Apr 30, 2014

Casting off

The air is parched. My skin is scratchy. The trees are rattling overhead. A wind is coming.

It won't be one of those steady, endless winds that wears down mountains or drove the settlers of the Great Plains insane. Not here on the San Gabriel foothills. When the wind comes, it comes whooshing down from the high desert in short fearful bursts that bring down a rain of palm fronds.

"Are you sure you'll be alright?" says Lilalee

She doesn't mean to challenge, but the question comes with a prick. I disguise my pique and with a shrug. "It's just for a night."

In truth, my blood is pumping. I feel edgy. The moment has that ineffable, surreal quality: things seem normal but they shouldn't be. It's not like I'm being wheeled into surgery or getting married or seeing my Mom or Dad for the last time, but it's there. Thank goodness our thoughts are our own. I'm not letting on. No point in distressing Lilalee.

We get out of the car. The wind sends my hat sailing down the street. She grabs it with the grace of a shortstop and flashes a victorious smile. I never fail to be amazed at her quickness. Even after all these years she still has the reflexes of a cat.

I open the hatch and lift out the Mariposa. It's loaded with everything. Twenty-six pounds for authenticity. How else would I shake out the bugs? I pull on the pack, buckle up, tighten the straps and snug up the lifters. It's good. I am one with my Mariposa. If I was agile enough, I could dance with this thing.

Another blast of wind. Her hair is pasted against the side of her face. I have a photo of her like that when we first met. She reaches up with my hat and tugs it down securely. "You be careful."

I am pretty sure she watches till I was out of view. I am launched at last. The months of infirmity are past. One day they'll come again, but for now I headed out and feeling free.

I've walked these switchbacks to Henninger Flat a hundred times. In summer, it's a dusty shadeless affair. In winter, if the rain clears the basin air, you can see to San Clemente Island, a hundred miles out into the glinting Pacific.

Most times the road is busy. I know a few of the regulars. There's the older Latino fellow who bundles up as if he's trekking the tundra, the squadrons of diffident Asians who ascend in formation, the more-than-a-little-odd guy in tie-dye uses a toy gripper to pick up trail litter which he stuffs in a Nordstrom tote bag, the petite woman who bounds past wearing no more clothes than you could stuff in a number 10 envelope and the possessed mountain bikers who slalom around the hikers.

Looking down from Henninger Flats
But today it's just me, the whoosh of the wind, the taste of grit. I see nothing but the tread before me which could be anywhere. I concentrate on legs, neck, shoulders and feet. The idle months have taken a toll, but there's no wonkiness in the leg. That's the main thing.

The contents of the pack are settling. I adjust the straps. I fall into a stride. The 11% grade flattens out. My spirits lift. I could walk forever, but won't today.

I step onto the lower Henninger Flat campground in less than an hour. Henninger Flats is a museum of sorts. There's an old fire lookout tower, an old stone water foundation, a boarded-up mine, a rusting wheeled cart and some twisted track.

I walk over to the dormitory that houses the skeleton staff and a modest natural history museum with a single permanent display on three tables. The Aves table sports a Red-tail, a Peregrine, a California Quail replete with head feather, and a Western Bluebird in a nest. The furry mammal table has two grey squirrels, a gopher and a fierce raccoon. The time-left-behind table features a fine collection of glass insulators. Each item is identified by typed descriptions on yellowed index cards. All are the legacy of a mostly forgotten old-timer who preserved these things for eternity.

I drop the Mariposa at the dormitory step and ring bell to get my permit. Johann answers the door. Yes, Johann, like the composer. I asked him about it when we first met. He said his mother was the soprano in St Anthony's choir. I've had a passing acquaintance with Johann for years. He is a good natured, stocky man in his mid-thirties who's itchy to get an assignment in town so he can be home with his wife and kids. We routinely discuss the weather and the decayed state of the campgrounds. He is philosophical about both, but he does his best. Last month he painted all the campground trash barrels Royal Blue. It seemed like a good thing to do with the 40 gallons Royal blue left in the barn after in the Station Fire.

