Journey Man hiked ahead of me, chugging along up the sand trail. The sun was on its way down in the sky, and the land was illuminated in a golden light. There were small groves of Joshua Trees to the left and right. The trail wound around the base of two rocky outcrops atop some substantial hills. Sweaty from the sun and the weight of water strapped to my back, I was grateful that the trail wasn’t climbing up the mountains on either side of us. Despite the subtle grade, I was still breathing hard to continue along our gradual incline.
Ahead of me, Journey Man stopped for a moment to take pictures. I didn’t push myself to keep up with him. I enjoy these moments when I’m with my own thoughts. I enjoy hiking without conversation sometimes. I smiled, happy at our ability to walk alone together.
The sun dropped lower in the sky and the winds picked up around us. That is something that has surprised me about the desert—the wind. Some days, powerful gusts seem to want to sweep me into cacti that line the trail. Sometimes the wind picks up the sand and pelts it against my shins. There have been many windy nights, but it usually calms by morning.
I looked at the trail behind us. Sometimes I can see a faint line of trail that cuts across a hillside. I like when I can look behind and see where I’ve come, or ahead at where I’m going. But, from this vantage point, bushes and scrubby trees swallowed up that cut in the earth. The mountain behind me looked green; the trail disappeared from sight. You could look at that mountain and have no idea that the trail exists, that hikers slept there in their tents. I looked at the trail around me. Up close, the bushes and trees were more spread than they appeared from afar. Reddish-brown sand filled in the space in between. The water weighed down on my shoulders, and I thought about how harsh this environment seems at times. Dry waterless stretches, direct sunlight in daylight hours, freezing temps at night, sharp cacti, aggressive rattlesnakes. There isn’t a lot about this landscape that wants to bring you in close or comfort you. Instead, walking through the desert and snow covered mountains of Southern California, the landscape makes me feel small. I feel weak at times, too.
Journey Man and I reach a road crossing and seek shelter from the wind behind a bush. We sit for a moment and give our shoulders a break from our packs. The water is scarce on this stretch of trail, so we cameled-up at a water cache 6.5 miles back. A local trail angel fills jugs and leaves them for hikers at two locations along this stretch. I carried four liters of water from that point to get me through the 8 miles left to camp, my water for dinner, breakfast the next morning, and the first ten miles of the next day until we reach the next cache. We passed three of our friends, Turtle Wolf, Blue Jay, and Whatever, who were camping two miles past the first cache. We knew our friend Twist was aiming for another three miles from our current post. We consulted our map and determined a campsite 1.5 from our location would be where we’d rest our bodies that night.
We continued on into the desert sunset. A dusty pink-purple color covered the sky. Joshua trees silhouettes lined the ridge. Vibrant desert wildflowers lined this part of the trail, bobbing sporadically in the wind. It was like walking through some sort of dream land. I can’t believe my luck when I experience moments like these.
The campsite we were searching for wasn’t actually officially marked on our map. A fellow hiker left a note about it, saying it was 0.2 miles south of one of the marked sites. We reached the mile and looked around. There were a couple small clumps of Joshua trees. Journey Man approached one of them. “Found it!”
I followed him down a short path to a flat, sandy pad underneath a small grove of Joshua trees. We smiled at each other, giddy that we found this beautiful solitude haven unclaimed by another hiker. We quickly pitched the tent and sleep systems before cooking dinner. We were approaching Kennedy Meadows South, the gateway to the Sierras. We knew we only had a handful of days left in the Mojave desert. Though harsh at times, the landscape provides little gifts like the bush that sheltered us from wind, the colorful wildflowers, trail angel water caches, and a beautiful place to rest our heads.
The thought of entering the Sierras looms over me like the mountains themselves will soon. I feel a sense of foreboding because of this year’s snowpack in the Sierras. I think back to previous snow-covered sections of trail San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Baden-Powell and how difficult it was for me to walk through the slippery snow that seemed to always want to shift underfoot. My mind and muscles work so hard in the snow, and every day can be so exhausting. The Sierra landscape could swallow me whole. But, I’m also looking forward to the unique gifts that it will offer. As I rest my head in the Mojave, I think of how blessed I am presently and send out a prayer for all that is to come.
My muscles are sore even at the beginning of the day. My feet need to be massaged at lunch. Some days I have an insatiable hunger from the amount of calories I burn. I look forward to reaching the top of a climb. I’m always more than ready to sit down for a long lunch break when I can soak my feet in a cold stream. The moment I can...
When they returned, they revealed goodies that they carried for us. Fresh cherries, huckleberry ciders, and cookies! What treats! We dined together and swapped stories, staying up well past hiker midnight. In the morning, Talia and Mohamed hiked with us for an hour before turning back to...
We immediately started seeing familiar faces once we arrived. It was a big, beautiful reunion of wonderful people. By day, we wandered around with various friends and visited all the vendors. I even got to see...