I want to say a big thank you to everybody at the First Southern Baptist Church in Mojave, CA. After we were airlifted out of Tehachapi, those guys picked us up from the airport, fed us (pizza!), gave us shelter for the night, fed us some more (biscuits and gravy!), and drove us down to Acton where we picked the trail back up. Thanks so much Pastor Rocky, Lynette, Wes, and everybody else, you’re all really kind and generous folk and I’m glad I had the chance to meet you all.
I was on my eighth cup of coffee when the lady at the bakery told me the Red Cross had opened an emergency shelter for people displaced by the flooding. Me and the hiker siblings, Rocket Man and Snake Bait, had been sitting there drinking coffee for about 5 hours and time was moving very slow. I was keen to do just about anything other than sit and drink coffee and wait for one of the two roads back to trail to open, so I went to check out the shelter. Free lodging for the night sounded like a much better option than another expensive stay at the Best Western.
The shelter was set up in the town’s old high school. They also have a new high school. I’m not sure exactly how that works, but when I got there the place was mostly empty. The volunteers said that the previous night, the night of the storm, over 200 hundred people had taken refuge there for the night. Most had been able to move out west to Bakersfield. I learned two other very important things in my investigation of the place, first homemade spaghetti with meat sauce and homemade bread was about to be served, and second pilots at the airport were offering free rides to Mojave for people stranded in Tehachapi. A volunteer offered to pick up the siblings and very soon all three of us were greedily eating the delicious meal provided.
Over dinner Chris, the head of the Kern County chapter of the Red Cross, put me in touch with Dean, the man who was coordinating the airlifts with the pilots. It seemed as though we’d be able to get a lift out first thing in the morning. We were all very pleased by this great change in fortune and ready for a night’s rest in the gymnasium of the old high school.
Chris’s phone rang. It was Dean for me. The pilots could take us tonight, he’d be there in 10 minutes so be ready. We packed up and said bye to all the lovely Volunteers and the Sheriff’s deputies we’d been speaking with. Dean picked us up and sped us over to the airport, and just like that we were in the air, the siblings in one tiny prop plane and me in another.
The flight to Mojave from Tehachapi took only about 15 minutes. The sun had already set but everything was illuminated by a golden glow. Huge dark clouds filled the sky. We landed safe and in Mojave, no longer trapped.
Here are some photos
The morning after we escaped the storm we learned we were trapped in Tehachapi. Both Route 58 and the Tehachapi-Willow Creek road, the two access ways in and out of town, were closed due to extensive mud slides. Literally hundreds of cars and trucks were stuck in up to 6 ft of mud. Rescue operations were undertaken throughout the night to free people trapped by the mud. In the morning crews were dispatched to check that no one had been buried alive.
The siblings and I went to the bakery to drink endless coffee, eat baked goods, and wait for the roads to open.
Here’s some video of the mud from channel 23 http://www.turnto23.com/news/local-news/videos-and-pictures-from-mudslides-on-highway-58-and-interstate-5-in-kern-county-california
Tuesdays after lunch me and the hiker siblings Rocket Man and Snake Bait caught a ride back to the trail with local trail angel Big Al (thanks Big Al!). The weather forecast was predicting lightning storms but I’d been following the Doppler radar and any kind of activity looked well off to the east. Our route on the PCT was going to take us 2000 ft up from the trailhead on the side of a ridge over about 8 miles before descending back down the other side to the floor of the Mojave desert. About 3 miles in we started noticing lightning flashes, but they were all well to the east so we kept climbing. From there things got worse by slow increments until we got to the point where the trail was about to go up and over to the east side of the ridge. By that time lightning was striking the top of the ridge so we decided to bail and hike straight down to get to the relative safety of the flat valley bottom below. We ran down the loose sand, each step stretching as we slid down the steep slope. We made really good time and had soon found a decent spot to set up our shelters, with good ground that wouldn’t flood but was flat enough to be comfortable, and with trees close enough to provide some protection from lightning but not so close we’d be in danger if they were struck. Our plan was to wait out the storm and start back up in the morning.
At this point a truck was coming up the road pulling a horse float. I went out and waved them down, big mistake. I asked about the storm “do you know if this storm will pass through quickly?”.
There was an older couple in the truck, the lady replied with scorn and anger “I don’t know about the storm, but you’ll pass through quickly. This is private land, you can’t camp here”.
They were more concerned about their land rights than they were about the lives of 3 imperiled hikers in serious danger from the storm. They ran us off their land back to the road where we had started 3 hours earlier. The old man quipped as we left that it just made his day that our forward progress was interrupted and that we’d have to do over the 6 miles we’d just done. I have no idea what a hiker could ever have done to this couple to make them hate us so much, my only consolation through this encounter was that these two obviously hated life and were the source of most of their own suffering.
