Tehachapi

For only $5 a night the local airport lets hikers camp out on their lawn and use the pilot lounge, which has wifi, showers, and comfy chairs.

I originally planned to arrive in Tehachapi on Sunday and leave Monday evening to avoid the predicted desert heat wave, but Memorial Day got in my way. Out here I never really know what day it is, and totally forgot about the existence of Memorial Day and the resultant closures of post offices. Tehachapi’s grocery store was the last one of any size for quite a while, so it’s an opportune place to mail food drops.

Getting everything ready to get back on the trail always takes much longer than I think it will. This was exacerbated by Tehachapi’s lack of proximity for pretty much everything in town. The grocery store was over two miles (~3.5km) from the airport, with no set bus system. It took me six hours to walk to the Laundromat, do laundry, buy groceries, and sort everything out into three food packages.

Walking into the grocery store gave me a feeling akin to culture shock, like when I walked into the Bogota Northern Bus Terminal in Colombia and had absolutely no idea how to go about buying a ticket. After carrying and obsessing over food for the past days on the trail, it was incredible seeing so much of what I was craving everywhere.

I’ve gotten to the point where I actively avoid interacting with the locals in all of my town stops. They’re incredibly obnoxious. Alive pointed out to me the general rule that the fatter and less outdoorsy someone is the more likely he or she is to criticize you. That was certainly the case at the checkout lane at the Tehachapi grocery. At the self-checkout kiosk, God’s gift to introverts, I unfortunately had to keep having an obese clerk deal with my toiletries, which the machine apparently is unable to scan. He looked at my food, scoffed, and said, “Planning on eating a bit much, don’t you think?” First of all, he was easily three times my weight and shouldn’t be judging me. I wanted to say, “Put away your gavel, Judge Judy.” But instead I just said, “I’ve got 16 days of food here.”

This was followed by, “You must be a hiker. You realize there’s a grocery store at Kennedy Meadows, right?” There’s a tiny store at KM, on the edge of the desert in a “town” with a population of 20, that frequently runs out of food from its meager stock. Especially when 100 hikers are holed up there waiting for the snow to melt. I absentmindedly mentioned this while dealing with the scanner, hoping he’d take the hint and walk away. If you avoid eye contact with non-hikers and keep on going about your business sometimes they go away.

“All that talk about the snow is nonsense. It’s not real.”

“Oh, I wish I knew that during the last two snowstorms! It would’ve been so much easier if I knew it was all a figment of my imagination.” He took the hint and went away, only to return at the end to check my ID to match it with my credit card.

My ID is my driver’s license, which is quite different from those of California in that it’s bright pink and says OHIO in big letters across the top. I often get comments along the lines of “Oh, you’re far from home!” and the like. The clerk asked, “Ohio. How is the flooding in Houston affecting you guys?”

Usually when confronted with idiots on my hike I take a deep breath and try my best to be polite. “No, I’m not carrying five months of food with me right now.” “Actually, bears don’t have opposable thumbs.” “There’s not much water in the desert, so I usually do have to carry it with me.” “I sleep in a tent or, more often, just under the stars. Not in a hotel.”

This time I was frustrated and just blurted out, “Are you serious?! That’s over a thousand miles (1600km) away!” This was loud and got some stares from across the stare, but he didn’t seem embarrassed in the slightest. “Yeah, well, snow melt can affect a lot of things.” I was unaware Houston had a lot of snow being on the Gulf of Mexico and all, but what is a Midwestern hick who grew up on a farm supposed to know. 

The next day at the post office wasn’t ideal with not being able to leave until 11am because of lines. Then I lost my hat, sunglasses, and chargers. Being in town can be really stressful and overwhelming after the relative peace of the desert, and while roaming across town looking for my possessions I decided it’d be best for my mental health to just wait until the next day and, giving up on finding them, buy new things.

While walking to the stores some guy pulled over and said, “Hey, kid. Where you going? Want a ride? My name’s Big Al.” He seemed legit, so I got in the car with him and his son. He was kind enough to drive me to the store and even offered to drive me and up to three others to the trailhead at 6:30 the next morning before he had to go to work.

Trail angels are phenomenal people. Big Al spends a lot of his free time during hiker season giving rides around town, and other hikers had good encounters with various other angels in the area. Like Big Al, they’re disproportionately single, divorced men in their 50s. There are lots of people from all walks of life who are trail angels, but for some reason that group tends to dominate from what I’ve seen.

After Big Al’s ride to the store I ran back into No Boundaries, Mama Squirrel, Mr. Noodles, and Nicola! Nicola, Mr. Noodles’s girlfriend, is now The Better Half. The big conversation on the trail is the marriage between two hikers two and a half weeks after meeting.

My last night at the Tehachapi airport was great, having reunited with lots of my friends who were behind me. Alive, Poncho, and GnG (a retired couple, George and Gayle, from British Columbia) were there. George was telling us about their experiences in Hikertown, which we’ve taken to calling Tweakertown (in reference to tweakers, a term for meth addicts). In the car to the nearby store, one of the managers of the creepy-Western-movie-set-in-the-middle-of-the-desert “hostel” asked what everybody’s former professions were. One guy mentioned he was a film director. “Oh,” said the manager, “we’re making a porno and need a director. Would you be interested in helping out?” George said that kind of destroyed the atmosphere in the car and made things incredibly awkward. The guy politely declined. It’s been rumored Hikertown is a front for a porn recording company, and this conversation didn’t help.

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