Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ben's PocketMail Part II

Rosie with her Mom in front of Rick Strausser's house in Tehachapi
(This is the 2nd part of Ben's most recent pocketmail journal)
So we saw our friend Quill and she was pretty shook up after being lost for near on 5 hours in the sandy desert. Her friends hiking with her had called search and rescue just in case because they hadn't seen her all day. This was very ironic considering her hiking partner's trail name was Hoffa, given to him because a search and rescue party had been sent out for him (even though he was never really lost) just weeks before due to a miscommunication with the forest service. In Hoffa's case there were even flyers posted with his picture because the forest service hadn't seen or heard from him in awhile. Fortunately, it never got that far for Quill. We found her and walked with her the rest of the way into town to help keep her mind off her aching blistered feet and her recent confusion. So we hit the road. Here a hiker has the choice to either hitch right to the town of Mojave, or left to Tehachapi, CA. Both are considered viable re-supply points for the PCT and probably each town gets about half the hikers coming through. Because we are town rats - we opted for both :) As soon as we hit the road, we saw the legendary white van that belonged to Gordon. Now Gordon is a very interesting character. The story goes - as I've heard from others and as I've talked to Gordon a few times myself - that he broke out of a nursing home to drive a giant white van that would support three of our fellow thru-hikers along their way: Nimblewill Nomad, Sheltowee, and Slider. So every day, those guys walk about 20 miles and Gordon drives his van over all sorts of backcountry roads (and his floorboards sure show lots of damage from the rocks and bumps) just so he can meet his three hiking friends and give them Gatorades, and snacks. Then the three hikers meet up with Gordon and stay wherever he has parked and then do it again the next day. The reason he is a bit of an icon on the trail, is that we (and those around us) see him at least one time a day and inevitably as we cross a road and pass his white van, he is playing the same tape with the same folk song about hiking (it's all he ever listens to). Then he hobbles slowly out of his truck and kindly offers us a free Gatorade - which is always most welcome after a hot day in the sun. Gordon is an older man who should be using a walker or a cane but refuses to do so because of his stubbornness. So when he walks, it takes him a very long time to amble out of his driver seat and to the back panel of the van where he keeps the cooler of icy Gatorade. I am pretty sure I could probably put down about two of those Gatorades in the time in takes him to walk around the van. But - we don't mind waiting a bit because this is what he loves to do. Gordon may not be able to walk very far or very fast like all the hikers around him, but he sure has a lot of love for those who do. And somehow the fact that he is out here doing this time after time and day after day getting no pay or no reward - except the sheer joy of helping us - that is just amazing. So we were very glad to see Gordon at the trailhead after descending through a wind farm with 100's of giant wind turbines hovering and whizzing over our heads as they collected free energy from the desert winds. So we jumped in Gordon's van and he took us into Mojave where we got a room at the Motel 6 to rest for a day. A side note: for anyone ever planning a trip to the west coast, I'd recommend not including Mojave in your itinerary. First of all - it is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, so it is a given that it is unbearably hot all summer long. What the winter is for the people of the Northeast and the Midwest - a time of hibernation inside - the summer is that to the people of Mojave. Often at 100 to 110 degrees, it is almost unthinkable to venture outside for anything more than just running to your car. Additionally Mojave is basically just a truck stop that runs parallel to a full service railway line (I say full service because all night long Rose and I could feel our hotel room shake from the roar of the trains as they passed by just across the street). Between the railroad ruckus and the domestic arguments that occurred in the middle of the night in the motel parking lot, our sleep was broken at best that night. On the upside, we re-supplied at the grocery store and got to go to the local Thrift store where Rosie found some fine additions to her hiker wardrobe and I bought a cute fluffy stuffed bunny with a floral dress (The purpose of the bunny was so that I could sneak it into one of my friend's packs when they weren't looking with a note that read, "Please take me to Canada, I'm cute." Thus it was merely a means to get some big, burly, bearded man hiker to carry a cute stuffed animal a a joke :) After spending a good deal of he morning overfilling our bellies with the giant potions of Denny's, we decided to make a late departure at 4 pm. This, of course, cut our miles down that we could do that day. But that was actually all part of the plan because, unexpectedly, we had just learned that we would get to see Rosie's parents in a few days and we had a few days to kill so we would meet them in the nearby town of Tehachapi. So we hitched out of the dumpy town of Mojave with hopes to walk another 8 miles, hit the next road and hitch back in to Tehachapi where we would meet Rosie's mom and dad. What we ended up with was far better than we could have ever hoped for. We stood outside of the town with our thumbs out for near to half an hour. Cars zoomed by us, pretending not to see us as we tried to look friendly for each potential ride that passed (in these instances I usually make Rosie stand in front of me because I think she looks less scary and less intimidating than a bearded man in red pleated skirt). It had become ridiculously obvious at this point that these people driving by us had probably never even heard of the Pacific Crest Trail and never had once thought about wearing a backpack for anything other than walking the halls of their former high school. After Denny's, we had tried asking some folks at the gas station for a ride and that had gone over like a lead balloon. Now we were standing on the highway with equally as much success. But then, just when we thought we might never get a hitch, a blue Chevy truck pulled over and we popped in without hesitation. This was Rick. He was a retired fire fighter and, as we would soon find out, an everyday hero of sorts. So Rick went out of his way to take us to the trail. He had performed lots of wilderness Search and Rescue work for hikers and climbers along the PCT in Central California.

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