Back at the road things got worse. Shortly after we went through the gate lightning sparked all around us, hail the size of ice cubes pelted us, the wind was fierce, the road was beginning to flood. we couldn’t work our phones to call a trail angel with our wet fingers, and no one would stop to pick us up, their upholstery much more important than our lives.
Eventually a pick-up truck stopped and we got in the back. There were patches of flooding that the truck hydroplaned over, but in a short while we were back in Tehachapi, borderline hypothermic but okay. Hot showers and some liquid courage rounded out our recovery, and the hospitality of fellow hikers Mike and Todd, who were smart enough not to try to hike out that day, was greatly appreciated.
I got adopted by a lovely hiking family in the High Sierras. The Sorrells were early into their epic 22 day trek through the John Muir Trail when I first met them. The Tuolomne Meadows campground in Yosemite National Park is a busy and bustling place in mid September, full of backpackers, car campers, and RV’ers. We were neighbors in the backpacker section of the camp. I met Sister Jo first and was quickly brought over to meet Sister Alix and Ma Jeanelle. They cheered me on as I raced to get food from the store before it closed, were slightly concerned when they saw the quantity of food I had aquired to eat that night, and consoled me when I told them my sad tale of new shoes that had been delivered to the wrong part of the park. They’re super sweeties but have that east coast bite and snark I miss here on the west coast. I was sad because I figured I wouldn’t see them again on trail, with me hiking big miles and all. Well 2 trips out to Bishop and a good number of side trips off trail were enough for them to catch up to me at Onion Valley.
For some reason Jo was disguised as a park ranger that day so I didnt recognise her and actively avoided her lest she ask to check my bear canister. She recognised me though so i found it quite strange when this park ranger started coming over calling me by name. Once the confusion had been dispelled it was wonderful to see them again! I stayed and we chatted til late and made food and convinced a group camping there to give us some of their beers. I went up Kearsarge pass with them the next day and almost got eaten by a bear while taking a nap next to a lake.
Their story is an adorably sweet one of love for their ma. The sisters are avid backpackers, and not knowing when they might get another chance they decided to take their ma out for an epic adventure through the high Sierras. Their ma got the trail name Pocket Mom because she’s so cute and small you can fit her into your pocket. Before this trip Pocket Mom had exactly 0 days of backpacking experience.
They excelled at saving me from my own rugged determination. I decided I’d go over Whitney the day after my epic and tiring trek over Junction Pass, despite the weariness I felt through my whole body. When I got to Guitar Lake, the last camp before the climb, I was overjoyed to see them and quickly decided to camp with them the night.
They got a very early start the next day and I slept in, but I found them again up at the top of Whitney. There were high fives and chest bumps all around at the awesomeness of everything, and we celebrated Pocket Mom for being the best climbing pocket mom to ever climb out of a pocket and up the tallest peak in all the lower 48.
After celebrating our achjevement I cruised down to the Whitney Portal, ate a huge hamburger with delicious hand cut fries, and started worrying. Shortly before sunset I decided I’d go up to see if maybe someone coming down knew how they were going. I wound up going up quite a bit further than I expected, but I found them! They were fine.
It was dark when we got back down to the portal, and finding a ride into Lone Pine proved tricky, but our teamwork paid off and we got a ride from a nice guy who was there from Colorado to climb all the things.
We had a good time in Lone Pine, and it was with much saddness that I said farewell to my lovely trail family. I hope when you guys read this you’re all in fine health and doing really well!
There’s a Maori expression that goes, “What’s the most important thing in the world? It’s people. It’s people. It’s people”. There are moments of such amazing natural beauty on this trail that when I encounter them they fill up my whole being. The trail connects these areas of natural beauty like jewels linked on a long (long) golden chain. Although the trail was built to bring us face to face with these natural wonders, the further down the track I get the more I realise they’re insufficient to delineate the contours of this incredible journey. Once I complete a section I think far less about what I saw than about the lovely people I’ve met. In the days to come I’ll be writing up some posts about these lovely folk that I’ve met.
At the road at walker pass I realised i missing the last water source for 20 miles. Instead of heading back I decided to try my luck hitching into Onyx to fill up water at a spigot in town. I didnt have to wait long but it turned out i hitched the wrong way! I wound up in inyokern, a remarkable place for the fact it’s a navy town in the desert.
I found a spigot and filled up 6&3/4 (almost 15 lbs!) litres of water AND just had the most amazing breakfast buffet with eggs and pancakes and an delicious soup called menudo ( only cost 10.99! )AND another patron has already offered to take me back to walker pass. Sweet!