"Blowing pretty good out there," he says.

"Not bad."

"Supposed to die down after dark. Good thing."

"It's pretty dry."

He nods. "The captain is nervous a shit. Keeps calling. Driving me nuts." He irons the receipt pad open with the heel of his hand. "Hadn't seen you in quite a while."

"Yea. Been laid up."

"Sorry to hear. You gonna stay up at Fuji?"

"I was thinking I might go on up to the Yale Peak shoulder."

"I'd suggest stick around here. You know. Just in case." He pushes the receipt book across the counter for me to sign.

"Sure. Will do."

He rips the yellow copy. "Say we're playing gin later. If you want, drop by."

"Thanks. Maybe."

Just as I'm leaving he adds, "Be sure to put your food in the locker. The bears have been visiting."

Henninger Flats Campground
There are 3 camping areas at Henninger. The lower and largest areas have been overrun by picnickers who have long since filled up two historic outhouses and the stout, cinder-block pit toilets. I proceed up to less-used upper campground, called Fuji.

I had planned to set up "tarp-style" with just a ground cover and the tent-fly, but because of the wind, I pitch the complete tent behind copse of brush. A gust nearly takes my fly down the mountain. Mental note: don't do that again.

I scatter my stuff inside, inflate the pad, roll out the bag. It's a cushy spot. Suddenly I am tired and just want to lay here. I listen to the wind roar through the Coulter Pines and wonder about the hikes I'm going to take this summer.

Apr 22, 2014

Less than perfect

It was like being hit by a meteor, but not as random or lethal. One minute everything was on the up-and-up and then, out of the blue comes this bolt of reality and suddenly my my brand-new, 27-ounce Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack doesn't look like such a good idea.

My first impulse was to rationalize: surely no self-respecting outdoorsman would design a backpack this way. But they did. Now I'm I'm staring at the re-taped Gossamer Gear box, debating the next step and rehashing that old truism: you know it is real when you can't wish it away.

By C m handler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The morning was bright and blue and fresh air slid down from the mountains. I was itching to get up there, but the months have been slipping by and I was determined to finish the chapter on how Grant beat the bureaucracy and won the Civil war. 1

At least I was determined until I heard the UPS truck turn up the block. The sound of an approaching UPS always holds such promise — the promise it will stop here. It's hard to think of anything else until it passes. Today it stopped.

I dashed down just in time to see the man-in-brown gracefully spring into the truck and pull away to spread his material joy elsewhere. He left a box on the mat with the big letters "Gossamer Gear. Do not cut with a knife." From that instant, my plan for the day was scrapped.

Gossamer Gear
The box was light. Wonderfully light. I shook it to be certain it wasn't empty and carried it up to the office. I opened it carefully. One by one, I laid out the pieces: the pack, a U-shaped, internal-support stay, a hip belt, a sternum strap, a foam back-pad and laser printed directions.

I ran my hand inside the 65-liter Mariposa. Roomy. The 140-denier Dyneema Gridstop fabric felt crinkly and looked stylish. The seams were dotted with handy "D" tabs. The back pocket was a stretchy mesh. The side pockets stayed closed with snappy elastic. There was no bladder pouch or other interior structure. It was just a big cloth bag with big pockets. This would be different from my old-reliable Osprey.

I was ready to assemble. I studied the directions for guidance. They were written in an indecipherable, vendor lingo that I believe is based on English. Impatience got the best of me. I struck-out out on my own.

I started with the internal-support stay. It slid into a stitched interior sleeve and was secured by a heavy velcro tab. The fit was tight, like a size-10 foot in a size-9 shoe. Worrisome, but nothing ripped. I pulled the empty pack over my shoulders. It pushed in the wrong places like a right shoe on a left foot. The stay was in backwards. It was a slow start.

I slipped off the pack, fixed the stay, wrestled the hip belt in place and affixed the sternum strap. Lastly I bullied the foam back-pad that into a stretchy mesh that held it in place. I slipped my arms through the straps again and fastened the belt. Wow! There it was: all 27 ounces. It was like nothing.

