I read in a book recently that Pacific Islanders who navigated the oceans for millennia prior to technology used a combination of indications from their environment to tell them exactly where they were in that exact moment. One skill was the use of constellations in the night sky. 12 pass over as the earth moves from light to dark, and by keeping these constellations overhead the navigators could stay headed toward their desired location.
Last night as we slept out under the sky, the beeeze blowing down Tyler Horse Canyon and onto our exposed heads I wondered about those constellations passing over us too, in our modern world. So much has changed for humans, yet so much of the natural world remains the same. The alarm sounded at 3 am and we rose, packed away our things, had some of Perks freshly brewed areopress coffee and began our day.
There is something beautifully calming about walking in the dark of the early morning. We hadn’t seen the moon yet but as we walked up the trail and rounded a corner there she was. Bright and glowing a sweet yellow. I kept looking up to her, and in doing so would not only shine my light up to the night sky dimming its potency, and also lose my footing. We walking closely and intermittently chatted. The moon ducked in and out of the ranges and we rounded them. We had 5 kms of undulating trail, it wove down into small canyons and headed up along sandy slopes.
In the dark we came upon the trail register, we sighed it, and straight away the trail headed steeply down along a very sandy and at times vanishing track. As light began to allow us to make out the shapes of the ranges beside us and the trail before us we began our climb. This climb had been looming over our heads for the last few days. On the elevation map it looked like the biggest we had in a while, but it wasn’t too bad. Something in the atmosphere shifts with the sunrise and the earth cools. By luck we had begun to climb around 5 am and by 5.30 am when we stopped for breakfast it was cool and made climbing easy.
Our breakfast spot was perfection. We could see the trail cresting a range and behind it the orange sky cast silloutess across the landscape. We nestled down looking out over a vista of the wind farm, desert floor, ancient foot hills and in the far distance the ranges we had walked over a few days previously and snow capped mountains from many miles ago. The sky was pink and mouve to our right in and a deep orange to the left. We felt very lucky and also proud of ourselves to be here. We were tired and ready to get into Tehachapi.
After breakfast we climbed and climbed. It was steady and not too hard. By 7.30 the sun was out and shining. As I (meg) came over the last push of the climb and rounded the corner trail magic appeared like a mirage uphead. I walked into the setting, behind a fallen trunk of an old burnt pine were a cluster of some chairs, a couple of familiar hikers and two trail angels. A small bar had been built into amongst some fallen trees and shrub. It was decorated with old teapots, and adornered in water, fresh baked brownies, juice and a lovely trail register. I walked in and say “hey mate” to a fellow hiker, and the trail angel looked at me for a second and asked “mental snakes?”. “Yes”, says I “how did you know?”
“I’ve been following your blog and recognised you from the photos”. It was a lovely moment and Robert, the trail angel soon after asked where the other two were. I told him they weren’t far behind. He introduced me to his wife Patty and soon after Harriet rounded the hills, triumphantly raising her poles in the air to celebrate the end of the climb and the unexpected trail magic.
Eventually we all were sitting round chatting and learning about Robert and Patty’s experience with the trail and their lives up here in the desert hills. They bought their place in the 70s, it sadly burnt years back in a fire and they have since rebuilt their house and also planted a garden full of veggies and fruits. They begun giving thirsty hikers a lift into the town and more recently begun helping Roberts brother with the mile 549 trail magic station. Every morning they drop off a fresh pot of coffee, sometimes they bring hot food, and there is always a supply of drinks and snacks. They had lots of local knowledge and a very strong connection to their region and its history. Robert told us that in the winter the indigenous peoples of this area would shelter on the desert floor and foot hills, away from the snow and winds. In the spring they would climb up and over these ranges to summer Meadows and running creeks. He said that Tehachapi meant hard climb in the native dialect. By 8.15 we had packs on and waved goodbye.
As I walked out of the resting spot a wave of exhaustion hit me, I carried it till the road 15 kms away. As a result this part of the trail is a bit blurry and tainted. We moved out of the burnt hills and into another wind farm. The track kept high instead of heading to the flats below, and we zig zagged out way slowly down the valley. I kept having moments of frustration that the road wasn’t coming quickly enough. I was done with wind turbines and creeping heat. At last I spotted Perk signing the trail register and knew we had come to our final destination. I signed the book and fell into some shade under an old oak and waited for the girls to arrive. During this time I ate all my snacks and called the Best Western, our sleeping place for tonight.
We headed to the road and quickly hitched rides into town. The couple who gave Perk and i a lift told me that Tehachapi actually means four seasons, as you can never predict the weather. They said that only last week the town had been covered in low cloud and that snow had fallen earlier in the year. As I looked out into the blue, cloudness sky I found this hard to imagine. I’m unsure of the ethology of Tehachapi, but from what I have experienced so far it is a low lying town surrounded by Mountains. There doesn’t seem to be a town centre so much as a number of main road leading to areas where there is development. As we walked the pavement to Big Papas for lunch the heat radiated off the ground below. We ate lunch in a booth cooled by the air conditioning and headed back to the hotel for showers, the hot tub and pool and some r n r. I think tonight will be very relaxed as we are all slightly delirious.