also, he was planning a Cinco de Mayo party on Saturday for hikers, extra enticement to stay an extra day.

Finally, we made it to Wits End (and didn’t drive past on a tour), and David went back to pick up Saunter and Heidi. Wits End is a second house, currently under renovation, on the property as Dalton and David’s main house. As such, it was not in the greatest state of repair, but it was still entirely usable for providing hikers a place to hang out during the day. The main room had a comfy couch, and a large table with bench seats. Sheets hung on two walls, available for hikers to sign their names, and decorated sheets provided some color where the ceiling should have been. Free WiFi and power were also available.

While we waited for David to return with Saunter and Heidi, Dalton tried to find a trail angel to host me. He initially tried to put me with the trail angel hosting Ghost Hiker and Trooper, but she was at capacity. So instead, he put me with his friend Rachel, who also significantly helps out with making Wits End work.

Quickly, a plan developed. In two cars, we drove to the hotel where Austin, Mikala, Saunter, and Heidi were staying. Then, we went to a pizza place for pizza and beer. Then, Dalton and David drove me over to Rachel’s house.

Rachel and her family (husband and four kids) were most generous in hosting four hikers that night: in addition to me, Sparky was there, as well as Rain Man and Oats.

Tomorrow: a short slackpack between the roads into Tehachapi, and the completion of Section E of the PCT in California.