To be candid, I can't speak intelligently on the different classifications of the deserts I've walked through so far.
I've seen and felt subtle differences between the dry stretches of the first 500 miles. But until the Mojave section, none of the geographical differences affected my routine.
North out of Los Padres National Forest on Tuesday afternoon, I reached the sparsely populated desert community of Neenach.
This town sits on the western arm of the Mojave Desert, a 25,00 square mile expanse of land that includes the hottest place on Earth, the Badwater Basin of Death Valley (282 feet below sea level).
Elevation is an important factor when considering temperature. The Mojave section of the PCT goes as low as 3,000 feet elevation for a roughly 50 mile stretch after Neenach. For a hiker this means hot mornings and thermometers reaching 100 F by noon. Gone were the nights of 27 F lows in the Los Angeles National Forest. For the two nights I spent walking this stretch, the overnight lows hit 75 F.
In order to manage this type of heat almost all hikers adjust their routine. Out of Neenach I walked with Presente (the Peace Corps alum with a world class heart) from 5pm to 10 pm. We covered about 11 of the 50 miles. The next morning we were on the trail by 5 am and covered another 14 miles by noon.
That hike until noon brought us to the final water source of this Mojave stretch. A small, trickle of a stream, and a large tree were an oasis of sorts, providing refuge to at least a dozen hikers while I was there.
Many of these hikers, like me, woke up early to rack up the miles. Some hiked through the night, and were unsuccessfully trying to sleep the day away until cooler temperatures.
Other, less fortunate hikers behind us, unable to manage their energy to make it to this tree, were taking a siesta by a bridge about 7 miles back.
To attack the 25 waterless miles ahead I left by 4pm and hiked alone until 10 pm. Presente, whose pace is as steady as a locomotive, had moved further ahead than me after the siesta.
The next morning I was up by 5:30 am, and covered the 17 remaining miles to the highway leading to Tehachapi 1pm.
With three other solo hikers, we hitched a 12 mile ride to Tehachapi within a half hour.
The Mojave routine was totally out of character for me so far, but a great experience none the less.
PCT Mile 566.
Out on the trail I saw Coppertone again, for the third time, with rootbeer floats in hand.