I went to the mirror and twisted about like a haute model (albeit a bald, soft-belly one.) The straps rested nicely on my shoulders, the sit-pad curved nicely into my lumbar and the hip belt set perfectly on my hips. So far so good. Time to fill the Mariposa with my stuff.

I dug the backpacking boxes out of the closet. They were untouched since last Fall. I poured the contents into a jumble and sorted them into familiar piles: tent parts, sleeping bag, pad, bear canister, cook kit, water bladder, water bottles, purifier, clothes, ditty bags, freezer-bag cozy, maps and electronics. It was still second nature. I have organized my pack the same way for years; I hate spending most of my hikes looking for things.

I compressed the sleeping bag and stuffed it in the bottom. Then the bag of clothes. Then the bear canister filled with 7 pounds of weights and held in place by ditty bags. I wedged the cozy behind the cannister as a cushion and slipped a filled 3-liter bladder down the the back. The Gossamer Gear braintrust had engineered away the bladder sleeve and provided a useless little "D" tab for suspending the bladder. Hooking the bladder to the "D" tab was about as easy as maneuvering a sofa around a stairway landing. This would never do on the trail.

Fortunately, many of the world's engineering problems can be solved with duct tape or braided cord. I was up to the challenge. I cut a 6-inch piece of cord and ran it behind the velcro strap on top of the stay. I then hooked the bladder to the cord and secured it with a genuine square knot. Not fancy, but it would do. While I was at it I added a extra cord for for a key leash.

I pressed on with a renewed faith in my engineering prowess and a diminished regard for the geniuses at Gossamer Gear. The tent snuggled nicely into the large side pocket. The cooking gear and water filter and bottles fit conveniently in the small side pockets. Rain gear, camp shoes and leave-no-trace kit in the back pocket. As a finishing touch, I cinched the sleeping pad under the shockcord atop the fold-over cover. I stood back to admire the result. It looked ready for the Sierras.

I eagerly hoisted the pack. The bear cannister careened about inside the pack and I nearly toppled. In my haste, I had forgotten to tighten the tension straps. I slipped off the pack and realized why. There were no tension straps! I looked twice, three times, to be sure. Sure enough, no tension straps. This was a big problem.

Being inspired by first success, I hatched a solution: lace the pack up like a shoe. In fact there were four "D" tabs that appeared to be put there for that purpose. I sliced off another length of cord threaded it through the "D" tabs. It proved to be a one-eye closed, breathe-out operation and a humbling reminder why I was never suited to be a surgeon. Despite the struggle, the operation was a success; the pack was now stable.

But, there was one minor side effect: the lacing crossed over the back pocket rending about 20% of the pack useless. After about 30 seconds of careful study, I saw a solution: cut holes in the brand-new, back-pocket mesh and pass the cord inside the pocket under the rain gear, camp shoes and Leave-No-Trace kit. Given my penchant for converting repair into permanent damage, this seemed risky.

I was out of ideas, so I just swung the lifted pack onto my shoulders. I secured the hip belt and tightened the straps. This was a realistic load and the pack felt pretty good. However, the load was canted back and I had to lean slightly forward for balance. I pulled on the lifters to shift the load up and in. But, there was no lift, just an odd snugging to the shoulders with little effect.

I dropped the pack and examined the lifters. To my astonishment, both the shoulder straps and the lifters were sewn in at the same level as the top of the stay. In most packs the stay pokes an inch or so above the shoulder straps. That's where the 'lift' comes from. Not so with my brand-new Gossamer Gear Mariposa, there was nothing to give the lifters lift. This problem could not be fixed with nylon cord or even duct tape.

This was frustrating. How could such a fundamental design flaw go unnoticed? Surely the people at Gossamer Gear had their reasons. I had to be missing something. There must be simple answers. Perhaps, after all the months of setbacks, I was just short of patience.

