Tehachapi. “Teha-choppy?” “Techachapi?” “Tehapachi.” “I’m just going to call it Te-pap-smear-chapi.”
A little town with a name that we all struggled with, Tehachapi was the last town right off the trail before Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was the last big resupply stop in the desert, and preceded a daunting 35+ mile stretch of dry, waterless trail.
Dry stretches that kept getting dryer.
Dry and windy, the road into Tehachapi was full of magnificent wind farms. The Pacific Crest Trail wound between gigantic turbines for miles. Though the dryness made it difficult, it was one of my favorite stretches of trail so far.
Before the wind farms was the Los Angeles aqueduct walk, a 17 mile stretch also without any water. Most hikers attempted this walk at night, when things would be a little cooler. They rested, filled up on water and waited for dusk at Hikertown, part trail angel, part hostel and a bizarre, Wild West-themed compound.
Hikertown divided hikers on a matter of opinion. It was dirty, and didn’t have the cozy, curated vibe of the previous stop- the Andersons’, famous trail angels that provided free meals, a place to sleep, and a fun, relaxing atmosphere. Not wanting to get sucked in to the party vibe, we skipped the Andersons’ and headed back to the trail after hitching into REI, planning to stay the night at Hikertown and get an early start on the dry stretch ahead.
After 20 heavy, gnat-infested miles of trail in which we saw only 1 other hiker (we learned later that many hikers had hitched straight from the Andersons’ to Hikertown), we arrived at Hikertown, right off the main highway in a very windy valley.
A large group of hikers were leaving as we walked through the front gate. Inside was a ranch-style house, a separate garage, several small trailers and campers, and a building designed to resemble storefronts of the old West.
“You looking to stay the night?” Behind the kitschily labelled “Hotel,” was a scruffy man who looked to be in his sixties. “Is it just you? Or you and your boyfriend?”
“Yeah, the two of us.”
“It’s $5 per person per night to set up your tent, or you can get a room for $10 a person.” He led us around the back of the old west building and into the Hotel. “Here’s the last room available. It’s the best.”
We looked around a modest bedroom, partially decorated with antique Western wall-hangings and a cabinet full of old firearms. The bedroom door opened into another room crammed with an empty entertainment center, a fireplace and a bar, all under a clear plastic roof. It certainly was the most interesting accommodation we’d seen so far on the trail.
At only $10 extra, we opted for the room. If we were to get an early start in the morning, it would certainly help to not have to take down our tent in the morning. We put down our things and went to see who else was on the premises.
Other hikers hung out in the old garage, which included a full bathroom, a small kitchen and a few couches. It was shelter from the relentless wind and a haven for hundreds of flies.
All of our buddies had left for the aqueduct walk by the time we arrived. But we did run into Attila the Bun (he had a raging man bun), a hiker we camped with on our third night, who was at least 4 days ahead of us the last we heard.
“I’ve been here for 6 days,” he told us. “I got an infected blood blister.” He sat on the floor of the garage, one leg stretched out in front, the foot covered in a single, sporadic layer of tape.
A gang of roosters congregated outside the garage. Despite it being just before dusk, they crowed constantly, each one getting a chance to speak up. The hikers inside were weary and quiet, so the roosters were far more entertaining, and added an additional layer of credibility to the desolate, but strangely cozy vibe of the place.
“If you catch a chicken, you can eat it,” Attila said, noticing as we watched them. “That’s the rule.”
Outside the wind picked up as the sun began to slide beyond the valley.
We scrubbed off days’ worth of dirt in a towel-less shower and ate macaroni and cheese out of the pot we cooked it in.
We were in the surprisingly comfortable bed by 9. The makeshift style buildings held up surprisingly well as the winds howled relentlessly through the entire night. When our alarm went off at 5 AM, we sleepily rose, and bargained for a change of plan- we would sleep in, spend the rest of the day at Hikertown, and leave in the evening. The bed was too comfortable.
I caught up on sleep until 9, while Indiana went with Bob, the caretaker and other hikers on a supply run and to check on the nearest water cache. They left me 3 fresh eggs from the chicken coop, which I cooked myself and ate in front of the other hikers in the garage.
So often the thru hiking experience is an anxious one. Hikers are all-go, all the time, stopping just long enough to get what they need before hitting the trail again, as if Canada is actively inching away. It can be exhausting. We waited out the sun for the rest of the day, doing laundry and indulging in the dusty, lazy mood of Hikertown.
Some hikers couldn’t stand it. They hated the griminess, the flies in the garage and considered it a very inferior stop to the Andersons’. Personally, we enjoyed it, minus the flies. We loved the way the wind whipped through the valley, loved the thuggish gang of roosters that stalked the property, loved the handmade feel of the structures.
On our way to the aqueduct, we walked through some dry fields, bordered by a rusty, barbed wire fence enclosing not just the property line, but hundreds of piled up tumbleweeds. Never before had I felt so wild and west. I tried to toss one into the wind, but tumbleweeds are surprisingly heavy; it bounced a bit before settling inches away from the fence it was stuck behind.
If you’re not picky about your accommodations, we highly recommend Hikertown. It’s an unusual, interesting place to stay on the trail.