Distance: 23.5 miles
Weather: overcast start, VERY windy
Number of wind turbines seen: hundreds
Never did I think that I would cross the plain of the Mojave desert (where at this time of year the temperature is usually at least in the high thirties) wearing a hat, gloves and three long sleeved tops. I can't say that I was always warm even then.
It was noticeable right from the alarm, at 4am, that the day was cooler. Just 11 degrees in the tent, compared to 20 degrees most mornings thus far. The wind was still whipping us too, but we were very impressed with the performance of the tent. Despite being pitched on sand, where no firm ground could be found for the pegs, she shed the wind admirably and didn't even flap noticeably. I had been afraid that flapping would keep me awake, but in the quiet that prevailed I achieved the closest to 8 hours sleep on the trip so far. I awoke feeling spritely and 'human' for the first time since last Tuesday.
The first 11.5 miles of the day, following a branch of the LA Aqueduct (giving a choice of walking on the concrete cover of the aqueduct (hard on feet) or the adjacent track (grit in shoes every three paces)), was about as flat as a walk comes. At breakfast time, three hours into the day, the altimeter said that we had accumulated 40' of ascent!
Things then got hard-going. The terrain was still easy, but we turned north and suddenly had a 30mph wind (gusting 45 or more) in our faces as we headed uphill.
After stopping for elevenses in the shelter of a building (13.5 miles down at 10.30am), we then entered the area of a massive windfarm (however big you're thinking, think bigger), which it appears is still under construction and hasn't yet been commissioned. For five miles we walked through that wind farm, and for those five miles we had no shelter and thus no respite from the wind. It was a battle, and a tiring one. After an hour I felt like I'd been for a run, not just a walk on gentle terrain (although it wasn't as hard as those two miles I mentioned on the afternoon of Day 1!).
Meeting a thru-hiker known as Cowboy, he said that this was the coldest day he'd had on the trail so far (11.30 - 18 degrees but with quite a windchill). We had to count our blessings really - given the choice of walking across the plain having an arduous battle with the wind, or in silly-hot temperatures, I'll take the windy option. Fingers crossed that the next time we're in one of these exposed, windy areas we don't have both heat and wind!
Finally we got a bit of shelter as we started ascending from the plain, but my legs were tired and I was slowing. The thought that we were within an hour of our night-stop kept me going and by and by at our night-stop we arrived. It was a spectacular area with something we've not seen anywhere to date - a running stream. Running strong too. No idea where all that water's coming from, but it filled our bottles and gave some lovely surroundings for us to while away the afternoon.
After a cooked lunch and a nap, four o'clock had come around and we decided that as idylic as the spot was, we would walk on. We're going to spend a night in town tomorrow, so the earlier we get there the longer we have to eat, run errands, eat, sleep and eat.
It was a good call. We finished the day in the bottom of what the locals would no doubt call a canyon*, but to me is just a valley. Quite why we became such purists to get down here, and followed the official PCT with its huge switch-backs, I don't know. There was clearly a much more direct path. But the end result is the same: we have a good pitch in a gorgeous place (in a barren-desert sort of way).
(*there are few place names on the map, but looking now I see that we're in Gamble Spring Canyon)
(Sorry about the days/dates being all over the place - I've been a bit confused for the last week. I think I know what day and date it is now!)
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