Every couple minutes, they interrupted Dylan's Nashville Skyline with a reassuring "we care" message. While waiting, I heard all of side 2. Meanwhile, I decided to test this new Outdoor Research dry bag. I stuffed in the sleeping bag and compressed it into a deformed block of feathers. I had just rolled down the air-tight seal when tech support picked up the call.

"Gossamer Gear tech support. Take less. Do more This is Bobcat. How can I help you today?"

"I just bought a Mariposa and I'm having some trouble."

"I'm sure we can help. What's up?"

"I think my pack is faulty. It doesn't have tensioning straps."

"Actually, that's a weight saving feature recommended by our trail ambassadors. All our gear is tested by thru-hikers."

"That's reassuring..."

"Hold on a second," he interruppted. "I just gotta to finish this text." The line stayed open. In the background I could hear the rise and fall of unintelligible talking and laughing. "Sorry," he said. "What was the problem again?"

"There aren't any tensioning straps on my Mariposa."

"Right. I can send you our guide to lightweight backpacking. It has tips on how to pack your gear."

"Well Bobcat, I don't think that's gonna help. I need to stabilize my BV 750 bear canister. It feels like a bowling ball moving around back there."

"We don't recommend a bear canisters. Our trail ambassadors recommend a food bag. It's lighter."

"Good to know. Perhaps they could explain that to the Park Service?"

"I'm sorry?"

"If you hike the Sierras, the Park Service requires you carry your food in a bear cannister."

"Really?! That sucks."

"Doesn't it." I'm not sure he sensed that my agreement wasn't genuine. "So how do you suggest I cinch down my gear without tension straps?"

During the silence, I heard a pencil tap. "Could you wrap your sleeping bag around the cannister? That could work," he said.

I admit, I don't cope well with the Bobcats of the world. Something rises up. I don't want to give in. I want to shine a bright light and call out the gods of fairness. I want a reckoning. I want to right things. I can't accept the topsy-turvy. Someone needs to stand up, even in the face of certain defeat. Even though the outcome was certain, I was determined to see this through.

"There's another problem," I said.

"I'm sure we can help," replied Bobcat.

"It's about the lifters. The shoulder straps are sewn in at the top of the stay. The lifters don't lift."

"Oh yes! That was one of the major innovations recommended by our trail ambassadors. We saved a full ounce."

At that point, I knew I'd fulfilled my duty to higher principle. I could put an end to my troubles with a clear conscience.

"One last question Bobcat."

"I'm sure we can help."

"How do you get an RMA?"2

I'm worrying my keys and rethinking the 'if-onlys.' I've put enough duct tape on the box to ensure safe shipment to Kabul, nevermind Gossamer Gear. The extra helping of duct tape was cathartic. I sigh and reach for the box. Time to move on. UPS awaits.

Dry sack in action
As I grab the box and head for the stairs, the Outdoor Research dry bag catches my eye. It has self-inflated. The compressed sleeping bag is sucking in air. Nature abhors a vacuum. Inflatables are cool: like the inflatable habitat for space tourism or bubble wrap. Is anything on earth more therapeutic bubble wrap? Or those new air pillow strips they use instead of styrofoam peanuts? How do they get air in there...

Bam. It hits me. Like I've walked into a low door way. If I can inflate the pack, I don't need tension straps. If the dry bag expands in the pack, it'll wedge the canister against the top closure. The shock cord should then be enough vertical tension to hold everything still. Voila! No need for horizontal tensioning; no need for tensioning straps.

But what if the canister isn't high enough to press against the top closure?

I rip the duct tape off the box and reassemble the Mariposa. I stuff dry sack with the sleeping bag first. Then the clothes, ditty bags, bladder and cannister. Then another flash. If I put the sleeping pad against the stay on top of the canister, it effectively extends the height of the stay and the lifters will lift. I add the pad, close the top and fill the side pockets.

I breathe deeply. The moment of truth.

I hoist the full 29 pounds onto my back. I buckle in, tighten the shoulder straps and tighten the lifters. They lift. The cant is good. The pack is stable and comfy. It fits like cold beer and pizza. I slump to the floor with immense relief. It's not perfect, but it's good. My search is over.

