The Grand Ole Aqueduct
June 3, 2017 - June 4, 2017
The Los Angeles Aqueduct
Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike: Day 29+
The aqueduct must be one of the more infamous parts of the PCT. We talk about it as if, in a perfect world, it wouldn't be part of our hike. That false dread couldn't be further from the buzzing excitement that surrounds groups about to take on the 17-mile waterless, tree-less obligatory night hike that is the LA Aqueduct. It's a rite of passage for thru-hikers.
We set out at 7 pm, eager to the point of being giddy. There were nearly twenty of us in total, one big happy family taking on the world. The aqueduct sits on the floor of the Mojave desert, and the seventeen miles takes you from one side of the desert floor to the opposing mountains. All you can see once the darkness sets in is the friendly blinking of distant turbines that signifies the wind farm at the end of the aqueduct.
We were lucky enough to have a full moon on our aqueduct hike, which made sending all 17 miles in one go a possible feat. Moonlight prevents the need for headlamps, thus preventing tunnel-vision fatigue. After 17 miles of break-less hiking on next-to-zero hours of sleep, fatigue is inevitable. Most of us lasted to mile 10 without the help of energy drinks. We took our only break as a group atop a cement slab, downed our Red Bulls and candy supplements before marching on along the length of this endless black pipe.
Cruising alongside my compatriots, the jokes begin to come with less rapidity, and slowly, stealthily, a blanket of silence settles over the flock of hikers. You don't realize it's happening until it has already descended and then, in a moment, you are aware that there are no voices. Nobody is talking; we are all in a trance. Putting one foot in front of the other, heading for the blinking red lights.
Your brain gets to a point where it starts to try shutting your body down, and luckily that point came less than a mile from the finish line. It took conscious effort to regain motion from each pause when your mind goes blank and forward movement is almost a manually forced ordeal.
The aqueduct comes to an end at a dried-up stream bed where dozens of hikers set up camp. There is a faucet with a bold sign informing the public that it is maintained by the wind farm and could be shut off at any time (read: do not rely on this water source being here). I am cowboy camping in this stream bed, hoping for a few hours of rest before my alarm goes off. There's a canyon seven miles up the trail with a stream, and I'd like to make it that far before 9 am heat hits to find shade for napping. After the nap, it will be another night hike across the nearly twenty waterless miles into Tehachapi.