Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 27.5 (6/13-14) Night in the Mojave

So as I mentioned previously, I rolled in to Hikertown (another hiker hostel hostel at mile 518) and there was a group getting ready to night-hike through the Mojave. We cross a 23 mile section, and it is famous for being 110F in the shade, that is, if you can find any shade. In fact, the first real spot to stop is the bridge over Cottonwood Creek, 17 miles into the hike. The plan was to knock out that section during the evening, then chill out all day in the shade by the creek. Number One, Mufasa and I took off around 10pm, followed shortly by Space Cowboy, Aslan, Boyscout and Good Karma. Things started out poorly as we had trouble finding the place where the trail picked back up on the other side of the road. Finally, Number One pulled out his GPS and we found the right spot and took off across the edge of a field. Within two miles we came to the first aqueduct, a massive concrete river bringing water to LA from the Colorado River. Crazy to think about the quantities of water required to sustain that many people in such a hot, arid climate. We walked along this open aqueduct for a few miles before crossing over and continuing along a closed pipe aqueduct. This one came down around the mountains from a different area, but was also helping to feed Los Angeles’ massive appetite for water.

The trail followed a flat dirt road for miles and miles along the aqueduct. I was feeling pretty good to start this trip, and the elevation profile showed that we would change about 200 feet of elevation over this entire section. That made this sound like the easiest section of the trail so far, so we were all confident that we could get through it in no time at all. The first few miles flew past without any problems, and we were moving at a breakneck pace. After about an hour and a half we took our first break, and we’d already covered about 5 miles. At this point Number One and Mufasa turned on the headphones and locked in, while I was left with just my thoughts to entertain me. My usual pastime of looking at scenery was made less interesting by the lack of full light, but I was impressed by how well I was able to see everything by moonlight. There was no need for my headlamp at all, and the whole trail was lit up just fine. It was eerie to see the shadows of Joshua trees along the way, as they are all contorted into strange shapes as they grow. Several more hours passed, and I took some time to reflect on the trip so far. This was four weeks, and the end of school and the start of the trip seems to be years away. Amazingly, I was able to think back to every distinct day of the trip, keep track of the mileage, who I hiked with, and what major events happened that day. Frankly, I was shocked I was able to recall all of that, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m sleeping 9-10 hours a night, and a lot of my discussions with other hikers is centered around the hiking events of each day. I realized how much more I’ve enjoyed the desert than I first expected, and how things have come along so well up to this point. Although I’m not quite on track with the schedule I set out at the beginning of the trip, I’m having the time of my life and I wouldn’t change a thing.

More hours passed, and I spent some time recalling songs in my head. When I forget lyrics, I’ve taken time to make up my own, and I think I’ve done a pretty awesome job with my new verses of “I Believe I Can Fly”. Around 2am I started to seriously fatigue, and I started falling behind the other two. I would push myself a little harder to catch up, and it is pretty easy by matching them step for step and my longer stride length slowly helps me close the gap. After about 11 miles, my shin splints started acting up. I took a few chances to stretch them out, but they were progressively getting worse. Unfortunately, there were no good shaded spots to stop, and if I went to bed now I would wake up at 10am in the heat of the day. So I pressed on, pushing through the pain, and grimacing with each step. I started realizing exactly how many miles I was doing that day, and I realized I was pushing, and probably reaching my physical limit. I slowed down a bit, and fell behind the other two. I would catch up briefly at each questionable intersection, before they would get going again at their faster pace. Finally, at 4:30am, we found the bridge over Cottonwood Creek. The moon had gone down around 3:45, and the last 45 minutes were spent hiking by headlamps. The contrast is crazy, because the headlamp limits your world to a small circular patch of bright light on the ground, and everything else goes dark as you ruin your night vision. It also makes navigation much more challenging, as you need to scan around for trail markers that would be readily evident during the day. When we pulled in at the creek, the first signs of the sun were just showing over the horizon. I groaned inwardly, and looked for some likely shade. In my pain I was unwilling to walk down the slope to sleep under the bridge by the creek, so I laid out my sleeping bag by a tallish bush and immediately fell asleep.

Personal record setting day of 37 miles complete.

Miles Today: 17 (37 in 24 hours)
Trip Mileage: 535

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