For a brief moment, I'm tempted to call Bobcat and share my discovery. Maybe he could help others. Then, my better judgement kicks in. They already have the Trail Ambassador seal of approval.

1. For new readers, or those who have better things to do that remember entries in this blog, the chapter is a part of my unnamed opus based on Edward Casaubon's classic work,The Key to all Mythologies.
2. Return merchandise authorization.

Apr 12, 2014

The 5th corollary

April half gone? The Sierra hiking season around the corner? How did that happen?

Why is there never enough time for ambivalence. Particularly the severe sort of ambivalence that nurtures procrastination, makes every helpful suggestion seem wrong, finds company annoying, and raises the perceived stakes of anything that requires more commitment than deciding to brush your teeth. Isn't it bad enough to know that the boat will sail without you?

At times like these, I seek comfort in science. Those laws and those tidy formal notations are very reassuring. Hmmm...so that's how it is. After all, eveything 'can't just be you.'

Take for example Janet's Law of Perceived time. In a nutshell Janet explains that our sense of time changes in proportion to our time on the planet. The concept is illustrated beautifully on the Time Flies website. With no more effort than it takes to press the 'down' key, I now understand why I suffer. Highly recommended.

However, if you happen to be one of those fortunate souls with a high-degree of self-mastery and can resist the impulse to waste time on the net, (which I know to be very unlikely because otherwise you would not be reading this), here's a quick illustration of Janet's theory.

At five years old, an hour is 2-thousandths of a percent of your entire life. At 65, an hour is 2-ten-thousandths of your entire life. Now if you think of this proportion in the human-equivalent of dog hours the impact is clear. When you were 5, you experienced reruns of "I Love Lucy" in 30 minutes. But when you are 65, that same episode passes as fast as a non-TIVO commercial break. To put it another way, a 65 year old can experience a full season of 13 episodes in the perceived time it takes a 5-ear old to experience just one. Is it any wonder that it's suddenly April?

Personally, this strikes me as profoundly important. So rather spend time focusing on what I need to do to actually hike the the John Muir Trail, I have developed the following corollaries to Janet's theory:
  1. Time cost more over time.
  2. There's less time than there was before.
  3. There's no time return policy.
  4. Dogs don't know this, which is why we like them.

"You should just get on with it. Your mind's made up anyway." That's what she said just before leaving for work. She's right, as usual.

Having made the bed and wiped up all the coffee rings, I am at a loss for a source of mindless procrastination. I hoist my training pack and head out the door for the usual 7-miler.

On the next block over, I see an unfamiliar neighbor quizzing his sons about their plans before they drive off for school in their old Accord. They turn to watch as I approach.

"Good morning," beams the neighbor. "Osprey Aether 70, right?"

I stop and nod. This guy knows his packs.

"What are you carrying?" he asks.

"Just cat litter. Bathroom rugs." I reply.

He smiles and nods. "I meant how much weight?"

"About 30."

The dad and sons trade knowing nods. "The boys are really into lightweight hiking," says the dad. "Their gear is almost all DIY."

"Very impressive," I say encouragingly, but inside I feel a pinch of spite.

"We hiked the JMT last summer. It was awesome," says one of the boys.

"We did it in 15 days," says the other.

"Can't wait to do it again." adds the first.

"We'll see who does what after we know who's going where," the dad says sternly.

The boys mumble a few words of mock contempt and we watch them drive off to school.

"Great kids," I say.

"Yea," he sighs. "They have no clue."

It's a start
I do my 7 miles in record time and sit promptly at the computer. May be it's jealousy. May be it's the old competitive instinct. Maybe I'm not so old that I feel like I can still keep up with high school kids. May be later I should include a fifth corollary to Janet's Law which prescribes a remedy for procrastination.

But for the last three hours I have been pouring over my equipment list. I have re-weighed every item. I am too heavy. I have too much crap. Do I really need a back up flashlight? Do I need all that dental floss? My head hurts. I hate the choices imposed by the light-weight mandate.

