For today I planned a short 8 mile ride where I could ride out and then come back to my trailer. I pulled the trailer to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road where I could leave it safely. As I arrived at the trail head I saw Janice.
This was the first time I saw her since we parted company below Fuller Ridge over a month ago. We both were pleased to see each other, and I was grateful to have someone to ride with, even if it was only for 8 miles.
I tacked up Issy. Immediately he was the horse from Hell! I hated to ask Janice, but I felt if she could pony Issy for a short distance I might get a handle on him. So off we went with Issy being ponied like a race horse. We danced along with Issy offering to buck and just be obnoxious. It didn’t help that we were in the middle of a wind farm
with the humming and rotating big arms giving Issy an excuse to push the endurance of both Janice and myself. Finally, after a long climb, Issy started to mellow out. I had Janice let him loose. Janice was riding a fairly new horse – Harmony who seemed to take it all in stride. Harmony had his spooks as well, but was manageable. Janice displayed lots of patience with the whole scenario. This was a God-send for me. I was able to get a grip on Issy and rode him with little mercy. The heavy sand and climb did the trick and Issy started to put his mind on business. I remembered why I chose him to be the back up horse. His wonderful stride and powerful gait covered the ground effortlessly. I was able to take pictures and enjoy the area once again.
When we got to Tehachapi Pass Janice’s husband was there to take her back to their camp. Luckily they gave Issy and me a lift back to my trailer. Janice and I both wanted to ride the next section together since it was several days remote riding. We agreed to meet at the pass the next morning. I had to find a place to leave my trailer for 5 days so I pulled into a farm right off of Tehachapi Pass in Cameron.
Carley and Jamie opened their farm, even inviting me to dinner. When they found I needed to get my trailer to Walker Pass in 5 days, they offered to drive it and park it at Walker Pass Campground where the PCT passes right through. These generous people took time away from their lives to help me. This was no easy task since the trip was 6 hours round trip. Carley and Jamie are the type of trail angels one finds all along the trail, but it still amazes me that people are so kind.
I got up at 5 am to get my things ready for Jamie to take to the trail head. I packed Issy and headed toward Hwy 58 to meet Janice. She arrived around 7 tacked and ready and we moved out. Issy was now respectful and in tune to the trail. I did have a bit in his mouth but was ready to take it out once I felt he was going to continue in a workmanlike manner.
We headed north towards the Kiavah Wilderness and the start of the Sierra Neveda. This is the area where the Garlock and San Andreas Faults meet and the seismic activity in this area hints of a fault rupture soon. I hope I get through here before that happens! The first night out was Golden Oak Spring. This was a wonderful camp with graze and water from the spring. The horses were high lined between trees and left on long enough lines to graze all night.
This area is known bear country, but we never saw any. The graze was plentiful and the horses were happy and rested well. The spring was flowing and we were able to refill our water containers. I carried 4 gallons for Issy and 3 liters for me. Heavy! Our next water was 18 miles away, so we needed every drop.
The next stop was Robin Bird Spring. We were to meet Ralph along Jaw Bone Canyon Road. Janice told him it was before another spring, but it was actually after, so it took us several hours to make the connection. When we finally found him we were treated to hamburgers and cold drinks. We moved on from Ralph to get to Robin Bird as planned. This area is in the Paiute Mountains and the scenery was wonderful, the air was cool and we rode easily.
Today the goal was to meet Ralph at Kelso Valley Road and camp wherever we could find a spot. This was a short ride and we got to the road by 2 PM. Ralph drove up shortly. There was a cache of water for the hikers and a few hikers were filling their containers, but there wasn’t any shade and the sun beat down making the area dusty and hot. I couldn’t see any good camping and wanted to push on to get off the mountain saddle with the dusty winds blowing from both sides. Janice felt comforted by Ralph and we stayed right there along side of the road on some private property. I tied Issy to a big rock.
Janice put her tent under a Joshua tree and immediately got pricked by the thorns. I let Janice take the lead on the planning since I was with her. It made me think about how many times the early settlers had discussions about whether to stay on a mountain or move on.
As luck would have it a storm started to brew with me already in my sleeping bag. I started to pull my stuff together to make the fasted tack up in history but the storm went around us so I was able to stay and finally fell asleep. In the morning I couldn’t get off the saddle fast enough. I was sick of the dusty wind!
Water was the driving force for every night’s stay. Some days we traveled less as the horses need for water set our destination. And water was darn scarce. Yellow Jacket Spring was a long haul but once there we were able to find water below the marshy head of the spring. We coaxed enough water from a small flow to fill the water buckets and satisfy the horses. On long days 7 is a fine time to get to bed. We were so tired every night we just wanted to get in our tents as soon as we hit camp. I had dehydrated hikers’ food that really doesn’t require any cooking, just a cup or two of water and wait. Not the best fare, but so very easy and filling that I didn’t mind the strange taste or texture. I would often rehydrate my night meal at noon so it was ready when I got to camp in the evening. Issy settled right in and once I put his hobbles on he stood quietly the entire night with me only waking up around 2 or so to give him some alfalfa. One would never believe he was the same horse terror I was riding back in the desert.
