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The devastation in the aftermath of the 2013 Powerhouse Fire chilled our hearts. On one side of the street were healthy trees, on the other… nothing. The absence of animals left an uneasy silence across the scene, broken at intervals by the mad rush of the brave men and women still fighting the dying fire.
Hiker Heaven, Agua Dulce, CA. A thru-hiker mecca operated by the super-hero Sauffleys. This was a uniquely important stop in the summer of 2013 as just over the horizon burned the now 36,000 acre ‘Powerhouse Fire’. Everyone at the Sauffleys was busing ahead, passing by the devastated 60 miles of trail. We made the most difficult decision of the trail - to keep our path from Mexico to Canada continuous, we would head out across open road or open desert. We stayed up late that night, scheming our path ahead with trail angel Ron. All said, 9 hikers threw their handkerchiefs in the ring for the expedition into the belly of the beast.
A hidden part of thru-hiking is that every so often during a day of blistered feet, deep hunger, and constant thirst, a moment of bliss will catch you off guard. These are the moments we present to the outside world, often misrepresenting the hike as a trip of constant vistas and stunning beauty. Here, above the clouds, the setting sun finds us, re-energizing us for the day’s remaining miles.
The poisonous Poodle Dog Bush (center, purple flowers) became the bane of our hike. We soon learned the ‘Poodle Dog Shuffle’, a series of twists and hip swings needed to avoid a trail overgrown with the plant. Had we not been in full rain-gear to avoid the plant and toiling in 100+ degree temps we may have even laughed at the sight of four grown adults bobbing and weaving to a silent tune.
Each summit brings the landscape together, painting a narrative of past, present and future. Looking back, we are reminded of the hot days since the border and to the north always stretched more desert. But we knew that somewhere beyond the tan hills lay the Sierras, and it was the promise of constant water and cooler temps that drove us onward. I thought countless times that the hardest part would be over once the desert was conquered. Now, it is only possible to look back and smile. The secret no one will tell you is this: the desert is the easy part.
For every 1,000 feet of elevation gained, the temperature will decrease 3 degrees Fahrenheit. The landscape, too, will change as if you had traveled 300 miles north, instead of 1,000 feet up. The mountains in the midst of the desert breathed life into our hike, giving us a glimpse of what was to come.