Then it strikes me. My beloved Osprey sitting there at the top of the list at a whopping 74 ounces. 74 ounces!! Then, like lightening, it strikes me: I have money. I should buy one of those fancy ULA or Gossamer Gear packs.

I check the blogs. I discover two important things: 1) everyone loves their pack and 2)everyone hates everyone else's pack. But now I feel empowered to decide. I make a spreadsheet: Go Lite Jam 50L, Osprey Exos 46, Osprey Exos 58, Osprey Atmos 50, Granite Gear Blaze 60, Granite Gear Crown 60, Gossamer Gear Mariposa, ULA AirX, ULA Circuit, Six Moon Fusion, REI Flash 62, Gregory Z40. I compare volumes, weights and price. I pace madly about the room I flip a coin. I purchase the Gossamer Gear Mariposa.

"I bought a pack today." I say to Lilalee

"Hey that's fantastic."

"It weighs only 27 ounces."

"Really? Is that good?"

"I hope so."

Apr 1, 2014

Seeking the PCT

What are the chances?
I'm staring at this sign in Mojave and thinking, "holy shit. What are the chances?"

It's been that kind of day. I got up this morning bursting with energy. I've been this way for a week. Last Friday I cracked that thick Korean War history and Saturday I brushed up on the old chi-square. Sunday I started a new chapter for the still-nameless Key to all Mythologies. This one is called, "From Onan to Eusebius of Nicomedia: Evolution of the Perfect Bureaucrat." It is going to be quite good. It could earn me a book deal.

I don't want to give the wrong impression. Mostly I've been distracted by thoughts of the John Muir Trail. I've got an open copy of Wenk's "John Muir Trail," and a stack of Harrison maps by the desk. As an added digression to the distraction, I've been reading up on gear and thru-hiking tips. Polyester or Down? Lightweight packs. Leave no trace. Dull stuff. I end up perusing the trail journals and daydream.

Got down to 28 degrees in my tent last night. It snowed. We woke up to bright blue skies. It was freezing. MeToo decided she had to get going. She said she would meet me in Bridgeport. I decided to stay in my bag till 7:30. It was still freezing, but I had to get going. After an hour I came to an ice-covered creek and made tea and watched the water flow under the ice in cool patterns.

SarahZod, June 6.

It was a magically happy 17-mile day. We hiked. We swam in the river. We ate a lot and talked about eating a lot. The we forded a river, and ran into our old pal Footsore. It's great getting back on the trail. I am totally lost in nature. I almost don't want to go to town. I feel like a spell will be broken. I'd rather sleep here amongst the pines near a rushing creek. Life is good.

Fullspeed, July 15

I know it's probably bad juju to be lurking in those blogs. I have no more chance of hiking the PCT than I do becoming the 5th Beatle. But this morning, after Lilalee left for work, I looked at the calendar and thought: in a week or two this year's PCT class is leaving from Campo for points north. That's when I got this wild hair to to drive up the hill and follow the PCT up to Islip saddle. I figured I'd be back in a couple of hours. Early afternoon at the latest. Onan and Eusebius could wait till then.

I jotted a quick note for Lilalee on a post-it, filled a water bottle and climbed in the car. I knew immediately it was the right decision. I needed time in the mountains. Then it occurred to me, I'd never seen the tunnel where the PCT crosses under I-15, or, for that matter, where the trail cross the Crest Highway south of Big Pine. And if I was doing that, I might as well take-in Vincent Gap, Islip Saddle, and Eagles Roost. Why not change plans? I am retired. I'm supposed to enjoy life.

I drove east on the 210. The day was grand. There was snow on Baldy. The blue sky was decorated with white puffs that sailed to the northeast.

I turned north on the I-15 and drove to the 138 exit. I pulled onto the big gravel apron where the PCT descends from Crowder Canyon. I hopped out of the car to get a better view of the tunnel that takes the trail under the freeway. Without further thought, I started walking: through the tunnel, under the railroad bridge and up to the first switchback. There was a grand view of the Mormon Rocks. I was tempted to keep on.