Although no bears came close enough for me to hear or see them, I had seen tracks and been warned about them frequenting this camp. I knew that the old terror would probably arise again if any bears visited. Luckily, our night was uneventful. I was able to pack and ride out the next morning on the same sane horse I rode in on.
June 12, 13
Walker Pass Campground was the camp for this night and it was just a 14 miles ride. With all the up and down it felt like many more. The elevation for the past few days started at 3700’ going to 6940’ then dropping to 5100’ at Walker Pass.
Arriving at Walker Pass we found a trail angel had set up a host station offering cold (really cold with ice and all) drinks, food and even beer. Okie Girl was retired and had hiked many miles herself. So she knew what the hikers and horse people would like, and she had it all. It was like visiting an old friend. My trailer was there as the kind couple Jamie and Carley had promised; It was even parked in a level camp site where I could just untack and put Issy in a corral. Issy had developed a fear of hikers wearing tall, bulky backpacks. With so many things above the heads of the many hikers gathering, I was happy to have a safe place to try to get him comfortable. The hikers accommodated by walking by and feeding him grain or carrots. After several hours Issy was looking for those big walking packs and expecting food as each passed. Janice and I agreed to talk about the next section and decide if we would continue to ride together. Janice then trailered out to camp with some friends. Riding with Janice was easier for many reasons but it had it’s drawbacks as well. I spent most of my riding years alone, setting my own pace. I believed we both would be happier if we went separate ways. Janie apparently agreed since she called later to say she was going to skip around and would go alone. Janice also wanted to use her other horse as a pack animal and I knew from all the local horse people that was just asking for trouble so I wasn't going to ride with her if she insisted on taking her second horse to pack. Many previous horsemen had lost horses doing that and I just couldn't be part of taking that risk.
My goal was to get to Kennedy Meadows, a ride that would take at least 3 days. I packed up my supplies for both of us and we left out at 9 with intent to get to Joshua Tree Spring which was only 12 miles. The entire time I kept thinking about Burton and his retirement party.
Burton told me not to come back home for it but I felt like missing his one and only retirement party was more than selfish. Finally, eight miles out I came upon a big tree crossing the trail which would have taken me a few hours to cut. I took that "trail block" as a sign and turned Issy around. We double timed back to the trailer. I literally threw my tack in the back seat, loaded Issy and hauled out of Walker Pass Campground as fast as I could.
I wanted to drive straight through to make it back before Burton left Arkansas for Houston, as I knew I was doing the right thing. Issy was treated to a high speed cruise heading east towards Arkansas. I stopped only once to sleep for 4 hours. I got home in time to turn Issy out with his pasture mates, check on Port and then get packed for the trip to Houston and Burton’s retirement party.
I will never regret taking this time off the trail. It was not only the right thing to do, but Burton was delighted I was there.
Thank goodness I did it.
The PCT has its own life and it seems like it is all very exclusive to life outside the trail. The pull is overwhelming, and I'll be going back soon.
This was the beginning of my new adventure with a retired, relaxed Burton at my side. Not having to worry about the trailer getting moved or my resupply being filled was such a relief. Burton had all the knowledge and experience to take care of every facet of the support needed and I was able to concentrate on the trail. We drove right back to Walker Pass Campground and I tacked up and headed out to Joshua Tree Spring and Canebrake/Chimney Creek. After Chimney Creek I loaded up to go to Lone Pine to ride from Horseshoe Meadow. Canebrake was only 20 miles from Kennedy Meadows but since I was so far behind schedule I decided to skip it and ride the passes out of Horseshoe Meadow.
The drive to Horseshoe Meadow required a long climb up Wonoga Peak at 10,371’ from the valley floor at 3600'. I chose to ride Issy half way up to get him used to the elevation increase. Burton took pictures of us trying to make the continuous climb and luckily he waited and picked us up after 6 miles as we were both exhausted.
After settling in at Horseshoe Meadow I had the good fortune to meet a fellow rider who worked on trail maintenance and help build Horseshoe Meadow. Terry was there with other Back Country Horsemen who were enjoying the long weekend. It turned out I had spoken to some of them when I was doing my research. Ray D. was there and he was one of the most helpful people I ran across in my three years of planning. I was delighted to get to meet him and his wife Janet. What nice people! Terry invited me to ride with him to Cottonwood Lakes and since it was part of my plan I happily agreed to ride with him tomorrow. I still had to meet with Dennis who was a packer I spoke with last fall and again this spring about crossing Forester Pass. Dennis told me the pass was post holing hikers and horses would be in a lot of trouble trying to cross. Since most horses don’t have experience with deep snow they panic and fight the snow initiating even more dangerous scenarios. The snow was still concealing the trail and since I didn’t know exactly where the trail ran, I could lead a horse up on rocks hidden below or even worse. I knew I couldn’t go over Forester Pass safely at this time of the year. My only hope was to get to Canada and then return to Horseshoe Meadow in the early fall before the first snow. Dennis felt this was the safest course of action and agreed to help when I returned.