August 11th, 2019
Mm 1301 to electric water well mm 1340.8
Distance in miles: 40
Today is the day I want to beat my longest distance hiked in a single day. The weather is good, as in very cool, and the terrain ideal. I wake up to an overcast sky, similar to the day before. Just after packing, it sprinkles on me. There are patches where it’s raining all around but it’s all such nice, easy rain. The wind is not blowing, yet, and the morning has such a gentle feeling to it.
I see pretty fresh tracks after a few miles but they are not Boo Boo’s Superiors but instead Lone Peaks…I can recognize all the popular Altra prints. It seems like about one quarter of thru-hikers have Lone Peaks. When I near a kiosk in the middle of nowhere, I see a hiker there. It takes me only a few seconds to realize I know this person…it’s Freebird! I met him in the desert last October on the PCT. He was section hiking with his friend Raven. I stopped to talk to them for almost an hour, intrigued by their stories.
It just so happens that Freebird is probably in the top 10 of people with the most miles ever hiked (over 35,000) but one of the least known Trailebrities. He doesn’t blog, youtube, or do any social media. Incredibly, he doesn’t even have a cell phone…just an email address. He was such an intrigue to me last summer precisely because I had never heard of him. You can read more about him here in this story.
There’s a cache of water at this kiosk, along with a few candy treats. I sit down to drink water and chat some more with Freebird, hoping he’s going my way. Presently I get anxious, my 40 mile day still nagging me, and ask him to join me while I hike. He agrees and we end up hiking all day together.
It’s a most entertaining day because Freebird is an encyclopedia of trail lore. He’s done nearly every trail, many multiple times, knows everyone, and even knows the histories of the trails, like who first hiked what and when. His lifestyle and passion for trails are also aspects I’d love to be able to emulate. He was a professional windsurfer, lives in Hawaii, and spends nearly every summer, fall, and or spring hiking. He was one of the first to hike Te Araroa in 2011 and is friends with the founder, Geoff Chappel.
The day passes quickly and with ease. Freebird shares my child-like enthusiasm for horned lizards and many other things that I don’t even get as excited for. He goes bonkers over the cloud formations and vistas. Both are indeed splendid, especially the hills that we traverse. I expected it to be completely flat but at a few points, it feels like we are high in the mountains. We look down into valleys and across to other hills. The basin is so different than what I expected.
It stays overcast with the occasional sprinkles until after noon, then the clouds clear out completely and the blue sky stretches from horizon to horizon. The wind picks up and it never gets too hot. It’s nice to have such contrast this day.
One thing we are both perplexed by are giant piles of horse poop, often at intersections. It seems more than one horse is pooping in the same spot. We think the wild horses are marking their territory or giving directions, maybe both. It’s a mystery. The antelope also like to poop on the track and then make scratches around it. Poop is everywhere, since it takes a long time for it to decompose in the arid conditions.
We reach a nice spring in the evening, which would serve as a great place to stop. Freebird decides to make camp while I make my dinner. He’s on no timeline and has nothing to prove anymore. He does 20-25 mile days and just enjoys his time out here. I’d love to chat poor Freebird’s ear off some more but I feel very energized by the easy pace of the day and also compelled to go further.
I had kind of given up on my goal of 40 miles when I met Freebird in the morning but now it still seems possible. The moon is almost full and I want to experience walking at night for awhile. I bid farewell and set out around 8 pm. The sun’s glow is behind me, at first so intense and then fading until I can’t distinguish it from the light of the moon. I don’t turn on my headlamp, just let my eyes adjust.
The moon is so bright that it casts shadows…I shy away from my own when I catch a quick movement from the corner of my eye. But I’m far from being afraid of my own shadow. I’m out here alone, the definition of the middle of nowhere, coyotes howling, unidentified reflective eyeballs glowing back at me now and again, strange noises, surrounded by endless sagebrush…and I couldn’t be more at peace. What is it about this place that’s so calming? It seems like it should be terrifying, and it probably is under the right conditions. Say, like blizzards in winter. But now it’s just beautiful and benign.
The jeep road leads up a gradual hill for many miles. The road also becomes deep sand and I begin to have to work for my miles. The moon provides plenty of light to stay on track but not enough to see all the individual divots in the sand. I feel like I’m walking on a beach that I can’t see. It’s safe enough but cumbersome. Maybe I should have camped when I had the chance. Now there’s just dense sagebrush all around and no shelter from the wind.
There’s an electric well that happens to be 40 miles from my last camp, so I’m aiming for that. I start to get tired and my feet hurt from the sand. I can feel a toenail biting into the neighbor toe. It gets late and I just want to go to bed. But I’m walking walking walking. Finally I arrive at the well and have to search for a decent campsite for about 10 minutes. There’s nothing but sagebrush and roads. I end up camping on top of a buried pipeline, fully exposed. Luckily the wind has died down. Oh sweet sleep, a mercy after all these miles.