I hit the trail out of Mojave my first day around 8:30 in the morning. Luckily, my hitchhiking out of town had coincided with a marathon. After waiting about an hour by the road I eventually gave up and started walking the 11 miles to the trail. I had covered about 3 miles by the time a marathon staff person in a white sedan picked me up and took me to the trailhead. So I was off – starting my hike with a steady climb for about 8 miles through a windmill farm.
A lot of people dread the uphills and rejoice at the downhills, but I’ve found that I feel the most alive and motivated while climbing. It feels good to work up a sweat, feel my heart pounding and my breath getting faster. I can envision my muscles soaking up the oxygen that is being absorbed through my lungs and delivered by my blood, circulating faster and faster through my arteries and veins. I feel strong and energized in a way that I never find if I am not working hard. Not to mention the rush of endorphins and the feeling of accomplishment at getting to the top. After all that, it does feel nice to have a downhill rest for a while. I guess you can’t have one without the other…
I ended up doing 42 miles that first day. Not my intention… but I got to my potential camp around 6 pm, ate dinner and looked at the map. Seventeen more miles of flat walking along the LA aqueduct. This section is notorious for being hot and monotonous during the day. I decided a little night hiking was in order. The cool breeze made the walk much more pleasant and the bright stars and crescent moon provided inspiring scenery for an otherwise uninspiring landscape. Forty-two miles on Day One is not the general recommendation. A smarter strategy to prevent blisters and muscle soreness is to start out slow and acclimate your body to the constant demand of walking. But since I was already in good shape from several months of training and excited to finally be on the trail, I felt that the miles would not phase me. Now, several days later, I still feel strong and have no regrets, though I doubt that I will be repeating that days' mileage anytime soon.
Many miles later, after a pit stop in Lake Hughes for a veggie burger and a trail detour to avoid a burn area, I found myself in a small desert oasis. Local trail angels, the Andersons, have set up a water cache nestled under some low growing trees. Just to make sure we don’t miss it (or to keep us company as we hydrate?), they've hung up some decorative monsters and skeletons. I considered staying there for the night. Such a lovely nook with plenty of water.
I made a delicious and energizing meal of buckwheat noodles, mole sauce and peanut butter, which tasted like a trail version of pad-thai. A few minutes later a trail-runner came passing through. His high energy level motivated me to push on to Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce. I later caught up with him at another water cache 8 miles down the trail where he shared some running stories and pictures of rattlesnakes from further down the trail. I told him snakes were one thing I hoped to avoid on this trail. Little did I know...
The rest of the day was a steady climb to a natural spring followed by long descent into Agua Dulce. About 3 miles before arriving to town, I had my first encounter with the Mojave Desert's Diamondback Rattlesnake. I found him sitting in the middle of the trail, soaking in the sun. Several minutes passed as I attempted to negotiate with him through multiple means - banging my walking stick, stomping, rolling rocks. It finally became clear that he would not move without force. A firm nudge with the end of my walking stick was enough to convince him to begrudgingly move off the trail. I walked swiftly past.
I made it to the Saufley’s aptly named “Hiker Heaven” here in Agua Dulce after a 27 mile day, where I sit writing this blog, enjoying some chips and salsa and the company of other hikers. The hiker community is a unique and wonderful circle to join and I feel immediately welcomed here. I am grateful to the support of strangers in so many ways and am looking forward to more trail days ahead. Thanks to Donna from Hiker Heaven and my new runner friend, Ken, I am armed with advice on how to avoid and better deal with snakes and am on to the next hundred miles.
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