I returned to the car and drove on to Wrightwood where I bought a soda at Jensen's Market. From there I headed west. At Big Pines I turned onto the Crest Highway. A couple miles down the road, the trail crosses at Inspiration Point. I got out, walked to a copse of oaks with a grand view of the Mojave and drank my soda. Inspiration Point sits at about 7,000 feet. That's almost a 6,000 foot gain in just a couple hours. I was feeling the elevation. Before leaving, I follow the trace of the San Andreas fault out to the west. "Why not?" I think. "Why not track the trail all the way over to Agua Dolce?"

During the next 3 hours I made stops at Vincent Gap, Islip Saddle, Eagles Roost and Triple point. At each stop I walked just far enough to lose sight of the road and back.

A bit before 2, I got hungry and pulled into Newcomb's for a quick burger and Snapple. Before the food came, I remembered the story of Charity and Old Man Newcomb. I went to check for that old photo. It was still over the bar.

From Newcomb's, I took Upper Tujunga over to the Angeles Forest Highway. I pulled off at the Mount Pacifico trail crossing and watched a helicopter pluck an Edison linemen from a high tension tower. No one died so I didn't stay long. It was already midafternoon.

I got back on the road and sped down past Edison's sprawling complex of megawatt line switches and house-size transformers. I merged into the west-bound traffic on the 14. Twenty minutes later I exited at Agua Dolce. I turned onto Escondito Canyon Road drove over to where the trail comes down from Vasquez Rocks. It's bittersweet view. I hiked here once with a girl who had no interest in me. Then, for grins, I decided to cruise past Hiker Heaven. The gates were closed. Not an angel in sight. A month from now, Hiker Heaven will be swarming with north-bound hikers.

The thought of a northbound hike was inspiring. Why stop now? Why not just keep following the trail on up to the 58 and the start of the Sierras?

I retraced my route on the 14 east to Lancaster. At the 138 exit, I drove west about 25 miles to where the trail descends from Liebre Mountain. I parked on the south side of the road, walked 1/2 mile up the first slope and stared across the 40 hot miles of Antelope Valley that awaits the PCTers. The wind was picking up and I could just trace out the aqueduct that marks the hike north. I decided I would try to follow the trail by the backroads.

I wended my way slowly through the Lancaster backcountry. I didn't really know where I was going. I didn't have a map or a smartphone. I never got a good look at the trail. I depended on the Tehachapis for direction.

After an hour I stumbled across Willow Springs Road. (Luck counts!) I turned north. I passed several large irrigated fields and an abandoned mine which sat like a spider on the skeletal remains of a mountain. There, just past the mine, the wind machines came into view. A thousand wind machines. All sparking white. Most spinning a graceful mesmerizing, ritual dance that could appease a god of time. When I got to the the Oak Creek crossing, I climbed out of the car. I walked around for 20 minutes, but could not find the track. It was there, and only there, under the spinning of the wind machines that the trail was lost to me.

I got back in the car and drove the last stretch north to the 58. I headed east for the Cameron Canyon exit. I used the overpass to park on the north side. I got out and stretched. The first slopes of the Sierras hovered above. I decided to get a view of the Mojave. The shadows were getting long. I grabbed my half-full water bottle and headed up . I walked for nearly an hour. I stopped at the first crest. The Mojave stretched out to the east under a darkening sky. It was the only time I regretted my camera.

By the time I got back to the car the sun was sinking into the notch of the Tehachapi Pass. I was thirsty, dusty and sweaty. I needed to call home.

I headed east on the 58 and south on the 14 to Mojave. I just rolled in. It's dusk. I hadn't been thinking I would stay here. I don't have a toothbrush or clean underwear. But then I see this sign. I don't care if it is bogus; it seems like a message. I decide to stay the night. I know Lilalee will understand.

Taken the next morning with a borrowed camera